Open Back or Closed Back Headphones: Which One Should You Use?


While headphones come in a variety of styles, shapes, weight, material design, and comfort. No matter the design and comfort a headphone has, there is one aspect that has a major impact on the sonic signature. The fact that headphones are closed or open.

Both types of headphones have their own pros and cons. Depending on the genre of music being played or the listening environment, you may choose one type over the other.

What are Open Back Headphones?

Open back headphones allow air to pass through the ear cups into the speaker components.

What are the benefits of open back headphones?

Sufficient space to breath

If you want to use open back headphones, you do not need to worry about the accumulation of moisture or heat inside the ear cups.

Your ears have enough space to breathe. Therefore, you can be able to use the headphones for a longer duration.

The headphones give you a soundstage experience.

Open back headphones make your song sound bigger- the music emanates from all around you as it sounds broader and deeper.

This feeling is called soundstage and is one of the main reasons many music people use open back headphones.

If you are a music fanatic who enjoys the quality of a home theatre system, consider getting open back headphones.

Shifting to using open back headphones clearly indicates that you are no longer a casual listener but a person who thinks a little deeper about music.

You think about how you want to feel when listening to music and what kind of experience you want to have. If these are some of the things that circulate your mind, open back headphones will be the best choice.

However, the only downside of open back headphones is that you cannot use them in the library or in places where other people might hear what you are listening to because it is loud.

But still, it depends on how loud you are playing your music. If you set low volume, you might enjoy your open back headphones at the office.

The other disadvantage is that you will also hear noises from the outside. If you are in town, you will hear the traffic whizzing by. If you are at the hotel, you will hear the waiters and waitresses clinging and clanging away.

How do you get started with open back headphones?

If you are looking to invest in a durable quality set of open back headphones consider a brand such as the Grado SR80e. the model is lightweight and produces great sound. This is what you get from a firm that has been in the audio equipment production for 6 decades.

Given the outstanding performance, the cheaper price of the model may come as a surprise to many people.

The company uses plastic materials as housing for the audio unit. The result, a cheap open back model that delivers excellent performance.

HIFMAN HE 400S is another great open back headphone. The brand has been around for a decade. Since coming into the industry, the company has won the hearts of many for selling options that fit all price ranges and for quality sound.

The HIFMAN HE400S is one of the few models that offer great sound to value ratio. You will have lots of fun listening to audio with this model. Vocals sound well-balanced and the harmony sound like it’s coming from outside the ears.

Another open back headphone you should consider is the Audeze LCD-2. While it is a high-end set, it guarantees great performance and quality.

Other than the excellent fidelity performance and soundstage experience, the headset looks incredible. It features west African shedua wood, handmade rings, headbands, and leather ear pads. It simply looks as stunning as it sounds.

What are Closed Back Headphones?

When you wear a set of closed back headphones, you are separating yourself from the rest of the world. In most instances, and this is true if you are using noise-cancellation headphones, you totally seal yourself with your music.

If you enjoy solitude- a quieter place where it’s only you and your music, choose closed-back headphones.

Or maybe you just do not want anyone to hear what kind of music you are listening to; a set of closed-back headphones gives you this opportunity. No one will know what you are listening to, no matter how high you set the volume.

A closed back design is also perfect to use in noisy places is it makes sure you are not distracted from your listening experience. It comes in handy if often find yourself in crowded train stations or busy airports.

When you compare open back headphones to closed back headphones, you do not get the same soundstage or live music effect with the former. Closed back headphones are designed to enclose you and put you in a quieter environment.

This is the primary reason manufacturers use anti-resonant materials- to make the listening experience more pleasant and reducing the negative effects of listening to music inside the tiny environment.

How do you get started with closed back headphones?

There are many brands that manufactured closed back headphones. However, only a handful in the market is worth trying out.

A good example of closed back headphones is Focal Elegia’s. 95% of the model’s parts are manufactured in France.

The headphones look different from most models in the market as they have a cookie-cutter design.

Focal is an excellent value. Also, they are comfortable for a closed-back model. You can use them for an extended period without feeling excessive pressure in your ear or fatigue. The headphones also come with textured fabric on the earcups to reduce heat build-up.

Another solid choice is the Bowers& Wilkins PX. The headphones feature a tight seal around the ears for sufficient noise cancellation experience. You also get to enjoy a broad range of frequencies that professional headphones offer.

Audeze LCD-XC is another perfect choice for music lovers who are looking for headsets that deliver professional-grade sound.

The LCD-XC headphones are made with powerful internal hardware that reduces distortion to near zero and resonance.

It is also a durable unit that can serve you for many years without getting damaged, all thanks to its sturdy design.

What are Semi-open back headphones?

Semi-open back headphones offer great spacious sound just like the open back headphones. It also offers the same feature as the closed back headphones, giving you some isolation by blocking outside noise.

Open back headphones are famously known for producing great sound. The headsets are spacious enough that you would not want anything to do with closed back headphones.

But as stated earlier, open back headphones do not offer any privacy, anyone can hear what you are listening to, even at low volumes.

On the other hand, semi-open back headphones give you the same space of sound like the open back headphones but partially blocks outside noise.

However, semi-open back headsets are not ideal for recording because a lot of sounds will steal leak out plus, the microphone will record the background sound playing on the headsets.

Personal preference plays a major role when it comes to deciding whether or not semi-open back headsets are useful.

Perhaps you want open back headsets to mix your tracks but want the headsets to be low externally, or maybe you are comfortable with the way it sounds.

Most sound engineers who specialize in mixing and mastering songs, prefer semi-open back headsets to open back headsets because of this reason.

Should I use Open back or Closed-Back Headphones for Casual Listening?

Closed back headphones are perfect for casual listening. You can use the headsets in the office, and even when commuting.

Closed back headsets are sealed around the black. They only allow sound to reach your ears while blocking outside noise. However, the quality of the music will not be as natural as it would on open back headsets.

Also, wearing closed back headphones for extended periods can make your ears warm. The bass notes may also have imperceptible echoes. Nevertheless, closed back headsets are perfect for casual listening- you can listen to music in public areas or when commuting.

If you are going to travel in a car, subway train or airplane regularly, chose closed back headsets. In addition, you can use closed back headphones to listen to your mastered tracks while in the studio.

Should I use Open back or Closed-Back Headphones for Mixing?

Closed back headsets make the audio sound like it’s coming from the head. Conversely, sound can pass through the back of the open back headphones earpiece, allowing for the natural and perfect sound.

The soundstage in an open back headphone is more present and broader. The additional space gets rid of the “the bouncing around “sound effect that is more present in closed back headphones. The end product is accurate and natural audio.

Other than great sound quality, the design of open back headphones provides more comfort than the design of closed back headsets, which can get you sweaty and hot.

Because of the great listening experience and sound accuracy, many music producers and use open back headphones to mix audio.

When you are recording vocals, use closed back headphones to prevent sound leakage, but when mixing tracks, choose a good pair of open back headphones.

Factors to Consider When Using headphones for mixing?

Frequency Response

Many studio headphone manufacturers add a bass boost and high frequencies to make the sound louder and to increase the thumping rhythm.

When shopping for studio headphones, look for a pair that has a neutral frequency response so that the audios are natural and clear.

Comfort and Durability

While comfort is subjective, it is a factor you should consider when you are planning to mix for an extensive period. Open back headphones are more comfortable than closed back headphones.

They feature grilles that show the driver, which in turn, produces a natural, rich sound when mixing. Sound is able to leak from either side of the ear cups, giving your ears some space. As a result, you can use the headphones for hours without getting fatigued.

Headphone Terminology

Inside the headphones, there is the clamping force, which determines the tightness or pressure of the earpads on the ears.

You should look for a pair of headsets with even amount of clamp force. They should neither be too tight nor too loose.

Sound stage simply means depth and width of sounds emitted by the headphones’ drivers. It creates imaging or placement of instruments while you are listening to your mix.

Related Questions:

Are open back headphones loud?  Open back headphones are very loud. They are not ideal for the library because they are open to the world around. Other people might hear what you are listening to. However, it all depends on how loud you are playing your music.

Are gaming headphones good for music? The sound that comes from a video game is different from the one that comes from music. Musical sound is more balanced that video game sound. This is because it is meant to be enjoyed, but the same cannot be said about games.

What headsets do professional music producers use for mixing?  The best headphones for mixing are Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Studio Headphones, Sony MDR-7506 Large Diaphragm, Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Over-the-Ear Studio Headphones, and Audio Technical ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones.


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