Open-back VS Closed-Back Headphones
by Kareena Tang on Aug 22, 2022
Headphones can be thought of as a personal concert hall designed around your head. Unlike loudspeakers which are meant to fill the room with sound, headphones provide a personal music listening experience. Designing an acoustic space for loudspeakers can be incredibly difficult due to how soundwaves reflect off of surfaces. Factors such as acoustic dampening, size of the room, and even parallel walls/surfaces can change how the sound is perceived in a room. The benefit of Hi-Fi headphones is that these factors can be better controlled within the headphone, without modifying the room around you. One of the biggest factors in controlling the “acoustic room” within your headphones is the type of back - open or closed - utilized.
Closed-back headphones are those with a solid covering over the back of the headphones. These provide the benefit of much better sound isolation - from both outside noises and the sound your headphones make.
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Oftentimes, open-back headphones leak out sound, meaning those around you can hear your headphones and can cause issues in office settings. Closed-back headphones are thus a better alternative for portable uses, especially in noisy environments or places where your headphone noises may be a disturbance.
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A typical dynamic or planar driver requires a certain level of airflow to control the bass response. Headphone manufacturers use acoustic dampening meshes and foam on the backside of the drivers to control the bass response. In this regard, closed-back headphones have better control of the bass response by defining the available space and air available for the driver. Closed-back headphones will oftentimes have slight elevations in the sub-bass regions compared to open-back counterparts and its bass can be described as being more thumpy and impactful.
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On the other hand, open-back headphones have semi-open vents on the back side of the headphone, allowing unobstructed airflow. This creates a more realistic soundstage and “airiness” in the sound, comparable to loudspeakers. Open-back headphones have a more neutral and natural bass response. Most high-end headphones tend to be open-back due to the more natural and transparent sound they can produce.
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