Open vs Closed Back Headphones - What's the difference?
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In our surveys, over 70% of headphone users are unaware of the difference between open back and closed back headphones. To us, that's shocking. It's like saying that 70% of automobile drivers couldn't tell you the difference between a mini van and a convertible. Furthermore, nearly 10% of returns of our popular Sennheiser HD6XX and HD58X headphones are due to the user complaining about "sound leaking from the headphone". So we're publishing this article to help inform you, the reader, about the differences between these two headphones, and we've also enlisted the help of some YouTube Pro's to give you their take on the differences and their preferences. Which is better? To continue with our automobile analogy, neither option is better, they just have different usage cases. If you're going for a Sunday joyride down the Pacific Coast Highway, you probably want a convertible. If you're driving 7 kids to soccer practice, you probably want the mini-van. From a sound performance perspective, open-back headphones have superior acoustic properties because they let the sound move (realistically bounce) around more naturally. This advantage comes from the fact that they use grills on the earcups that let sound escape the headphone. Most people say that the sound is comparable to being in a large auditorium, and you can easily pinpoint quiet instruments that are playing in the background. The audiophile description is that open back headphones have a "wide soundstage". This comes with drawbacks though! Since the sound is escaping the earcup, people around you can hear your music. It typically isn't obnoxiously loud, but not something you'd want to wear in a quiet library. Also, since sound can leave the headphone, it means environmental sounds can also enter the headphone. So open-back headphones are not a good choice for a loud environment (i.e. airplane, subway), this limits their usefulness. In contrast, closed-back headphones are made of a solid material (usually wood, or plastic) and that traps the sound inside the earcup, and isolates you from the sound in your outside environment. Like a minivan, this is extremely convenient, since it means these headphones are equally good in loud or quiet environments. However, trapping the sound inside the earcup is generally seen as having a negative impact on the acoustical performance. People often refer to closed-back headphones as being "muddy" since when any note is played it bounces back and forth between your ear and the earcup many times. Can you really tell the difference? Well, can you tell the difference in acceleration between a Honda Odyssey and a Porche 911? Most haven't driven the latter, you just know "it goes faster and I don't have $100k to find out how much faster". What's great about open-back headphones is that they don't necessarily cost much to try. You can even spend $17 on these Koss KSC75X that most Audiophiles say sound considerably better than anything closed-back that costs less than $200. Which- makes sense, just like how a $25k Mazda convertible still drives faster than a $40k minivan. Don't just take our word for it... As mentioned earlier, here is a YouTube pro giving you a rundown on what they like most about Open-Back headphones.
If you're ready to take the plunge here are a few links to our most popular open back headphones: Koss KSC75X ($17) Sennheiser HD58X ($160) Sennheiser HD6XX ($220)
thumb_upgrandsome, Safiya Ahmed, and 27 others
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grandsome
54
Aug 6, 2019
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Troll question: Does bone conduction count as "open-back"?
Aug 6, 2019
MickyB80
0
Jul 12, 2019
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Possibly one of the best closed back headphones was (is) the OPPO PM-3. Planar driver and something of a sweet sound. Simply amazing for the price and a very high quality product. Paired the a portable DAC/Amp like that of the HA-2 and what a combo! Sadly Oppo closed down the AV division and is only known for Mobile products (same brand different company). I wish someone had purchased the rights and patents from OPPO and continued the range. One minor downside for my personal taste, the response range is borderline to bright, but only ever so slightly. Searching for something I enjoy as much as this combo has been an ongoing battle for the past 18 months... Simply nothing I enjoy as much. Like anything, food, taste in alcohol or other audio products. Headphone come down to personal preference and taste, so let your ears decide what you want to listen to... (;
(Edited)
Jul 12, 2019
nick_t
166
Jul 5, 2019
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Is he a youtube pro ?
Jul 5, 2019
DrBobUTerwilliger
17
Jun 28, 2019
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I'm actually shopping a pair of closed headphones to - I guess I'd say - replace, my HD6xx. They're fantastic, I'm just in a situation where I: 1) Don't need any isolation and can use my desktop speakers, or, 2) want total isolation. I'm running a Modi 3 DAC to a Vali 2 amp (with a EH6922 tube), DAC fed optically from a MBP, or the amp directly from an NEC P650 CD player. I'm using the preamp out of the Vali 2 to my speakers - terrific setup. Anyway, semi-recently I had ATH-M50s, very solid, but lost in SF ... used Senn 558 for a bit, switched to a pair of DT-880s, then to my current HD6xx. I've been considering the Custom Studio 80 Ohm, seems like a better option vs. the DT-700 (even if just for the detachable cable without having to mod ...) but have also been very interested in the X Meze 99 Noir. Comfort almost supersedes any other attribute - I mostly listen to alt/alt-rock.rock, electronic/trip-hop, some classic rock, some folk/acoustic. I thought the DT-700s were a touch too bright (they were pre-Vali), love the balance of the 6xx. Suggestions in the $200-ish range?
(Edited)
Jun 28, 2019
j.t.x
38
Jul 12, 2019
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I have been pleasantly surprised with the sound of the NAD Viso HP50 closed back headphones, which I use with my DAP at work, and digital audio setup at home. They can be found on Amazon for under $150. Search for reviews to see if it fits your needs. I would recommend to replace the included headphone cables (standard 3.5mm stereo cable), though, as they tend to catch on things and create sounds inside the headphones.
Jul 12, 2019
rolli
0
Jul 14, 2019
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I use them as well best value hp on the market however I switched the cable to Wireworld Nano Eclipse which improved the hp to the next level. Worthwihle up-grate
Jul 14, 2019
LuckyLuke575
437
Jun 26, 2019
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Great article for people that are just coming into the community and would like to understand the characteristics of different headphone types. Its surprising how little straightforward information exists online about these kinds of topics, so I applaud this kind of content and looking forward to seeing more. Some suggested topics; balanced vs single ended amp output, dynamic driver vs planar vs electrostatic, explanation of different specs for headphones and audio equipment.
Jun 26, 2019
nick_t
166
Jul 14, 2019
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Stax L300 is already in the other league in your opinion meaning to have not heard others. To me, electrostatic is just another pair of great headphone with its own signature and characteristic of the driver sound, period. Each driver has its own unique sounding to each own. As for me, I go for specific sound am after and which one sound the best.
Jul 14, 2019
nick_t
166
Jul 14, 2019
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Actually there is only problem is $$$. Also, while its a definite truth to your saying that each sound of the driver have its own benefits and acoustic strength of its sound properties. Its definitely true that hard to say one is universally better than the others when only when you compare sound signature. Its one reason this hobby exits among audiophile as there is no better, depends how individual look at it. However, regardless taste of sound and preference, there is one universal sound and its so happen to nuetral, no coloration. As such there is a reason, Orpheus exists with incredibly quick diaphragm response and super detailed, less lazy but speedy driver of an electrostatic while a nice texture of warmth and dynamic bass of their hybrid tube as well as reference class nuetral. Put together to you get a world class sounding over $50,000 headphone system.
Jul 14, 2019
Kerry_Maxwell
113
Jun 26, 2019
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rtings.com uses a numerical and color coded rating for the suitability of a given set of headphones for critical listening, commuting, sports/ fitness, gaming, etc. Drop may want to look into something similar so people don't purchase the HD6XX to go jogging near the airport.
Jun 26, 2019
ILikeAcid
226
Jul 13, 2019
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Brilliantly stated.🛬🏃‍♀️🛫🏃‍♂️
Jul 13, 2019
Daveer
31
Jun 26, 2019
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One thing not mentioned in this article is that closed-cup often have better bass (which is worth the trade-off for some). Personally I still love rocking my HD595s (open cup) but I can totally see how some bass-junkies would happily trade the clearer mids and highs for punchier bass.
Jun 26, 2019
ElectronicVices
2001
Jun 26, 2019
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I'm not sure I agree with "better", but could be in agreement with "more" bass. Fully closed pairs often exhibit a hump or resonance issue in the bass frequencies. The "best" bass pairs I have are open or semi-closed/open. The X00 is of the semi variety and the HE-500 is fully open. I like the X00 for it's impact and quantity while remaining pretty solid on transients (speed) and the 500 for extension and linearity. The headphone I have with the most bass is the Pro900 but I wouldn't call that the best at anything unless you count vibrating my cranium.
Jun 26, 2019
gaspoweredcat
3
Jun 26, 2019
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Personally I've always preferred closed, I know many say it's a more natural soundstage but it's just not for me. But then I generally like quite an analytical sound, to illustrate this I'll use the good old fashioned vynil argument, many or even most prefer it finding the pops, crackles and warmth somehow endearing, where my view is that I didn't spend thousands on an audio setup for imperfections, I want to hear the music not the dust in.my house
Jun 26, 2019
gaspoweredcat
3
Jun 26, 2019
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I must be wrong then and I'll refrain from posting any more, I mean I have a pair of custom etymotic er4s so I suppose I should be using them for trying to hear the low end on hip hop and such so thanks for that 👌
Jun 26, 2019
Kerry_Maxwell
113
Jun 27, 2019
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The Etymotic er4 is an in-ear model, and neither Open or Closed in the sense the article uses the term.
Jun 27, 2019
ethanchan
185
Jun 26, 2019
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Dear Drop, I would appreciate it if you would not send me links to your written commercials.
Jun 26, 2019
ILikeAcid
226
Jul 13, 2019
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...and when you post on a public forum, you invite the public to address that post in the manner of THEIR choosing. Especially those of us who appreciate Drop. I know it's wrong, but I experience a sadistic joy when I run into someone whom can't take what they can dish out.
Jul 13, 2019
ILikeAcid
226
Jul 13, 2019
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Someone preaching "check your emotions at the door" may want to reconsider crying about a nonissue(again, the opt-out is located in your settings)on a public thread. You could have sent Drop an email, but, obviously, you needed more attention than that.
Jul 13, 2019
Qwervy
153
Jun 26, 2019
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People need to do their research before buying audio gear. It's sad that they dont understand what they are getting when they purchase something.
Jun 26, 2019
Qwervy
153
Jun 29, 2019
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The reviews give you a rough idea of sound quality and the more you read the less biased an overall idea you get. On top of this, manufacturing specs and reviews still can show/tell you the frequency response, whether the headphones are closed or open, the driver size/amount/type, general fit of the headphones (on-ear-over-ear) and how they compare with other headphones and the general way they sound. You dont necessarily need to hear a pair of cans if you read a lot of reviews, obviously hearing them helps a lot but tbh I like the surprise of listening to a brand pair of headphones that I have never heard before. I only ever know roughly what to expect from reviews before hand.
Jun 29, 2019
ElectronicVices
2001
Jul 12, 2019
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As the friend who all the others come to when they want to check out a pair/get a rec... I approve this message. I've also bough 90% of my 30 or so pairs "unheard" so I appreciate the struggle.
Jul 12, 2019
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