The name closed-back and open-back are used to refer to the casing in which the earpieces of the headphones are located. In the former, the headphone cups have a hard enclosure, while in the latter, the backs of the headphones are left open. While they offer similar degrees of quality, they differ in certain areas. Below, we list the major differences as well as their potential use in the studio.
Sound Isolation Of Closed-Back And Open-Back Headphones
There is a noticeable difference in sound isolation between these two categories of headsets. Closed headphones are designed to do just that; to enclose the user’s ears and form a seal in which external noise can’t come in, and the sound can’t go out. While in Open-back headphones it’s the exact opposite; while the external noise won’t overly disturb the user, the isolation provided by the cups is lessened, and so everyone nearby will be able to hear the sounds from the headphones.
As expected, open-back headphones will definitely lack the punch of their closed counterparts. Instead, open-back headphones tend to offer a brighter overall sound. They are also a popular choice for listeners that prefer an "in the audience" experience as opposed to the "inside your head" feeling of closed-back headphones. Closed-back headphones also tend to offer much more low-end response, making them a popular choice for genres that make heavy use of it.
Potential Use In The Studio
While using studio reference monitors is arguably the best method for properly listening to a mix, many studio engineers like having the additional option of headphones. This allows them to hear their mix from a different perspective. With that in mind, closed-back headphones are the prevalent choice in the studio. Not only do they provide the "inside your head" quality that potential listeners hearing your track on their own headphones will hear, they also isolate external noise that can get in the way of working on your mix. It should also be mentioned that as far as headphones for use while recording goes, closed-back is the only logical choice as open-back headphones will cause sound-bleed.
While open-back headphones are not used as often as closed-back sets in the studio, if your project consists of mainly acoustic instruments or a project where a sense of space is important, open-back headphones can help with adjusting the feel of spaciousness that is integral to these type of recordings. For this reason, most open-back headphones are marketed for their ability to create an accurate sense of space not possible with closed-back headphones.
As you can tell from the info above, there's a reason why closed-back headphones remain the dominant type of phones; they don't produce nearly as much sound-bleed, provide a better bass response and give the "inside your head" feeling that many listeners expect. On the other hand, if the benefits of open-back headphones sound appealing, such as a brighter, more spacious listening experience, you should definitely give them a try!
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Your Turn to Sound Off!
Have you ever used open-back headphones? Do you prefer them to closed-back when it comes to simply listening to music?