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  • Writer's pictureCosmic Academy

Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones: Is There a Winner?

Which is better for you? It probably depends...

We remember the first time we heard about the differences between open back and closed-back headphones. This aspect of audio can be a bit confusing. There are so many different options out there and so many pros and cons, it can be a little hard to navigate.

We want to quickly break this down. There's no winner or loser here. Each are fantastic options and have their advantages, and which one is “better” depends on the situation.

Let’s break down the differences, the pros and cons, and which type of headphone is best in which situation!

Open-Back Headphones

In the world of open-back headphones, the Sennheiser HD-650s are a classic for a reason

Let’s Start with open back headphones. Open-back headphones don’t have a casing behind the headphone speaker; instead, they allow air to escape from behind the speaker. Why is this important? The rear casing of a closed-back headphone can cause a more resonant low end and result in frequency buildup. Open-back headphones are designed to solve this problem, and often times provide a more accurate response, especially for low frequencies.

Open back headphones really shine in the mixing and mastering context. They provide a flatter frequency response, which is incredibly important in these contexts, and overall they provide a better listening experience.

These headphones also tend to be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time since they don’t tend to clamp down on the ears quite as hard as closed-back headphones do, which makes them a very suitable option for long periods in the studio.

However, with as many benefits as there are with open-back headphones, there are a few cons to note.

First, open back headphones let the sound you’re listening to spill out; so if you’re recording vocals, open-back is not the way to go. Additionally, open-back headphones also let the sounds around you in. If you’re in a noisy environment, it may be a little harder to mix because you will hear all the surrounding noise.

These factors, in addition to the fact that open-back headphones are a bit more delicate, make them truly “studio” headphones; they aren’t good for listening on the go or for traveling.

Closed-Back Headphones

The Audio Technica ATH-M50X is one of our favorite models of closed-back headphones

Closed-back headphones, on the other hand, are completely enclosed on the back and do not let (very much) air and sound escape from behind the speaker, which leads to a more “closed-in” and isolated sound. But due to this design, the bass response tends to be a bit more resonant and exaggerated, and thus the frequency response of the speakers is less flat.

As a result, these headphones are not as clear and accurate for mixing and mastering. However, they are an excellent option for when this sort of isolated environment is better.

For example, closed-back headphones are typically preferred by vocalists who are recording or tracking vocals in the studio, because the closed design leads to much less noise bleeding from the headphones compared to an open-back design).

Of course, the closed-back design also keeps outside noise out a little better as well, so they made a great option when traveling or DJing, where we typically want to block out more outside noise and isolate the sound coming from the speakers.

Finally, closed back headphones tend to be more durable and also less expensive than their open-back counterparts.

Is there a “Winner”?

In the end, the right choice depends on what you're using the headphones for!

No! There’s really no true “winner”in this battle between open-back and closed-back headphones. As you can see, they each have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. You’ll have to figure out which is more appropriate for your needs and select accordingly!

Depending on which design you choose, we here at Cosmic Academy do have a few recommendations, though!

If you’re looking at open-back headphones, take a look at the Beyerdynamics DT-880s. Alternatively, the Sennheiser HD 650s are a solid option and very widely used!

Closed-back headphones, like we mentioned, tend to be a little more affordable. Check out the Audio Technica ATH-M50X, which is one of our favorites! Another great option is V-Moda’s line of products.

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