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Open-back headphones are widely used in the music industry due to their natural sound response and high fidelity for critical listening situations, but what exactly are they?
To put it simply, open-back headphones have a design that features completely open earcups, so more sound waves can travel freely between your ears and the external environment.
There is more to the story, however. That’s why in this article, we will explain what open-back headphones are, their benefits and differences against their closed-back counterparts, and whether or not they are right for your application. Stick with us to learn more!
Table of Contents
What Exactly Are Open-Back Headphones?
The beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, one of the most popular models of open-back headphone.
Open-back headphones are any pair of headphones that feature an open earcup (the part that sits behind your ears when wearing them). This design has a few benefits and differences if compared to closed-back headphones.
Open-back headphones are famous for providing more natural and realistic sound quality, useful when you need the best possible response from a pair in situations such as mixing and mastering music. Below, we will explain all of the features of this type of design in detail.
Open-Back Headphones: A Detailed Explanation
The main factor that sets open and closed-back headphones apart are their design. While closed-back headphones have a totally closed earcup, open-back headphones feature an open earcup.
This design feature means that a pair of open-back headphones will let sound waves travel freely between your ears and the external environment around you and has a few consequences.
The biggest consequence is that open-back headphones don’t have the same level of noise cancelation present in their closed-back counterparts, which makes these devices more suitable for use in controlled environments such as sound-treated studios.
Apart from that, open-back headphones will leak a significant amount of noise into the ambient environment, so they are not the best option if you’re looking to wear them in public, such as in a crowded office or the subway.
The design of the open-back headphones guarantees that certain audio frequencies don’t get trapped between your ears and the headphones. This is especially true when it comes to low frequencies.
The bass will sound much more natural and less constricted when wearing a pair of open-back headphones due to the interaction the device allows the sound waves to have with the air around you.
Another big plus is that open-back headphones tend to feature a flatter frequency response. A frequency response as flat as possible is one of the most important features a pair must-have for critical listening, mixing, and mastering situations.
Wearability and Comfort
The wearability and comfort of open-back headphones will largely depend on what particular model you choose, but one thing we can say for certain: open-back headphones tend to create less pressure on your ears and your head.
This is especially good if you’re wearing your headphones for prolonged listening sessions like many music producers and audio engineers do.
The most important thing, however, is finding a model that is adjustable to your head shape, ensuring more comfort.
As far as price goes, open-back headphones tend to be more expensive than their closed-back counterparts.
This is because open-back headphones are majorly aimed at professionals from the music industry, such as music producers and audio engineers so they tend to feature better components, such as high-quality audio drivers.
However, the price range for open-back headphones is very wide. You can find models ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to thousands.
Open-back headphones are more suitable for critical music listening, mixing, and mastering applications due to having a better response across all of the frequency spectrum.
Another very important thing we must consider is that, as we said, open-back headphones will let sound leak into the ambient around you and doesn’t provide the same noise cancelation features as closed-back pairs do.
This characteristic means that open-back headphones will be better suited for use in soundproof environments. They are not the best solution if you want a pair to wear in crowded spaces such as an office or subway, for example, as the listening experience won’t be great, and you can end up bothering people with the noise.
Visit James Longman’s article on “Speaker Frequency Response”
How Are Open-Back Headphones Different from Closed-Back Headphones?
|Difference||Open-Back Headphones||Closed-Back Headphones|
|Design||The earcups are open.||The earcups are totally sealed.|
|Sound Quality||Open-back headphones tend to have a flatter frequency response and more natural sound.||Closed-back headphones have a more constricted sound quality and don't sound as natural as open-back pairs.|
|Noise Cancellation||Open-back headphones don't feature any kind of noise-cancellation technology.||Many closed-back headphones offer noise-cancellation features.|
|Wearability and Comfort||Open-back headphones tend to create less pressure around the ears and head and be more comfortable.||Most closed-back headphones will hug your head very tightly, and the comfort will depend on the particular model.|
|Price||Open-back headphones tend to be more expensive as many of them feature higher-quality components.||The price range for closed-back headphones is very wide, but you can find models cheaper than open-back pairs.|
|Applications||Open-back headphones are better suited for critical music listening, mixing, and mastering purposes.||Closed-back headphones can be used for casual music listening and referencing.|
Benefits and Drawbacks of Open-Back Headphones
- Open-back headphones tend to have a much more natural and realistic sound quality.
- Most models of open-back headphones tend to create less pressure around your ears and your head, making them best for longer music-listening sessions.
- Despite being more expensive than their closed-back counterparts, the price range for open-back headphones is very wide, and there are models for every budget.
- Open-back headphones don’t feature any kind of noise cancellation technology due to their design.
- Similarly, this type of headphone will leak sound to the environment around you.
- Open-back headphones are not as versatile as closed-back ones.
Open-back headphones are excellent if you’re working in the music industry and need a reliable pair for critical listening, mixing, and mastering situations, since they will provide you with a very natural response, especially at low frequencies.
If you’re a music producer, open-back headphones are good for every stage of the music creation process, so they can come in quite handy both when producing and when mixing and mastering your songs.
Open-back headphones are a great investment for music producers and audio engineers, especially since there are models for every budget. But if you’re not an audiophile or you’re interested in a more versatile option, then closed-back headphones are your best bet.
Audiophiles like open-back headphones simply because this kind of headphone offers a flatter frequency response and more natural and realistic sound if compared to their closed-back counterparts.
As you can see, open-back headphones differ from their closed-back counterparts by having a completely open earcup, resulting in several benefits and consequences in your listening experience.
The design of open-back headphones gives them a flatter frequency response overall, so this kind of product is excellent for professional situations such as music producing, mastering and mixing headphones.
Be aware that in some cases, a pair of closed-back headphones might be the best choice, especially if you’re just listening to music casually or want a versatile pair to take with you to the gym or on subway rides, for example.
If, after learning about open-back headphones, you decide that they are perfect for your use case, make sure to research extensively before buying a pair, as many specifications will differ from one model to another.
We hope this article was helpful. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!
Hello, I’m Ian.
I’m a music producer, musician, and writer for the AudioReputation website. I’ve been involved with making music and the processes revolving around audio technology for longer than I can recall, so I find it amusing to share my knowledge with fellow enthusiasts worldwide when I’m not working with artists or creating new songs.
Along my path as a music maker, I discovered the ability to write informative content, and I decided to embrace it. I’ve written for a few websites about audio and music, including a digital magazine.
I’m particularly passionate about any sort of audio gear: guitar pedals, amplifiers, headphones, and even home speakers. That makes it really joyful for me to review any product related to the subject and give my honest opinion about them. I also frequently write tips and guides for consumer and professional-grade audio.