Closed-back vs open-back headphones: which ones are right for you?
Friends, audiophiles, and music lovers — lend us your ears
With so many options out there, picking the right pair of over-ear headphones can be a tricky endeavour, with all sorts of things to take into account. For example, you’ve probably come across both closed-back and open-back headphones on your search, and might not be sure which type to go for.
Both options have their respective perks, and there’s no set answer on which one is better — it all comes down to your needs and what you’re after. So if you’re on the hunt for some over-ears but not sure which type to go for, fear not — we’ll cover everything you need to know below.
Closed-back headphones are a godsend for commuters, office workers, and anyone who wants to block out the madness of the outside world. They’re the most common choice for most people, as they seal in sound, channelling sweet tunes, podcasts and whatever else you fancy, directly into your ears. If you want to escape from the horrific screeching of tube breaks or incessant office chatter, closed-back is definitely the way to go.
Beyond letting you enjoy some well-deserved peace and quiet though, they’ve got another key benefit too — they don’t leak sound. By keeping everything closed, no one else around you will hear what you’re listening to, saving you from being the source of many a glaring stare on a bus or train carriage.
As with most things in life however, there are a few caveats. For starters, their sealed design means that lower frequencies tend to be more amplified. If you like your music on the bassier side then that’s obviously not an issue, but you might want to dive into the equaliser settings for a more neutral sound if you’re a purist.
Closed-back headphones will also sound a little less accurate than their original recordings intended, and things will generally feel a bit tighter and less spacious. None of this is inherently bad, mind, and a high quality pair of closed-back headphones like the Dali IO-6 will provide a beautiful listening experience.
One last thing to note is that closed-back headphones might make your ears a little hotter if you’re wearing them for a long time, but this is something that varies person to person (and can even come in very handy on bitterly cold winter days).
Open-back headphones flip everything around by allowing — even encouraging — sound to leak out. They purposefully don’t create a seal over your ears, allowing air to pass through the ear cups, and the result is a beautifully spacious listening experience that sounds wider and airier.
Due to their open nature, everything has a little more room to breathe, which means you won’t get the artificially enhanced bass that closed-back headphones provide. As a result, you could argue that open-back headphones are more accurate, letting you hear things like instruments and vocals in more nuanced, clearer detail.
Naturally, there are two main downsides to this design. Not only will everyone around you hear whatever you're listening to (be prepared for annoyed passengers and coworkers), but, in turn, you’ll hear everything happening around you. As a result, open-back headphones should only really be used in quiet environments.
The ideal listening scenario is in your own home, in a quiet room, where you can really relax and focus on whatever you’re listening to.This concept might seem a little strange if you’re not already a die-hard audiophile, but there’s something rather magical about carving out some time to sit back and really listen. A comfy chair, a glass of whiskey, and beautifully clear mellow jazz treating your ears — it doesn’t get much better than that.
Closed-back vs open-back headphones: which is better?
As mentioned before, there’s no right answer here. Quality examples of both types of headphones will provide an enjoyable listening experience, and it depends on what you’re after.
If you want a pair of headphones for daily wear while out and about, in the office, or for travelling, then a pair of closed-back headphones is definitely the right choice. Their closed nature will offer you privacy without disturbing those around you, while their naturally sealed design makes them less delicate and more durable when it comes to things like rain.
If, on the other hand, you already own a pair of closed-back headphones and are looking to expand your horizons, then an open-back offering like the excellent Grado Prestige PS500e is definitely well worth considering. While open-back headphones tend to be more expensive and at the more luxurious end of the spectrum, using them is a ritual that you’ll soon fall in love with, and their natural, expansive sound is a joy to behold.
Check out our full range of closed-back and open-back headphones here.