What are open back headphones?

By: Matt | Last updated May 23, 2019
open back headphones sennheiser hd600

Buying headphones can be an exhausting task, because of the wide range of available options. Headphones can divide into several categories, depending on several criteria.

Based on how they fit, they can be divided into in-ear monitors or earbuds and headphones that go on your head. The latter can also be categorized into over-ear headphones, also called circumaural, which cover your entire ear and on-ear headphones, also called supra-aural, which sit on the outer ear.

Another common classification for headphones, depending on their back, is open back, semi-open back and closed back headphones. All of them are over-years headphones, but they have quite a different sound. 

Closed back headphones

Closed back headphones have their back completely sealed/closed, as their name suggests it. What that means is that they basically trap the air so it doesn’t leak outside. That has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is the fact that they have a noise cancellation quality to them, in that they block the outside noise. The sound from your headphones also stays within the ear cups, which makes this type of headphones a good option for traveling, for noisy places or for office use, because you won’t bother others with your music and you won’t be bothered by outside noises either. However, when it comes to sound quality, most audiophiles prefer open-back headphones, because they provide a better audio experience. Another drawback is the fact that they can be heavy and they don’t provide good ventilation, which means your ears will get hot in them and quite sweaty.

Open back headphones

Open back headphones are not sealed on the back, which allows the air to pass through. On one hand, that’s a good thing, because no pressure will build up and your sound will be better, more realistic and wider. In short, with open back headphones you get a wider soundstage, which is preferred by most audiophiles and professionals. Another benefit is the fact that you’ll have better ventilation with open back headphones.

There are of course some drawbacks, too and the most frustrating one is the fact that you’ll experience sound leakage with this type of headphones. That means that if you want to take them with you at the office or in other quiet environments, you’ll probably disturb the people around you, because they can hear everything you’re listening to. You’ll hear outside noises, too, which can be annoying for you. Another disadvantage is that open back headphones are more fragile, moisture can enter easier into the earcups so you have to be very careful with them, because they are not as durable as the other type.

Semi-open back headphones

Semi-open headphones fall somewhere in the middle. Design-wise, they look pretty similar to closed back headphones, but sound-wise, they do let air out and have some sound leakage. That is why they come with the advantages of both closed and open back headphones. Ventilation is better than with closed back headphones, sound leakage is noticeable compared to closed back headphones, but not as much as with open back models. However, sound quality is worse than with open back headphones.

By: Matt | Last updated May 23, 2019