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Closed Back vs Open Back Headphones

Choosing the right pair of headphones is something that a lot of people will go through on a regular basis. Now the thing about choosing a pair of headphones is that the process should be fairly easy on almost all the grounds. However, the thing is that when it comes to a pair that not only provides the perfect listening experience, but also the best value for money, things can get a bit more confusing.

When you are selecting a pair of over-ear headphones, you will often find yourself deciding between open back headphones or closed back headphones. The truth of the matter is that both headphones are just as good. However, there is a difference between both types and the differences are not minor, to begin with.

To make things simpler and easier for the majority, we are going to take a look at this detailed comparison of open back and closed back headphones. This is definitely going to be helpful for those who are new in the market and are looking for an easier time deciding the best possible option that they can get.

Considering how this is not a buying guide, we are not going to be looking at elements such as comfort, and price because those are nearly the same when it comes to these headphone types. So, keeping that in mind, let’s not waste time and have a look.

Sound Quality

If we are to look at the sound quality of both headphones, that is going to largely the same. Simply because both headphones are driven in an identical way, however, their physical construction is different and make a minor difference in how you listen to music.

Keeping that in mind, the sound quality on my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is just as good as the sound quality on my Sennheiser HD598. So, where do they differ? Well, the sound on the M50x is a bit more neutral with tighter bass, while the sound on the 598 feels more spacious.

Picking the right winner is not something that is easily possible. The sound that they possess and present to the users is drastically different and is largely based on the personal preferences of the users.

Winner: Both.

Sound Stage

The biggest factor that represents a change in the headphones is the sound stage they are offering. This is a factor that most people need to consider whenever they are buying a pair of good headphones. There are two types that are common when it comes to sound stage; you can either have a wider sound stage, or a narrower one. The wider sound stage will provide better separation, while a narrower sound stage will be good as far as the overall bass is concerned.

Comparing the sound stage of both the open back and closed back headphones, the one thing that is certain is that the sound stage on the open back headphones is a lot wider than the sound stage on the closed back headphones. Separation is something that is widely available and works really well, too. Listening to music on open back headphones feels like you are actually present in the same room as the artist.

The sound stage on closed back headphones is on a narrower end, however, that does not mean that the headphones sound bad. They sound almost as good, however, with tighter and punchier bass.

Picking the right winner here is kind of difficult. If you are someone who prefers to have a good frequency separation, going with open back headphones is the right thing to do. However, if you prefer the tighter bass frequencies, then going for closed back headphones makes more sense.

Winner: Open Back Headphones.

Noise Isolation

Noise isolation is often that factor that most people look for whenever they are buying a pair of headphones. Now the thing is that some people are very scrutinizing about the isolation that they are looking for, and that is the reason they pay special attention to it whenever they are in the market looking for one.

Keeping that in mind, the noise isolation on open back headphones is barely there. Simply because of their design. The drivers of the headphones encased in the ear cups but not closed off from the other end. This creates a wider sound stage, but in order to do that, it sacrifices the overall noise isolation. Which means that the sound from headphones can go out, and the outside noise can find its way into the headphones, as well.

As far as the closed back headphones are concerned, they provide the perfect noise isolation that you can hope for you. Considering how their drivers are encased on both ends, there is a minimum sound leakage that can actually be taken care of by using good quality, and in most cases, aftermarket earpads that come with the headphones. The noise isolation also results in overall louder sound, and bass that is much tighter and punchier, as well.

Picking the winner here is something that is pretty self-explanatory; noise isolation is a feature that is becoming more and more important in the modern day and age. Keeping that in mind, the closed back headphones are certainly better in this regard.

Winner: Closed-Back Headphones.

Scenarios in which closed-Back Headphones are Better

Now that we have looked at some of the common differences between both headphone types, the next step is to look at the use cases of these headphones. As far as closed-back headphones, they are best suited for the following purposes.

  • For people who prefer commuting a lot.
  • For anyone who wants good noise isolation.
  • For people looking for a tighter and punchier bass.
  • For those who do not want to disturb others.

These are some of the most common scenarios in which the closed back headphones are far better and do work in a great way, as well.

Scenarios in Which Open Back Headphones are Better

You might find yourself wondering that there is no real use case of open back headphones. However, you would be wrong. As a matter of fact, the open back headphones are a long time favorite of many people who are looking for a good listening experience, and there are some obvious benefits to those headphones, as well.

Below are some of the most common scenarios in which these headphones are great.

  • For listening at home.
  • For people who want a wider sound stage.
  • People who are looking for the most natural sound.
Credits: wirecutter.com


Drawing a conclusion for this comparison is not an easy one. Simply because both headphones are made for a drastically different crowd, and while the closed back headphones are good, the same goes for open back headphones. As a matter of fact, many people don’t even compare them and simply call them entirely different products.

To sum it up, if you are looking for something that you can use while commuting, something that provides you with good isolation, and something that actually has better bass, than going for closed back headphones are the way to go.

However, if you are looking for a good pair of headphones that will allow you to enjoy your favorite music at home, and you are looking for something that offers a wider sound stage, then going for open back headphones is the way to go.


Bill Wilson

Bill is a certified Microsoft Professional providing assistance to over 500 remotely connected employees and managing Windows 2008 to 2016 servers.