Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones: Which Is Best For You?

Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones

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If you’ve spent some time reading up on headphones, then you’ve probably already come across this topic of open-back vs. closed-back headphones.

Open-back and closed-back are all part of the headphones categories, and then there’s semi-open but what are their differences?

There are debates around these categories, with some people comparing these headphone types, pitting them against each other and some arguing that one is better than the others. But we must consider that each of them serves a different purpose, with each one having its advantages and disadvantages.

If you’re looking to buy a pair of headphones and you don’t know which type to get, then you’ve come to the right place. I’m here to help you understand their differences so it’ll be easier for you to decide which one to buy.

Let’s get to it!

Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones have vents or holes on their shells, which allow air to pass through. This design affects how these headphones sound. With the air passing through the vents and freely vibrating around the driver, the soundstage is better and the sound seems more natural.

A lot of audiophiles and audio engineers prefer open-back headphones due to their technical advantage over closed-back headphones. Since these headphones are more natural-sounding, they can produce a more accurate and clear presentation of audio.

Additionally, open-back headphones don’t generate as much heat compared to closed-back headphones – thanks to their design, which also adds ventilation. This makes them much more comfortable to wear for extended periods.

SENNHEISER HD 660 S - HiRes Audiophile Open Back Headphone
SENNHEISER HD 660 S Open-Back Headphone | Make Life Click

Of course, there are also disadvantages to this headphone design. Since open-back headphones have holes or ventilation on their shell, they don’t isolate sound well and the same goes for noise. They’re prone to sound leaks, which isn’t good when you’re in public and you just want to enjoy your music while you’re out and about.

Another disadvantage of open-back headphones is that the decent models tend to be pricier. Audio enthusiasts want to get the most accurate and natural sound, and a relatively higher price comes with this huge demand for good quality. 

So it’s much harder to come by excellent open-back headphones if you’re on a tight budget. You’d likely have to shell out at least $200 to grab a great pair of open-back headphones.


  • Superb sound quality
  • Natural, accurate, and with great clarity in terms of presentation
  • Generates less heat compared to closed-back headphones
  • Excellent for studio and home use


  • Decent pairs tend to be more expensive
  • Sound leakage and poor noise and sound isolation
  • Not suitable for public use case scenarios
  • A lot more flimsy in construction

Open-Back Headphones: Frequently Asked Questions

Are open-back headphones better than closed-back headphones?

They are certainly better than open-back headphones in terms of sound quality since they tend to have a more natural sound. They also have better clarity and accuracy in presenting sound.

Are open-back headphones suitable for portable use?

Open-back headphones aren’t the best for portable use since they don’t have the best sound and noise isolation. They’re best for home or studio use, or in similar controlled environments.

Can open-back headphones have noise-canceling features?

Noise cancelation isn’t common on open-back headphones, even on more expensive pairs.

Are open-back headphones more comfortable to wear?

The comfort of open-back headphones highly depends on the model you’re using but in general, users find that open-back headphones generate less heat as they allow air to freely pass through the vents. This reduces heat build-up and sweating.

What are open-back headphones best for?

Open-back headphones are best for mixing and mastering tracks because of their natural and accurate sound presentation and superb sound quality. This is what makes them an obvious pick for audiophiles and audio engineers.

Closed-Back Headphones

When someone mentions the word “headphones”, an image of closed-back headphones would probably immediately come to mind. These headphones can be seen anywhere and are offered by a plethora of brands. 

Closed-back headphones have a sealed or closed design that helps prevent sound from leaking and improve isolation.

Compared to open-back headphones, closed-back headphones isolate sounds and noise better. The downside to this design is that it may compress some frequencies, resulting in a less natural or synthetic sound.

As I’ve mentioned, one great advantage of closed-back headphones is that they isolate sound better, meaning they’re great to use when you’re on your daily commute to work or in public places. They don’t leak sound, allowing you to enjoy your music without the worry of disturbing others.

SIVGA SV021 Classic Zebrano Wooden Closed Back Wired Over-Ear Headphone
SIVGA SV021 Classic Zebrano Wooden Closed Headphone | Make Life Click

One thing to note about closed-back headphones is that, compared to open-back headphones, they tend to have a more emphasized bass response due to the isolation and resonance with their sealed design.

Soundstaging also took a toll with the sealed design of closed-back headphones. Although not inherently wrong, it doesn’t compare with the sound staging capabilities of open-back headphones.

Another common disadvantage with open-back headphones is that after using them for a while, they can get uncomfortable as they tend to generate heat with their closed design. Since the drivers are sealed, pressure can build up over time, which can hurt your ears.


  • Lots of great options for every budget
  • Durable
  • Excellent sound and noise isolation


  • Poor sound staging capabilities
  • Generates heat over time
  • Not as ‘natural’ sounding compared to open-back headphones

Closed-Back Headphones: Frequently Asked Questions

Are closed-back headphones better than open-back headphones?

There are certain qualities that closed-back headphones do better compared to open-back headphones. For example, closed-back headphones are better in terms of durability, portability, and price. However, they fall short in terms of sound quality.

Are closed-back headphones suitable for portable use?

Closed-back headphones are ideal for outdoor and portable use since they isolate sound and noise better because of their sealed design. They’re great for listening to music in public places and noisy environments.

Do closed-back headphones come with noise-canceling technology?

Many closed-back headphones, even the budget-friendly models, come with active noise-canceling. This feature is one of the vital advantages of some closed-back headphones and it especially comes in handy in public spaces.

Are closed-back headphones comfortable to wear?

Much like open-back headphones, the comfort of closed-back headphones highly depends on the make and model. However, closed-back headphones tend to generate heat faster especially when worn for extended periods, which leads to sweating and this is when they become uncomfortable.

What are closed-back headphones best for?

Closed-back headphones are best for casual listeners who like to listen to music from anywhere, whether at home, on their daily commute, or at a cafe or gym. These headphones let you fully enjoy your music even if you don’t have access to a sound-treated room.

Semi-Open-Back Headphones

Semi-open-back headphones are the middle ground between open-back and closed-back headphones but are much closer to open-back headphones in terms of performance. These headphones tend to replicate a bit of the natural sound characteristic of open-back headphones while having a sturdier build and budget-friendly prices like closed-back headphones. 

Like open-back headphones, semi-open-back headphones can lessen the pressure build-up caused by headphone drivers so there’s less ear fatigue. They generate less heat than closed-back headphones but not as well as open-back headphones.

AKG 240 Studio
AKG 240 Studio Semi-Open-Back Headphones | Make Life Click

They have similar disadvantages to open-back headphones as they’re also prone to sound leaks and the sound isolation isn’t good, making them unsuitable for public spaces.


  • Has a more natural sound like open-back headphones
  • Durable build closed-back headphones
  • Best for casual listening and home use
  • Generates less heat


  • Sound and noise isolation isn’t good
  • Has sound leaks
  • Not recommended for outdoor or public space use

Semi-Closed-Back Headphones: Frequently Asked Questions

Are semi-open-back headphones better than open-back or closed-back headphones?

Semi-open-back headphones are a completely different product but they share more similarities with open-back headphones in terms of sound and performance but with a sturdier build.

Are semi-open-back headphones suitable for portable use?

Compared to open-back headphones, some semi-open-back headphones are more suitable for portable because they have better sound isolation. This can still depend on the make and model.

Can semi-open-back headphones be used for studio monitoring?

Yes. Semi-open-back headphones are often used for mixing, mastering, and studio monitoring since they’re in the middle ground in terms of isolation and sound quality. Many audio engineers choose these headphones for those reasons.

Are semi-open-back headphones comfortable to wear?

Yes, they’re comfortable to wear as they’re quite similar to open-back headphones in terms of comfort. They allow air to pass through generating less heat and reducing sweating.

What are semi-open-back headphones best for?

Semi-open-back headphones are versatile. They’re great for home or studio use but they can be used outdoors too. Many semi-open-back headphones are a go-to for audio engineers and audiophiles.

Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones: Final Thoughts

Now that we got the basics out of the way, let’s address this question in terms of open-back vs. closed-back headphones: which is best for you? The answer to this heavily depends on your needs and what you’ll use the headphones for. 

Closed-back headphones would be great for someone who likes to listen to music from anywhere, especially when in public places and noisy environments. Meanwhile, open-back headphones are for those who prioritize sound quality over anything else, especially those who work in the audio industry.

Semi-open-back headphones are the middle ground if you want a pair that offers great sound quality and can also be used for listening in public. 

Your budget is also a significant factor when deciding which type of headphones to buy. So consider that when weighing your options because you don’t want to shell out on something that doesn’t fit your needs.

A man of many interests, Querho is passionate about discovering new things that stimulate the mind. When he is not writing about the things he is passionate about, Querho can be found making music at his home studio.

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