the differences between open and closed back headphones

Closed or Open Back Headphones | Which Do I Need As a Creator?

Different headphone types have different features, making certain types of headphone more suitable than others for specific creator tasks, for example, when recording audio and wearing headphones, selecting a “closed back” headphone type will reduce headphone sound leakage and thus reduce ambient noise in your recording. 

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If you are a creator, be it a Filmmaker, Podcaster, YouTuber, Game Streamer, Musician or any other type of audiovisual producer, headphones will be an essential tool in your studio kit. 

I wear on average four different types of headphones throughout my day. 🎧

I have a dedicated set for music recording & mixing, another set for Skype calls,  a comfy set for checking general audio quality whilst walking the park and finally another set called “cozy phones” for going to sleep while I listen to ambient sounds and audiobooks in bed.

In between these four core pairs of headphones, I have counted another five pairs lying around my studio which vary from cheap over-ear monitoring headphones to in-ear headphones and everything in between. 

You may wonder why I don’t save myself a small fortune and own just one set of headphones? Well, other than the fact I am an audio geek, each pair of headphones has been carefully selected for a chosen task to give the best result. 

With so many different types, styles, price range and manufactures of headphones it can be easy to quickly become overwhelmed when trying to find the right pair of headphones for the job.

But if you are a creator you need to pay attention to the audio quality in your content and getting the right type of headphones for your application can make a world of a difference.

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Treat Your Ears, Love Your Sound & Produce High-Quality Audio in Your Content

Before I jump into the details about matching the right headphone features to your content task, I need to stress that it is important to love the sound coming from your headphones.

If you are using headphones as a tool in your content creation you will more than likely be wearing them a lot, as I do. It really helps if you love them!

You can read all the advice online and carefully research every pair of headphones but if at all possible try to get into a store and listen to headphones before you buy. 

Audio geeks like myself can tell you all about the different features and specifications but audio is subjective  – what sounds awesome to me or your best friend might not sound great to you. 

All our ears are different in geometry [1] with different audio perception, therefore nothing will replace listening before you buy.

Right, with that essential piece of information out of the way, lets match headphone features to content production type!

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Should I use “Open Back” or “Closed Back” headphones in my content production? 

If you are buying headphones for a certain creative task, it is best to learn the differences in features and what technical terms such as  “closed back” and “open back” headphones mean. 

Understanding the technical specifications will not only help you find a pair of headphones that you love but also find the best tool to create excellent audio in your creative works. 

Here is a quick reference list of some of the most common content creator types and the recommended headphone type for the job.

Content Type

Open or Closed Back?

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Podcast Recording

Closed BackClosed back headphones have less audio escaping from them – you want to record voices, not audio leakage from headphones. Use closed back headphones while recording and in close proximity to microphones or your mic could pick up the faint sound of the audio coming from your headphones. 

Audiobook Recording

Closed BackMany vocal artists will wear headphones whilst recording audiobooks to hear their voice intimately. Ideally, these should be closed back to reduce the possibility of the headphone audio leaking onto your audiobook recording. 

General Audio Recording

Closed BackFor all audio recording, anyone close to a microphone should be wearing closed-back headphones to prevent audio leakage from the headphones and unwanted noise on your recording.

Sound Editing & Monitoring

Open BackEither type can be used. Personally, I recommend open back to allow more “air” into the sound and a better representation of how the audio will sound when played through a speaker. 

Music Mixing

Open Back Both work but I recommend open back as I find these play back audio in a way that is truer to how it would sound when played through a loudspeaker. You can also get a better bass extension with some open back headphones. 

Game Streamer

Open or Closed BackOpen or closed back will work for game streaming. If you are recording your stream and your headphones are close to your microphone, using closed-back headphones to prevent your headphone audio from leaking onto your recording and creating noise can be a good thing. That said, comfort is key when gaming and many find open back headphones more comfortable as there is less pressure on the ear and also the greater airflow makes them less sweaty for wearing over long periods of time. 

Blogging

Noise Cancelling

Closed Back

If you need peace and to block out all external noise, I recommend noise-cancelling headphones or closed back headphones. When I am trying to focus on a specific task such as writing an article, I wear noise-cancelling headphones to block out the world and distractions. Closed back headphones also stop more noise from getting into your ears although not as effectively as specially designed noise-cancelling models. 

What does “Open Back” and “Closed Back” Headphones mean?

When we talk about “open back” and “closed back” headphones we are referring to the physical construction of the cover over the ear-piece.

The following image shows an “open back” and “closed back” pair of headphones from the same manufacturer.

closed back versus open back headphones explained

“Open Back” Headphones

You will see that in the “open back” construction there is a grid which allows airflow and therefore sound to pass through. The cover over the ear-piece is “open” therefore called “open back”

For the “closed back” headphones the construction of the ear-piece is solid and fully sealed. The cover over the ear-piece is “closed” therefore called “closed back”.

Key Points About “Open Back” Headphones for Content Creators

  • The headphone outer cover is “open” to allow greater airflow.
  • This headphone type is excellent for audio monitoring and critical listening such as music mixing and mastering as the headphone audio will better represent the true recorded sound and how others will hear it through a speaker. 
  • Typically, open-back headphones can be worn for longer periods of time without discomfort as the open design allows air to flow more freely, reducing pressure on the ear. 
  • This type of headphone is not recommended to be worn when recording as the open back structure will allow sound to escape and leak into any microphones nearby.
  • If you are working in an environment where you don’t want to disturb others, such as an office or public space, open back headphones are not the best choice as some low-level sound will leak through the open back so others can hear what you are listening too….very faintly. 

“Closed Back” Headphones

I remember being on a bus in Vancouver Canada and someone was listening to their MP3 player really loudly on headphones. We could all hear that annoying little “tinny whisper” sound from someone else’s headphones. 

It sent the bus driver crazy! He stopped and demanded that whoever it was turn off or turn down the music. 

I greatly respected that bus driver as that sound can be really distracting and disturbing.

Wearing closed back headphones will significantly reduce this “tinny whisper” sound from your headphones or “audio leakage” as we call it in the industry. 

This is why “closed back” headphones are the best headphones to wear if you are recording audio.

Imagine if you are recording a singer, who is listening to the music backing track in his headphones really loudly. 

The backing track sound will leak from his headphones (that annoying tinny whisper sound) and onto the vocal recording.

Granted it will be low, but it will degrade the sound quality as it is unwanted noise. 

audio recording with closed back headphones

Key Points About “Closed Back” Headphones for Content Creators

  • The headphone outer cover is “closed” to restrict airflow.
  • Excellent for wearing while recording as the sound leaking from the headphones is minimal and create a quieter recording environment.
  • Can be uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time as the closed construction places more pressure on the ear. 
  • Perfect if you don’t want to disturb others as there will be little sound leakage or in other words that annoying faint sound you hear from someone else’s headphones when on the bus!
  • As well as reducing audio leaking out, closed back headphones also reduces noise leaking in so if you want to work undisturbed by your surrounding environmental noise, these are a good option.
  • Personally, my favourite closed back headphones are the
closed back headphone description

Conclusion

One of the most important distinguishing features between headphone types is the “open back” and “closed back” option.

For most of us creators, we spend hours every day in our headphones and care deeply about our audio quality, therefore it is important to ensure we have the right tool for the job – or in this case, the right set of headphones for the job.

Open back headphones have a vented cover to allow airflow.

This can be very comfortable as there is less pressure build up on the ear and they are the perfect selection for critical audio listening such as mixing and mastering as open back headphone audio will be truer in sound to the original recording and what others will hear through normal speakers. 

With open back headphones, you can also get a more accurate bass representation and therefore make a better judgement on the quality of the bass sound in your audio mix.

The downside of open back headphones is that the open structure allows greater levels of sound to leak out, which creates that annoying faint “headphone whisper” you hear from other people’s headphones. 

This can be problematic if you are recording audio such as a podcast as this headphone audio can leak out and potentially be picked up in your recording. 

Alternatively you can select “closed back headphones.

In the construction of these headphones, the cover which goes over the ear-piece is solid or sealed creating a closed back – hence the name.

With the closed back headphone type, less audio will leak out from the headphones and into the surrounding environment, making them a good option to wear while recording. 

As well as letting less audio leak out, they also reduce some external noise getting in – not in an amazing way like noise-cancelling headphones  – but certainly closed back are better than open back headphones at reducing external noise heard by the wearer. 

Due to the reduced noise leakage from closed back headphones, they are a good option if you are working in an environment where you don’t want to disturb others. Less audio will escape from your closed back headphones, reducing that annoying faint “headphone whisper” that you can sometimes hear from someone else’s headphones.

The downside of closed back headphones is that they are typically not as accurate as open back headphones when critically listening or mixing and mastering audio. As the sound is trapped inside the cover, it reflects and does not accurately represent what you would typically hear through a pair of loudspeakers.

In addition, closed back headphones can be less comfortable to wear for longer periods of time due to the extra pressure placed on the ear with the sealed enclosure.

You cannot say categorically that one type of headphone (i.e. open or closed back) is better sounding than the other. Each type is a tool which has their place and are designed for different usage and application.

Picking the right type can greatly improve your audio production experience and take the audio quality in your content to the next level, 

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.

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