Popularized by DJ equipment, the closed-back headphone design is based on the idea of sealing off the outside world to allow only minimal sounds in and out. They’ve grown in popularity for music listening, though closed-back headphones do not always correlate to good sound quality, at least not for every music connoisseur.
In this blog post, we aim to answer: why closed-back headphones are worth it and to whom they are best suited. By the end of the article, you’ll hopefully have a new appreciation for these headphones — or at least know when they’re appropriate for your needs!
- Why Closed Headphones are Worth it – The Benefits of Owning a Pair of Closed-back Headphones
- Disadvantages of Closed-Back Headphones
Why Closed Headphones are Worth it – The Benefits of Owning a Pair of Closed-back Headphones
Closed-Back Headphones are Cheap
You are probably aware of the two main types of headphones – open-back and closed-back headphones. The last time you were in your favorite electronics store, did they have a good selection for both? One of the main reasons why closed headphones are worth the money is that they are very popular with ordinary consumers, so they are produced in larger quantities and cost less.
Open-back headphones are a good option if you love the feeling of being immersed and want others to hear what you’re listening to as a way to flex on them with your great music taste. On the other hand, closed-back headphones will block outside noise via passive or active noise reduction and keep your music contained; thus, sound doesn’t get in and out of the ear cup.
Suitable for Recording
Closed-back headphones are often used for recording in professional settings because they provide greater sound isolation. Headphones with closed design allows you to mix music during live performances and reduce noise from other music sources during recording. On top of that, closed-back headphones also offer a very personal and intimate listening experience, as you’re not distracted by things around you and the typical sound signature of closed headphones.
Plenty of Bass and Depth
Many people prefer closed-back headphones because of the dynamic bass response. Closed-back headphones are capable of producing vigorous and physical basses. Their extension isn’t perfect in all models, as that’s a quality found in more high-end closed headphones.
The soundstage is much deeper with closed-back headphones due to the airtight space created within the earcups. This means that music has more layers to it and feels more rich and full, but also more distorted. If you love listening to pop, electronic, classic rock, and hard rock, then closed headphones are for you.
When it comes to bass, audiophiles and ordinary consumers think of it in two ways: tight, well-controlled, with deep impact and slight roll-off. And: strong, punchy, physical bass that gives the whole listening experience a good kick. Most closed-back headphones have the second type of bass. Some, like the WH-1000XM2, sound muddy, while others, like the Beyerdynamic T90, have rich, engaging, and ample volume.
Tight bass arrives more quickly, is more controlled, and, in some cases, more accurate, but it falls a little short for some. Powerful bass gives the impression of fullness and overall satisfaction, but is often the result of muddy, uncontrolled reproduction of the lows. The latter is the one that blows your whole ear off; even if it gets a little painful, that’s what you get from cheaper headphones.
Passive Sound Insulation & No Sound Leakage
Closed-back headphones are essentially the best in terms of sound isolation because they block out sound and noise up to 30 dB (the best passive sound-insulating headphones). This is why many pro audio equipment manufacturers use them when using professional microphones because they don’t want the microphone to pick up any unwanted external audio cues that could potentially affect the recording.
High passive noise reduction is as excellent for studio recording as it is for gaming and movie watching, where you don’t want your headphone background to be filled with ambient noise. They help isolate noise such as the rumble of a train or bother your family with the sound effects of your movie/video game.
Fantastic Travel Headphones
Additionally, frequent travelers who use closed-back headphones will love that they can block out snoring, loud conversations, and other noises that can often get to you. Most travel headphones come with active noise-canceling and wireless connectivity. The passive noise isolation of closed-back headphones blocks high frequencies, while the ANC technology attenuates low and mid-range frequencies. Both passive and active noise reduction methods are necessary for a quality listening experience
So far, you may have enough reasons to justify buying a pair of closed-back headphones; however, it’s time to mention some of the drawbacks of closed-back headphones.
Disadvantages of Closed-Back Headphones
These benefits come at a cost, though – closed-back headphones have a more limited bass range than open-back headphones. Plus, their acoustics aren’t perfect to reveal the smallest details, and their dynamics aren’t on point, making these headphones less suitable for certain genres of music like Classical, Orchestral, Blues, or Jazz.
We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of closed-back and open-back headphones in a previous article (See “Closed-back vs. Open-back headphones – What’s the Difference”).
In addition, other disadvantages of closed headphones include their clamping force, which can cause discomfort, lack of ambient noise, which is not always desirable for people suffering from tinnitus, lack of ventilation, heat build-up, weight, and a slight reduction in the width of the soundstage compared to open headphones.
Dynamics and Soundstage
Disadvantages of closed-back headphones include the inability to replicate a wide soundstage with good instrumental separation and imaging. This can also give the feeling of sounds having a long decay time, which gives off the feeling of width. Even some of the finest closed-back audiophile headphones under $1000 have this issue.
The same effect hinders the ability to differentiate and discern between different instruments and subtle details. The amount of space given for each sound element may also be affected. Open-back headphones do not have this issue; however, their sound is often airier and brighter than headphones with a closed design.
Less Accurate Sound
Many enjoy the effect of sound reverberating around the ear, especially in closed-back headphones, as it can make them sound more enjoyable and immersive. However, this affects the accuracy of the sound as well. Closed-back headphones get a bad rap for having a less accurate sound compared to open-back alternatives.
Unlike open-back headphones, closed-back headphones do not allow heat to escape, and this can cause discomfort, especially during hot summers. Most closed-back headphones use leather or synthetic material to cover the ear pads, which, while breathable, doesn’t get to the level of more breathable materials used on open-back headphones. Also, the closed enclosure doesn’t allow air to be pushed through the headphones, which hinders the airflow and can cause even more warmth.
Due to the enclosed space, closed-back headphones’ bass usually muffles the vocals. This affects the performance of the headphones when listening to music genres such as rock- and jazz-based songs. The “closed-in” feeling will also affect the quality of vocals when listening to hip hop, R&B, and dance music.
Takeaway: Closed-back headphones are great all-around headphones for travel, commuting, and listening at home or in studios.
So, are closed-back headphones worth it? Yes, especially if you travel a lot or enjoy the privacy of listening to electronic or pop music or watching a movie on Netflix. Otherwise, open-back headphones offer a better soundstage, bigger and deeper bass, more immersive sound, a fuller range of sounds, and sound quality better suited to most types of music.
The general consensus among people who have used both types of headphones is that they prefer closed-back headphones for their durability and comfort and their lively and vibrant sound quality, giving the music a more inviting and intimate feel.
The best way to decide if closed-back headphones are worth your money is to buy two inexpensive headphones, one open and one closed, and test them for a day. Listen to as many different types of music and genres as possible. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for headphones, so try both types.
We suggest you try the AKG K52 and the Monoprice Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style, as they are the best cheap headphones in their class.