What Headphone Design Is Right For You?

 In TSM Studio Blog

Unfortunately, choosing a pair of headphones isn’t a fashion contest. It would be all too simple if selecting headphones were solely based off of appearance, but decisions should instead be made based off of what features best suit the primary applications. 

With no shortage of tech jargon being tossed into product descriptions, it comes to no surprise that the average consumer can quickly become overwhelmed while trying to choose a pair of headphones. 

Today we’ll be providing a brief overview of some of the most common headphone designs and what applications they’re best suited for. 

 

Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones are frequently described as sounding “natural” and “organic”, and the reason behind that is their transparency in providing a realistic soundstage for the listener. As headphone drivers repeatedly push sound outward and inward in constant motion, open-back headphones allow sound to spill outward into the room providing a less boxy listening experience with enhanced clarity. 

The open-back headphone design is also great for artists, producers or mixers that may be working in a less than ideal environment that lacks proper acoustic treatment. When studio monitors are placed in an untreated room, their ability to provide honest feedback is skewed, making open-back headphones a great go-to alternative. 

 

Pros:

  • They’re a great option for post-production engineers or mixers that are seeking the most honest representation of their sound
  • Great for casual listening at home
  • Open-back headphones sound clear, un-hyped and provide an enhanced soundstage with incredible depth
  • When critically listening, they’re the next best thing when studio monitors are unavailable or inaccurate
  • Less fatiguing than closed-back headphones

 

Cons:

  • Because of their open-back design, outside noise remains audible and sound will bleed out into the environment. This makes them less than ideal for office spaces, public transportation, recording purposes, or any other circumstance where isolation is preferred.
  • Typically more expensive than most closed-back headphones
  • By construction, open-back headphones tend to be more fragile than closed-back headphones because of their components’ exposure to the surrounding elements.

 

Closed-Back Headphones

Similar to how open-back headphones quite literally contain an open back, closed-back headphones are closed or sealed around the back, restricting the driver from audibly pushing sound out of the headphone enclosure. This attribute makes them the ideal choice when isolation from the outside environment is preferred. Whether there’s a noisy street repair going on next door or your neighbors just can’t seem to keep it down, closed-back headphones help to sequester your listening experience from the external noise.

 

For recording purposes, they’re also the ideal headphone design because their closed-back construction keeps the headphone mix from bleeding into the microphone.

Pros:

  • Isolation provides a more immersive casual listening experience
  • Great for recording purposes, travel, and general on-the-go listening
  • Generally more affordable than open-back headphones

 

Cons:

  • Can insulate warmth around your ears when listening for an extended period of time
  • Not as wide or natural sounding as open-back headphones
  • May fatigue your ears faster than other headphone designs

 

Semi-open Back Headphones

As the name implies, these headphones attempt to provide the best-of-both-worlds between open and closed-back designs. Their construction can be viewed as either closed-back headphones that allow slightly more air to enter and exit the enclosure or open-back headphones that allow slightly more isolation from the external environment.

Personally, I would recommend investing in a good pair of both open and closed-back headphones rather than semi-open back headphones just because although they contain some of the advantages of both designs, they maintain all of the disadvantages. However, it all comes down to personal preference and a semi-open back design may wind up suiting your needs perfectly.

 

In Closing…

It’s imperative to remember that all headphone designs are constructed with proper intention in mind. Closed-back headphones aren’t trying to be open-back headphones any more than open-back headphones are trying to mimic closed-back designs. They each maintain their own advantages over one another and their allure ultimately comes down to the buyer’s applications and personal preference.