Closed Headphones Vs. Open Headphones — Which One Is Better?

Closed headphones are better than open headphones. They’re more versatile and provide a sound I enjoy more. Boom! Article over and done!

Okay I guess I should explain myself. Let’s do this, category-style.

Stock photograph of a lady wearing headphones!

Sound Quality

Do you like bass? Then the odds are good that open headphones are never going to do it for you.

Open headphones have a more airy, “natural/neutral” quality to them. They don’t really suffer from the resonances that closed headphones are susceptible to. Open headphones have nothing behind the driver, so the sounds they make won’t bounce around inside the cups.

This is great for rendering little details in the mid and high frequencies…but terrible for bass. Bass frequencies require a lot of air movement. That’s why subwoofers are so big. Headphones use tiny little speakers, so engineers have to use design tricks to get them to produce decent bass, and that usually requires sealing them up in some way to manipulate the airflow.

Open headphones can still produce some bass, but it’s never going to be as satisfying or deeply extended as the bass in a closed headphone. Further, there are several closed headphones out there that have overcome the resonance problem and have a lovely sound. Some examples include the DT770, the MSR7, the M50X, the MDR-1A, the MDR-7506…among many others.

Most consumers want decent bass. That’s a fact of the market. So, most consumers will prefer the sound of a closed headphone.

Soundstage

The one area where open headphones win big is soundstage…which is basically the sense of how far away the sound is from the sides of your head. Since there’s nothing behind the drivers, the sound can leak out into your environment, and this gives it a more natural feel to your ears.

Closed headphones tend to feel a little “In-your-face.” There are one or two exceptions, like the DT770…but for the most part, closed headphones have a very intimate sound.

Open headphones aren’t drastically better, but if you’re someone that prefers the roomy feel of speakers, open headphones are closer to that. The driver is still right up against your ear, but they’re not quite so claustrophobic.

Portability

If you take away one thing from this article, take this:

Don’t buy open headphones if you’re going to use them around other people.

Please don’t.

Under any circumstances.

Open headphones leak all their audio to the outside world. And they provide no isolation for the user. So if you use them in say, a coffee shop…you’re still going to hear all the sounds happening in the coffee shop, and everyone in the coffee shop will hear your music.

Open headphones are completely awful for portable use. They’re almost exclusively meant for at-home listening, when you’re by yourself. Also, open models are safer to walk around outside with, since you can hear the outside world…but their clamp is often loose enough that they might fall off your head if you move around. So it depends on the model.

Just please, don’t be that person using them near other people.

You might think that no one would do this, but I’ve seen it several times. And I don’t understand it. Be considerate please!

Comfort

Open headphones often don’t heat your ears up as much as closed headphones, so that can help if you’re in a hot environment. But beyond that, comfort is determined by build and pad quality, and not really by whether or not the backs are opened or closed.

Final Thoughts

Closed headphones have more/better bass. You can use them portably without disturbing your neighbors. You can use them at home, too. They have an intimate soundstage and sometimes have cup resonances, but many models even on the lower end of the price spectrum overcome these issues.

Open headphones have their specific uses. They tend to sound more laid back and balanced. They have a nice airy openness that some will prefer. But they’re not nearly as versatile for different use cases or environments.

Open headphones are a great second purchase, so you can see what they’re all about. But since I enjoy a nice bass extension/response, and often use my headphones portably, I think closed headphones are the best choice. That’s why I so rarely review or recommend open models even though some of the most revered models are open. They just don’t fit into my life as well.

Please click the heart if this helped you out! It helps me to feel better about myself, and helps other people find this article much more easily.

I listened to Meghan Trainor’s Title(Deluxe Edition) while writing this article, using 250 Ohm DT770 Pros. In case you were wondering.