The Difference Between Open Back vs Closed Back Headphones

One of the biggest decisions you will face when getting started in the world of DJing is what DJ headphones to get. Considering how much time you’ll likely have them on your head it’s not a decision to take lightly.

There is a staggering amount of choice when it comes to DJ headphones. As you start to dig deeper into your choices you may find yourself asking a very common question. What is the difference between open back vs closed back headphones and more importantly which ones are best for DJ’s?

Luckily we have you covered. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know so that you can make sure you get the best headphones for DJing that suit your needs.

What are Open Back Headphones?

What are open back headphones is a very common question. These headphones allow the passage of air to hit the drivers of the headphones. You may be wondering why this is important but there are several benefits to open back headphones for you to consider.

Usually, the best open headphones produce a much richer and more dynamic sound. They have vents or grills to allow air in. The ability for air to circulate to the driver delivers an experience that is as close to listening to studio monitors as possible. These vents also minimize any echoing of the music and prevent lower frequencies from building up within the headphones. You will get more natural sound with open back headphones vs closed.

This is a double-edged sword however as having that ventilation also means that sound can get in. It can be difficult to line up your next track while having loud exterior noise filtering in. Additionally, those vents allow music to escape your headphones too. Keep this in mind If you would like to throw down epic mixes in your headphones without annoying the people around you. This can also cause problems if you move into producing your own music. Sound leakage from your headphones can find its way into any recording of instruments or vocals.

Headphones sitting on a keyboard.

Closed back headphones are better if you are recording vocals or instruments.

There is another drawback for even the best open ear headphones which is worth mentioning as well. Since they’re open it does allow for more moisture to reach your drivers. Proper care is required to make sure you get the maximum lifespan out of your cans. Having a good quality case or bag for storage when not in use is vital. You don’t want to be having to buy new headphones sooner than you have to.

On the flip side having those vents will allow your ears to breathe as well. If you’ve ever had headphones on for a long time you know your ears can get quite hot and sweaty. Open back headphones are a good way to minimise this since there is greater air circulation which in turn leads to greater comfort.

Open back headphones have been the standard for many audiophiles. The manufacture of these has been ongoing for decades and as a result, you’ll find the quality of the drivers to be superior in open backed headphones. That’s not to say closed back headphones don’t have quality drivers. More and more high-end brands are working hard to create great closed back options. If you do want to stick to tried and true open back will generally have better drivers powering your sound.

You can discover the best open back headphones for mixing in our detailed guide. Including our picks for the top open back headphones available.

What are Closed Back Headphones?

Open back headphones offer vents to let music escape. Closed back headphones are the exact opposite. They encase the back of the headphones so that none to minimal sound can get in or get out.

This poses its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Having the sound encapsulated will result in minor echoes and low-frequency build-up. This results in a less clear and crisp sound compared to open back headphones. For most this won’t be a huge concern but if you want your tunes to sound as realistic as possible keep this in mind when selecting your headphones.

The noise-canceling feature is also ideal for anyone who plans on recording vocals or instruments for use in their own tracks or remixes. Closed back headphones are worth considering if you want to go down that path in the future.

Closed back headphones also tend to be more bass-heavy since the sound has nowhere to go and reverberates within the enclosed space. For some, this will be a drawback as you do lose clarity due to the bass becoming more front and center. Others who rate headphones based on the bass output will see this as a bonus.

As a DJ closed back headphones have become a necessity. Professional DJs perform in nightclubs or at parties where the music is blasting. They want to be able to cue up their next track without having to deal with all the exterior noise. This why close back headphones dominate top DJ headphone lists. This doesn’t just apply to professionals either, if you like your music loud when practicing at home this noise cancellation will be vital. It also comes with the added benefit of not disturbing the people around you.

Headphones sitting on top of DJ equipment.

Sound isolation is critical for DJing in loud environments.

Closed back headphones do tend to be more durable and built to last with less exposed parts compared to open backed headphones. The very nature of noise-canceling headphones leans towards people on the go. As a result, manufacturers have spent considerable time making them rugged and sturdy. Even though this is the case I still suggest you do your best to protect your headphones when not in use with a quality case or bag.

Also, be prepared for those hot and sweaty ears I mentioned in the open back section especially if you plan on using them for long extended sessions.

Check out our choices for the top DJing headphones in our in-depth guide packed with DJ headphones reviews.

The Mixed Design

There is a new trend in hybrid designs or semi open back headphones. These try to offer the best of both worlds. It is a classic case of jack of all trades but master of none.

These headphones tend to have minimal ventilation slots. They try to balance out the audio but still provide some of the benefits of noise cancellation. The sound will still get in and also get out just not to the extent of classic open back headphones.

How Will You Be Using Your Headphones

Both open back vs closed back headphones are great options and the true differences come down to how you plan to use them.

If you like your music loud at home or plan on doing gigs in loud environments you’ll likely prefer closed back headphones. You will, of course, have a drop in sound quality. Even if you won’t be playing your music loud you may not want to disturb the people around. Whether you’re at home or on the train closed back headphones will achieve that punchy in-ear club feel. All this without exposing everyone around you to what you’re listening to.

That does lead me to the other side of the coin though. If you plan to do the majority of your mixing using your headphones you’ll appreciate the depth and more natural sound of open back headphones.

Headphones sitting on music equipment.

There are pros and cons to both types if you move into music production.

The last thing to consider is if you plan on expanding into music production. Closed back will be fantastic when recording vocals or instruments. They will allow you to record without noise from your headphones filtering into your recording. Meanwhile, open back is great for hearing exactly what your track sounds like. You won’t need to worry about the sound altering properties that come with closed back. In that case, aim to get the best open back headphones for mixing that you can afford.

Which One Should You Buy?

If you already have a set of headphones or even earbuds you can get started without buying a new set of headphones. When you do get the opportunity you should invest in a pair of good DJ headphones.

It is great to own one of each if possible. Both shine in individual circumstances and having that choice is preferable. If you don’t like the idea of buying two sets of headphones be sure to pick a set that meets your needs. Spend some time thinking about how you’re likely to use your headphones the most and pick an option that plays to that scenario.

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Robert Calabrese

Robert Calabrese

I've loved electronic music since the age of 12. From listening to tapes on my walkman, buying CD's and now in digital format. As the music evolved so has my experience and I'm passionate about sharing my journey with you.

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