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Are closed-back headphones more accurate?

stalepie2

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I've generally been under the impression that open-back is what you want for listening to music accurately, without the reverberations caused by trapped the sound closer to the ear, but they are usually less bassy. I've noticed the Harman-influenced headphones by AKG, like the K371, are closed back and they've yet to introduce an open-back that seems to go for the extra lower bass approach of the Harman studies.

Besides the bass, people generally seem to agree that open-backs are much better for a perception of soundstage. But what if the music doesn't have a real soundstage to perceive? In my lifetime, most popular music has been recorded in a studio, faking its soundstage as part of its mix. The instruments are recorded in isolation or close-miced, and they're played back and analyzed in small recording booths, sometimes using closed-back headphones like the DT 770. Then they use sound-dampening on the walls... they're not usually doing their mixing outside or in a concert hall or amphitheater, is what I'm trying to say (although they might be when live mixing, of course).

So it's all confusing and it leads me to think that a closed-back headphone might more often be the accurate choice, and that the freer-flowing sound of an open-back is best left to only traditional acoustic music (like classical and jazz). I don't know where to put purely electronic (synth) sounds, for instance. Drum machine sounds, or like frequency modulation sounds (Yamaha FM Synthesis). These artificial sounds don't exist in a room. So it seems like I'm hearing them more purely when using a closed-back, particularly the on-ear variety (rather than over-ear). Unfortunately, on-ears are the least comfortable, though. In-ear monitors (IEMs) also give this perception of purity to the sound that seems "different" with open-back.

But then when I listen to live music, or rock music, music that seems like it's meant to be heard outside in a big crowd... then i think open-back captures that feel much better.
If I listen to more electronic, techno kind of music... then closed seems better.

And then some headphones are semi-open back...
 

DVDdoug

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I went to the ASR reviews, sorted by "recommended", and noted if the 1st 10 were open or closed. 4 closed & 6 open. So, I'd say insignificant for "sound quality".

I generally "feel better" when I can hear what's going-on around me.

But what if the music doesn't have a real soundstage to perceive? In my lifetime, most popular music has been recorded in a studio, faking its soundstage as part of its mix.
Right. Most studio recordings are artificially panned. And most people don't get a realistic soundstage with headphones. Headphone Soundstage Survey. I don't either. But as much as it's talked about, I thought I was in minority before I saw the survey!
 
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stalepie2

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I went to the ASR reviews, sorted by "recommended", and noted if the 1st 10 were open or closed. 4 closed & 6 open. So, I'd say insignificant for "sound quality".

I generally "feel better" when I can hear what's going-on around me.

Well... the 'sound quality" may be fairly equal between both kinds, if "sound quality" isn't including "sound presentation," which I suppose it should, although these aren't usually aspects that are measured? Although Rtings does have a metric for gauging soundstage and imaging, wihch I notice the reviews here don't. And that factors into their final score.

Right. Most studio recordings are artificially panned. And most people don't get a realistic soundstage with headphones. Headphone Soundstage Survey. I don't either. But as much as it's talked about, I thought I was in minority before I saw the survey!

Most people who read this site, anyway. I suspect the general population would score "a full 3D image around me" more and "in my head" less, than the analytical/engineering-minded people who frequent here.
 

Dunring

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Depends on environment. Closed backs that isolate well (the DT770 isn't great at that) or IEMs will have lower background noise so you can focus on details better. They're still an echo chamber by design, so soundstage takes a hit. Open backs sound more spacious, but outside noise gets telegraphed into them. I use the 7hz Zero:2 for isolation, and the Hifiman He5xx sit on a guitar hanger and they're louder than when I'm wearing them (don't need bookshelf speakers when you have those). They fit so well and shaped so comfortable I use them daily though. It's a balance of what's most important. It's like a pair of shoes, a car, or anything else with priorities.
 
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stalepie2

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OK, I mean if you're in a quiet environment. (Maybe it's a bit impractical because most people don't have ready access to an anechoic chamber, and don't realize that even in quiet rooms there's more ambient noise than they realize). Hmm.. this is a hard problem to solve. I guess my problem in this is thinking that a closed headphone like the DT 770 will be like a miniature studio room, as the listened is nearer to walls, except those have noice-canceling materials, sound dampening to keep reflections low. But the idea of a speaker close to the ear yet simultaneously letting much of it escape far away from the ear seems even more unnatural, unless one is in the habit of listening to acoustic instruments close up while outside, which would apply to musicians, particularly a violinist playing outside.
I guess I have trouble explaining or really making sense of the problem. There's so many situations.

Usually it's said that closed headphones are a compromise to sound, full stop. That you'd never say of an open headphone, "I wish it sounded more closed," while the opposite is frequently said of a closed-back. One can compare reviews of similar headphones that have open and closed variants, for instance. (I recently got a DT 900, and was comparing its reviews to the DT 700, the closed back version, which reminded me of this). However I did come across several reviews that preferred the 700 for music enjoyment, as it has more bass. Beyer themselves describes the sound as "powerful and vibrant," whereas the 900 (open-back) is described as "spacious and transparent."

Now "vibrant" is an interesting word here, isn't it? Of course there would be more vibrations in a small, enclosed space... but sound is vibration. Do you have then less sound itself in an open back (in terms of what the ear perceives, without turning the volume up more to compensate)? After all, it's escaped out the sides, away from hearing...

But on the other hand, the vibrations one is hearing in the closed back are surely more distortions. It's reflections back, which are difficult to correct for. Seems like a trade-off either way.

Maybe this is then why a company as old as Beyerdynamic seemed to favor a semi-open back design many times, with many choosing the semi-open 880 as the more accurate and neutral choice among their popular 770/880/990 lineup. This way it reaches a compromise between too open and too closed.
 
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MaxwellsEq

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I've generally been under the impression that open-back is what you want for listening to music accurately, without the reverberations caused by trapped the sound closer to the ear, but they are usually less bassy. I've noticed the Harman-influenced headphones by AKG, like the K371, are closed back and they've yet to introduce an open-back that seems to go for the extra lower bass approach of the Harman studies.

Besides the bass, people generally seem to agree that open-backs are much better for a perception of soundstage. But what if the music doesn't have a real soundstage to perceive? In my lifetime, most popular music has been recorded in a studio, faking its soundstage as part of its mix. The instruments are recorded in isolation or close-miced, and they're played back and analyzed in small recording booths, sometimes using closed-back headphones like the DT 770. Then they use sound-dampening on the walls... they're not usually doing their mixing outside or in a concert hall or amphitheater, is what I'm trying to say (although they might be when live mixing, of course).

So it's all confusing and it leads me to think that a closed-back headphone might more often be the accurate choice, and that the freer-flowing sound of an open-back is best left to only traditional acoustic music (like classical and jazz). I don't know where to put purely electronic (synth) sounds, for instance. Drum machine sounds, or like frequency modulation sounds (Yamaha FM Synthesis). These artificial sounds don't exist in a room. So it seems like I'm hearing them more purely when using a closed-back, particularly the on-ear variety (rather than over-ear). Unfortunately, on-ears are the least comfortable, though. In-ear monitors (IEMs) also give this perception of purity to the sound that seems "different" with open-back.

But then when I listen to live music, or rock music, music that seems like it's meant to be heard outside in a big crowd... then i think open-back captures that feel much better.
If I listen to more electronic, techno kind of music... then closed seems better.

And then some headphones are semi-open back...
You are sort of overthinking how the cubicle sounds when recordings are made. Many classical recordings are multi-microphoned.

I've heard excellent precise, deep and wide image placement in a sound cubicle of a multitrack recording session with rock instruments. Just because it's a smallish, acoustically damped room and the instruments are recorded separately, doesn't mean you get a good result only with closed back headphones at home.
 

OJAUSSIE

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You are sort of overthinking how the cubicle sounds when recordings are made. Many classical recordings are multi-microphoned.

I've heard excellent precise, deep and wide image placement in a sound cubicle of a multitrack recording session with rock instruments. Just because it's a smallish, acoustically damped room and the instruments are recorded separately, doesn't mean you get a good result only with closed back headphones at home.
My first exposure to headphones came as a young child and a pair of Pioneer closed back cans and even as a kid they sounded terrible. It wasn't until years later and Sennheiser released their classic HD 424's in the early 70's that I finally fell in love with headphones as a viable alternative to speakers when I didn't want to upset my parents with a wall of noise. To my ears even the most prestigious and expensive closed back cans still sound artificial.
 
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stalepie2

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My first exposure to headphones came as a young child and a pair of Pioneer closed back cans and even as a kid they sounded terrible. It wasn't until years later and Sennheiser released their classic HD 424's in the early 70's that I finally fell in love with headphones as a viable alternative to speakers when I didn't want to upset my parents with a wall of noise. To my ears even the most prestigious and expensive closed back cans still sound artificial.

Yeah, usually the ones that are considered the best are open-back, like the Orpheus (HE 1). Well, those are electrostatic and all electrostats are open-back?
Still i have the impression that closed-back is always meant as a practical compromise, to keep out sound leakage during recording, or nowadays for noise-canceling functions and other isolation. Yet if it's easier to hear bass on closed backs, then it suggests in that area they are better.
 

OJAUSSIE

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Yeah, usually the ones that are considered the best are open-back, like the Orpheus (HE 1). Well, those are electrostatic and all electrostats are open-back?
Still i have the impression that closed-back is always meant as a practical compromise, to keep out sound leakage during recording, or nowadays for noise-canceling functions and other isolation. Yet if it's easier to hear bass on closed backs, then it suggests in that area they are better.
My personal preference is Audio Technica as I find Sennheiser's very bass heavy. Still it's a personal preference of course. Have a fine weekend sir!
 
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