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Open back vs closed back

KehaDNb

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I was thinking of it is fair to just compare these headphones side by side, as additional design plays a big role… and mater
 

markanini

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Fair is a vague term. Each type has a different performance potential regarding for example linearity of mid range and highs, imaging capabilities vs. truer tonality of bass instruments and speaker like punch. Think its telling when someone compares them in an apples to apples fashion that they are somewhat naive about headphones.
 

GaryH

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In terms of sound, of course it's fair. What matters for sound quality is the frequency response at your eardrum (plus to a much lesser extent nonlinear distortion). Exactly how the headphone gets to that frequency response (and distortion level) is irrelevant to how it sounds.
 
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Killingbeans

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I just get a terrible "I'm in a diving bell" feeling every time I put on a pair of closed cans. It makes any performance benefits they have a moot point to me.
 

Peterinvan

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After listening to my new Meze 109 Pro, my Elegias now have that "cupped" sound (that I was not aware of before!)
 

Alexium

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I have not had a chance to listen to many different headphones, but among the few I have heard I get a clear impression that open-back phones have a different sound signature to close-back, with open back sounding more "airy" and spacious. Yes, a silly audiophile word, I know, but it seems to fit. No headphones / IEM sound "right" to me compared to speakers, but open-back phones have much less of this "in your head" sound. It's still in my head, but not as strongly. The open phones sound more "open", and the closed ones sound more "closed".

I've tried closing the back of my Hifiman HE-400 with my hands, and I indeed got that closed-back sound immediately. With the exception that closed-back phones have correct frequency response, while closing the open-back phones ruins the tonal balance, but that "closed" sound is clearly emulated with this simple experiment.
Do expensive closed phones sound less closed? The ones I listened to the most are German Maestro GMP 8.35D, not expensive phones, but pretty good for the price. Had them for years.
GMPs have great bass, but open-back Hifiman HE-400 reproduce deep base much better still.

I also have Dunu DN-1000 hybrid IEMs (one armature + one dynamic driver), they also produce this "closed" sound.
 

markanini

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Here's a nice graph that averages the response of multiple closed backs and open backs and compares them as two groups.
 

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gigi_boeru

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Closed back gives you more bass (usually not better). They isolate both you from others and others from you (like an office or if you share the bed with your partner). The main disadvantage is that boxy closed hollow sound, which can be improved (depending on model and if willing to DIY and/or buy aftermarket ear pads).

Open back is when you can afford to leak some noise and you're in a (very) quiet environment. Main disadvantage - usually recessed lows, but just with a bit of EQ you can fix that and they will sound really well. Since you ears can "breathe" the comfort is increased as well.
 
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