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When brand-new to making beats, you may wonder what’s the best headphones for music production?

And as you do your headphone research, you’ll definitely come across the term Closed-Back Headphones vs. Open-Back Headphones..

Is there a difference between open and closed headphones? Are open-back headphones supposed to be used for mixing, and closed-back headphones for recording and sound isolation?

We’ll cover that in this closed-back vs open-back headphones guide:

Closed-Back Headphones vs. Open-Back Headphones Video

Headphone Enclosure Types (Open-Back, Semi-Open, or Closed-Back)

Open-Back Headphones and Closed-Back Headphones Side-By-Side for Comparison to See the Difference Between Open and Closed-Back Headphones
Open-Back Headphones and Closed-Back Headphones Side-By-Side for Comparison to See the Difference Between Open and Closed-Back Headphones
Left is Open-Back Headphones – Notice the slots to let audio escape
Right is Closed-Back Headphones – Notice it’s sealed to keep audio in!

To understand closed-back vs. open-back headphones, you first need to understand what a Headphone Enclosure is.

When you put headphones over your ears, what goes over your ears to hear the audio is referred to as your “Headphone Cans”, or “Headphone Enclosure” or ” Headphone Housing”.

This housing contains your headphone’s drivers (the actual speaker), and this housing can either be closed (doesn’t allow audio to escape) or open (allows audio to escape or “breathe” for a more natural sound).

Closed means audio doesn’t escape from the headphone housing, which is good for recording vocals, or protecting your ears from loud noise, like playing drums, or playing piano.

Open-Back means audio escapes the headphone housing, which is good for beatmaking, mixing, mastering, and critical listening because audio frequencies don’t get built-up in the headphone cans!

Let’s explain Open-Back vs Closed-Back Headphones further now.

What Does Closed-Back Headphones Mean?

Closed-Back Headphone showing it has no slots, trapping audio in its sealed enclosure once put on your head over your ears.
Closed-Back Headphone showing it has no slots, trapping audio in its sealed enclosure once put on your head over your ears.

As mentioned, a closed-back headphone simply means it doesn’t allow audio to leave the headphones.

Why you’d want closed-back headphone enclosure is mainly to prevent audio from escaping your headphones, which we call “bleed”.

If you record audio bleed into a microphone recording, it makes mixing much harder, and has the possibility to cause audio feedback!

Closed-Back Headphone Pros and Cons

Because audio is trapped inside the closed-back design, it can emphasize frequencies, and skew your judgement while mixing music!

(This is not true for all closed-back headphones, but a “typical scenario”).

I use closed-back headphones when recording vocals, or protecting my ears from loud outside noise when practicing piano with an audio mixer.

This is why you see drummers using closed-back headphones, because they can protect their ears from hearing damage, but still turn up the volume on a mixer to hear the audio, but block outside noise!

What Does Open-Back Headphones Mean?

Open-Back Headphones have a slots or grills to allow audio to escape to prevent audio-energy build-up so frequencies don't get artificially boosted or cut, allowing for a more neutral or flat frequency response.
Open-Back Headphones have a slots or grills to allow audio to escape to prevent audio-energy build-up so frequencies don’t get artificially boosted or cut, allowing for a more neutral or flat frequency response.

Open-Back Headphones means that audio is meant to escape the headphone enclosure to prevent frequency build-up, providing a flat audio response.

With closed-back headphones, audio frequency build-up can be a problem, because audio can’t escape, and boost frequencies!

This is bad for mixing and mastering music, because we need to hear the music as is, which is called neutral or flat!

This is why open-back headphones are recommended for mixing music, as audio frequency build-up is reduced, due to audio escaping the open-back enclosure, allowing for a neutral sound.

Open-Back Headphone Pros and Cons

Open-Back Headphones are most common in music production for beatmaking, mixing, mastering, and critical listening.

I’d argue that beatmakers should use Open-Back Headphones for good sound selection when making beats, so mixing and mastering is easier.

So the positives of open-back headphones is less audio energy build-up for a more natural sound to make sound reproduction more accurate in a “typical scenario”.

But there are some negatives of open-back headphones!

Because there’s audio bleed in open-back headphones (audio escapes), they are not good for recording, such as doing a podcast, recording vocals, or when I create my FL Studio Courses!

When we record, we monitor our voice in the headphones, otherwise it feels empty and lifeless. If input feedback is too loud, that audio will feedback into microphones causing that horrible feedback sound you always hear in movies in auditoriums.

So understand, there is a time and place for these different headphones, which is why I shared the closed and open back headphones I’m using.

Semi-Open Headphones?

You may see the term “Semi-Open” headphones out there.

I personally don’t believe this is a thing. You either have closed-back headphones (don’t allow noise to escape), or open-back headphones (allow noise to escape for more natural sounding audio in headphones).

This “semi-open headphone” terminology just means “not as much audio escapes”.. but it’s still an open-back headphone in my opinion..

Recap: Closed-Back vs. Open Back Headphones

The difference between closed and open back headphones is simple!

Closed-back Headphones simply mean that audio does not escape, which is useful for recording, or protecting your ears from loud environments, but you still want to hear the audio, such as recording drums, or practicing piano with an audio mixer.

Open-Back Headphones simply mean that audio can escape the headphones so that you can hear music neutral (flat) so that you can make accurate mixing decisions. Remember, because audio escapes, open-back headphones are not good when using microphones, as the audio will bleed into your microphone recording, or cause feedback!

Learn how to buy headphones for music production!

You can also view all videos in my Music Studio Reassemble Series.