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Can you REALLY hear a difference between open-back headphones and closed-back headphones?

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 

Hello, I might be interested in purchasing open-back headphones in the future because I have heard that they sound superior to closed-back headphones and that they sound like you're listening to surround sound speakers, not merely 2-channel/stereo headphones where the music sounds like it's coming from inside your head. If they truly did sound like surround sound speakers then I could listen to them instead of having to worry about fixing up a room so that it has good acoustic properties, and then having to worry about proper speaker placement (and so on and so forth) so that I could experience the best quality sound that I possibly could. But I'm worried that open-back headphones don't truly sound similar to surround sound speakers, that people's brains have imagined that open-back headphones sound similar. Has a blind test ever been conducted to test if people can hear the difference between open-back headphones and closed-back headphones where participants were able to identify the open-back headphones because they thought the music sounded like it was coming from outside of their heads and that it sounded like it was coming from surround sound speakers?


Edited by Double-A - 4/28/13 at 7:09pm
post #2 of 30

AA there is a definite difference. The open back style does not allow for sound reflections and makes the headphone less resonnant. Ressonance changes the sound and this is why movie theaters use curtains to help absorb radical reflective sounds that you don't want. I just modified some Fostex T50RP cans and these are closed back with some porting (semi open, or semi closed if you will). The result I found to be extremely satisfying. If you want you can do the mods very cheaply and the headphones cost about 120-130 bucks on Ebay.

 

There are specific reasons to want a closed back design, such as in DJing and loud surroundings to block outside noise. The Fostex T50RP are a great investment and I believe every headphone listener/nut sould own a pair. These are Power hungry and you will need a somewhat powerful headphone amp, about 2x an Ipods power.

 

If you want to experience the actual changes to a good dampened headphone, go with Fostex.  

post #3 of 30
I have both open and closed headphones. Sadly I have never had the ability to hear the same internals in both open and closed format. it would be an interesting experiment i think.

I use open in my office as I have people asking me questions throughout the day so I can just pause and talk and not have to take them off my head smily_headphones1.gif
post #4 of 30
Why would identifying the difference between open and closed back 'phones require a blind test? Blind tests aren't magic, only part of a process to remove bias. Any person with two working ears can try some closed back 'phones and some open back 'phones and identify the clear and obvious differences which derive from the very obvious and substantive physical differences. No blind test is required. I also don't need to perform a blind test to check if my plastic beach sandals feel different on my feet to my leather walking boots. You have to start with some reasonable assumptions or else you simply waste enormous amounts of time pointlessly "rediscovering" the blindingly obvious. Does fire really hurt or can I put my hand in the hot flames and be OK? Did anyone blind test this? There is a huge difference between skepticism and adopting a state of mind where one simply disbelieves everything and always starts from zero.
post #5 of 30

Open back headphones don't sound like 5 channel home theater systems. They sound like good old stereo, but the difference is that they sound much more spacious than closed headphones.


Edited by Jaxblack11 - 11/2/13 at 8:28am
post #6 of 30

with closed backed headphones you are relying on the internals of the headphones to create the soundstage, the mfg might play with the design of the cup to extend the soundstage or reflect the sound differently. but mostly you are only relying on the intenals for how wide the soundstage is, or how spacious the headphones sound.

 

on the other hand. both internals and the way open back headphones are created create the wide spacious soundstage.

 

in short yes there is a difference and yes you can tell the difference. ive tried the beats,m100,a few sony and bose... then one that i owned is the k701 and k701 as far as soundstage and discerning spacious sound. the k701 tops them all.

post #7 of 30

I don't think a blind test would work, you could tell the difference just by the feel.

post #8 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by chewy4 View Post

I don't think a blind test would work, you could tell the difference just by the feel.

It would be a matter of testing headphones you aren't familiar with. If I blindfolded you, and put a random pair of open headphones on you, which you have never heard before, I don't think you could tell they were open or not.

post #9 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by ender323 View Post

It would be a matter of testing headphones you aren't familiar with. If I blindfolded you, and put a random pair of open headphones on you, which you have never heard before, I don't think you could tell they were open or not.

I believe I easily could, especially if they weren't playing anything. I can tell if something is cupped around my ears.

post #10 of 30

Well some open headphones are actually cups. In other words the outer cup may be open but not the inner one, where the driver is mounted (and the driver doesn't have holes).

post #11 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post

Well some open headphones are actually cups. In other words the outer cup may be open but not the inner one, where the driver is mounted (and the driver doesn't have holes).

If the inner cup is closed in then yeah, that might be difficult to tell if it's open or closed.

 

But with something like a Hifiman headphone where you can see right through it and it doesn't block any outside noise at all it would be very easy.

post #12 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaxblack11 View Post

I just want to point out that open back headphones don't sound like 5 channel home theater systems. They sound like good old stereo but the difference is that they sound much more spacious than closed headphones.

I should have worded my post better, I'm sorry. I've never actually heard someone come out and say that open-back headphones sound like surround sound speaker systems, I thought that it sounded like open-back headphones sound like surround sound speakers because of the way I saw people describe the sound of them. I always hear people say things like "when you're listening to open-back headphones, it sounds like the audio is coming from outside of your head," and "you can hear where every sound is coming from when you listen to open-back headphones," which, to me, sounded like how someone would describe listening to a surround sound sound system.

 

EDIT: @chewy4: Thanks for pointing that out, I never thought of that. That is a good point.


Edited by Double-A - 4/28/13 at 7:05pm
post #13 of 30

The only difference I can tell is that with open headphones, you can hear your surroundings when compared to closed ones that feel closed and isolated. 

Based on sound alone I'd say its rather hard to tell. You may find one better than the other, but not necessarily due to their open/closed design.

About the sound being placed better, I would say the distance of the drivers from your ears has a big role to play in that.

 

So in general, good headphones sound good because of a variety of reasons, there's no definite way to say that "open headphones are better" .

post #14 of 30

Some of the most resonant headphones on the market are open.

post #15 of 30

yes 

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