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

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by double-a, Apr 27, 2013.
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  1. StudioSound
    There is a noticeable difference between the sound of open and closed headphones.
    But it is nothing at all like the difference between stereo and surround sound. They are both stereo.
    It's easier for open headphones to create the impression of a wide soundstage, but that doesn't mean closed headphones can only have a narrow soundstage, or that open is better - it depends on the headphone.

    The main difference is that open more readily lets in the sound from your environment, and closed tends to isolate external sounds.
    When comparing cheap headphones, it's easier for open designs to sound better, but with even moderately expensive headphones closed designs start sounding really good.
  2. ultrabike
    In my experience, headphones (open & closed back) in general do not sound like surround sound speakers. They have no crossfeed channel, and are bypassing your head which is used for positional cues.
    Open-back headphones have less reflections from the cup than closed-back headphones which may reduce standing waves, frequency response suck-outs, and flat out weirdness. These frequency response issues manifest themselves as wonkyness, hollow sound, and coloration... which further mess up the "soundstage." Well designed closed-back headphones reduce these issues by resorting to all sorts of crazy damping inside the cup (similar to what is done within speaker cabinets.)
    There are a few products out there that attempt to reproduce surround sound by using headphones:
    Entry level: http://www.turtlebeach.com/product-detail/dolby-processor-accessories/ear-force-dss2/33
    High end: http://www.smyth-research.com/technology.html
    Alternatively, binaural recordings can provide some soundstage perception though headphones.
  3. green-fi mk2s
    Just take some open headphones and put your hands over the openings. I just did it with mine they literally close up
  4. atomiccow
    Remove the rear vent of an open headphone and put the palms of your hands close to the rear of the driver. If you can't hear the difference, you need your hearing checked. Open back vs close is not a myth or marketing ploy, the resonant chamber of a speaker is critical to the sound of the speaker. Open back vs close back is a case of having a resonant chamber vs not having one.
    Sound gets absorbed and reflected by materials. A concert in a open field sounds different from a concert in a ampitheatre which sounds different from a cylindrical or square opera hall. There are engineers who are paid to design these buildings. They're not paid because they have "golden ears," they're paid because they know science.
  5. green-fi mk2s
    Nice explanation
  6. DogMeat
    I have no trouble telling the diff....
    in fact, I make strong practical use of the differences for specific needs.
    For instance, if there is noise in my environment that pretty much kills the ability to hear the music correctly, it's my closed-back Beyerdynamics for me.
    If the environment is quiet, I go with my open cans every time, as they present a far more open stage, a greater appreciation of space. More like being at a live performance.
    And sometimes, when I want a REALLY rich, DEEP experience, I will run my speakers while I am wearing the open-backed phones, put myself in an optimal spot between the speakers and become ABSORBED into the music.
    I listen to quite a lot of classical music in this way.
    Here's a really good way for you to test whether you can hear the difference or not;
    Put on a pair of open-backed phones.
    First notice, without music playing, that you can hear sounds through the mesh from outside.
    Next, put on some nice music, maybe not head banger, just something like jazz or classical.
    Bring your hands toward the external mesh- notice that you start to hear a dampening of the stage, a dampening which increases as you bring your hands closer and closer.
    Cover the mesh with your hands, then take your hands away.
    Repeat until it becomes clear to you that you are, indeed, hearing a distinct difference between your cans when open, and when closed.
    (This procedure effectively eliminates driver distance as a factor in your appreciation of the sound difference, and prevents one from being able to blame differences in headphone brands and builds for sound changes, if one were switching between 2 headphones to test it out.)
    You can play with closed cans in this way by lifting the edges away from your face and noting the increased sense of space when the edges are a few mm away from contact.
    So, YES.
    You CAN tell the diff.[​IMG]
  7. Double-A
    Content deleted and replaced with this sentence.
  8. dead99
    open headphones sound more spacious and are more comfortable (heat build up is less / none) but if your surroundings aren't silent you won't hear anything just like with speakers in that case closed is handier.
  9. ktm
    Really?????? You didn't think that through very well. Any room noise would tell you in an instant if it was open or closed.
    Peter Hyatt likes this.
  10. xnor
    What if the room was an anechoic chamber? [​IMG]
  11. ktm
    one set of closed headphones     CHECK
    one set of open headphones       CHECK
    two set of blindfolds                  CHECK
    one dozen lab coats                  CHECK
    One MP3 player                        CHECK
    one anechoic chamber               ??????
    only in sound science forum!
  12. KamijoIsMyHero
    Just get a room with no windows and cover its walls, floor and ceiling with styrofoam then you pretty much have an anechoic chamber-minus the metal enclosure though.
  13. ktm
    Perhaps the OP should just show up at a head-fi meet and use his ears?
    I know that option rarely is brought up here. Better an endless string
    of discussion rather than a little trial and error.
  14. Trae
    The only way we can truly hear a difference between open and closed headphones is if we have two exact headphones, with the same headphone chassis, same driver, same earpads, and cable, but one headphone's drivers are tuned for closed headphones, and the other open. Since they're aren't any headphones out there that do that (The Audeze LCD closed headphone may be the only one to compare to the LCD-2.3/3, but that's still a prototype), we can't truly make an assessment as to which headphone design truly has better staging performance. 
    Then again, I'm the person who thinks that headphone transparency and the peaks and dips in the higher frequency range are a direct correlation to soundstage performance, given the headphones are tuned right. I listened to a super old pair of Sony MDR-V600s (Closed headphone), and the soundstage was really good on them, rivaling the Audio Technica AD series soundstage. 
  15. ktm
    Headphone listening is pretty much a different experience than listening to speakers. Not better or worse, just presented differently.
    That is it's nature. If you want surround sound, buy surround sound. Closed vs. open?  Whatever. Treat each one by it's own merits.
    There have been a lot more good sounding closed cans available in the last year or two.Find one that makes you happy and fits your budget.
    Don't go broke chasing the dragon. I can only comment on what I've heard, and for me the closed models had a closed sound.
    Not that they sounded bad, but I could tell they were closed. At this point, there's no real way to do the apples to apples compare
    to see.So all this is just speculation. We can go on page after page, but in the end try a few sets, pick a nice one and go about enjoying
    the music.
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