Why should I get Open Back Headphones?

Open-back headphones, alternatively called open air headphones, are widely regarded as the pinnacle of sound quality in the world of headphone audiophiles. The logic behind it is that open-back headphone’s sound signature is very close to actual room speakers whereas all other types (closed back,in-ear, earbud etc…) have there own distinct (and different) sound qualities that all headphones of that type share.

The question for many then becomes why get open back headphones if all I’m trying to achieve is speaker like sound? Shouldn’t I just buy speakers then?. Well you could but, open air headphones offer some unique advantages including:

  • A more intimate experience…having the sound produced right at your ears allows you to pick up more details in the source
  • The ability to listen at high volumes without disturbing others… Sound will leak out, yes, but it will be far quitter than speakers at the same perceived volumes
  • Much less exspensive… Hi-fidelity sound can be yours in the form of open back headphones for far less than hi-fidelity speaker systems

What characteristics should I lookout for to assure I get a good pair of open back headphones?

  • Natural sound signature…frequency responses across the entire spectrum that simulate speaker like sound ( the actual frequency response will be different from your speakers but that will sound the same)
  • Comfortable… who wants to wear something that causes pain? I don’t even want to know they are on! Sounds simple right?
  • The right style for you… make sure you pay attention to how they’ll sit on your head as there are many styles ( circumaural,supraural,in between the previous two styles,full-size,mid-size etc…)
  • Impedence/Sensitivity levels… if you go higher than say $80 (and you should) make sure you research whether they need an amp to drive them and which one might pair well with it.

Natural Sound Signature

So as I stated previously, the objective of many audiophiles is to get headphones that sound like speakers with the added bonus of the more intimate experience.The easiest way for a novice to get this is to follow the advice of others via headphone reviews. However, if your fortunate enough to get you hands on a frequnecy response graph within the review or from the manufacturers website there are some things to look for.

According to “HeadRoom”, as a general rule when looking at frequency responses across the entire spectrum, the bass response ( 40-500 Hz) should be the highest point on the spectrum to account for the loss of impact room speakers give. Also, the highs should be gently rolled off from 1,000 to 20,000 Hz to account for the drivers being so close to the ear otherwise you may experience shrills or coloring in the source. Furthermore the sharp peaks and vallies found in the upper frequencies should be small and even eachother out to a flat line.

These guidelines are for natural sounding headphones, but if you listen to a certain kind of music say hip-hop, then you might want to get a pair of open back headphones that slightly color the bass response. Likewise if you prefer more aggressive sounding headphones,bright headphones with frequency responses higher in the upper registrar may be your ticket.


You’d think this was a no brainer, but you’d be wrong. I’ve seen so many reviews of headphones from users who bought a pair of headphones based on high ratings and good reviews but none of which mentioned comfort, more specifically how it was comfortable, and then say how terrible of a headphone it is because they failed to research its’ comfort. In my opinion uncomfortable headphones are bad headphones because it doesn’t matter how good they sound if I want to take them off after 5 minutes what good are they? Comfort even more so than sound quality is subjective and it’s important to get specifics on this before purchasing.

Take a closer look and make sure they’ll fit your head especially if you have an unusually big or small head this can be an issue even with adjustable headbands. Also look for comments about how tightly they clasp your head and whether or not the headband has padding on it. Many manufacturers list these features if you know where to look.


Style can go hand in hand with comfort, but also with sound signature. Sound can be interpreted differently by the folds in your ear just by the how headphone is placed on the ear and the style play a big role in this. On-ear style also known as supernatural, sit on top of the ear. Circumaural or over-the-ear completely encompass the ear inside of it. Full-size headphones are most often circumaural, and mid-size headphones are most often supernatural. Again, if you have large or small ears you could potentially turn one style into the style its not intended to be and then it will not sound how it’s suppose to.

Impedance/Sensitivity levels

Simply put, impedance determines how much power the headphones will draw, while sensitivity indicates how much of the electrical signal delivered to the headphones is converted into sound. Some of the more expensive open back headphones and an ever increasing number of mid-range headphones are becoming harder and harder to drive. Headphone amplifiers are becoming more popular and necessary for both power hungry headphones and to improve the binaural nature of headphones.

So, the lesson should be look into how hard to drive the headphones are before you buy them as amplifiers can get expensive themselves and will be an unexpected gouge to your wallet on top of the headphone purchase. Even if you get a less demanding headphone, an amp will in all likelihood improve your sound.

I stand by my recommendations above, but if you’ve already looked into those models and want to see some additional models that would be of good value, you can look at the recommendations, here.