Are Open-Back Headphones Worth It? How To Decide

What started as a simple device for personal audio has evolved into many variations. You can now choose from numerous headphones, ranging from affordable to exorbitant. Open-back headphones are among the most expensive and popular with audiophiles, but are they worth it?

Open-back headphones are worth it, as they offer a natural and airy listening experience other headphones struggle to match. Knowing what sets open-back headphones apart and considering certain factors will help you decide if they’re worth your money.

If you’re considering buying open-back headphones but are unsure how expensive they are, this article is for you. Read on to learn why open-back headphones have a distinct sound and other factors you must consider before purchasing.

Table of Contents

Are Open-Back Headphones Worth It? How To Decide

The Difference Between Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones

Shopping for a new set of headphones can quickly get overwhelming because there are so many options. Headphones may perform the same essential function of being a personal listening device, but some serve more specific purposes.

Below are the different types of headphones:

  • In-ear monitors
  • Ear-buds
  • On-ear headphones
  • Over-ear headphones

As their names suggest, what sets each headphone apart is how you wear them. 

In-ear monitors go on the ear canal; earbuds sit on the outer ridge of the ears; on-ear headphones have cushions that rest on top of the ears, while the earcups of over-ear headphones surround the perimeter of the ears.  

On-ear and over-ear headphones can be either open-back or closed-back, though most open-back headphones are over-ear.  

Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones have grilles behind the ear cups to let air pass through. This design allows ambient noises and the drivers’ sound to mix, dramatically impacting how the listener perceives what they’re hearing.

Generally speaking, open-backs are more expensive than other types of headphones since they cater to audiophiles. These hi-fi enthusiasts will pay top dollar for superior sound quality, so open-back headphones are usually made of high-end electrostatic drivers.  

Closed-Back Headphones

Closed-back headphones have solid earcups, which form a seal around the ear and serve as a wall for any external noise. Isolating the sound from the drivers gives the listener a different listening experience compared to what they would get from open-back headphones.  

There are many high-end closed-back headphones, but open-back headphones are still generally more expensive. Most closed-back headphones have dynamic drivers, which are cheaper to produce.  

Consumers of closed-back headphones may prioritize features like Bluetooth functionality and Active Noise Cancellation aside from good sound quality.  

Are you in the market for a new pair of headphones to record audio? If so, there are a lot of details you need to consider. Fortunately, I’ve covered them all in my article, The Ultimate Guide to Recording Audio With Headphones.

Factors To Consider When Buying Open-Back Headphones

Even if open-back headphones are distinguished by their physical appearance, what sets them apart from other headphones goes beyond aesthetics. Vented headphones significantly affect the factors you need to consider before buying.

These factors will help you narrow your search and determine if open-back headphones are worth your money.  

1. Sound Quality

It goes without saying that how headphones sound can make or break your buying decision.  Open-back headphones are known for having excellent sound quality, but since that can be subjective, it’s better to examine how vented earcups impact the listener’s perception.  

By letting air travel through the earcups, ambient noises and sound from the drivers travel to and from the ears and the surrounding environment.  

The open-back design creates the impression that the sound is coming from farther away from the listener, making the soundstage sound broader. Other headphones make it seem like the sound is in your head, making it feel like the vocals and all the instruments are extremely close to you.

Open-back headphones also offer a more natural and realistic sound signature. Since sealed headphones do not dissipate air as vented headphones do, the air builds more pressure against the driver, producing a more punchy bass sound.  

It helps to test as many headphones as possible before making a purchase.  

2. Sound Isolation

A headphones’ ability to isolate sound is another essential factor to consider. One of the drawbacks of open-back headphones is poor sound insulation and noise suppression. Due to the vented design, those around you will hear what you’re listening to, and you’ll also be able to hear the noise around you.  

Open-back headphones are ideal for home or office use in quiet places. If you plan to use your headphones in areas with other people or a lot of noise, you shouldn’t buy open-back headphones.

Closed-back headphones offer more privacy and better isolation; some even come with Active Noise Cancelation.  

3. Comfort

How comfortable headphones significantly depend on how well they fit and how soft their cushions are. However, if you sleep with your headphones, you might be better off with earbuds or in-ear monitors.  

But aside from fitment and physical comfort, you should also consider ear fatigue. Sealed headphones build more air pressure and tend to sound harsher, which causes ear irritation during long listening sessions. Open-back headphones cause less fatigue, mainly when used for extended periods.  

4. Portability

On-ear and over-ear headphones are bulky if you need to take your headphones while on the go. Most headphones come with a carrying case, but wireless earbuds are the most convenient headphones to move around.  

Some open-back headphones, particularly those with electrostatic drivers, require a headphone amplifier, making them even harder to carry around.  

5. Intended Use

It’s also important to consider how you intend to use the headphones before buying one. No matter how much a pair of headphones costs, you’ll never find one that’s a master of all trades.


If you have an active lifestyle and plan to use your headphones while running, jogging, or working out, the convenience and portability of wireless earbuds are hard to match. You don’t have to worry about your headphones flying off or feeling too heavy on you. 


Some people don’t buy headphones for music but for a better gaming experience. Gaming headphones have bass-heavy drivers that excel in making the user feel like they’re immersed in the game. Gamers are usually more concerned with features like microphones and noise cancellation over sound accuracy.


You can use any pair of headphones for music, but open-back headphones are highly recommended for critical listening due to their accuracy and generally warm sound signature.

If you prefer a v-shaped sound signature over a warm or flat one, you may not have to spend an arm and a leg to get a suitable pair of headphones.

Sometimes the best-sounding headphones for you will also depend on what genre of music you listen to. So, if you intend to use the headphones for music, what you get, by and large, boils down to your taste.

6. Pricing

Lastly, you can’t buy headphones without considering pricing. You can find headphones that cost less than $10, while some headphones cost north of $100,000. The price difference is vast.

If you’re on a budget, you must check what type of headphones tick all the boxes based on how much you’re willing to spend.  

Final Thoughts

Know your priorities before buying headphones to determine the type of headphones that best suit you. Open-back headphones are ideal for those who want unparalleled sound quality but can live without the portability or isolation found in other headphones.  

Headphones are expected to sound better as they increase in price, so how much you spend on them depends if you can discern any improvement and how much you’re willing to pay.  

Juan Louder
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Juan Louder

I started SoundStudioMagic to learn how to record my own audiobook at home, and now I'm addicted to all the latest techniques and gear.

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