There’s a huge range of headphones available to buy.
The choice is almost overwhelming: wired or wireless, open-back or closed-back, headset or headphone, active noise-cancelling or passive…?
It can be tough to know which one to pick.
The headphone you choose will depend on what you’re planning on using them for.
Someone working in an open-plan office will want different headphones to someone gaming in their bedroom. If you’re an audiophile listening from home, then your needs will be different from someone who exercises wearing headphones.
You might even want something you can use in a variety of situations: for gaming and commuting, for example.
One of the biggest questions asked online is whether open or closed-back headphones are better for gaming.
We thought we’d take a look and find out.
Open Back Vs Closed Back Headphones: What’s the Difference?
Open-back headphones have exposed speakers. There’s no casing covering the back of the headphone – it's open. Air can flow through the earcup and the sound is considered to be lighter, more natural and clearer.
Closed-back headphones are sealed. The casing over the back stops sounds coming in or escaping.
Most headphones you see on the high street or worn in public are closed-back headphones.
Are Open Back Headphones Better for Gaming?
- Open-back headphones are often preferred by gamers because they have better stereo imaging.
- Stereo imagining lets your brain place where a sound is coming from which makes a more authentic experience. For example, you could better understand the direction of footsteps or a gunshot.
- You’ll generally have a bigger soundstage which means that you’ll hear sounds as if they’re happening in the room you’re sitting in.
- Open-back headphones are more comfortable to wear for long periods because air can pass through. Your ears won’t feel as hot or as fatigued with gaming headphones making them ideal for people who spend extended periods wearing them.
- Open-back headphones will let ambient noise through so they are less than ideal if you’re gaming in a noisy place, if you’re planning on wearing them outside in public or if you’re wearing them to focus.
- They leak sound, too, so if anyone is near you when you’re wearing them, they’ll hear everything you’re listening to. It won’t make you popular in shared spaces or on public transport.
- You might also find that sounds leaking from the headphones could be picked up by an oversensitive microphone and that’s annoying for the people you’re playing with.
- Given that the speaker elements are so exposed, it’s worth adding moisture-proof covers to the earcups if you sweat a lot when playing.
Are Closed-Back Headphones Better for Gaming?
- You won’t hear sounds as naturally with a closed-back headphone but you also won’t hear as much ambient noise because they do a much better job of blocking out background noise.
- They’re better for preventing sound leakage so the people around you won’t be able to listen to what you’re hearing.
- Closed-back headphones have a better bass response which will make loud noises more realistic.
- If you’re planning on using your headphones outside the home or if you want to wear them for focused tasks, then it’s better to get a closed-back pair.
- Closed-back headphones will make your ears hotter more quickly because of the reduced airflow. This makes them less ideal than being worn for an extended period.
- You might sweat more in closed-back headphones so make sure you add sweat-proof covers to the cushions to prevent moisture being absorbed and leaving a terrible smell.
Open Back Vs Closed Back Headphones: Which is Better for Gaming?
- It’s going to depend on your situation.
- If you’re playing in a relatively quiet place and you’re looking for a more immersive experience (and don’t plan on using your headphones out and about), then open-back headphones are a good choice.
- Open-back headphones are generally more popular with gamers precisely because they create a wider sound-stage and have better stereo imaging. Wearers find them more comfortable, too, and appreciate the more natural sound.
- Closed-back headphones are preferred by those who need sound-isolation or noise-cancellation. They’re better, too, for anyone who wants to fully focus on what they’re doing. If you’re planning on using headphones in public spaces or where they’ll be background noise, then they’re far better than open-back.
- They’re more robust, too, as the speakers are covered over making them more suitable for use out-and-about.
There’s no right or wrong answer so long as you think about what you need your headphones to do. Some people swear by one over another but both have specific advantages and disadvantages.
If you’re using your headphones solely for gaming and you’re able to create a quiet environment to do so, then we’d recommend open-back simply because of the detail and immersion they provide.