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Open, Closed and Semi-Open Headphones – Which one Should I Choose?


The audiophile battle is eternal: some confidently drown for fully closed headphones, while others argue that semi-open or open ones are better. All this is called acoustic design, and we decided to find out how all these types differ in practice.

Types of acoustic design

The acoustic design of headphones is a feature of their construction and housing that affects the way air can escape from the loudspeakers. According to the type of design headphones are divided into three groups: closed, open and intermediate variant – half-closed or half-open. Check a link

Closed – the back of the speaker is sealed, preventing the passage of air. This creates an acoustic chamber: the air volume inside acts as a load for the speaker. The ear cushions of such headphones in the embracing type of design fit snugly to the listener’s head and fit around the ear.

Open – The back cup of the speaker has holes, slots or made in the form of a grid, allowing the air and therefore the sound to freely leave the headphone housing. With this design, there are no resonating elements in the ear cups and there is no need for them to fit tightly around the listener’s ears.

Semi-open is a compromise that combines the advantages of open and closed design. Depending on the number of holes for air passage, this type of headphones can be closer in characteristics to both models with closed and open design.

There is no direct correlation between the type of headphone construction and its acoustic design. Even the in-canal models can be with an open type of acoustic design, having a mesh on the back of the housing.

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If you look at the headphone models available on the market, you will notice that most of them are of the closed type, a lot fewer are of the open type, and very few models are of the semi-open type.

Advantages and disadvantages of different types of headphone acoustic design

Each type of headphone acoustic design is not ideal and has both pluses and minuses.

Closed type headphones cut you off from outside sounds almost completely, which is not always acceptable, especially when walking in the city, where “deafness” can be unsafe. In the envelope type designs, they are usually larger and heavier than the open type models – a tight fit on the head can bring discomfort due to excessive pressure, and when worn for several hours, your ears can become sore. At the same time the high sound pressure endangers your hearing when listening to music at high volume.

The advantages of these models are excellent isolation from external noise, a huge selection of different price and sound quality models and protection of the inner parts of the headphones from dust and precipitation when they are worn outdoors.

The open type of headphones are the most comfortable to wear for a long time, they are usually lighter and do not press on your head and ears. But such models have low sound-insulating properties, so that you will be disturbed by external noises and the people next to you will hear your music. On the downside, you can write a less wide choice of such models.

Semi-open earphones adopt the best features of both types – have good sound isolation and do not cut you off completely from outside sounds. They are more comfortable to wear for a long time, but the choice of such models is small.

The character of the sound of each type of headphone

Naturally, all these innovations were not for the sake of noise reduction, but for sound. And the different types of headphones have their own characteristics of sound transmission.

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Closed-type models do not have a very wide stereo range and scene depth, but they provide a dense, rich and “rocking” sound with bass. They are great for fans of rock, metal, drum and bass and other bassy genres. Keep in mind that if there is not enough cup volume and the ear cushions do not fit tightly, you may feel a drop in the low-frequency region of the sound, and the enclosed volume of air inside the cup can cause sound reverberation, felt as a slight echo.

Open-ear headphones are excellent for music with a predominance of high and medium frequencies, they do not have cabinet resonance. These models have excellent stereo phase and depth of scene, clean and natural sound, which makes them the best choice for listening to classical music and for video games due to the presence effect. In addition, the lack of cost for noise isolation allows open-ear headphones to deliver better sound quality than closed-ear models in a similar price range.

Semi-open earphones do not have such pronounced sound features and will become a universal option suitable for different types of music.

How to choose the right type of acoustic design of headphones

When choosing headphones, you should first decide what type of design will suit you. And then you need to consider what kind of environment you will be using the headphones in, which is very important when choosing the type of acoustic design. Closed models offer maximum isolation from outside noise so your music won’t be heard by others. They are perfect for those who want to listen to music, watch movies or play PC at home, cut off from the noise of the household or the neighbor’s renovation.

These headphones will be the best choice for use in noisy transport, and also good sound isolation is needed streamers with a sensitive microphone, so viewers do not hear the sounds from the headphones. Closed-type headphones with good noise isolation are used when recording vocals by musicians, where it is unacceptable that the sound from the headphones is picked up by the microphone. In particularly noisy places, such as the subway or airplanes, sometimes structural noise isolation is not enough and in this case you should pay attention to the models with active noise cancellation. Active noise cancellation technology does a good job of cutting off noise in a certain low frequency range, approximately 25 to 500 Hz. And with high-frequency noise it is not yet able to cope with it.

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The open type of headphones is good for long wearing, which is important for gamers who play PC for a long time, work connected with long conversations in messengers or for long listening to music at home, when you will not be disturbed by extraneous sounds. The fact that these models do not cut you off completely from the sounds of the outside world, makes them ideal for walking or playing sports outdoors, because on a crosswalk, and even more so on a railway crossing, you need to be especially careful. These models are also suitable for drivers of vehicles, giving them the opportunity to hear the signals of other drivers.

Half-open earphones represent a golden mean: they are comfortable to wear for a long time, they do not cut you off completely from external sounds, and at the same time they will not disturb others in transport.


The correct choice of headphones is not an easy task and you have to take into consideration a lot of factors in order not to make a mistake. It’s almost impossible to find universal models that fit all conditions, and the easiest solution to the problem is to have a pair of headphones of different types.

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