I own several headphones that I use for different purposes.


Semi Open, Open Headphones and Closed Back Headphones

Text copied and modified from  [here].


Open back headphones

Open-back studio headphones are mostly ‘open’ at the back of the earcups. Usually, they feature some grill or hole design, which allows air to flow to the internal speaker components, such as the drivers.

Regarding sound quality, the open-back style is consistently ranked amongst the best mastering and mixing headphones you can buy.

The design allows for a more natural soundstage where the sound comes to your ears and moves away into the surrounding environment. There is also little echo and minimal pressure. These qualities mean that music is more natural and feels like it comes from around you rather than just from the speakers themselves.

If you’re a music professional, you want to get open-back headphones for mixing or mastering. These applications require you to hear the best quality and most accurate sound possible.

The bad news is that since sound leaks out into the environment, everyone can hear what you are listening to, and you can hear what is going on around you. It’s best to use these headphones in quiet and private environments.


Closed back headphones

As the name suggests, closed-back headphones feature closed earcups. Naturally, this makes them great at blocking out surrounding noises. Typically, they can reduce surrounding noise by more than 10dB, and if you were to turn the volume up, you could virtually cancel out any noise other than what is being listened to. Some even come with active noise-cancellation, emitting waves that cancel out outside sound.

Hence, closed-back headphones are fabulous for recording. Say you’re listening to a track and then need to record yourself playing an instrument or singing. There will be minimal sound escaping the earcups, so the recording will not be distorted with that extra sound.

Furthermore, these headphones are fabulous for public use since environmental sound will be kept to a minimum and won’t disturb those around you. The bad news is that this limits the soundstage by only directing sound towards your ear, so of course, the sound is not as natural as using an open-back design. This creates a sort of ‘in your head’ listening experience. Plus, your ears will have less breathing room, making them more likely to get hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable after long listening sessions.

For all these reasons, I would not prefer this type of mixing on headphones.


Semi-open headphones

Semi-open headphones provide a compromise between closed-back and open-back headphones. They bear a resemblance to closed-back headphones but also expose some internal components, enabling air movement through the earcups.

Mostly, they have the advantages and disadvantages of open-back and closed-back headphones, but to a lesser degree.

Sound does leak out, to a lesser extent. At the same time, noise isolation can be OK but not as good as closed-back headphones. On top of this, the sound does have a wider sound stage, but again, it is not as complete as you would get with open-back headphones.

So, what does this mean in a practical sense? Well, since there is sound leakage, your listening sessions should be done in privacy. Furthermore, sound may leak and cloud your music if you need to do some recording.

Music professionals have differing opinions on semi-open headphones. While some believe they offer a balanced approach, others question their advantages if they cannot provide superior performance for mixing or recording.

At the end of the day, the decision to invest in such a pair of headphones is up to you. But if you are specifically going to record or mix, you are probably best to either get open-back or closed-back.