How To Choose Your Own Headphone

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Compared to closed headphone, open headphone delivers wide sound space, more detailed quality yet less powerful bass.

We have tested the features of both on-ear and around-ear models, in order to bring users most basic knowledge to differentiate and select these products.

On-ear or around-ear designs

Many brands start appearing in the market of closed headphone, but overall there’re only 2 types of design: on-ear and around-ear. On-ear model is also called supra-aural headphone which basically has two ear cups directly covering user’s ears. Meanwhile, around-ear headphone, also called circumaural headphone, is equipped with 2 large-diameter ear cups featuring cushions that cover user’s ear wholly.

Sennheiser HD 25 Originals is an on-ear model using closed design

Sennheiser HD 25 Originals is an on-ear model using closed design

These two headphone types have distinctive design features that suits specific user’s demand. For instance, on-ear cups often own small drivers that fit mobile usage. On-ear drivers are regularly equipped with thick cushion, comforting user while listening. In some on-ear models, the cushion may be made of artificial leather. This detail makes the product look more luxurious and eliminates noise effectively but it comes quite inconvenient during use. With this kind of design, user should choose models that incorporate rotatable joint on the head band to lessen the pressure created by the ear cups onto user’s ears.

V-Moda M100 (right) and Sennheiser HD 700 are two models using open design

V-Moda M100 (right) and Sennheiser HD 700 are two models using open design

Totally different from on-ear models, round-ear ones often have bigger ear cups equipped with large-diameter drivers, such as Sennheiser HD 700 featuring 40mm-diameter drivers or V-Moda using 50mm-diameter drivers. Due to large ear cups, manufacturers of such design have more space to place the membrane inside each driver – to extend/narrow the distance between the membranes of the speaker and the ear, to place the membrane at a tilt angle or even to equip more drivers into each ear cup for better audio experience.

Besides above advantages, around-ear headphone also has additional disadvantages: large size which is a difficult for mobility and stylized ear cup (like Razer Eletcra) which doesn’t fit all people’s ear size.

Closed-back or open-back designs

Similar to other headphone product line, both on-ear and around-ear models are designed following closed-back or open-back form. The simple to distinguish headphone’s style is to look at ear cups exterior. Closed-back models having outer surface covered are, for instance, Phiation PS 500 and Sennheiser HD 419. Meanwhile, open-back models often doesn’t use any material to veil ear cup’s exterior but features metal grid or tiny holes, commonly seen in V-Moda M-100, Sennheiser HD 570x and Grado SR225i.

However, note that this distinguish method is not completely accurate as some closed-back models still use metal grid as décor, like in Sennheiser HD 439.

Sennheiser HD 439

Sennheiser HD 439

Each type of design has its own pros and cons. Particularly, closed-back design is capable of eliminating passive noise form outside environment thanks to its cushion contacting user’s ear directly. Bass sound quality of closed-back headphones is often better than that of open-back models costing similarly. Though, this sound-isolated design somehow makes sound unnatural. Closed-back models are also uncomfortable, making user sweat in long use.

In addition, closed-back design also brings user a cramped feeling and limited sound space. A closed-back headphone can only considered good if it is able to create no narrow sound space. But, when compared with open-back models featuring similar prices, closed-back headphones’ sound space is not as wide.

The on n-ear Sony MDR-XB300 features thick cushion coated by artificial leather, efficient in eliminating noise

The on-ear Sony MDR-XB300 features thick cushion coated by artificial leather, efficient in eliminating noise

For instance, with the open-back SR225i Grado, listener can still hear outer surrounding round while around people may be able to hear what is listened to. This headphone’s bass is not as heavy as that from closed-back ones. Though, Grado SR225i is still considered as a headphone that creates excellent quality, clear treble, smooth mid-range and details higher than that from any closed-back models available in the market.

As we can say, although open-back models are not suitable for noisy condition while bass is not as deep as from closed-back ones, if you need a headphone which can provide natural sound, good detail and wide sound space, open-back models are idea ones.

In general, for noisy environments, an on-ear closed-back headphone is a suitable option thanks to effective noise elimination. However, if your budget is large, you can purchase an around-ear closed-back model which actively removes noise. In case you prefer more natural sound with high detail and wider sound space, on-ear/around-ear open-back models must be taken into account.

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