Want to get a new pair of gaming headphones?
Are open back headphones truly better for gaming?
Many years ago, the ‘open back vs closed back’ question might not have cropped up.
These days, open-back headphones for gaming are making themselves a little more present.
Not in enough variety to compete head-to-head with the closed-back, but enough to make themselves more noticeable.
Let’s take a closer look at open back vs closed back headphones for gaming.
Open Back vs Closed Back Gaming Headphone Comparison
So, what is the difference between closed and open back headphones for gaming?
Gone are the days of just using gaming speakers, now its all about finding the best gaming headphones.
We’ll put these two designs up against each other and see how they fare.
1. Sound Quality
The first thing you’d want to consider is sound quality. It’d be pointless to get a pair of headphones that couldn’t produce decent sound.
Sound depends on who’s doing the listening, so we’ll just describe what you can expect for either type of design.
Do open-back headphones sound better?
Most people who’ve used them would say “yes”.
Open-back headphones produce an airy, expansive soundstage. Sounds will feel more natural and less forced into the eardrums compared to the closed-back design.
They’re great for those massive, open-world games with lots of environmental effects. And they usually have excellent stereo imaging, a plus point in games that need directional accuracy.
Even music will sound more natural with the open back design. Plenty of high-fidelity audiophile headphones are open back for this very reason.
If you’re a fan of large, booming explosions and ear-shattering gunshots, then the closed back is for you. Closed-back headphones have a better bass response, so they make all the rumbles a little more realistic. Works the same for your movies and music too.
The soundstage and audio output can vary a lot, depending on the drivers’ quality and (sometimes) software built into the headphones.
What does that mean?
It’s just that you could get really great positional accuracy (from either stereo or surround sound), or not. But as there are plenty of closed back headphones for gaming to pick from, it’d be hard to not find one that works for you.
We think the open back headphones edges past the closed back just a little bit in terms of sound quality. “Little” because it really depends on the listener.
2. Noise Isolation
What does noise isolation mean?
It’s the concept of cutting out any unnecessary noise that could interrupt your listening experience.
There’s the active type and the passive type. Active noise cancellation needs a powered circuitry to filter out ambient noise (yes, it needs batteries). Passive noise isolation works off the physical design of the headphones.
You’d think that an open back design would naturally have zero noise isolation. And you’re right. Noise can’t be isolated when the earcups are open to the outside world.
You do not want to use an open back headphone in a noisy location. All that sound is just going to filter in and disrupt your in-game immersion. And you wouldn’t want to use them in a competitive environment either, because everyone else will hear what’s going on in your game.
But (yes, there’s a but), open-back headphones can come with active noise cancellation. Anything with this added technology will cost a bit more, but if you want to help filter out ambient noise, this option exists.
The closed back headphone design naturally isolates some noise. Depending on how they fit on your head, they may isolate more or less ambient sound. They’ll also keep noise inside your earcups, so other people don’t hear your audio. This is pretty important if you need to focus on your game, especially in a tournament situation.
The size of the earcups can drive how much noise gets blocked out. Larger, over-ear designs obviously will isolate better than the smaller on-ear form factor.
But the noise isolation may not be perfect. Because of this, some closed back headphones come with active noise cancellation, too, to really keep out the ambient sounds from being disruptive.
Closed-back headphones win hands down on noise isolation. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Comfort is another essential factor to consider. Those headphones had better feel almost invisible on your head if you’re planning on spending hours in a game. Many a gamer have been defeated by aching skulls and overheated ears.
Are open back headphones cooler, compared to closed back headphones?
Yes, they are. That open-back design is like a window letting airflow in and out of the earcups. Your ears won’t fatigue or heat up as quickly during long gaming sessions. Add cushy padding on the earcups and headband, and you should be all set for some serious gaming.
Closed-back headphones don’t have good airflow, so they’ll definitely heat up your ears faster. You’ll probably sweat in them too. If you’re the very sweaty type, try to find some sweat-proof covers for the earpads to keep moisture absorbed. Or find headphones that are built with a moisture-wicking material. It’s not great having an odorous headphone on your head.
We have to give the comfort score to the open back headphones. Just by being their airy selves, the open back has one massive comfort feature already built into them.
Are the headphones easy to port around? You may want to bring them to your next LAN party.
Most open back headphones come in the over-ear variety, so the earcups will naturally be large. That will take away from some of its portability. Rarely will you find a small one that you can fold and easily throw into your backpack.
The closed back headphone has an advantage here, because there’s just more variety. It’s much easier to find a portable closed back headphone for gaming, from over-ear to on-ear, foldable small and big shapes, with detachable boom mics.
The closed back headphones win in terms of having more portable options.
5. Design Aesthetics
How do the headphones look? Whether you’re into flashy designs or the more quiet, sedate styling, how do these two score against each other?
Open-back headphones generally have a more relaxed, subdued design. The ones specifically for gaming can come with customizable speaker tags, like on the Astro A40 TR, (that’s a back piece that’s ‘raised’ over the drivers, creating an open back design). Others can have an industrial-feel metallic grilling over the drivers like the Philips Fidelio X2HR.
Closed-back headphones have more variety in terms of style. You’ll find some interesting designs occupying the closed back headphone space. From RGB lighting options, like on the Razer Kraken Chroma, to the quieter of understated chic of the SteelSeries Arctis7, there’s plenty to choose from.
We really can’t argue on preference. Some people like mesh grilling, others like lighting. So this one is a toss-up. It’s up to you to pick.
Now we get to that other super important factor. Which headphone is going to break the bank?
Most open back headphones for gaming (or otherwise) sit in the mid-to-high pricing range. You’ll see names like Sennheiser and Audio Technica there. In general, open back headphones aren’t likely to fall into the budget buyer’s list.
Closed-back headphones for gaming can be super cheap (less than $50) to very, very, very expensive. It all depends on what kind of build quality and technology you expect them to have. The higher-end headphones generally will have much better drivers, surround sound (sometimes THX certified) wireless technology and so on. And that’s not saying the cheaper headphones aren’t good. They can be.
The closed back headphones win here. You can get a very decent pair for gaming at a reasonable price.
A Summary Of Features
Let’s sum up all the points that we went through.
- Excellent sound quality and expansive soundstage.
- Doesn’t isolate noise well.
- Comfortable for the ears.
- Typically not very portable.
- Generally has a more sedate styling.
- Can cost a bit more than budget range.
- Better bass response.
- Good noise isolation.
- Can heat up the ears faster.
- Easier to find portable form factors.
- Styling varies greatly.
- Excellent cost options.
So which headphone style is better for gaming?
There’s no definite answer.
The open back and closed back design both have their pros and cons.
In general, if you game in a quieter environment and can afford a bit more, you could give the open back design a go. You might be surprised by the natural soundstage your game will provide you with.
On the other hand, there’s so much to choose from in the closed-back design. If you don’t like being interrupted and prefer to cut out all noise, this might be for you.
Or maybe, you could get one of each, to use in different conditions.
Whichever way you choose to go, we hope this article has given you a better idea of what to expect in each design type.
Now that you’ve learned a little more about open back vs closed back headphones for gaming, have fun hunting!
“Nasa is an amateur game enthusiast with an addiction to cinema soundtracks. She can be found warring on a mobile MMORTS as often as immersing in a PC RPG. She admits to dungeon crawling to the beats of Linkin Park or the sweeping sounds of Hans Zimmer.”