3 Typical Problems With Open Back Headphones (With Examples)

Are you planning on buying open-back headphones, but are unsure of what to expect with them?

To give you an idea, here are three problems you may encounter with open-back headphones.

1. Open-back headphones don’t have enough bass response.

One of the things you’ll notice with open-back headphones is their lack of bass response when listening to music.

A good example of an open back headphone that lacks bass is the Sennheiser HD800S.

  • While it is known as one of the best open-back headphones on the market, it falls flat when it comes to bass response. Listening to EDM music, you probably won’t feel much of that bass thump that comes with the genre!
  • And it becomes more obvious when you use open-back headphones when listening actively, especially if you are mixing or mastering a song, or simply studying a track for whatever purpose.

If you notice that there’s a lack of bass response, there are a few options.

  • Many media players, such as VLC, have built-in equalizers that you can use to compensate for any lack of bass.
  • Often, these equalizers will have presets, such as bass boost, that you can use.
  • The easiest way to solve the lack of bass response would be to use these presets.

But, if there are no presets, you will have to adjust the bass frequencies through the equalizer setting.

  • To help you understand equalizers, basic equalizers can be usually read from left to right as sub-bass, bass, low-mids, mids, upper mids, and high, with individual equalizer controls marked in Hz. The 0 dB mark, meanwhile, is located in the middle.
  • All bass frequencies (including sub-bass) play around the 20 – 300 Hz frequency, mids are found from 300 to 4,000 Hz, and the treble is everything above 4,000 Hz.
  • Not all equalizers will label the controls with bass, sub-bass, and would use the frequency as an indicator. That’s why it’s worth knowing the frequency and where each sits in a mix.

Getting a bass boost is rather easy, but you will need to listen closely to check if the bass suits your taste.

  • But as a starting point, increase the sub-bass by 6 dB then set the bass between 0 and 6 dB.
  • Set your low-mids a little below 0 dB, and the mids and upper mids to where the bass is set.
  • The treble should then be set a little lower than the upper mids.
  • If the presence settings are available, leave it as it is.
  • Note that this may not exactly be what you are looking for in bass response. But it should serve as a starting point to get the sweet spot for the bass.

If you are using a music player other than a smartphone or computer, you can try getting an amplifier with a built-in equalizer.

These equalizers tend to be simpler and only have bass, mid, and treble control. You can start tweaking by setting the mid and treble in the middle then adjust the bass frequency.

You can also lower the treble a bit to make the bass pop out more.

Some amplifiers are portable and run with an internal battery. You can try finding an external amplifier that provides extra bass frequencies for your headphones.

2. Open-back headphones lack noise cancelation.

One of the unfortunate features of open-back headphones is that they can’t cancel out surrounding noise. 

And unfortunately, all open-back headphones suffer from this.

And while this isn’t a problem for some users, it can be a problem for those who want to do focused listening, sans the background noise.

So how can you apply noise reduction when using open-back headphones?

  • The easiest way to reduce noise from entering your open-back headphones is to cup or cover the headphone grilles on each side.
  • There may be sound reduction plugins or settings on some media players, but this won’t have any effect with open-back headphones.
  • Since the noise enters through the outer shell, the best way to achieve this is to block all possible passages where sound may travel inside the open-back headphones. You can try covering them with tape, but that can leave a sticky residue.

With open back headphones, the next best thing to consider is also the simplest solution: move to a more quiet environment.

3. The sound “bleeds” on open-back headphones.

Sound bleeding can be an issue for open back headphones.

Let’s take the Beyerdynamic DT900 Pro as an example.

  • These open-back headphones were designed to let the natural acoustics enter your headphones and blend with the music you’re listening to.
  • Meant for professional audio applications, this pair of headphones is very handy for sound engineers who are mixing or mastering a track, as they come quite close to the sound of studio monitors.
  • It’s a good option for mixing at night, too, as they don’t get as loud as studio monitors, which makes them ideal for home-based music producers.

Now, the fact that sound bleeds out of these headphones can be seen as a weakness for open-back headphones. Just as natural acoustics from the room can enter, the sound from the speakers also bleeds out of the headphones.

It can be annoying for your roommate to hear what you’re listening to if you use open-back headphones at night. It might not be as loud as listening to speakers, but it can be annoying for people who want complete silence.

Open-back headphones can also be problematic when used in tandem with a microphone.

  • If you use open-back headphones for recording, your click or guide track will be picked up by the microphone.
  • That can be very problematic for sound engineers who are trying to get a good mix.
  • And if you use open-back headphones during a video call, there’s also a good chance that the audio from the headphones will bleed to your microphone and may confuse people.

So what can be done to resolve this?

  • The first thing to do is lower the volume entering your headphones.
  • This is perhaps the cheapest solution that you should consider before even trying other fixes.
  • The next thing to try is muffling the grilles so that less sound leaks out of the headphones.
  • You can also try swapping out the earpads, although this can be a hit-or-miss solution.

The last option to consider is switching to closed-back headphones.

  • While not practical for some, the best way to deal with leakage is by using a pair of closed-back headphones, which do not leak too much.
  • But you don’t need to get fancy headphones for this, especially if you’re just doing some leisure listening.
  • A pair of in-ear headphones also works to mitigate sound bleeding.

General Pros and Cons of Open Back Headphones:

Open back headphones are great for music post-production

If you run a recording studio, the open-back headphones are a great option for mixing or mastering your tracks.

  • Open back headphones let you take in part of the sound profile of the room as you listen to a song.
  • Open back headphones also have that edge of being more flat, or neutral-sounding, compared to closed-back headphones.
  • For the most part, using open-back headphones is just like using studio monitors close to your ears, but at lower levels.
  • It’s the reason why many sound engineers prefer them, albeit they use both open-backs and closed-back models.

Open back headphones are flatter sounding

For those who want a raw sound, open-back headphones take you to that territory.

Hearing things “flat” helps you appreciate how music producers and sound engineers sculpted the tones used in a record. If you’re looking to understand how these brilliant minds behind the music work, open-back headphones can help you with that.

Open back headphones can be more comfortable to use.

You may not realize it, but the grilles of open-back headphones help in making them comfortable to use.

These grilles also let air in, so that your ears get to breathe. Air circulates to your ears, which makes them ideal for prolonged usage, especially for sound engineers and video editors.

Open back headphones enhance the video game experience

Aside from the comfort of being able to use them for hours, open-back headphones are also good for video games.

When used for gaming, you experience a larger audio environment, as if the sound is all over. It feels like the room is part of the video game, recreating a massive soundstage.

Open-back headphones makes audio sound more natural.

Disadvantages of Open Back Headphones:

  • Open back headphones may lack bass response.
  • There can be a lot of sound leakages, which others may find annoying.
  • There are not many options for noise reduction.
  • The grilles or perforation of open-back headphones may let moisture in.

Final Thoughts:

The problems you encounter with open-back headphones are what make it a specialized gadget. 

Its pros are also it’s cons! It was meant for the needs of specific users, and not everyone will appreciate its features. If you long from that bass thump or require noise reduction, then you’re better off getting closed-back headphones.

For more information, check out our article 4 Typical Problems With Logitech Headphones (With Examples), which explains issues you may have with Logitech headphones, which are closed back headphones.

You may also want to look at semi-open back headphones for the best of both worlds, but you don’t get the full benefits of either design.

 

Sources:

Open back vs closed back headphones: Which are right for you?

The 6 Best Open-Back Headphones – Summer 2021

Ignore the esports pros, here’s why you need an open-back gaming headset

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