Closed versus Open Studio Headphones Please Explain the Differences [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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01-27-2006, 07:44 PM
Hopefully someone can explain the difference to me between closed and open studio headphones- i.e. headphones that you'd connect to your receiver as opposed to say an ipod.
I just bought and raved in another post, Ultrasone HFI 700 Home Theater Surround Sound Headphones. The sound on these were incredible, like I was hearing 5.1 sound through speakers but they weren't comfortable at all on my ears due I think to the rubber padding & basically felt like they were suffocating my ears. These were closed headphones & they blocked out external noise. Anyway, I called up Ultrasone & asked them if they had more comfortable headphones with just as good or better sound. The guy I spoke to suggested their HFI 2200 ULE phone which was listed at $299. I managed to get this new on Ebay for $250 including shipping & meanwhile sold my 700 model at a $30 loss. Anyway, the 2200 is an open headphone and is very comfortable, perhaps due to its velvet earpadding but I think the 700 sounded a little better. Given the choice, very good comfort is preferable to better sound & lousy comfort. Anyway, will all closed headphones tend to feel uncomfortable or if I was able to get the same velvet padding with it would the discomfort level go away?

01-27-2006, 08:33 PM
You said it yourself. Closed headphones provide some degree of isolation from external noise by sealing the ear, and open headphones have no such intention. More often than not, on a level playing field, full-sized open cans sound more . . . open and accurate than closed ones. The seal is a bit of a sonic restriction, at least when it comes to really high-end audio. Musicians and studio personnel tend to favor closed cans with low impedance that can be driven easily to adequate levels and prevent extraneous noise from intruding on what they want to hear. In my experience, closed cans can be just as comfortable as open ones, depending on the design, though I'd be hard-pressed to come up with any obvious criteria. The studio versions tend to be built to take abuse and to keep the cord out of the way of busy hands, in addition to sporting higher sensitivity and lower impedance. Some people find closed phones disorienting, if not a little solipsistic, since the 10 db or so of isolation removes them from the immediate world. I'm used to this phenomenon from many years of wearing them while drumming. In fact, I prefer the more complete isolation that IEMs (in-ear monitors) provide. IEMs actually work by creating a seal in the ear canal that enhances bass response and brings out subtle detail and imaging. You don't seem like a candidate for this sort of experience. The isolation is extreme when the ears are totally blocked, and the feeling of the monitors deep inside the ear can be physically irritating until you get used to it. If you're curious, however, check out the Etymotic and Shure websites.

01-27-2006, 10:14 PM
Thanks for an explanation, I'd still like to understand though, if the uncomfortableness is caused by the design, the rubber padding or what. Apparently other people have had that problem with the closed Ultrasone headphone. My listening experience through these closed headphones was great-like hearing speakers but the thing physically was too tight and/or uncomfortable over my ears.

01-28-2006, 04:43 AM
I'm not familiar with Ultrasone, so I won't hazard a guess. But certain headphones are just uncomfortable for certain people. Why don't you explore the HeadRoom site, the foremost specialists on headphones on the web. They have many explanatory pages and an enormous selection of cans. You might also be able to communicate with someone there about your problem. They also appear to be very liberal about trying things out and sending them back. I think the address is

01-28-2006, 05:24 AM
It's very easy to damage your hearing with headphones. Since headphones give you no other stimulus except sound waves entering you ear, it's very hard to judge how loud they are playing.

I did this test with my daughter; I measured what she thought was a pretty good listening level with her headphones. It was 85dB A weighted. She thought that this was a correct level.

I brought my stereo to 85dB and asked her which she thought was louder. and she said it was easily twice as loud. "you can feel it in your body" she said. Headphones can't do this so it's much easier to play them much too loud.

Be aware; your hearing once lost cannot be recovered.

01-28-2006, 07:48 AM
Be aware; your hearing once lost cannot be recovered.

Now that's a scary thought! No more HT :(

01-28-2006, 08:13 AM
Now that's a scary thought! No more HT :(

Most times, watching a movie my HT is in the 70-80dB range unless there's a bomb going off. Then it can reach over 100dB but only for an instant. It's the constant 85dB+ that can do damage.

01-30-2006, 03:10 PM
Anyway, will all closed headphones tend to feel uncomfortable or if I was able to get the same velvet padding with it would the discomfort level go away?

The Sennheiser(sp?) HD280's are the most comfortable earphones I've ever owned, and they are closed. I like the sound of some of their open headphones better (the HD600's are awesome!), but they really are quite open and listening even at moderate volumes can annoy the person sitting next to you on the train or bus or whatever. The 280's sound great and create an excellent seal keeping external noise out.

Closed headphones can be safer on the ears as well. By eliminating external noise, they require a lot lower SPL for you to be able to listen enjoyably. With external noise on a plane or a train, it's easy to turn up open headphones past 90dB just to be able to hear the lyrics.


01-30-2006, 09:18 PM
Some closed cans wioll be more comfortable some open air ones will be more comfortable and it largely has to do with the indivdual. I don't particularly like headphones that sit on the ear -- I rather them fully incase the ear which is what the Sennheiser HD 580, 600 and 650 do as do some lower models. My older Sony 750s did as well.

The Sonys were a rare good sealed can but being a leather wrap and black tended to get hot and would generate sweat. The HD 600s don't totally get away from this either but being an open air can air still does get to the ear and thus you can hear outside noise - the effects of which are debatable. The HD600s have a vice grip on your head which does take a bit of time for them to loosen up and for you to get used to but they are comfortable.

The AKG 1000 may be the best headphone going for anything remotely linked to sane price tags - these are basically speakers hooked to your head with a swivel adjustment to tailer it to the individual -- they need roughly 5 watts to drive and run from SET amps' outputs. They have strikingly high resolution and will show up everything (which is why I get a kick out of them because theoretically the foibles of tube amps shoudl show up and indeed the reverse is the case). The AKG 1000 is expensive at about $1k US but it is comfortable.

There are also in ear designs but I would need to buy them in order to test them but some of the ones from Shure are supposed to be world class. I am suspicious of the comfort level but you never know.