Types Of Headphones | Circum vs Supra Aural | Open vs Closed Back

There are a variety of headphone types available in the market today. Each headphone type comes with its advantages and disadvantages, for an individual to truly relish their favorite music it is crucial that they fully understand the difference that each headphone offers when it comes to their listening experience.

In this article, we will be discussing the different types of headphones, their characteristics, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Once you are fully equipped with the right knowledge regarding headphone types, choosing the perfect one to suit your needs will come naturally.

Circumaural Headphones

What is it?

Circumaural headphones are the most common type you will find in the market. This type of headphone features large ear cups that can cover the entirety of your ears. The inclusion of larger paddings also helps push circumaural headphones as being some of the most comfortable headphone types to wear. 

This is a good thing as this type of headphone is quite popular with DJs, sound engineers, and other audio professionals. Most people in this profession will need to wear headphones for the duration of their work, which can take hours on end.

Also, the large pads used in the ear cups can also act as passive noise cancellation for users. Most circumaural headphones deliver a high-fidelity sound, which is another reason audiophiles primary prefer this type of headphone.

Pros:
  • The large ear cups and extra padding give this type of headphone an improved level of comfort. Ideal for prolonged use.
  • Most circumaural headphones deliver exceptional sound quality, especially with the high-end brand models.
  • The large ear cups can also provide excellent passive noise isolation capabilities.
Cons:
  • Due to its size and design, circumaural headphones are usually quite heavy and bulky. Not the best option if you are doing anything physical.
  • The size, again, makes traveling a bit more complicated as it can take up a considerable chunk of space in your bag. While some models are foldable, it can still be relatively massive in comparison with other headphone types.

Who is it recommended for?

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x (Image: Amazon)

Circumaural headphones should deliver an excellent experience for people who enjoy high-fidelity sound right at the comfort of their own home. Due to its size, it is not an ideal choice for traveling. However, there are circumaural headphones out there that consider portability into their design but do not expect it to rival smaller and more compact headphones.

This type of headphone is also excellent for gaming and audio monitoring as well. Overall, the circumaural headphone is the most common design you will come across, and it can deliver an uninterrupted listening experience for both casual and audiophiles.

One of the highly-rated headphones around that features the circumaural design is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x with its high comfort, excellent noise cancellation capability, and top-notch audio quality production.

Supra-Aural Headphones

What is it?

The supra-aural headphone is also called the on-ear headphone. While similar in design with the circumaural headphone which completely covers the ears of the listener, the supra-aural does not. Hence, it is a more compact and smaller alternative.

This makes supra-aural headphones a far more portable choice for music lovers. The downside to its lightweight and more compact design is that it has a significantly lower passive noise isolation capability. One huge advantage that this type of headphone has is its price.

It is quite easy to find one at an incredibly low price in stores. It is even possible to find supra-aural headphones that are priced within the same range as standard earphones.

The supra-aural headphone is the best option for those who often travel or hit the gym due to its lightweight construction.

Pros:
  • Compared to other over-the-ear headphones, supra-aural is the best in terms of being portable.
  • It can deliver excellent sound quality as well. However, you might want to shell out extra cash for the higher-end models from well-known brands to achieve high-quality audio.
  • Comfortable design and lightweight construction make this an ideal headphone to wear when working out.
Cons:
  • Due to it not covering the entirety of the ears, expect sound leakage to be an issue. It dramatically lacks in sound isolation and cancellation when compared to the circumaural headphone.
  • The smaller earcup design also tends to put more pressure on the ear lobes. Some users of this type of headphone complain about this specific issue causing discomfort when wearing it for a decent amount of time.

Who is it recommended for?

Sennheiser HDR120 Supplemental HiFi Wireless Headphone for RS-120 System
Sennheiser HDR120 (Image: Amazon)

The supra-aural headphone is a standard fixture with music enthusiasts who continuously travel from place to place due to its portable design. The stability it offers makes it a go-to over the ear headphone for fitness buffs as well.

While it does lack in sound cancellation, it can still manage to deliver excellent audio quality for audiophiles. Of course, this will depend on the brand and overall quality of the headphone. Supra-aural headphones are not synonymous with top-notch sound quality production.

If you are a casual music lover who enjoys a regular stroll outdoors, the supra-aural should be able to provide you with a way to listen to your music at a comfortable and convenient pace.

The Sennheiser RS120 headphone is one of the best supra-aural headphones in the market today with its high-quality construction and wireless capabilities.

Circumaural Headphones vs Supra-Aural Headphones – Which Should You Pick?

In summary, there are vital factors that you need to consider when choosing between a circumaural and a supra-aural headphone.

Choose the circumaural headphone if you:

  • If you prefer listening indoors, in the comfort of your home.
  • Want excellent passive noise cancellation and want to block out outside noise.
  • If you are looking for a headphone that offers excellent high-fidelity sound production.

Choose supra-aural headphones if you:

  • Want a portable and lightweight headphone that you can bring with you during your trips.
  • Prefer a budget-friendly headphone.

Open-Back Headphones

What is it?

Open-back headphones, as their name implies, utilizes an open ear-cup design. This type of headphone delivers an immense soundstage experience and can make it feel as if the user is listening to speakers. However, the open-back design also means that this type of headphone leaks sound at a far higher rate. Everybody in your immediate vicinity will be able to hear what you are listening to if you use an open-back headphone.

The main advantage that open-back headphones offer is with its ability to remain consistent with its sound reproduction. The open-back design allows for higher sound leakage, which can counter the frequency build-up, which is an issue with closed-back headphones. This flat sound production can enable individuals to gauge sound better as it avoids any passive trappings.

Open-back headphones come in two variations: over-the-ear and on-ear design. Most open back headphones also allow for significantly less pressure on the ears, which makes this type of headphone quite comfortable to wear for prolonged periods.

Pros:
  • Due to its open-back design, this type of headphone can deliver consistent and well-balanced audio.
  • Prevents sound frequency build-up, which can affect the accuracy of music.
  • Excellent for indoor use.
  • Design-wise, open-back headphones generally offer the most comfortable fit.
  • This headphone can produce the best spacious sound.
Cons:
  • The sound leakage present in this type of headphone is the highest in all kinds of headphones.
  • Almost no noise isolation capability, which means it is not the right choice if you are in a noisy environment.

Who is it recommended for?

Philips SHP9500 HiFi Precision Stereo Over-Ear Headphones (Black)
Philips SHP9500 HiFi Precision Stereo Over-Ear Headphones (Image: Amazon)

Due to the open-back headphone’s ability to provide consistency when it comes to sound production, it is often used by sound engineers. It is also a great headphone if you prefer to listen in the comfort of your own home. The spacious and airy sound improves the experience when listening to genres like classical and orchestra music. We recommend you check out the Philips SHP9500 headphone if you are interested in a top-quality open-back headphone. It offers excellent spacious quality sound, comfort, and is reasonably priced as well.

Closed-Back Headphones

What is it?

The closed-back headphone takes on an almost identical appearance with the open-back, with the primary difference being that the ear cups are sealed closed. This design allows for excellent passive noise cancellation from ambient noise. The closed-back headphone is an excellent choice for outdoor use wherein noise traffic is to be expected.

The closed-back headphone also prevents noise leakage; only the wearer will be able to listen to their tunes so no need to worry about disturbing others in the vicinity. The closed-back headphone is a perfect choice for those who want to immerse themselves in their music listening experience fully.

As with the open-back headphone, the closed-back is available in two styles: the over-the-ear and on-ear. This type of headphone is also larger and bulkier due to its construction and more expansive cans. In terms of sound quality, the closed-back is a favorite by most audiophiles due to its ability to produce top-quality sound.

Pros:
  • This type of headphone can employ passive and active noise-canceling technology.
  • It is known for its highly detailed sound production.
  • Closed-back headphones can completely mitigate sound leakage.
Cons:
  • Some of the cheaper models can cause straining due to the pressure applied by the earcups over the ears.

Who is this recommended for?

The closed-back headphone is the most popular type that you can find in the market. For general use, this type of headphone is a solid choice for both indoor and outdoor use. The design allows listeners to completely shut out outside noise while also keeping the sound produced by the headphone inside.

If you are looking for an all-around headphone type, the closed-back headphone is the go-to option for the general listening audience. You can check out the Audio-Technica ATH M50x headphone that we linked above on the circumaural headphone overview as that is undoubtedly one of the best closed-back headphones around.

Open-Back Headphones VS Closed-Back Headphones – Which Should You Pick?

It is far easier to choose between the open-back and closed-back headphones once you know the big difference between the two. To help you further along the way, here is a list of points that you can use to guide you towards the right choice.

Choose the open-back headphone if you:

  • If you work as a sound engineer or audio mixer. The open-back can deliver consistent accuracy, which is an essential factor for those who work in the sound/music industry.
  • You enjoy listening to sweeping classical and orchestral music. The open-back design of the headphone allows for amazing spacious and airy sound production. It perfectly complements instrumental music.

Choose the closed-back headphone if you:

  • Want an all-around headphone. It is the most common design choice and is a perfect headphone for both casual and audiophiles.
  • You want excellent passive noise cancellation and isolation. The closed-back naturally prevents ambient noise from distracting your listening experience. It will also avert noise leakage as well.
  • This headphone type is also known for featuring several headphone technologies such as active noise cancellation and isolation.

Something in Between: The Semi-Open Back Headphones

If you are looking for something in-between what open-back and closed-back headphones can offer, the semi-open headphone is the answer you are looking for. The semi-open headphone features identical sound quality and accuracy found in open-back but reduces sound leakage substantially.

While semi-open-back headphones still experience some level of sound leakage, it is noticeably lesser compared to a fully open-back headphone. For audio mixers who prefer to work without too much external sound leakage, the semi-open is a great headphone to choose from.

Conclusion

These are the major types of headphones you will find in the market today. All four have their specific strengths and weaknesses where one type exceeds certain functions compared to others. Understanding these fundamental differences will allow you to pick the right one whether you are merely listening to your favorite tunes, working on audio mixing projects, or performing as a DJ in the club.

If you have anything to add to the discussion, please comment down below and don’t forget to share the article if you found it helpful.   

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