open and closed headphones

Open and closed headphones: What’s the difference?

On-ear headphones can sound great, but which model’s right for you?

When it comes to over-ear headphones – you know, the big ear-enveloping kind that promise a better sound experience than the ear buds that came with your smartphone or MP3 player – there are two main varieties to choose from: open and closed. The area on the headphones that’s either “open” or “closed” is the ear cup. On the closed variety, the ear cups have no perforations and are thereby able to contain the sound. The big benefit of this system is that the sound is not leaked out into your environment – perfect for when you feel like listening to The Lion King soundtrack without anyone being the wiser. Closed headphones also block outside sounds. This means that if the guy next to you on the train is listening to something particularly repetitive or irritating, ayou won’t hear it. You also aren’t likely to hear an approaching bus, so careful with these out on the street. As one might expect, the closed design has an effect on what is heard, which will sound like it’s in your head. The trade-off is that the levels – especially the bass levels – can be higher. Open headphones, on the other hand, have perforations on the ear cups which allow for an exchange of sound and air. This generally leads to an airier, out-of-head feeling and usually delivers clearer, more differentiated sound than similarly priced closed headphones.

The Real deal

As one might imagine, Teufel’s open headphone, the Aureol Real, and closed headphone, the Aureol Massive, are to be found in great numbers in our Berlin office. Everyone seems to have one or the other, with a slight preponderance of the Aureol Massive, most likely due to its noise blocking qualities. So how does the sound of these two headphones compare? As its name would suggest, the Aureol Real has a greater degree of fidelity to the source. If you listen to jazz or classical, you’ll immediately appreciate the fact that saxophones sound like saxophones, violas like violas. The resolution of the mid and treble range is simply amazing. Listening to David Brubeck’s “Take Five,” the percussion also shone. The high hat was crisp as was the snare, and each thud of the tom toms and bass drum was well definied. The song really brought the Aureol Real’s stereo abilities to the fore.

The Aureol Real is a headphones capable of producing an excellent soundstage whereby, for instance,  the various parts of a drum set are acoustically recreated as spacially separate sounds. Not that each instrument’s exact position at the time of recording is perfectly reproduced – no playback device can deliver that – but the sense of pianos, drums, and saxophones as instruments that are separate in space as well as in their individual sound signatures is clearly given.

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Massive attack

In contrast, the Aureol Massive produced a warmer sound that was much more blended and had less of an out-of-head effect with Brubeck’s jazz masterpiece. With the electronic dance song “Shake” by The Whip, however, the Massive was true to its name and emitted a truly powerful bass. The Real rendered the same song with a bass that was clear, but not nearly as full-bodied. In “Outlines” by AlunaGeorge, the female vocal was perfectly contrasted and yet balanced by a deep, strong bass on the Aureol Massive, whereas the Real brought the vocal more to the fore and produced less of the under rumble that is the life blood of a lot of electronic music. The album “Big Black Delta” by Jonathan Bates is given a deeper level of beauty and majesty by the the Aureol Massive’s mega bass. Clearly, those who enjoy listening to electronic or dance music should opt for the Massive.

Different sound, similar feel

When it comes to wearing quality, both headphones are extremely lightweight and comfortable. The Real’s velour covering on the inner side of the headband and ear cups gives it a slightly nicer feel, but the Massive is equally well padded and features a handy collapsible design.

Conclusion

In the end, we’re proud of both members of the Aureol family. Both live up to their names and bring out extra dimensions in songs that less sophisticated headphones will not be able to reproduce; and when it comes to audiophile headphones, that’s very much the point!

Additional reading:

PAUL WHITE looks at the differences between open and enclosed headphones and explains why neither type is a substitute for a loudspeaker monitoring system.

“Open” and “Closed” headphones explained and which you should buy

How Beats headphones changed the audio world

Before you buy full-size headphones, read this

Headphone buying guide

  1. Helen
    16. Jan. 2014, 18:26

    Love this! I had no idea. I’d go for the closed headphones – I don’t other people to hear what I’m listening too and I like a pumped up bass.

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