You want your headphones to do everything. Gaming, music, podcasting — the works. In a perfect world that would be possible. But since when do we live in a perfect world? When it comes down to headphones, there's some choices you need to make when searching for a new set of cans. But not to worry, dear reader — it's not that complicated. Today we're going dust off the dictionary and drop a bit of terminology on you, just the sort of thing you need for your next headphone purchase.
A pair of Sennheiser closed-ear headphones.
Open headphones, on the other hand, do not cover the entire ear, and allow for background noise to seep in. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. That extra air flow is said to reduce the resonance present in closed-model headphones, resulting in a more natural listening experience, and increased audio fidelity. Also, according to Plantronics, a popular headset manufacturer, many find the added airflow to be more comfortable than the "box-like" experience of closed models.
An Audio-Technica open-ear model, with airflow through perforated side.
Such leaked sound can also affect audio levels as well. Because closed models keep all the sound trapped within, audio is often perceived as louder. As long as distortion isn't an issue, this can heighten the immersive experience that closed headphone fans favor so dearly.
What it comes down to is a matter of quality and environment. If you're looking for the best sounding headphones with the ultimate in quality, an open model design will probably do you best. However, if you're concerned about sound leakage or other distractions, closed may be the better choice. The only way you can truly decide is to try them out yourself, and see which you prefer. With all this in mind, may your next purchase be an informed one!