Do you know the problem with technology? We are spoilt with different options, from one thing to another cutting-edge designs.
In this guide, we would look into the realm of semi-open-back headphones.
Its advantage and disadvantages.
It's even going to be interesting if you are getting to know semi-open-back headphones.
Let's dig in...
Before we go into the definition and understanding of semi-open-back headphones, I will love to explain the meaning of Open and Closed-back headphones.
It would make the guide more interesting and easy to catch up for newbies.
- Open-Back Headphones
- Close-back headphones
- Semi-Open Back Headphone
Open-back headphones - They are designed to allow the mixture of air to pass through their ear cups to the speaker element. Ear cups are bowl-like parts of the headphones that enclose your ear.
If you are finding it difficult to remember ear cups, it is as simple as remembering a doughnut shape :) they rest directly on your skull, an example is an over-the-ear headphone.
An example of an open-back is a speaker in a room, so to speak; they are open and natural, we would talk about the open nature in a moment, keep reading.
This is the opposite of an open-back headphone, they are entirely sealed off around the back, which means you are being isolated away from the outside world, an example of this is a Noise cancellation headphone, you only listen to the music, and your surroundings are cut-off.
There is a catch to this thou, remember I said open-back headphones are natural. Open phones tend to have a transparent sound because they are open to the outside world unlike the closed-back, where the back is entirely sealed off, and the best analogy for this is your home speaker, they have space to breathe, and they sound bigger.
Closed-back has no space to breathe and doesn't sound natural, imagine sealing off your home speaker, you get the idea! However, Closed-back designs have changed throughout the year, and are now designed with anti-resonant material, which makes the listening more realistic, but still, it doesn't come close to Open-back headphones.
Since you now have a good and basic understanding of open and closed-back headphones, this is the right time to introduce you to a semi-open-back headphone.
Semi-Open Back Headphone
A Semi-Open headphone can be really tricky to differentiate from an open headphone, but this is how you know a semi-open: The cup is partially closed, meaning they aren't fully opened and they aren't fully closed.
Another way to identify semi-open phones is to examine the Front Volume and the Back Volume, the back volume is the volume of air behind the driver, you can locate this by placing your hand at the back of the cans. The front volume is the volume of air between the driver and your ear (those are the inner ones).
To determine if this is a semi-open headphone, they can either have an open back volume and a closed front volume or a closed back volume or an open front volume. Either way would basically give you an idea of how to determine if it is semi-open or not
If you aren't used to Semi-open and Open back headphones, it might be difficult to differentiate, from personal experience, a semi-open sounds about the same as an open-back but it all depends on their manufacturer, which is of the utmost importance when choosing a headphone.
Having said that, let's look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of a semi open-back headphones
Advantages of a Semi-Open Headphone
- Semi-open are a great choice for mixing, mastering, and listening to music due to their natural openness
- More comfortable with lighter pressure on the ear area & can be used for longer, unlike the closed ones, though, it depends on the overall design.
- They have a transparent and accurate sound which allows a sound engineer to accurately mix and master music transparently unlike the closed ones where the sounds are enhanced by default
Disadvantages of a Semi-Open Headphone
- They aren't suitable for use when tracking vocals, sounds are going to leak out, imagine recording a vocal and you notice some rumbles in the background (It can be frustrating), think no further, the culprit is the openness
- Not suitable for use in a learning environment, e.g in a classroom where learning activities are going on, students would most likely hear what you are playing, and that can cause inconvenience for others, if you are a music producer, you wouldn't want to do this in the first place.
Since you have a basic understanding of Open, Closed, and Semi-Open headphones, then this is the right time to recommend some of the best Semi-Open headphones in the market currently, I have carefully sifted through tons of them, and enjoy them.
1. AKG K 240 MK II Semi-Open
AKG products are one of the best when it comes to producing audio equipment, I have used them personally on some occasions. The MK II is an upgraded version of the K240 semi-open headphone, a lot of improvement has been done in this newest version, let's first review the comfort it gives you.
I like the idea of having a different set of pads for comfort, MK II comes bundled with a nice light pair of ear pads for comfort during extensive studio sessions, if you want something more little-edgy, you can go with the pleather pads, the good thing is that this is interchangeable, and it is recommended to clean either of those ones in a while if used for longer period of time.
While a semi-open back sounds natural right from the bat, MK II uses AKG's patented Varimotion diaphragm in the new 30 mm XXL transducer for accurate audio response at any given level, this allows the mixing engineer to accurately mix transparently and ensures the capability to capture the emotional and sonic content of your audio.
The AKG K 240 MK II is recommended for you if you love capturing high sensitivity and a wide dynamic range when mixing your sounds, in my opinion, I don't feel this should be used for jamming music in the classroom or on the bus, this is a professional semi-open headphone which is meant to be used in the studio for mixing and even mastering, again, this is my opinion.
- Over-ear design for comfort during long work sessions
- Semi-open technology for solid bass and airy highs
- Patented Varimotion 30 mm XXL transducer for accurate signal transfer and great dynamic range
- Self-adjusting headband for optimum fit
- The choice of professionals around the worldstage and studio standard for more than two decades
2. AKG K240STUDIO Semi-Open
One of the questions I get asked a lot about a semi-open back is whether a semi-open back leaks sound.
If you carefully go through the guide, then you know the answer, for skimmers, Yes! It will. They are made to sound as natural as possible, so it's necessary to adopt the open-back techniques.
I kept saying this, Comfort should be of the utmost importance when considering a semi-open headphone, no matter how good they are, you shouldn't sacrifice your hearing if they aren't comfortable around your ear
AKG K240 is similar to the Mk II, here are some of the things you should know about K240, this is an upgraded version of the Classic AKG 240 which comes sparkly with an even wider dynamic range, and also a higher sensitivity. It also uses the same new XXL transducers which gives you a rewarding solid bass, no enhanced mids, and lows, as well as delivering transparency.
In case you worry a lot about a non-detachable cable, don't overthink it, this new AKG make use of a detachable cable with a mini XLR connector (useful when you want to plug in directly to your sound card), for easy replacement whenever you think it's the best time to replace.
- Professional studio headphones
- 3 m replaceable cable
- Audio Interface type: Stereo plug – 3.5mm (1/8-inch) with 6.3 mm (1/4”) screw-on adapter
3. Superlux HD668B Dynamic Semi-Open
I have said this times without number, the more you pay doesn't necessarily result in a good quality mix, the quality and creativity are in you. I have been one of the producers which seem to mix and master with just a headphone, and they sound good across the system, this is not about bragging, this is about knowing how to use your tools in and out, I'll save the story for another day.
Superflux HD668 is considerably cheaper, the way the manufacturer engineered this semi-open is super unique for that price point. It comes bundled with 2 detachable straight cables; the longer one is about 3 meters long for professional monitoring application uses, and the shorter one is about a meter long and is good for jamming music on the go.
The most exciting thing about this cable is that they can be combined together to form a longer cable.
They look very secure and fit around your head, the pleather pad isn't too edgy, and if you feel you love fuzzy pads, you can get a pair of earpads to compliment them.
Again, this isn't recommended for tracking vocals, they are known to leak sound (that's basically the nature of any open-back phone).
I'll recommend you use this for mixing, and even mastering if you want an Unobtrusive, and authentic signal reproduction, for the price range, it is definitely worth it.
- Natural, spatial and accurate sound. Connectivity Technology: Wired
- Silvery, clear cymbals
- Pleasantly natural trebles
- Unobtrusive, natural strings and wind instruments
- For all types of music
- Balanced, contoured, and deep bass
- Exceedingly authentic voice reproduction
4. Samson SR850 Semi-Open Studio Reference
It is so fascinating seeing a budget-friendly semi-open headphone performing very similar to a high-end type, I think it's a game-changer in the audiophile community. Samson SR850 is arguably one of the best budget-friendly semi-open back headphones, don't judge by the position I gave it on this list.
Again, here I go with the comfort part: the SR850 is an ultra-light-weight over-ear headphone that has plush type of ear pads, ensuring lightness around your ear even if worn for extensive periods.
Frequency response determines how well an audio source can reproduce all of the audible frequencies, from the lows (bass) to the mids and treble (highs), the SR850 provides a linear frequency response, which means they produce accurate reproduction and can help tackle critical mixing, and or music playback.
You will be surprised by the quality of the sound if used for mixing, they are well worth it for this price range, again, headphones don't guarantee the quality of your sound (though it is important to pick the right one), the way you utilize it plus knowing how to use your elements in and out does.
- Professional studio Reference semi-open headphones designed for tracking, mixing, mastering and playback.
- Proprietary large 50mm drivers with rare earth magnets deliver an extended frequency response and great dynamic range
- Circumaural, over-ear, design with velour cushioning provides outstanding comfort for long listening sessions
- Self-adjusting headband for optimal fit
- 1/4" Stereo Adapter included
5. Superlux HD 681 Dynamic
Rounding up with the Superlux HD 681, no doubt, Superflux has been one the best manufacturer when it comes to delivering quality studio headphones.
HD 681 is armed with a self-adjusting band and thick ear cushions which is a great fit and doesn't compromise the listening experience. If your goal is finding an affordable and high-quality semi-open headphone for your studio, I assure you are going to enjoy the flat response of the HD 681, also, it provides to 50 mm neodymium driver, which helps in driving a balanced sound with a high resolution, as well as a large dynamic range for just about any audio source.
Whether you are a producer, a mixing or mastering engineer, or just an avid music lover, I recommend you try this out, enjoy and make good music.