Marco has a “Best Of” section on his site, where I found a post on the topic of open- and closed-back headphones. He expresses disappointment in an article he had read in The New York Times that didn’t mention one of the main differences between them, which is, when you wear open-back headphones, the sound leaks out quite noticeably, so they’re inappropriate to wear in a shared office space, on an airplane or on public transportation. Wearing open-back headphones is a bad idea in most environments because they emit a rude amount of sound leakage, so it’s an important thing to know if you’re considering getting a pair. I fully agree with Marco on the err in this oversight.
Marco goes on to suggest five specific models of headphones, three of which are closed-back, two of which are open. His top recommendation for closed-back headphones (the style of headphones that don’t leak sound and are appropriate to wear in shared spaces) are the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros. He states:
“If you’re trying to block out sound to help you concentrate in a noisy office, your search can end right here. This is what you want.”
I disagree with Marco on this recommendation. Yes, the HD 280 Pros are good, but they’re definitely not my top pick for closed-back headphones. They’re okay for casual users, but if you use headphones a lot, and you want a pair that will last a long time, a far better option is available.
I work in a noisy office filled with writers, and many of us use closed-back headphones to help drown out the din of noise so we can concentrate on our writing. One of my co-workers uses Sennheiser HD 280 Pros, however, he recently asked me for suggestions as to what headphones to buy next. He likes the HD 280’s, but he’s gone through three pairs in just a few years. He’s careful when he handles them, and he leaves them in his desk after work—so they’re not getting mangled during his commute. Even though he’s treated them gingerly, all three pairs broke in the same spot on the headband. Understandably, he doesn’t want to continue spending $100 a year on headphones.
[singlepic id=6 w=600 h=450 float=center]
Without hesitation I suggested he get the Sennheiser HD 25-1 II. They’re more expensive than one pair of HD 280’s, but much cheaper than three. If you want headphones that could potentially outlive you, this is the pair to get. The HD 25-1 II are tough as nails, and they sound incredible.
Have you ever been wearing headphones and you get to a part of a song that you really like, so you press the earcups to your head with your hands—so you can hear the music with utmost clarity? If you preferred how the headphones sounded when they were pressed against your ears, this is close to what it sounds like all the time with the HD 25-1 II.
The downside is that they have a pretty strong grip on your head. If you have a big, fat noggin like me, you may find the HD 25-1 II’s to be a little too tight. Some users claim that the grip mellows out after a while, but I never wore them long enough to find out. I bought a pair of HD 25-1 II several years ago, and ended up returning them because they were simply too tight on my head. It was a bummer because I loved their sound. However, for many people the fit is perfect, so I feel confident recommending them.
One way the HD 25-1 II are different from the HD 280’s is that they’re “supra-aural” as opposed to “circum-aural.” What this means is they rest on top of your ears, as opposed to completely covering them. If you want to see what supra-aural earcups look like in action, watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. NFL sportscasters always wear a microphone-equipped version of the HD-25’s called the HMD25-XQ, or a more recent model called the HMD 26-600-XQ.
If you’re looking for a $100 solution for good headphones that do a great job of blocking out ambient office noise, the Sennheiser HD 280 will do. Just be warned that if you’re a heavy user and you don’t plan on retiring in a few years—they may not last as long as you want them to. If you need a pair of headphones that sound great and block out ambient noise incredibly—and are built tough and will survive for many, many years, the Sennheiser HD 25-1 II are the best bet in town. And, if you buy new headphones and you want to listen to three tech nerds talk about cars, tune into the Neutral podcast.