Are closed-back headphones inferior to open-backs? Yes. But also no. Ignore the black-and-white thinking. The answer is, as always, it depends. Some (but not all) closed-back headphones come up short on airiness or headstage width when compared to some (but not all) open-back rivals. The dogma ignores that this just isn’t true of all models. Put a Focal Stellia (closed) next to a Sennheiser HD6xx (open) and you’d be hard-pressed to call the latter the better all-rounder.
And just as aesthetics matter for loudspeakers, our headphone preferences hang on more than sound quality. Closed-back headphones can go out into the street where sound leakage from an open-back would disturb others and environmental noise would disturb the wearer’s musical enjoyment. Is this one reason why all active noise-cancelling headphones are closed? Probably.
The differences don’t end there. The Apple AirPods Max outstrip the Sony WH-1000XM4 in almost every audible respect: clarity, dynamics, sub-bass reach and noise-cancelling. Does that make the Apple the better of the two? That depends on one’s attitudes to on-head comfort and portability. When sat on this commentator’s head, the AirPods Max display insufficient side-clamping force; the earcups’ extra weight (compared to the Sony) cause them to hang next to the ear as much as they cup the ear. Moreover, the Apple headphones don’t fold into a ball (Armadillo style) like the Sony. In their folded state, the Sony can go into a large coat pocket whereas the Apple must hang loose or be tucked away into their bra-like protector — you can’t really call it a carry case.
Even more comfortable than the Sony WH-1000XM4 are the Meze Liric — a high-end, closed-back passive planar-magnetic headphone from Romania. Despite the Liric’s greater earcup bulk, their side-clamping force is expertly judged. The Liric cup the ear just so and leaning forward wouldn’t send them to the floor. I can’t say that about the Apple AirPods Max. Does this make the Liric more of a ‘go-anywhere’ headphone? They don’t fold but they do ship with a hard shell travel case. Back on the head, the Liric feel like a true luxury product. Out in the street, their visual understatement makes a snatch-n-grab from undesirables less likely than for the mainstream-approved AirPods Max.
We handled the Liric’s product introduction here. In the video above, we take a deeper dive.
🎥 Camera: Olaf von Voss
🎬 Editor: John Darko
🕺🏻 Motion GFX: John Darko
💰 Sponsor segment: Jana Dagdagan
Further information: Meze Audio
Also seen in this video…
🎵 Song IDs? Playlists of all music discussed and heard in this video – and other videos – can be found on my PATREON