Most headphones these days are over-ear, meaning they completely fit around the ear. The ear pads usually come into contact with the side of the listener's head, rather than the ear itself. There are two types of over-ear headphones, namely open-back and closed-back.
  • Open-back - Open-back headphones are the ideal choice for enthusiasts because they're typically able to provide a more spacious and 'open' sounding presentation to them. Open-back also means that the outside of the ear cup is either completely or partially open, and that means sound leaks in and out. Examples of open-back headphones:
  • Closed-back - Closed-back headphones generally don't leak sound in and out as much, but by closing off the back of the cup, additional sonic challenges are introduced. The sound waves produced by the headphone transducer (driver), don't just travel towards the ear, but also towards the back of the ear cup. Without proper damping or ways to break up sound waves, there's a risk that they will bounce of the cup and travel back towards the listener's ear. Therefore, closed-back headphones require some form of damping, and this can also lead to compromises in sound quality. But with that said, many flagship closed-back headphones solve this problem in unique ways, constantly improving what's possible with closed-back headphones. Examples of closed-back headphones:

Over-ear headphones generally use one of three driver (transducer) types:

  1. Dynamic Driver - Dynamic drivers are the most common, and these often allow for high excursive force, meaning the slam or punch quality is more evident. Examples of dynamic driver headphones:
  1. Planar Magnetic - Planar transducers often sound tighter, more controlled, and have better extension capabilities with minimal distortion for bass than dynamic drivers. In general, planar magnetic headphones are better at instrument separation and distinction, however they do also impart a certain type of sound or 'timbre' that makes them immediately recognizable. Examples of planar magnetic headphones:
  1. Electrostatic - Less common than the other two driver types, electrostatic headphones require a unique energizing system to power them. Sonic characteristics include improved detail retrieval, especially for treble frequencies, a somewhat 'ethereal' sound, but also commonly provide less impact and energy for bass frequencies. Examples of electrostatic driver headphones:

    There are some other transducer types that have found their way into headphones, such as AMT (air motion transformer), or ribbon drivers, but they have yet to be commonly adopted.