How Sony’s Open-Back Headphones Can Take Over the Studio—and the Living Room

Just don't take them outside

  • Open-back headphones offer better sound and a more spacious feel. 
  • They also leak sound in both directions, so you can never use them in public.
  • Sony's MDR-MV1 is an open-backed alternative to its iconic MDR-7506 studio headphones. 
Closeup on the Sony MDR-MV1 headphones against a black background.


Open-back headphones are amazing—as long as you don't wear them outside, at home with the family… or anywhere with people. 

Sony's new open-back MDR-MV1 headphones are designed to replace, or at least offer a fancy alternative to, its iconic MDR-7506 cans, a pair of headphones that first launched in 1991 and can be found in pretty much every music studio ever. In one way, it's a tough act to beat, those old cans being so well-loved and popular. But the MDR-7506 was never really known for its hi-fi, audiophile-pleasing abilities. So can Sony pull this trick off while also adding modern features like support for 3D spatial audio?

"For studio purposes, we generally want a flat, accurate sound that alerts us to potential sound balance issues within an audio track," professional musician and headphone expert Alex Mak told Lifewire via email. "Audiophiles, on the other hand, often look for a colored, idealized sound that brings out details in a pleasing way to the ear. This often means accentuated low and high frequencies. To some audiophiles, studio headphones may sound 'duller' than what they're used to.

Open-Back Headphones vs Closed-Back

One way to categorize over-the-head headphones is whether they are open-back or closed-back. The ones you are used to are probably closed. You put them on, and a cup with a little speaker in it covers each ear. This cup isolates you from the ambient sounds around you and also keeps your music private.

The Sony MDR-MV1 headphones on a stand on a desktop with audio and computer equipment.


Open-back headphones are open to the air around them. You may see that the backs are perforated, for example. They have a few advantages over closed-back designs. One is that no sound waves build up in the ear cups, and therefore cause unwanted resonances, resulting in less clarity. Also, imagine the cup enclosure, with the speaker "membrane" sealing it off. To move, the speaker has to compress and stretch the air inside, which makes it harder to move—like running in water. 

But the most obvious advantage is that you can hear the room around you, so you never feel cut off or isolated. I have a pair of cheap-o Koss Porta Pros which I use at home because I can wear them for hours on end without any fatigue. It just feels like I'm listening to speakers. However, this is also the biggest disadvantage of open-backed headphones. They block no sound, so you can't use them out on the street. And if you use them in the office, everybody around you will hear them.

Which brings us to the new Sony MDR-MV1.

Headphone Designs and Sound

These Sonys look a lot like the studio stalwart MDR-7506, with the biggest giveaway being the perforated backs. They also have a detachable cable (unlike the older model) and are, according to Sony, designed to be even more comfortable. 

But the biggest changes are in what you hear. One is that these headphones are capable of 3D audio, which is common in portable headphones but less so in-studio models. This lets you create, mix, and master for movies, as well as 3D music services like Apple's Spatial Audio. 

And then there are the "HD driver units." These speaker drivers, Sony says, can reproduce sound from 5Hz to 80KHz. For reference, human hearing tops out at around 20KHz, and that's for teenagers. A typical subwoofer won't go below 20Hz. That means these headphones will never run into an audible sound they can't reproduce, and even at the limits of our hearing, they will be well inside their comfort zone. 

This all adds up to some serious potential and given Sony's history with headphones, they probably sound great. But the problem is all headphones are a compromise. As guitarist Alex Mak told us at the top of this article, the goal of studio headphones is absolute accuracy to the source material. The goal of listening headphones is to make the music sound as good as possible. These are not always the same thing. 

Add then there are even issues using open-back headphones in the studio. 

"If you are recording something and the microphone is in the same room, you will create a feedback loop," Spencer Miles, owner of a recording studio in Lancaster, Pa, told Lifewire via email. "Most studios have closed-back headphones in their live rooms and recording booths but use open-back headphones in their engineering spaces."

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