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What's the Difference Between Open-Back and Closed-Back Speaker Enclosures?

Each option shapes the sound in a different way. Which one is right for you?

There are two kinds of speaker cabinets in this world—those with open and closed backs. Each design affects the tone, so it’s an important consideration when formulating your own preferences and acquiring an amp. Here’s a primer on both types:

Open Back

An open-back cabinet is one in which the speakers aren’t sealed inside the enclosure. That is, the back is open or partially open. In this design, sound is less directional because it issues from the front and back of the enclosure, broadening its dispersion (coverage, basically) in the room. The sound seems to be “all around” the amp (your drummer, who is behind you onstage, will appreciate that).

Tonally, the open-back design contributes to less low-end punch and generally looser bass sound than a closed-back design. A great many guitar amps—combo amps in particular—use an open-back design.

Prime examples of Fender open-back guitar amps include the venerable ’65 Twin Reverb, ’59 Bassman LTD and the '65 Twin Reverb.

Closed Back

In a closed-back cabinet, the speakers are sealed inside the enclosure. The back is closed, meaning that the sound is more directional because it issues only from the front of the enclosure. A closed-back cabinet lets you aim more of the power at the audience. It tightens sound dispersion in the room and imparts tighter and punchier bass to the overall sound.

In the early 1960s, Fender was one of the first amp makers to embrace closed-back design, as seen in pioneering piggyback guitar amps such as the Showman and Bandmaster. Further, because of the greater speaker articulation, the closed-back design dominates the bass amp world.

A prime example of current Fender closed-back guitar amps include the Acoustic Pro.