Little is known about the efficacy and the factors affecting the outcome of fine needle aspiration biopsy of the testis for sperm retrieval in azoospermic men with defective spermatogenesis. A prospective study was designed to compare the efficacy of needle and open (window) testicular biopsies for testicular epididymal sperm extraction (TESE) in 35 consecutive men with azoospermia due to defective spermatogenesis undergoing testicular biopsy for intracytoplasmic injection of oocytes. Each of the consecutive 35 patients underwent TESE using a 19 gauge butterfly needle followed by a window (1-1.5 cm-sized incision) testicular biopsy in the same procedure. The extraction of spermatozoa into culture medium was compared with the assessment of testicular biopsies by histology, the mode of biopsy (needle or open biopsy) and the amount of tissue retrieved by either method. Testicular spermatozoa were retrieved in 22 (63%) who had an open testicular biopsy compared with five (14%) patients who had multiple needle biopsies, respectively; the difference was statistically significant. Open testicular biopsy retrieves more testicular tissue than needle biopsy. Needle testicular biopsy retrieved testicular spermatozoa in 50% of those with hypospermatogenesis, 10% with focal spermatogenesis and in no patients with maturation arrest or Sertoli cell-only pattern. In contrast, sperm retrieval was successful in 100%, 90% and 66% of those with respective histologies using open testicular biopsy. Other than bruising, for which they required no analgesia, none of the patients suffered any obvious complications associated with traditional testicular biopsy. We conclude that open testicular biopsy is more effective than needle biopsy for the retrieval of testicular spermatozoa in azoospermic men with defective spermatogenesis. The difference observed may be related to the amount of testicular tissue retrieved and to the influence of testicular histology.