The Best Open-Back Headphones
Find the best open-back headphones on the market, and enjoy open spatial music.
- The best open-back headphones
- 1. Sennheiser HD 800 S – best overall
- 2. Philips Fidelio X2HR – runner-up
- 3. Philips SHP9500 – best value
- 4. Sennheiser HD 660 S – best classic
- 5. Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X – best for gaming
- 6. Grado SR80e – best under $100
- 7. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro – best for studio
- 8. AKG K240 Studio – affordable for studio
- 9. HIFIMAN Ananda – best planar magnetic
- 10. Samson SR850 – best under $50
- Honorable Mentions
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Comparison of Best Open-Back Headphones
Sennheiser HD 800 S
|Philips Fidelio X2HR|
|Sennheiser HD 660 S|
best for gaming
best under $100
|Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro|
best for studio
|AKG K240 Studio|
affordable for studio
best planar magnetic
If you’re searching for your new pair of headphones, you probably came across some open-back options. If you don’t know in particular what exactly is the deal with this type of headphones, let us clear up a few things.
As the name suggests, open-back headphones are physically different from the typical closed-back pair that you probably have at home. That means that the headphone’s driver isn’t enclosed inside the earcups, giving the sound more room to “breathe”.
In many cases, the driver inside the open-back headphone can be visible with a naked eye. Sometimes you can even see through the cup when you use a flashlight to shine on the other side. Drivers are usually protected with an aluminum mesh since touching them can cause damage.
Open-back headphones have many advantages over closed-back ones. Since the air, which the driver pushes, isn’t trapped inside the earcup, there is a lesser chance of sound distortion.
The soundstage is also an area where open-back headphones excel. They can portray you a massive soundscape that feels very natural, especially if you like to listen to live recordings or classical music. Not only that, but big soundstage can also benefit all music genres.
Frequently, headphones with open design have velour earpads (however, that is not always the case). With the combination of textile pads and no barricade behind the driver, your ears sweat considerably less than the closed-back option with leather pads.
Having no enclosure, the sound is also airer. It feels less congested and easier to listen to. Because of all those benefits of the open design, this type of headphone is also the most expensive. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a great deal even under $100.
Open-back headphones are fantastic for:
Studio work: If you work in a music studio, you must know how important it’s to listen to your mix with neutral headphones. Since the closed-back solutions tend to have a slightly colorized sound due to bass boost, open-back headphones can more easily achieve the perfect neutrality.
Of course, this type of headphone isn’t suitable for monitoring your singer’s voice, since the sound leak might be audible in the microphone.
Home listening: Since open-back headphones leak their sound, while also getting a lot of the environmental sound in, the best place to listen to them is at home. In a room where no one can bother you, you can enjoy your favorite music in peace. Enhanced levels of details and big soundstage will give your music a whole new dimension.
The best open-back headphones
1. Sennheiser HD 800 S – best overall
Overall best open-back headphones with precise sound quality.
One of the top open-back offerings from Sennheiser.
Should You Buy These?
Sennheiser is known for designing the out-of-this-world looking headphones. HD 800 S are a clear example of that. However, thanks to their design, they’re perfectly shaped to fit human ears. Dense earpads with soft fabric provide a fantastic comfort you never get tired of.
The build quality of these open-back headphones is also top-notch, with a quality plastic body, aluminum cups, and removable cables. With good care, these can last for multiple years.
Even after all these years, these are still a gold standard of how an accurate headphone should sound like. By getting one of these, you will own one of the best headphones on the market.
You have to use a good DAC/amp combo to bring the most out of these since they’re very power-hungry.
Sennheiser hit the right frequency response with HD 800 S. Nothing sticks too far out to cause sibilance or distortion. While dynamic drivers do have their physical limitations, this is definitely their best headphone implementation.
No matter what genre you’re listening to, Sennheiser HD 800 S can make any song sound amazing.
2. Philips Fidelio X2HR – runner-up
Best open-back headphones under $200
If you’re looking for the ultimate deal under $200, Fidelio X2HR are by far your top choice.
Should You Buy These?
Headphones are built incredibly well. There is very little plastic on them, providing a premium-feeling experience when you hold them in hands. Compared to other audiophile headphones, these are also very easy to drive from a phone.
Once they’re on your head, you can feel exquisite comfort provided by generous padding inside the velour pads. Because of that, your ears don’t sweat at all, ticking another box under the “great comfort” section.
The headband and foamy hammock are separated, which is useful if you have a bigger head. That way, you never feel the frame’s sturdiness, since the headphones rest gently on your head.
Velour feels excellent on your skin. However, it does attract a lot of dust, making the pads a bit ugly after a while.
Open-back headphones are notorious for lacking bass, but Philips somehow managed to make these quite bassy. Thankfully, the bass doesn’t bleed into the midrange or treble, where you can still find tons of details. The soundstage is massive, making them suitable for gaming too.
Fantastic comfort and expansive soundstage are what you’re getting with the purchase of Philips Fidelio X2HR open-back headphones.
3. Philips SHP9500 – best value
Best open-back headphones with amazing value
A more budget-friendly alternative to Fidelio X2HR, with similar sonic capabilities.
Should You Buy These?
The earpads’ fabric is extremely breathable, preventing them from getting too sweaty after extended listening sessions. They’re also generously padded, providing a cloud-like sensation when you wear them.
Their build quality is also exceptional for the asking price. Drivers are covered with a metallic mesh, on which you can also see big imprinted L/R letters. 1.5m cable with gold-plated connectors is replaceable.
SHP9500 were much more expensive, costing well above $100, making them a steal at their current $75.
They are a bit bulky, which is quite common in these types of headphones.
Like the Fidelio model, these offer great frequency response, a well-balanced sound signature, and a massive sound stage. They are an excellent pick for gaming and music, especially if you want to hear all the small details in your favorite tunes.
Price of these open-back headphones makes them a steal. They sound and feel amazing and can also be easily driven from your portable device of choice.
4. Sennheiser HD 660 S – best classic
Open-back headphones audiophiles will love
Another fantastic open-back headphone from this German brand, providing an amazing musical experience under $500.
Should You Buy These?
These open-back headphones share an almost identical design compared to HD 600/650. The good thing about that is durability. You can easily rock these for decades since the spare parts are always available. The cool thing is that everything is replaceable on these.
Earcups are huge, fitting even the most gigantic ears around. They come with velour pads, which feel incredibly on your skin, and can also prevent sweating.
That depends on person to person, but one of the coolest things about these headphones is that you can see the driver underneath the aluminum mesh. It just adds the feeling of wearing something high-end.
Despite their 150 Ohm of impedance, you might still want an amp to drive these.
HD 660 S combines everything good from HD 600/650 and makes it a little better. Bass has a better impact and control, the midrange is a bit more detailed, and the treble shows slightly more resolution. Overall a well-balanced performance.
Sennheiser maybe priced HD 660 S a bit too high compared to 600/650, but despite that, these are still the best open-back headphones under $500 if you seek excellent musical performance.
5. Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X – best for gaming
Best open-back headphones for gaming
While you probably know Audio-Technica because of their M50x model, these are actually very typical looking headphones from this brand. 3D Wing design might look weird, but the sound is incredible.
Should You Buy These?
These are the most unique looking headphones on this list. While those 3D Wing flaps look flimsy, they’re doing a good job keeping the AD900X in their place.
Headphones have substantial circular earcups with velour earpads that sit gently on your ears. Ear cups are large enough to go around your ears nicely.
These headphones offer excellent breathability, with drivers so thin, you can actually see through them. Headphones come with a 6.3mm adapter.
The cable is not detachable.
Earpads pressure is not equally distributed around your ears, since the cups don’t swivel up or down.
They lack a bit of bass, but they make up to with superb midrange and treble. They’re incredibly resolving in those frequencies, which is why many users use them for gaming since you can hear enemies long before seeing them.
The price of Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X has also dropped significantly in the past few years, making these open-back headphones a fantastic buy if you don’t mind their design.
6. Grado SR80e – best under $100
Best open-back headphones under $100 with on-ear design
They look like someone brought them from the previous century, but they sound amazing.
Should You Buy These?
Every headphone in the Grado Labs lineup has the same look, apart from some material differences. They’re specialized for producing incredible open-ear headphones with on-ear design.
SR80e are mostly plastic, with foam that gently rests on your ears. Headphones are small and lightweight, so you barely feel them during usage.
The construction feels sturdy, despite the headphone’s simple look. You shouldn’t fear too much if they fall on the floor. The cable is permanently attached, but it’s of good quality.
Earcups rotate indefinitely, which can tangle the wire.
These open-back headphones produce an amazingly lively sound that puts you right in front of your favorite artist’s stage. Overall, you can expect a very balanced sound signature. The bass is controlled, with decent punch, while the treble provides tons of air and detail up on top. The midrange is where the magic happens because it sounds so natural and effortless.
For the price of under $100, these are perfect entry-level audiophile headphones. If you still find them too expensive, maybe try out SR60 as a slightly cheaper alternative.
7. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro – best for studio
Well-built open-back headphones for mixing
If you need a trusted pair of headphones to reveal all the flaws in your studio mix, you should check the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro.
Should You Buy These?
All studio oriented Beyerdynamic headphones are made in Germany, which ensured a greater level of quality control. They’re built like a tank, with robust hard plastic earcups and metal headband, dressed in padded leather.
DT 990 Pro come with velour earpads with thick padding. They’re so comfortable you feel like wearing a pillow on your head.
You can get these open-back headphones for a great price. For a slightly more than $150 (or less), you’re getting a fantastic mixing and mastering tool that you can genuinely rely on.
The cable is quite heavy and thick. While that is good for studio work, where you need durable equipment, it might be too much for home use.
Bass delivers a good punch and attack, not disturbing the midrange, which is incredibly detailed and accurate. The same goes for the treble, which is boosted to add clarity, although at times it can be sibilant.
For the sound quality of Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro, you have to pay more usually, but thanks to the drop in price, these open-back headphones are a fantastic value right now.
8. AKG K240 Studio – affordable for studio
Fantastic open headphones for a studio on a budget
These headphones are proving you don’t need the latest and greatest to get great sound quality. Once a more expensive model is now much cheaper, making it an excellent choice for a music producer on a budget.
Should You Buy These?
These are among the most affordable AKG classics out there, with a vast reputation among studio workers and radio speakers. They’re also widely used for studio monitoring.
They have a signature AKG look, with a semi-open circular design. Housing is made from plastic that feels sturdy enough. Many users have them for years without anything breaking off.
You can replace a few things on them, such as earpads and cable. Earpads can get stiff after a few years, so having the option to swap them for fresh ones is excellent.
All-plastic construction is sturdy, but it feels very cheap.
The sound signature is great for working in a studio, where you need your headphone’s frequency response to be as flat as possible. That also means that the bass is quite shy, which might turn off people who like to bang their heads to the rhythm.
For around $50, AKG K240 Studio are a great place to start your producing journey.
9. HIFIMAN Ananda – best planar magnetic
Extremely well-built open-back planars
While you can find cheaper planar magnetic alternatives, these are among the best open-back headphones out there for under $1000.
Should You Buy These?
As well as the HD 800 S on this list, HIFIMAN Ananda are premium open-back headphones with planar magnetic technology instead of a dynamic driver. That results in less micro distortion and faster, more controlled bass.
Headphones are built exceptionally well, with a beautiful design that never gets old. HIFIMAN used mostly premium construction materials, giving them a robust feel.
Ear cups are enormous, covering your entire ear with no problem. Earpads with real leather are incredibly soft, and since there are no pressure points, you can wear these for hours on end.
Their sheer size makes them unusable for outdoor use.
As mentioned, bass on these is tight, controlled, with a powerful impact. Realistic midrange and treble, combined with an accurate soundstage, provides a feeling of sitting in a room with the band right in front of you. You can actually hear where a specific instrument is located.
If you’re willing to spend that much for a pair of headphones, you’re not going to be disappointed.
10. Samson SR850 – best under $50
Semi-open headphones with well-balanced sound
If you’re on a really tight budget and seek the best price-to-performance ratio, Samson SR850 are what you should get.
Should You Buy These?
Supposedly, these use the same drivers as some much more expensive headphones. To cut down the cost, build quality is only decent.
They’re entirely made of plastic, which can also be a good thing. That makes the headphones very lightweight for their size. Comfort is also decent, especially if you don’t wear glasses.
SR850 are also quite durable. On some cheap products, plastic starts to deteriorate, becoming sticky like it’s melting. That is not the case with Samson’s. We have them for years now, and the only thing that feels slightly loose is the spring for the headband.
Well, they feel incredibly cheap.
For the price, the sound is outright fantastic. While you can get similar performance from some other headphones like Superlux HD668B, Samson’s are much more balanced, with more bass and less bright treble.
If you’re willing to change the earpads (they’re compatible with other AKG headphones) to make them more comfortable, you could save yourself a lot of money. They sound that good.
Popular headphones with excellent sound quality for their price point. They feel a bit cheap since they’re mostly made from plastic, but they come with a removable cable, which adds to overall durability.
Both models are classics among the audiophiles, with HD 600 providing one of the best vocals on headphones, and HD 650 being the kings of laid-back sound. Sadly, they don’t make HD 650 anymore, but you can still get them on a Drop website.
Beautifully crafted headphones, with superb comfort, and a neutral-to-warm sound signature. Tuning is mostly suited for vocal-oriented music. However, they’re a little hard to drive, and they’re also a bit soft when it comes to rendering electric guitars.
The new version comes with an improved headband with better padding. Sonically, they’re the same as the previous model. Sound is nicely balanced, with a clear focus on intimate vocals and instrument rendition.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Are the Differences Between Open and Closed-Back Headphones?
Compared to closed-back headphones, the main disadvantage is bass-extension. Enclosed ear cups can help develop a more powerful bass impact, while also extending deeper into the sub-bass region. Open-back headphones can be very detailed and natural, but can’t reach those deep notes to make genres like hip hop or rap sound exciting.
Isolation is also a huge problem when you have nothing in between the driver and the surroundings. That is why this type of headphone makes a poor choice for public transport or even the office. Not only can you hear everything around you, but people around you can also hear your music loud and clear.
What About Semi-Open Headphones?
These are a sort of hybrid between the closed and open-back headphones. They should be better at providing noise isolation while also leaking less sound. Even though they resemble more a closed pair of headphones rather than open, their drivers are not entirely enclosed, like in closed-back design.
In practice, the difference is noticeable, especially in the bass, which is much deeper than a fully open design. However, isolation is only slightly better. Therefore, semi-open headphones are still not suitable for taking on a bus and jamming your music out loud.
How to Pick the Best Open-Back Headphones for You?
As you can see, open-back headphones aren’t only limited to premium prices. You can get an excellent pair for as much as $40. However, we know it can be tricky to find yourself a perfect headphone without trying them upfront.
If you haven’t found your next headphone on our list, try to follow these pieces of advice when browsing through the web.
First, you need to know why you need them. Is it for casually listening to music, watching movies, playing games, or professional work?
Lots of these things can stir you in a different direction when it comes to headphone search. For instance, if you need something for a studio, you should probably look for headphones with a flat sound. If you need them for movies, you’re better off with a more bassy headphone, or even trying out some closed-back options.
Give yourself a budget limit. Everyone wants the latest and greatest, but you can quickly find yourself browsing through expensive headphones that you can’t afford. It’s easier to tell yourself that you want, for example, something under $100, and then start searching.
That way, it’s much simpler to browse, since many websites, including ours, sort headphones based on their prices. And we always try to present you with the best price-to-performance deals for a given price bracket.
Reviews and Forums
Try to seek reviewers that aren’t biased. Thankfully, there aren’t as many of them, but some might still favor a specific brand without knowing, giving a false product image. Seek for reviews that are honest and don’t only talk nice things. No headphone is perfect, and there are no perfect scores.
Forums can also be helpful when trying to decide if you want to buy that specific headphone or not. However, people tend to like different things, and while some might love a particular headphone, you might end up hating it entirely. So try to search through many forums before forming an opinion.
Can You Improve Your Existing Cheap Headphones?
Thankfully, there are ways to improve your existing headphones by changing their earpads with compatible ones, like in the Samson mentioned above. The Earcup shape is precisely the same as the AKG Kxxx lineup. That is how you can achieve the sound and comfort of a $100 worth of headphone with an upgrade that cost you around $10.