If you want to get the best listening experience as well as the best sound quality, getting the best open back headphones should be your priority.. The exceptional sound-stage created by open headphones along with their generally high level of comfort makes them stand apart from other options like closed back headphones and traditional earbuds.
Due to the quality of sound they produce, open-back headphones are considered to be the best type of audiophile headphones as well as the ideal headphones for music producers. However, there are a lot of open-eared options on the market, and separating the wheat from the chaff can be difficult. That’s what we’re here for. We’ve sorted through the options available today to highlight 12 of the best open-back headphones of 2020.
- The Best Open Back Headphones
- 1. Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
- 2. Sennheiser HD 660 S
- 3. Koss UR40 Collapsible Over-Ear Headphones
- 4. AKG K240STUDIO Semi-Open Headphones
- 5. Sennheiser HD 599 Open Back Headphone
- 6. Philips SHP9500 Over-ear Headphones
- 7. Grado SR80e Prestige Series Headphones
- 8. HE400i Over Ear Full-size Headphones
- 9. Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Open-Back Headphones
- 10. Shure SRH1840 Professional Headphones
- 11. ASTRO Gaming A40 TR Wired Headset
- 12. Audio-Technica ATHAD700X Open Air Headphones
- Open Back Headphones Buyer’s Guide
- Why Are Open Back Headphones Better?
The Best Open Back Headphones
1. Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
Beyerdynamic always brings their game when it comes to a new pair of headphones, so it's no surprise that the DT 990 Pros are some of the best open-back headphones on the market. Featuring up to 250 Ohm impedance, these headphones are some of the most comfortable open back headphones around due to their incredibly soft velour ear cups. They also look really good, combining fluffy silver cup cushioning with a caged black design. The build quality may be mostly plastic, but it sells itself well on its style.
And while the DT 990 over-ear open back headphones can't compete with some of the top shelf options in terms of sound quality, they outperform just about everything in their class. The sound-stage is full and rich, and there's some great clarity across the frequency range. The bass is scaled up a bit, but it's a conscious choice, and it's not one that will leave your ears ringing. Hip-hop heads will love the results.
2. Sennheiser HD 660 S
The Sennheiser HD 660S is the second product in our best open back headphones review, and that's for a good reason. Unless you're looking for specifically flat headphones for studio recording, every great open back headphone is going to have its own unique personality. For the HD 660 S, it's a personality that extends from the build into the engineering of the sound. The open grill over the earpads and their extended size lend an industrial aesthetic to these open-back headphones, and the fit is inherently snug. It won't appeal to everyone, but it helps remedy the sound leakage that a lot of open-back models suffer from.
These aren't budget open-back headphones by a long shot, but they are headphones with exceptional sound quality. The sound is neutral, making it ideal for studio professionals, but there's a particularly natural richness to the mid-range that stands apart from much of the competition. It may be expensive, but it promises some of the best sound around.
3. Koss UR40 Collapsible Over-Ear Headphones
Are you on a budget and looking to get the best listening experience and sound quality? Good open-back headphones don't come much cheaper than the Koss UR40. Less than $30 gets you some stylish gear that outperforms expectations. And while you shouldn't expect these to meet your needs like serious open-back headphones for recording would, the UR40 is more than suitable for the needs of most casual listeners. Not only are they portable in size, but they fold into themselves, making them some of the best budget open-back headphones for travel available today.
Thanks to their closed leatherette earpads, these open-back headphones offer a level of comfort that's exceptional for the price. The sound performance certainly isn't perfect, but it gets within earshot of the right mid-level balance. The lower bass performance is a little thin, while there's a nice sense of relaxed neutrality to the mids. Combine this with decent trebles and a reasonable sound stage, and you have open-back headphones that can't contend with the top dogs but extend exceptionally far beyond what's reasonable for such a cheap model.
4. AKG K240STUDIO Semi-Open Headphones
Cheap open-back headphones aren't that hard to find. But you see those that are well suited for critical listening? Those ones are a different case entirely. The AKG K240 Studios are some of the best semi open-back headphones on the market. They can actually work in the studio and would be a retainer for serious audiophiles. And to make things even better, they only cost about $70. That may be a decent price hike over the aforementioned UR40s, but these open-back headphones have a serious legacy for quality. First developed over three decades ago, they sport a comfortable design that hasn't changed much over the years and opts for simple design over unnecessary flourishes.
If there was one adjective to describe these open-back headphones, it would be "clean". The bass response is present but not overstated, and there's a level of smoothness and clarity the AKG K240 Studios produce that extends across the entire frequency response range. While they may not be the best option for hip-hop and EDM, their balance lends them a pretty wide level of diversity that makes them worthy of being in this best open-back headphones review.
5. Sennheiser HD 599 Open Back Headphone
Getting the best listening sessions from a pair of open-back headphones is the dream of every audiophile out there. Sennheiser's pair of open-back headphones often come with some pretty specific purpose. They pride themselves on creating models that are catered to the needs of serious critical listeners. But the HD599 offers more general purpose performance without sacrificing the quality engineering Sennheiser is so praised for. These pair of open-back headphones simply look great too. The HD 599 features a white ivory open-back design design certainly stands apart from the pure black that tends to dominate the market. And despite being made of plastic, these pair of open-back headphones are lightweight and adjustable in a way that can accommodate most listeners.
These open-back headphones are designed to be a smooth way to transition into more refined listening, and they succeed in that regard. They are great general purpose models that can work for watching movies and listening to music and can even serve as open-back headphones for gaming in a pinch. Add that to the fact that these pair of headphones come with a detachable cable and you get one of the most versatile open-back headphones around. They aren't exactly neutral, but they have a nice warmth that adapts to different soundscapes well.
6. Philips SHP9500 Over-ear Headphones
Philips is known for producing a wide range of electronic products that are considered to be among the best in the world. These pair of open-back headphones share the same story. The Philips SHP9500s are open-back headphones that are there to get the job done. That's not to say that they don't look good, but their rugged, lightweight, and simplistic design is focused on utility above all else. The large earcups are breathable and soft and should fit snugly over most ears, while the headband is similarly generous with its padding. They're also reinforced by a thin metal frame that complements the overall build quality.
The meager sub-bass is a bit disappointing but generally expected in open-back headphones. However, once you move beyond that, they perform extremely well. The mid-range performance is exceptional, but this pair of open-back headphones avail themselves well once you move into the high treble range too. And while bass performance is the clear weak link here, it's not terribly unbalanced. But combine together the large size and poor isolation of these open-back headphones, and you'll find that they're clearly built for home use. The SHP500 are also budget friendly. Sitting in the $70 price range, this pair of headphones are simply some of the best you can get.
7. Grado SR80e Prestige Series Headphones
You'd have to look far and wide to find a pair of headphones more comfortable than the Grado SR80e. The earcups are exceedingly large, providing a breathable environment accompanied by foam cushioning that's as soft as a cloud. The result is the lightest application of pressure that still manages to hold firm. You can easily place this pair of open-back headphones over ear for extended periods without being irritated, The vintage look is another standout feature: resembling retro old school radio headphones with just a splash of modernity to them.
The soundscape on this Grado headphone is dynamic. The richer performance on the bass end of things will appeal to listeners who like a little more weight to their music, and those extra large ear cups serve double duty at creating a luxurious soundstage while also supporting a more spacious sense of stereo imaging. All told, it offers some incredibly naturalistic sound, which is an impressive feat for a pair that clocks in at a $100 price range.
8. HE400i Over Ear Full-size Headphones
It's hard to argue that the HE400i isn't one of the best and most stylish pair of headphones. With its blocky profile, matte black finish and inset ear cups, it's as much a conversation piece as it is listening gear. But it's a lot more than that. The oversized design of the earcups makes them incredibly breathable while also being comfortable to wear, and they're built like a brick house too. These pair of open-back headphones can take a serious hit and keep on ticking.
Manufacturer, HiFiMan, has focused their marketing on their planar magnetic drivers. Fortunately, it's more than just posturing. Each driver is exceptionally built, maintaining extremely good clarity across the board while also providing a depth that's just phenomenal. While the soundstage isn't as open as some other models, there's still a meaningful depth to it. And in a nice change of pace from more studio-focused open-back headphones, this model has serious punch to its bass.
9. Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Open-Back Headphones
Looking to get the best headphones with open-back design and a lovely sound experience? Look no further than the Audio Technica ATH-R70x pair of open-back headphones. Open-back headphones for mixing require some pretty specific requirements. They need to be designed to work comfortably during long sessions at the booth, and they need to offer a special flat sound quality that isn't necessarily enjoyable for recreational listening but can provide you with the most accurate results for engineering work. That's exactly what the ATH-R70x is built for. The build is sturdy as all get out while also being both lightweight and eminently wearable.
And while they're a pretty expensive pair of headphones, these are the gold standard when you're looking for neutral sound. There's a nice, flat balance to the soundscape and the soundstage of this pair of open-back headphones, but that doesn't mean they're boring. This is Audio-Technica at their best: creating truly exceptional and premium headphones targeted towards their core demographic of audio geeks and studio professionals, and they really stick the landing on it. The earpads are extremely soft and comfortable, which means that you won't be irritated when you ear them for a long period of time.
10. Shure SRH1840 Professional Headphones
Shure has been one of the most reliable manufacturers of premium professional grade headphones for years, and the SRH1840 represents the best of the best even by their strict standards. You are definitely going to love how this pair of open-back headphones sound. This pair features 40mm neodymium drivers in each ear pads. They meet that perfect balance between rugged sturdiness and lightweight and comfortable design, and that's in large part due to the combination of aluminum and stainless steel that goes into their build. The foam and earcups offer a comfortable layer of protection without being so thick that it starts to build up heat. You can wear these for hours at a time without distress.
The soundstage here is bright and spacious, providing you with a sound that'll make you feel like you're in the middle of a live concert performance. This sound is facilitated by the substantive power of each driver embedded into this over-ear headphone. The bass and mid-range steal the show here, but the detail work in the treble is no slouch either. They're equally well suited for studio and recreational use. To make things even better, this pair of over-ear open-back headphones come with replacement velour earcups and an extra detachable cable right out of the box.
11. ASTRO Gaming A40 TR Wired Headset
Open back gaming headsets are something of a rare bird. The idea of open back headphones with mic might seem counter-intuitive to the sort of open communications needed in gaming, but Astro has demonstrated that it can be done. The squared off cans and chrome blue accents really deliver the look of gaming gear, but they're also very comfortable to wear. Memory foam is distributed liberally throughout both the earcups and the headband for that endurance comfort you need when gaming.
The open back wireless headphones offer a great sound experience too. As you might expect from a gaming headset, it's heavy on the bass and the high frequencies. A frequency response range up to 20,000Hz and the support for Dolby Atmos further increases the immersion of being in the midst of the battlefield. And adding to its versatility as a gaming accessory is the inclusion of MixAmp Pro for customizing your voice and in-game audio settings.
12. Audio-Technica ATHAD700X Open Air Headphones
The ATHAD700X is the second Audio Technica entry in this review. Audio-Technica's bread and butter may be expensive, premium models built for the professional set, but that doesn't mean they don't have anything to cater towards more casual users. The ATHAD700X is their attempt at producing affordable open back headphones, and they hit the mark admirably. This headphone features a lightweight build, which means that you'll barely feel them on your ears even after extended listening sessions, and they're fully adjustable so you can find the fit that's right for you.
These open-back headphones sound great too. They are a spacious pair of headphones with a complete soundstage and a superb sense of balance throughout the frequency response range. That sense of space accurately replicates the sound experience of being in the midst of a performance. And while the treble can be a little rough around the edges, it's still strong enough to give most open-back headphones in the same price range a decent run for their money.
Open Back Headphones Buyer’s Guide
So what are the features you should look for when buying open-back headphones? What factors should you put into consideration to determine the best open-back headphones for you? Well, the specs are largely the same for other models of headphones, so you can check out our general guide to over ear headphones if you’re interested in more general knowledge. However, in this guide, we’ll be taking a look at the essential factors you need to keep in mind when choosing the best open-back headphones.
What’s The Difference Between Open-Back Headphones and Closed-Back Headphones
The most obvious, and only notable, distinction between open back and closed-back headphones are the back, but that can make a world of difference in how useful they’ll be to you. Both are great options, but they come with very different purposes in mind.
Open back headphones don’t create a tight seal over your ear, and that results in two major problems. They don’t isolate the sound coming through your speakers from outside noise, and they leak out. That means that everyone around you can hear what you’re listening to. Naturally, that makes them a bad choice for use in public spaces.
But if you’re looking for headphones you can wear in the privacy of your own home, nothing offers the sonic performance that open back headphones do. That extra space allows for what’s known as a “soundstage” to truly breathe. In a similar way to how the placement of surround sound systems allow you to get the experience of spatial distance, open back headphones allow you to distinguish more clearly between various components in a music’s makeup. And the more breathable design means they tend to be more comfortable and breathable than closed-back headphones.
Wireless vs Wired Open Back Headphones
You may have noticed that we don’t have any wireless open back headphones in our list. While models do exist, they’re largely a self defeating feature. Bluetooth open back headphones allow you to listen without the need for a wire, but these headphones work best in a controlled environment where you’re unlikely to be moving significantly.
Since wireless capabilities can significantly increase the cost of headphones, we decided not to include them. That allowed us to focus on headphones that instead sink all of their production costs into great build design and superior sound performance.
SoundStage vs Stereo Imaging
The sense of space is the most notable advantage of open back headphones, but you may have noticed that we reference both stereo imaging and sound stages in our review. While they’re sometimes used interchangeably, they refer to two specific things.
When we talk about the soundstage, we’re talking about the virtual space that’s created by headphones. It’s the amount of distance from left to right in which music can travel. Larger sound stages are inherently better, because they allow music to replicate a more meaningful depth of sound. If you were setting up a surround sound speaker system, you could think of the sound stage as the space available to place those speakers.
You can think of digital imaging as the individual performers upon a stage. In the engineering of a track, each performer within that track takes up a space upon the stage. The imaging refers to the level of clarity between these performers and how well defined they are in relation to one another.
If you really want the best sound performance, you want to look for headphones that offer both strong imaging and a spacious sound stage. Finding the right balance will really help you appreciate the advantages of an open back model.
Why Are Open Back Headphones Better?
There are quite a lot of reasons why open-back headphones are better than their closed back counterparts. Some of these reasons include:
Natural Audio: Most open-back headphones produce a sound experience that makes it feel like you’re in a live setting. Closed back headphones, on the other hand, doesn’t provide the natural and realistic sound you get from open-back audio headphones. This is because sound travels out of the vents open-back headphones are designed with. Their closed back counterparts come with plates that bounces the sound back instead of allowing it to travel out. Since they typically have no space to travel around, the sounds go back, mix with the other frequencies around, and color them. Open back headphones do not feature this unnecessary coloration, which is why the provide nothing but the best and most natural audio.
Sounstage: Most open-back headphones come with distinct soundstage. While closed-back headphones tend to sound cramped in your ears, their open-back counterparts build a virtual sonic image in your head. This illusion can be likened to a concert hall, which is why you get the richness and sound depth only open-back headphones can provide. They tend to sound more airy, immersive, and open when compared to the neutral environment you get in closed-back headphones.
Accuracy: Since open-back headphones lack coloration, they tend to produce more accuracy than other headphone types. However, that’s not the only thing that contributes to the level of accuracy you get on these headphones. The closed-back headphone type reflects the sound coming out of their speakers. This reflection puts some strain or pressure on the speakers, which may, in turn, hold down the movement of sound in and around the speakers. This usually leads to sound inaccuracies. Open-back headphones, on the other hand, are designed in such a way that each driver faces no pressure. There is free airflow, which provides each driver with the ability to respond to tonal changes and adapt to complicated music easily.
Heat: Since the open-back headphones are designed with vents, they are not susceptible to heat like the closed-back headphone types. While air flows in and out of open-backed headphones freely, closed back headphones trap heat, which may cause your ears to sweat. This can be highly beneficial if you reside in an area with hot climate. Also, if you sweat consistently on your earcups without cleaning them well every so often, you may be providing a breeding ground for bacteria without you knowing. This doesn’t mean that open-back headphone types won’t make you sweat. It all depends on the type of earcups and design featured on the headphone.
Consideration To Make When Buying the Best Open Back Headphones
Below are some of the factors you need to put into consideration before making your purchase:
Audio: Before making an open-back headphone purchase, ensure that you know how great it is in terms of sound quality and audio power. As we have noted above, most open-back headphones aren’t meant for outdoor use or noisy places. They won’t be the perfect fit for you on a busy road or in a football game. So you need to ensure that the headphone you’re about to choose comes with the ideal sound technology that makes up for this lack of noise isolation or cancellation. The ideal headphone should have a clean, natural, and neutral audio by design.
Compatibility: You need to ensure that the headphones you are going with are compatible with your amps and DACs. Also, if you plan on using them with portable devices like phones, iPads, etc, ensure that your headphone choice has a cable that’s compatible with your device’s port. Most open-back headphones come with detachable cables, but not all. Therefore, ensure that you choose cans that feature detachable cables for more versatility.
Comfort: We already noted that open-back headphones naturally come with vents that allows air to flow freely. This design helps them make your ears cool while you enjoy the best music. However, other comfort factors to consider include earcups or earpads. There’s a chance you’ll be wearing your headphones for a long period of time. Therefore, it’s important that you choose a product with the most comfortable set of earcups for you. Most earcups are made out of velour or memory foam. Some are made with both velour and memory foam. Your preference will decide the best one for you.
Features: Some feature you might want to consider before buying an open-back headset include detachable cables, foldability, colors, and replaceable earpads. All of these will help contribute to how long you get to enjoy your headphones.
Drivers: The main technology contributing to the sound coming out of your cans is your headphone driver. They produce the sound signals in headphones, which is why you need to ensure that they are of the highest quality. On most open-back headphones, including those in our review, this is the case. Since the headphones aren’t sealed, the drivers need to be solid, sturdy, and durable. The best driver type is the magnetic driver type. Therefore, in order to get the best sound reproduction, ensure that you opt for an headphone with magnetic or planar drivers.
Also, the size of the driver is a huge consideration too. The size usually affects how well the frequencies are reproduced. In order to get the best and most effective low frequency (the bass), ensure that you opt for a driver that at least 40mm in size. You can go for higher options, but the least you should settle for if you want good bass is an headphone designed with 40mm piece of detailed sound technology.
Can You Hear Open Back Headphones?
Short answer is yes. Unlike closed-back headphones which are built with solid covers, open back cans are usually built with vents in order to provide good airflow. This design also allows air and sound to escape through the vents, which, in turn, allows people to hear what you listening to especially if the volume is high. Also, since they do not feature any kind of noise cancellation, you’ll be able to hear what is going on around you too.
Who Are Open-Back Headphones Perfect For?
Open-back headphones are considered to be the best options due to their neutral sound signature and accuracy. They feature an open soundstage and a clean sound signature that isn’t filled with boosted bass. This is why audiophiles, hobbyists, music producers, and music/audiophile purists consider them to be amazing. Open back headphones are excellent for this set of people because:
- They sit down to listen to tracks. This set of people listen to music to detect each note and to critique how good the sounds are. In fact, some of them go to very quiet places to listen to tracks.
- Open-back headphones lean towards comfort rather than style. This makes them not to be the best fit for everyday use. However, it works well for audiophiles and music producers as they usually listen to music for long hours and they typically do so in a quiet place.
- Since open-back headphones don’t do well outdoors or in public places, they are best used at home. This makes them the perfect fit for hobbyists than an everyday user. Also, they may be great for runners or joggers who would like to remain aware of their surroundings. However, it’s noteworthy to mention that open-back headphones aren’t optimized for workout or outdoor use.
Getting the best open-back headphone will surely help you get the richness and sound quality you crave for. Our review includes 12 of the best open-back headphones on the market. You can simply choose one that matches your budget and specs and be well on your way to enjoying the best sounds.
If you consider yourself an audiophile, there’s a good chance you consider open back headphones a necessity. They allow you to hear a richness of sound that no other headphones can replicate. And all of the models on our list represent the best of the best for their respective price points.