Open back headphones are designed to deliver an immersive listening experience by reducing the level of isolation between you and your environment.
They produce a spacious soundstage and give you the impression of listening to a good speaker set up in an ideal room. However, they leak a lot so they are not the best choice if you want to use them outside, as they may distract the people around you. Below are our recommendations for the best open-back headphones we have tested so far.
Best Open-Back Headphones
The Sennheiser HD 800S are the best open back headphones we've tested. They are specifically designed to deliver a comfortable and accurate listening experience. If you consider yourself a critical listener or an audiophile who refuses to compromise on sound quality, then the HD 800S will not disappoint. They’re sturdy, comfortable headphones that deliver a well-balanced frequency response and a large and spacious soundstage.
If you want an excellent sounding pair of headphone at a much more affordable price point than the Sennheiser HD 800 S, then consider the HiFiMan HE-400i. They're comfortable, planar magnetic headphones that deliver a well balanced audio reproduction and a spacious soundstage. Their suggested retail price is a bit higher than the Sennheiser HD 650 but they're often on sale and they sound slightly better thanks to their Planar Magnetic drivers.
Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones
For a mid-range option, we recommend the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro. They deliver in the sound department and are incredibly well-built for their price. Although a bit tight on the head, they’re a suitable recommendation for most audiophiles. They're also cheaper than the Sennheiser HD 600 and the AKG K702 for an equally great if not better sound quality.
If you want a more comfortable pair of open headphones that sound as good as the Beyerdynamic DT 990, then get the AKG K702 instead. They are a bit more expensive than the DT 990 and have a slightly worse build quality, but they’re a lot more comfortable. If you wear your headphones for very long listening sessions, then the AKG K702 are a good option with a well-balanced audio reproduction and a spacious and open soundstage. They're also a lot cheaper than the AKG K712 for about the same sound quality.
Best Budget Open-Back Headphones
The Philips SHP 9500 are the best budget headphones for critical listening we've tested so far. They’re not made from the fanciest or sturdiest of materials, but they feel durable enough that you would not worry if you dropped them by accident. They’re comfortable, have an excellent soundstage and are the best critical headphones under 100$ that we’ve reviewed so far.
Like the Philips SHP9500, the Superlux HD 668B deliver a surprisingly well-balanced audio reproduction for their price range. If you're looking for a good audiophile quality headphone, but you're on a tight budget, then the Superlux should be your go-to option. They are not as comfortable as the Philips, but their semi-open design leaks a little less. They're also considerably cheaper while delivering a comparatively good sound quality.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best open-back headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
A few examples of critical listening headphones that didn't make the cut:
- Sennheiser HD 650. Good, open sound and a spacious soundstage. They're a viable and cheaper alternative to the HE-400i. See our review
- AKG K712 Pro. Comfortable design and excellent sound quality. Comes with more accessories than the K702 but they're considerably more expensive. See our review
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X. Above average sound and unique design. They look and feel a bit cheap for their price. See our review
- Bose SoundSport In-Ear. Comfortable and open in-ear fit. Lightweight and stable headphones for sports use, but they lack a lot of bass. See our review
- Grado SR80e. Good-sounding on-ear headphones with a unique design. However, they're not very durable and may sound a little sharp. See our review
- Koss Porta Pro. A compact and portable on-ear headphone with a good sound but a flimsy build quality. See our review
If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for open-back headphones. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste and preference will matter more in your selection.