Open-back headphones deliver an immersive listening experience through their unique design. As they lower the isolation level between you and your surroundings, they can produce a wide and spacious soundstage that can feel like you're listening to speakers in your room rather than something in your ears. Unfortunately, they leak a lot of sound, even if you're listening to music at a reasonable level, and can distract people around you. They also struggle to reduce background noise. If you're looking for something for mixed-use, check out our recommendations for closed-back headphones, but if you're looking for a great sound experience from your headphones, this is the place to be.
We've tested over 540 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best open-back headphones you can buy. If you're still looking for headphones, take a look at our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones and the best headphones for music.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S are the best open-back headphones that we've tested. They feature an eye-catching design and feel very durable, with a metal and high-grade plastic construction. Thanks to their spacious ear cups, lined in a premium-feeling suede-like material, they deliver a very consistent listening experience, regardless of their wearer’s head shape.
Their sound profile is very neutral, with impressive treble accuracy and extremely even mids; vocals, lead-instruments, and any other higher-frequency sounds will be very clear. That said, fans of bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop might prefer a little more thump and kick. Thankfully, they provide a very large, spacious, and natural soundstage.
Unfortunately, their very high price puts them out of reach for most. Their bulky design also means that listeners with smaller heads might find them a little too cumbersome to wear for extended periods. Finally, if you want to get the most from these headphones, you’ll need an amplifier. If none of that presents an issue, these are an excellent pair of open-ears capable of providing an outstanding listening experience with excellent build quality.
If you're looking for open-back headphones with a great, immersive sound at a less steep price, check out the HiFiMan Ananda. They slightly lack in build quality and soundstage when compared to the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but have a similarly well-balanced sound profile for a considerably lower price. They're still very comfortable and even have a bit more bass than the Sennheiser. However, they can have inconsistent quality control, and a few users report that they have issues with their units. Still, if you can get a properly functioning pair, they can give you a great listening experience that's on par with other more expensive over-ears.
If you're looking for premium headphones that can give you a unique and immersive listening experience, get the Sennheiser. However, if you're looking for something more wallet-friendly and aren't worried about quality control issues, check out the HiFiMan.
The best open-back headphones for gaming that we’ve tested are the Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro 2019. Thanks to their relatively open soundstage and great stereo imaging performance, they should provide a highly immersive gaming experience. They're also very well-built and quite comfortable, with generously-padded ear cups and a headband that effectively distributes their weight.
These over-ears come in PC/PS4 as well as Xbox One compatible variants, so you can find a model to suit your needs. Their MixAmp controller is a hugely convenient addition for gamers, as it allows you to adjust volume and chat mixing, cycle EQ presets, and enable Dolby Surround Sound on-the-fly. Their boom microphone makes your voice sound clear, full-bodied, and mostly free of background noise, even in loud environments.
Their sound profile is quite well-balanced, except for their uneven treble response. Thankfully, that can be adjusted via a graphic EQ or audio presets in their Astro Command Center companion software. If you're looking for gaming headphones that can allow you to immerse yourself fully in your game while still offering a wide variety of configuration options, these are a good choice.
The best headphones with an open-back design under $200 that we've tested are the Philips Fidelio X2HR. These sleek headphones have a good mix of plastic and metal components, which makes them look high-end. They're also very comfortable, with spacious and well-padded ear cups and a self-adjusting headband so you're able to wear them for long periods of time without feeling too much fatigue.
They have a well-balanced sound profile with an outstandingly neutral mid-range, so vocals and lead instruments sound present and accurate. They also deliver audio consistently and have a spacious and open soundstage, which helps create a more immersive audio experience. They come with a detachable TRS cable too, and while it may be a little too long to easily take with you on-the-go, it can be replaced if it breaks or gets damaged.
On the downside, they're quite bulky, which makes it a bit more tricky to carry around with you. Due to their uneven treble, some users may find vocals and lead instruments sound slightly dull or veiled. Still, these no-frills headphones offer a balanced sound profile at a more cost-friendly price.
If you're looking for more premium-feeling open-back headphones, try the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. While they're not as comfortable as the Philips Fidelio X2HR, and their sound profile is a bit more bass-heavy, the Beyerdynamics are better-built. They have a metal frame with high-grade plastic ear cups and are more lightweight. Although their treble delivery is a bit more inconsistent than the Philips and their sound profile feels more closed-off, they still offer a versatile performance that's suitable for a variety of audio genres. They even come with a soft pouch to help protect your headphones from dust when not in use.
Try the Philips if you're looking for a more immersive audio experience and prefer a more neutral bass-range. However, check out the Beyerdynamic if a solid, premium build quality is more important.
The Philips SHP9500 are the best budget open-back headphones that we've tested. These affordable over-ears are very comfortable, thanks to their spacious, well-padded ear cups and lightweight build. While they're very simple and straightforward, they offer great value for their neutral sound performance.
They have an impressively well-balanced sound profile, and although they struggle to produce low-bass like many open-back headphones, they're suitable for a variety of audio content. Their mid-range is especially neutral, so vocals and lead instruments sound present and accurate. They have a spacious and open soundstage, so audio feels like it's coming from out in front of you rather than from inside your head, which results in a more immersive experience.
On the downside, their low price-point is reflected in their build quality. They feel very plasticky, and the fabric padding could particularly be more prone to wear and tear over time. They're also bulky and lack a carrying case or pouch to help protect them when not in use. However, if you're shopping on a budget and you don't mind their plastic design, they're a suitable choice for those who like neutral sound.
If you're shopping on an even tighter budget and prefer a pair of semi-open headphones, consider the Superlux HD 681 instead. While they aren't as comfortable or as well-built as the Philips SHP9500, the Superlux offer an impressive listening performance at a lower price. Their overall sound profile is neutral, well-balanced, and suitable for a variety of music genres. Their semi-open design allows for a deeper, more extended bass than the Philips, though their treble range isn't as accurate and can be a bit sharp and sibilant. That being said, they still have a very open and spacious soundstage that helps create an immersive sound.
If you want open-back headphones with a more comfortable fit, go with the Philips, but if you're on a budget and want a more extended bass in your mix, choose the Superlux instead.
12/23/2020: Added the Sennheiser HD 560S to Notable Mentions.
10/30/2020: Replaced Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee with Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro due to current availability. Added Grado The Hemp Headphone and Philips SHP9600 to Notable Mentions.
09/01/2020: Minor updates to the text for accuracy and clarity.
07/03/2020: Changed pick for 'Best Open-Back Headphones Under $200' to Philips Fidelio X2HR, moved Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee to 'Less Bulky Alternative' category and Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO to Notable Mentions.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best open-back headphones for most people to buy. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones 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).
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.