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 aren't the best choice if you want to use them outside, as they may distract the people around you (see our closed-back recommendations).
We've tested nearly 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best open-back headphones you can buy in 2019. See also our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones and the best headphones for music.
The best open-back headphones that we’ve tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. Like most open-back headphones, they’re wired critical listening headphones that are designed for use in a quiet room. They don’t have a microphone or any active features, but they deliver exceptional audio fidelity that doesn't disappoint.
They sound amazing. They have a bright, spacious sound that lends itself particularly well to jazz and classical music. They’re extremely well-built and very comfortable, which makes them perfect for long listening sessions.
While they're the best-sounding headphones we’ve tested so far, they’re also remarkably expensive. You’ll also need a powerful amplifier to drive these headphones and experience their full potential. That said, if sound quality is your top priority and you have the equipment and the budget for them, these headphones are hard to beat.
If you want open-back headphones that still provide impressive sound reproduction but are quite a bit cheaper, get the HiFiMan Ananda. They don't sound quite as spacious as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but their sound profile is similarly great and they cost significantly less. They are well-built, comfortable headphones with large well-padded ear cups that should easily accommodate all ear sizes. They have a large and natural soundstage with an excellent well-balanced sound that should be suitable for all genres, from EDM to classical. Unfortunately, they don't have quite the same quality control as brands like Sennheiser, and we have seen some reports online of models having manufacturer defects. That being said, if your pair is functioning properly, they feel and perform similarly to much more expensive headphones.
If you want the best open-back audiophile headphones we've tested to date, get the Sennheiser, but if you want to save some money while getting something with similar audio performance, go for the HiFiMan, which are still some of the best open headphones we've tested.
The best open-back headphones for gaming we’ve tested so far are the Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro 2019. They’re very comfortable headphones with large, well-padded ear cups, which makes them suitable for long gaming sessions. They have a wired design that ensures a latency-free gaming experience, and they come with an outstanding USB dock that provides lots of connectivity options.
These headphones sound very good and their open-back design helps give them a more spacious soundstage than other gaming headsets we’ve tested. Their boom microphone is superb and works very well in noisy environments too. We even found the Xbox One variants also work on the PS4 while in PC mode. Note, however, that it's unlikely that the PS4 variants will work on the Xbox One.
While these headphones have a fairly balanced frequency response overall, they show a noticeable lack of detail and presence in the treble range. On the upside, they’re compatible with the Astro Command Center, where you can EQ their sound profile and assign custom EQ presets to their MixAmp. They’re great gaming headphones all-around and are especially well-suited to those who prefer an open-back design.
The best open-back headphones under $200 we’ve tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 58x Jubilee. They’re the result of a collaboration between Sennheiser and Massdrop and can only be purchased from Drop’s website directly. They’re great critical listening headphones with excellent audio reproduction and provide very good value for their price.
These headphones sound very impressive, especially at this price point. They have a remarkably well-balanced sound that packs more bass than most open-back headphones we’ve tested, like the similarly designed Sennheiser HD 600, without sounding too sharp or sibilant, like the AKG K702. They have outstanding imaging and their soundstage isn't bad, either.
On the downside, while they have replaceable cables, they’re a bit difficult to find online since they’re not widely available for purchase. These headphones may also not be comfortable for everyone. They clamp rather tightly, and they have large ear cups that may extend past your jaw if you have a smaller head, which can be uncomfortable over time. That said, their price-to-performance ratio is rather exceptional, so if you don’t mind a tighter fit, they’re a great choice.
If you want an open-back pair of headphones under $200 that feel more durable, go for the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, some of the best open-ear headphones we've tested. Their treble is a bit sharper than the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee and they don't have a detachable cable, but they still have a generally well-balanced sound and feel better-built overall. They're a comfortable pair of open-back headphones that are less tight on the head than the Jubilee and have more metal in their build which makes them feel sturdier and more premium. They also have a removable headband which can be replaced in case it wears out or gets damaged, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, while their sound reproduction is excellent, their treble tends to be a bit sharp, especially on brighter tracks.
Get the Jubilee if you're sensitive to sibilance or peaks in treble, but if you're a little rougher on your headphones and want something that's more durable while also being more comfortable, go with the DT 990 PRO.
If you’re in the market for open-back headphones but don’t want to spend a fortune, the best budget open-back headphones are the Philips SHP9500. They have a remarkably comfortable design with very large, well-padded ear cups. The headband also redistributes weight across the top of the head very well, making these headphones great for long listening sessions.
These headphones sound very good and have a well-balanced sound that, like the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, reproduces vocals and lead instruments clearly and accurately. They have a decent soundstage, and their overall sound quality is nearly on par with that of headphones that cost almost 10 times their price.
On the downside, they use a fabric coating on the ear cups and headband padding that feels slightly rough to the touch. It’s not as noticeable once you’ve had the headphones on for a while, but it feels less pleasant than synthetic leather or velour padding would. That said, they still provide excellent value and are very hard to beat for their price.
If you like the spacious sound of open-back headphones but don't have the budget for some of our top picks, get the Superlux HD 681. They're not quite as comfortable as the Philips SHP9500 and they feel a lot cheaper and plasticky, but they offer an impressive sound profile at an even lower price point. Their semi-open design gives them a decently spacious soundstage and they have nearly flawless bass, excellent mid-range, and decent treble, though they can sound a little sharp and sibilant. Unfortunately, the price-to-performance ratio comes at the sacrifice of build quality and they feel quite cheap with a fully plastic design, though they should still be able to withstand one or two drops without breaking. On the upside, their plastic design means they are quite lightweight and they aren't too tight on the head, making them decently comfortable for most people.
Get the Philips if you can stretch your budget a little and want something that feels much better-built, but if you want to spend less while still getting excellent sound reproduction, go for the Superlux.
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.
10/29/2019: Only minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy; no changes in product picks.