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 675 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best headphones with an open-back design you can buy. If you're still looking for headphones, look at our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones and the best headphones for music.
The best open-back headphones we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These wired headphones create a passive soundstage that seems large, spacious, and natural, so sound seems to come from speakers in the room around you instead of inside your head. They also offer a neutral sound profile suitable for a variety of genres, with a very accurate mid-range response that ensures instruments and vocals are clear and present in your audio. However, like most open-back headphones, they lack a bit of rumble and punch in the bass range.
They don't offer sound customization features, and fans of genres with a lot of low bass, like EDM or hip-hop, may find their sound underwhelming. If you want open-back headphones that deliver more bass, you may prefer the HiFiMan Arya. These headphones have planar magnetic drivers, which deliver a bit more thump and rumble. That said, the Sennheiser have a better build quality and create an even more out-of-head audio experience.
The best mid-range open-back headphones we've tested are the HiFiMan Edition XS. These well-built headphones are usually available for less than half the price of our top pick. They also use planar magnetic rather than dynamic drivers, which gives them a bulkier design but helps them reproduce bass more accurately. They have a very well-balanced sound profile with clear, detailed vocals and lead instruments. They also create a wide, spacious, and fairly natural passive soundstage.
While they have a comfortable fit, their headband feels heavier than some other headphones from this manufacturer, which you may find uncomfortable during long listening sessions. If that's a concern, you may prefer the HiFiMan Sundara 2020's stretchy ski-band headband design, which does a better job of redistributing the headphones' weight. They're also less expensive; however, they deliver audio less consistently and have a worse passive soundstage performance.
The best headphones with an open-back design under $200 that we've tested are the Philips Fidelio X2HR. These over-ears have a very good passive soundstage performance that seems natural and spacious. Thanks to their automatically-adjusting headband, they also have a very comfortable fit and are suitable for long listening sessions. They have a very well-balanced and neutral sound profile that reproduces vocals and lead instruments accurately. Although they struggle to reproduce low-bass like most open-back headphones, they have a touch of extra warmth and boom in the mid to high-bass to help balance their sound.
They're also well-built and have a detachable audio cable, so you can easily replace the cable should it get damaged. Unfortunately, they have a very bulky design that isn't very portable. They also create a less natural-seeming passive soundstage than the Sennheiser HD 800 S. However, they're a suitable choice if you're looking for more affordable audiophile headphones.
The Philips SHP9500 are the best budget-friendly open-back headphones that we've tested. These over-ears create a great passive soundstage that feels open and spacious. If you like to listen to audio for long periods, they also have a very comfortable fit with large ear cups. Although they lack low-bass like most open-back headphones, they have a bump in the high-bass to help balance out the range a bit more and add extra warmth to mixes. Their mid-range is also very flat and well-balanced, so vocals and lead instruments seem natural, clear, and accurate.
Unfortunately, their lower price point is reflected in their build quality. They feel plasticky, and the fabric over the padding feels like it might rip over time. The ear cups also seem prone to breaking. If you're looking for a budget-friendly pair of headphones but want a better build quality, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are a good alternative since they have a metal frame and feel sturdier overall. Their audio cable isn't detachable, and you may find their sound a bit piercing or harsh.
The Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro 2019 are the best open-back headphones for gaming that we've tested. Unlike other open-back headphones on this list, they have a boom mic that offers a great performance for when you're gaming with friends. Their passive soundstage also seems wide, natural, and spacious, which can help you feel immersed in your gameplay. They also stand out for their MixAmp, which puts controls like volume, chat mixing, and EQ presets at your fingertips.
Out of the box, they have a warm sound profile that adds a touch of extra boom, which can help emphasize sound effects while you game. You can adjust their sound to your liking using their companion software's graphic EQ and presets. Unfortunately, they're prone to inconsistent bass and treble delivery, so it's important to take the time to adjust their fit to get a more consistent sound. These headphones also come in PC/PS4 and PC/Xbox One variants, so it's important to ensure you get the right model.
Jul 14, 2022: Added the HiFiMan Edition XS as the 'Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones'.
Apr 22, 2022: We've checked our picks for accuracy and product availability. However, there hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
Feb 22, 2022: Removed the HiFiMan Arya because the variant we tested isn't currently available.
Dec 13, 2021: Checked out picks for accuracy and product availability. That said, there hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
Oct 14, 2021: We've made minor updates to the text and checked for product availability. There hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best headphones with an open-back design 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.