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 over 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best open-back headphones you can buy in 2020. 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're 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 a pair of headphones with better build quality than the Sennheiser HD 58X, take a look at the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. The metal headband feels solid and is removable, making replacement easy, and the ear cups, while made of plastic, feel dense enough to survive a few drops without any issues. Comfort may be a bigger concern, though, as the rigidity of the headband feels tight on the head, but at least the ear cups are large and well-padded with a velour-like material. Overall, they sound well-balanced, the bass has good extension, the mids are flawless, but most notably, the treble is quite sharp.
If you're sensitive to a slightly sibilant treble, you're better off with the Sennheiser, but for a pair of headphones that are built to last, definitely choose the Beyerdynamic.
Open-back headphones are often associated with hi-fi audio equipment that's prohibitively expensive, but it's possible to experience this type of headphones at a budget price, like with the Philips SHP9500, the best budget open-back headphones we've tested so far. These headphones have a decent build quality that feels fairly sturdy and designed for maximum comfort. The headband is reinforced with metal, while the ear cups are well-padded and spacious. One aspect of these headphones that could use some improvement, though, is the fabric coating on the ear cups, which feels a bit rough.
Even at a budget price, these headphones perform remarkably well. The bass is well-balanced and the mids are flawless, but the treble can be sharp at times. The great thing about these headphones is that they're easy to drive; virtually any smartphone with an analog audio output will do. That said, on-the-go use is still not recommended, as these are open-back headphones that don't isolate against ambient noise at all.
If you want to experience what open-back headphones can do without spending a fortune, try the Philips.
If you're shopping on a very tight budget, the Superlux HD 681 may be an option to consider. The build quality is not quite on-par with the Philips SHP9500, but they're still decently comfortable, as there's very little clamping force and the ear cups are large. The overall build does feel rather plasticky and cheap, but that's to be expected for headphones at this price point. On the bright side, they still sound very good. Their semi-open design offers good sub-bass performance while maintaining a good amount of spaciousness in the sound. Vocals and leads are well-emphasized, but the treble can sound a tad sharp. Like open-back headphones, noise isolation is practically non-existent and they leak a lot, so it's best to enjoy them in a quiet environment.
If you don't mind paying a bit more, the Philips are a better choice due to their build quality, but for the budget-conscious crowd, the Superlux remain a decent choice.
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.
01/08/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.
10/29/2019: Only minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy; no changes in product picks.