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The 6 Best Open Back Headphones - Spring 2019
Reviews

Best Open-Back Headphones
370 Headphones Tested
  • Store-bought headphones; no cherry-picked units
  • Retest after major updates
  • Easily comparable results
  • No ads; unbiased reviews
Learn more about our approach to product reviews here.

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 (see our closed-back recommendations).

We've tested 287 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.

  1. Best Open-Back Headphones: Sennheiser HD 800 S

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches:

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    6.2
    Mixed Usage
    What it is: This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    8.5
    Critical Listening
    What it is: The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    4.8
    Commute/Travel
    What it is: How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    5.5
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is: How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    5.4
    Office
    What it is: How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.2
    TV
    Score components:
    6.1
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    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 are 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.

    See our review

  2. Less Expensive Alternative: HiFiMan Ananda

    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Planar Magnetic

    If you’re looking for open-back headphones that sound as good as the Sennheiser HD 800 S but don’t cost quite as much, get the HiFiMan Ananda. They don’t quite sound as spacious as the Sennheiser, despite their planar magnetic drivers and very open ear cups, but they still sound excellent. They pack a bit more bass, which may feel more spacious due to their brighter overall sound, and deliver a balanced audio reproduction that sounds great with any track.

    These headphones look and feel like high-end headphones, but they're not as well-built as the Sennheiser. HiFiMan also doesn’t quite have the quality control of a brand like Sennheiser, so some of their units are more prone to manufacturing defects. Thankfully, these headphones are better-built than their predecessor, the HiFiMan Edition X. As long as their build quality holds up, the Ananda are a great choice for any audiophile, and may even provide slightly better value for your money than the Sennheiser.

    See our review

  3. Best Open-Back Headphones For Gaming: Astro A40 TR Headset + MixAmp Pro 2019

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches:

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    6.4
    Mixed Usage
    What it is: This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    7.8
    Critical Listening
    What it is: The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    5.2
    Commute/Travel
    What it is: How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    5.7
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is: How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    5.9
    Office
    What it is: How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.9
    TV
    Score components:
    8.3
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you’re a gamer who prefers the more immersive qualities of open-back headphones, then get the Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro. They’re comfortable, well-built headphones with a gamer-centric design. They come with a physical control hub called the MixAmp that provides a whole bunch of customization options at your fingertips and have dedicated models available for compatibility with the Xbox One or the PS4, in addition to PC and Mac support.

    These are good-sounding open-back headphones with a large soundstage that still feels reasonably natural. By default, they’re lacking a bit of detail in the treble range, but they’re compatible with the Astro Command Center which provides you with a graphic EQ. You can assign your EQ presets to the MixAmp and control microphone levels as well. These wired headphones have an excellent detachable boom mic and, since they have virtually no latency, are a great choice for online gamers.

    Like most gaming headphones, they don’t have the most low-profile design. They’re comfortable enough to wear for hours without fatigue, but they still feel rather bulky. They also don’t offer the freedom and convenience of wireless headphones like the similarly designed yet closed-back Astro A50. That said, their wired design helps ensure a reliable and stable connection and removes any worries related to battery life.

    See our review

  4. Best Open-Back Headphones Under $200: Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches:

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    6.0
    Mixed Usage
    What it is: This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    8.0
    Critical Listening
    What it is: The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    4.9
    Commute/Travel
    What it is: How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    5.7
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is: How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    5.3
    Office
    What it is: How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.0
    TV
    Score components:
    5.9
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you’re looking for open-back critical listening headphones that are under $200 but still sound great, then get the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. They lack the spacious soundstage of the Sennheiser HD 800 S and some find they can sound a bit sharp, especially on brighter tracks, but they provide excellent value for their price.

    These are very well-built headphones, especially for the price. They deliver a well-balanced sound with an outstanding, neutral mid-range that accurately reproduces instruments and vocals. They even pack a bit more bass than most open-back headphones, making them the best open-back headphones for mixing that we’ve tested so far.

    Unfortunately, they don’t have a detachable cable like the more premium Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO. They also feel a little tight when you put them on, which can get uncomfortable over time for those with slightly larger than average heads. The Sennheiser HD 599 are significantly more comfortable, but they don’t feel as well-made. Overall, these headphones feel built to last and have a great price-to-performance ratio, which makes them easy to recommend.

    See our review

  5. Best Budget Open-Back Headphones: Philips SHP9500

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches:

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    5.9
    Mixed Usage
    What it is: This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    7.8
    Critical Listening
    What it is: The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    4.6
    Commute/Travel
    What it is: How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    5.4
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is: How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    5.3
    Office
    What it is: How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.0
    TV
    Score components:
    6.0
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    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 earcup 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.

    See our review

  6. Even Cheaper Semi-Open Alternative: Superlux HD 681

    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Semi-Open
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    If you like the more spacious sound of open-back headphones but don’t have room in your budget for some of our pricier recommendations, check out the Superlux HD 681. They’re not as comfortable as the Philips SHP9500, but they have very impressive sound for the price and are among the best semi-open headphones we’ve tested so far. They sound great for budget headphones. Their bass is flawless, they have a neutral and even mid-range, and their treble is decent, albeit a bit sharp at times. They also have an okay soundstage, especially for the price.

    Unfortunately, they are cheaply made and it's apparent in how they look and feel. They’re not likely to break if they fall once or twice, but they still don’t feel like durable headphones. Their padding is stiff and thin, but the headphones are lightweight enough to still be quite comfortable.

    See our review

Notable Mentions

  • Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO: Well-crafted and premium-looking open-back headphones with good sound. Can sound a bit too sharp and piercing for some. See our review
  • HiFiMan Sundara: A great sounding and cheaper alternative than the HiFiMan Ananda. However, they have a few issues with quality control, so some units may have failing drivers. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 700: Good, open sound and a spacious soundstage. They're a viable and cheaper alternative to the HiFiMan Sundara. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 599: Open sound and a spacious soundstage. Comfortable lightweight design. Not as well built as the Sennheiser HD 700 but cheaper than the HD 650 for a similar sound. See our review
  • AKG K702: Very comfortable headphones that sound great but don’t feel as well-built as the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO for the price. See our review
  • AKG K712 PRO:  Comfortable design and excellent sound quality. Comes with more accessories than the AKG K702 but they're considerably more expensive. 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/SR80: Good-sounding on-ear headphones with a unique design. However, they're not very durable and may sound a little sharp. See our review
  • Apple AirPods 2 Truly Wireless 2019: Versatile mixed usage headphone with a sleek and well-designed build quality. Mediocre sound and limited availability. See our review
  • Sennheiser Game One Gaming Headset: A gaming headset with an open and well-balanced sound. A bit pricey for what they have to offer. See our review
  • Audeze LCD 2 Classic/LC2C: Great critical listening open-back headphones with an excellent build quality. They sound a bit dark overall and are slightly pricier than some equally good sounding options. See our review

All Reviews

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.

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