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The 6 Best Open-Back Headphones - Winter 2023 Reviews

Best Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones deliver an immersive listening experience through their unique design. They can produce a wide and spacious soundstage that interacts with your surroundings and makes your listening experience more immersive. 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 700 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the six best headphones with an open-back design that 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.

  1. Best Open-Back Headphones

    The best open-back headphones we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These premium dynamic driver headphones are the best when it comes to sound, but aren't for everyone. They're quite the investment, and you'll need a powerful amp to use them, which can be an extra expense if you don't already have one. However, if money's no object, these over-ears create an outstanding passive soundstage that's natural, spacious, and open. Audio feels like it's coming from all around you rather than as if coming from inside your head, making for a very immersive experience.

    Their very neutral sound profile is versatile enough for most kinds of audio content. Although they lack low-bass due to their open-back design, they have a touch of extra high-bass to add warmth back into the mix. Their mid-range is also very accurate, so instruments and vocals are clear and present. Although they're bulky in design, they're well-built and comfortable enough to listen to music for hours without issue.

    See our review

  2. Best Upper Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones

    For those in the market for the latest in driver tech, the premium HiFiMan Arya have planar magnetic transducers instead of more common dynamic transducers. This design allows them to reproduce low-bass more accurately and improve their soundstage. However, the trade-off is that planar magnetic headphones have a very complex design, meaning performance can vary between units. It also makes them more heavy and bulky, although luckily, these headphones have a ski band headband design to distribute weight equally over your head.

    These over-ears have a well-balanced sound that ensures the accurate reproduction of vocals and instruments. Their treble range is a bit overemphasized, so sibilants like cymbals are piercing, and they still lack a bit of thump and rumble due to their open-back design. On the upside, they have an excellent soundstage that feels wide, spacious, and out-of-head, which can immerse you in your audio.

    Note that HiFiMan has re-released these headphones with some slight changes. Colloquially called the Arya V3, this variant has updated drivers with Stealth Magnets, which the manufacturer advertises to improve their sound quality by reducing distortion and increasing transparency. We tested the V2 model, which are currently available via the manufacturer's website and don't feature this magnet design. Although we haven't tested the V3 yet, there may be some variances between both models in performance.

    See our review

  3. Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones

    If you're looking to save money here and there but don't want to sacrifice a planar magnetic design, the HiFiMan Edition XS are worth checking out. While they aren't as well-built as the HiFiMan Arya, their sound is less bright overall, which is an advantage for audiophiles looking for headphones with slightly more neutral playback characteristics. Their sound profile is very well-balanced, with clear, detailed vocals and lead instruments. Their treble is more neutral, so sibilants like hi-hats are bright but not piercing. 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 redistributing the headphones' weight. They're less expensive than the Edition XS but deliver audio less consistently and have a worse passive soundstage performance.

    See our review

  4. Best Lower Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones

    At the lower mid-range price point, audiophile headphones tend to take a hit in build quality, but that's not the case for the Philips Fidelio X2HR over-ears. While they're mostly made of plastic, they have some metal to help reinforce their build and improve their overall durability. However, dynamic drivers are more common at this price point, and this design in the X2HR affects their passive soundstage performance. Their soundstage, while very good overall, doesn't feel as wide or immersive as that created by the HiFiMan Edition XS.

    Thanks to their automatically-adjusting headband, they 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.

    See our review

  5. Best Budget Open-Back Headphones

    Manufacturers tend to skimp out on quality build materials for budget headphones, and while The Philips SHP9500 do fall victim to cheaper materials, they're still the best budget-friendly open-back headphones that we've tested. They have a decent overall build, but their fabric padding feels easily wearable, and the swiveling ear cups seem prone to breaking under moderate stress. Despite this, they're still quite comfortable for long listening sessions, thanks to their roomy ear cups.

    These over-ears create a great passive soundstage that feels open and spacious. 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.

    See our review

  6. Best Open-Back Headphones For Gaming

    Unlike other open-back headphones on this list, the Drop + Sennheiser PC38X have a great boom mic that makes your voice clear and full-bodied over team chat. These headphones are very comfortable and come with both microfibre and velour earpads that you can swap between, if you have a preference. The headband, while a little cheap-feeling, is also well-padded and will be comfortable to wear for long gaming sessions.

    Their warm sound profile is well-balanced and detailed, with a boost in the high-bass for boomier sound effects. However, these headphones lack a lot of low-bass and don't come with an adjustable EQ, which may be a deal breaker for some gamers looking to fine-tune their mix. While they don't sound as spacious as other headphones on this list, they still provide a more open-sounding listening experience than other typical gaming headphones.

    See our review

Notable Mentions

  • HiFiMan Ananda: The ฮ—iFiMan Ananda are audiophile headphones with a ski-band headband design. You may prefer it to the HiFiMan Edition XS' more conventional headband, which can feel heavy. Their passive soundstage is slightly better than the Edition XS, but their sound profile isn't as neutral. See our review
  • Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO: The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are lower mid-range headphones with a better build quality than the Philips Fidelio X2HR and a more excited sound thanks to their added high-bass, which some users may prefer. However, their passive soundstage isn't as immersive, and their audio cable isn't detachable, so if it gets damaged, you'll have to replace the entire unit. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 560S: The Sennheiser HD 560S are wired headphones with a fairly similar neutral sound as the Philips Fidelio X2HR. However, their passive soundstage doesn't feel as wide, and they have a worse build quality. See our review
  • Philips SHP9600: The Philips SHP9600 are similar to their predecessor, the Philips SHP9500, but they have a sleeker design and a slightly less neutral, more bass-heavy sound profile. See our review
  • Sennheiser Game One Gaming Headset: As a dedicated gaming headset, the Sennheiser Game One Gaming Headset is comfortable with a good passive soundstage performance. However, its sound profile is very light on low-bass, so your audio lacks rumble and body. See our review

Recent Updates

  1. Jan 05, 2023: Replaced our gaming pick with the Drop + Sennheiser PC38X and updated article text for relevance and clarity.

  2. Oct 13, 2022: We've added the HiFiMan Arya as the 'Best Upper Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones'. We've also added the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO to Notable Mentions.

  3. Jul 14, 2022: Added the HiFiMan Edition XS as the 'Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones'.

  4. Apr 22, 2022: We've checked our picks for accuracy and product availability. However, there hasn't been a change in our recommendations.

  5. Feb 22, 2022: Removed the HiFiMan Arya because the variant we tested isn't currently available.

All Reviews

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.

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