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 645 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best open-back headphones 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 that we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These well-built wired headphones have an incredible passive soundstage that's perceived to be large, natural, and spacious. As a result, it seems more like audio is coming from speakers placed in front of you rather than from inside your head.
These headphones have a fairly neutral sound profile that's suitable for listening to lots of different types of audio content. Vocals and lead instruments are reproduced clearly; however, like most open-back headphones, they lack a bit of punch and thump in the bass range. Fortunately, they have a very comfortable fit, so you can enjoy long listening sessions without feeling a lot of fatigue.
Unfortunately, these headphones don't offer any sound customization features, and fans of bass-heavy genres like EDM may be disappointed by the lack of thumpy low-bass. Also, their wired-only design may be limiting for listeners who don't want to worry about tangled cables. That said, these headphones are still a solid choice for fans of neutral sound.
If you prefer headphones with a planar magnetic transducer, consider the HiFiMan Arya. While the Sennheiser HD 800 S are better-built and come with an extra audio cable as well as a 1/4" to 1/8" adapter, these headphones can deliver slightly more low-bass, thanks to their design. These well-built, comfortable headphones also have a fantastic passive soundstage performance, resulting in a sound image that's perceived to be wide, spacious, and natural-sounding. Their sound profile is also neutral, so they're suitable for listening to lots of different types of audio content. That said, they still don't reproduce as much low-bass as closed-back headphones.
If you want better-built headphones that come with an additional cable, check out the Sennheiser. However, if you prefer a planar magnetic transducer, consider the HiFiMan instead.
The best open-back headphones for gaming we’ve tested are the Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro 2019. Thanks to their relatively open soundstage and great stereo imaging performance, they should provide a highly immersive gaming experience. They're very well-built and quite comfortable, with generously padded ear cups and a headband that effectively distributes their weight.
These over-ears come in PC/PS4 and Xbox One compatible variants, so you can find a model to suit your needs. Their MixAmp controller is a hugely convenient addition for gamers, as it allows you to adjust volume and chat mixing, cycle EQ presets, and enable Dolby Surround Sound on the fly. Their boom microphone makes your voice sound clear, full-bodied, and mostly free of background noise, even in loud environments.
Their sound profile is well-balanced, except for their uneven treble response. Thankfully, you can adjust it via a graphic EQ or audio presets in their Astro Command Center companion software. If you're looking for gaming headphones that can allow you to immerse yourself fully in your game while still offering a wide variety of configuration options, these are a good choice.
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.
That said, they have a very bulky design that isn't very portable. They're also not very versatile as their open-back design means they won't block out any background noise, and they leak lots of audio. However, they're a suitable choice if you're looking for more affordable audiophile headphones.
If you want even better-built open-back headphones at this price point, consider the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. While they don't feel as comfortable as the Philips Fidelio X2HR, the Beyerdynamic have a metal frame design that feels sturdier and premium. They have a fair passive soundstage performance, which sounds natural, spacious, and open. Their sound profile is also a bit more excited as a large bump in the high-bass adds boom to your audio while sibilants like cymbals are bright. While this sound can be a bit piercing, some users may prefer this as it allows you to better hear imperfections in your audio. However, their audio cable isn't detachable, meaning if it gets damaged, you need to replace the entire unit.
Try the Philips if you're looking for more comfortable and neutral-sounding headphones. However, if you value build quality over all else, check out the Beyerdynamic instead.
The best budget open-back headphones that we've tested are the Philips SHP9500. These wallet-friendly headphones have a very good passive soundstage that feels open, spacious, and immersive. They also have a very comfortable fit that's well-padded and lightweight.
These headphones have a very well-balanced sound profile that's neutral enough to suit most kinds of audio content. Their mid-range is outstandingly flat, so vocals and lead instruments are reproduced clearly and accurately. Although most open-back headphones struggle to reproduce low-bass, and these are no exception, they also have a touch of extra boom to their sound, thanks to a slight bump in their high-bass.
Unfortunately, they have a plasticky build, and the fabric padding could easily rip over time, which is a little disappointing. They also lack a carrying case or pouch to help protect them when you're on the go. However, they offer a great neutral sound performance for users shopping on a budget.
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.
Aug 17, 2021: No changes in product picks after verifying their accuracy and availability.
Jun 18, 2021: Minor updates to the text. We also verified product availability.
Apr 20, 2021: Removed the Superlux HD 681 as they're currently unavailable. Also replaced the HiFiMan Ananda with the HiFiMan Arya as the Arya offer a better value to most users.
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.