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 350 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.
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.
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, these are a great choice for any audiophile, and may even provide slightly better value for your money than the Sennheiser.
The best open-back headphones for gaming are 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.
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, too.
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’re looking for solid critical listening headphones that feel built to last, then get the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. They don’t have a detachable cable like the Sennheiser HD 58x Jubilee, but they still feel more durable. They have a removable headband that you can replace if ever it gets damaged or worn down with time, and there’s more metal in their build which makes them feel sturdier overall.
While these headphones have excellent audio reproduction, they can sound a little sharp to some people, especially on brighter tracks. The Jubilee sound a bit more balanced in the treble range and also have less total harmonic distortion. That said, the Beyerdynamic are more comfortable and are more widely available for purchase. If you’re sensitive to sibilance or peaks in treble and don’t mind tighter-fitting headphones, get the Sennheiser, but if you prefer comfort and durability go for the Beyerdynamic.
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 ear cups 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.
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.
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.