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 590 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best open-back headphones you can buy. If you're still looking for headphones, take a look at our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones and the best headphones for music.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S are the best open-back headphones that we've tested. These well-built headphones are an amazing choice for neutral sound. They're also impressively comfortable, which means you won't feel fatigued after wearing them for longer periods.
Out-of-the-box, they have a very neutral, balanced sound profile that's suitable for listening to lots of different types of audio content. Thanks to their open-back design, they have an outstanding passive soundstage performance, so you feel immersed in your favorite music. Thanks to their wired-only design, you don't have to worry about them running out of battery during your long listening sessions, which is nice.
Unfortunately, like many open-back headphones, they struggle to reproduce a thumpy low-bass, which may be disappointing if you love bass-heavy music like EDM. Also, they lack sound customization features or a microphone for phone calls. However, if you want to feel immersed in an open, spacious-sounding soundstage, they're a solid choice.
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, the HiFiMan can deliver slightly more low-bass, thanks to their design. Just like the Sennheiser, they have a very neutral sound profile with a touch of extra brightness, a spacious and immersive soundstage, and can reproduce audio quite consistently. They also have a comfortable fit for long days in the studio and still feel quite durable overall. However, as they're audiophile headphones, they lack more casual-use features like call and music controls or a microphone.
Try the Sennheiser if you want a premium build quality and extra accessories like a carrying pouch. However, if you're looking for headphones that can reproduce a bit more low-bass by design, check out the HiFiMan Arya.
The best open-back headphones for gaming that 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 sleek headphones have a spacious and natural soundstage that can help immerse you in your favorite audio. They also have good build quality, and their audio cable is detachable, so you can easily replace it if it gets damaged.
These headphones have a very accurate and neutral sound profile that makes vocals and lead instruments sound clear and detailed. Like most open-back headphones, they struggle to reproduce a thumpy-low bass, but they have a slight bump in the mid to high-bass to help add a bit of warmth and boom to your mixes. They also have a very comfortable fit with well-padded ear cups and an automatically adjusting headband, which is great for long listening sessions.
Unfortunately, they're a bit prone to inconsistent treble delivery, so you may need to adjust their fit and positioning each time you use them to get a more consistent sound. They're also not very versatile as they don't block out almost any background noise, and they leak a lot of audio at high volumes. That said, if you're looking for more wallet-friendly open-back headphones, they offer a neutral sound and a comfortable fit suitable for audiophiles.
If you're looking for more sturdy and premium open-back headphones, consider the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. While their sound profile isn't as neutral as that of the Philips Fidelio X2HR and they aren't as comfortable, the Beyerdynamics are better-built. Their headband has a metal frame that feels rugged while the ear cups are spacious and well-padded. They deliver a bit more high-bass than the Philips, which adds a bit of boom to your mixes, and their treble range makes sibilants bright, although a bit piercing. They also come with a soft pouch to help protect your headphones from dust when you're not using them.
If you're looking for a more immersive audio experience and prefer a more neutral overall sound profile, take a look at the Philips. However, if you prioritize a more solid and premium build quality, check out the Beyerdynamic instead.
The Philips SHP9500 are the best budget open-back headphones that we've tested. These affordable over-ears are very comfortable, thanks to their spacious, well-padded ear cups and lightweight build. While they're straightforward, they offer great value for their neutral sound performance.
They have an impressively well-balanced sound profile, and although they struggle to produce low-bass like many open-back headphones, they're suitable for a variety of audio content. Their mid-range is neutral, so vocals and lead instruments sound present and accurate. They have a spacious and open soundstage, so audio feels like it's coming from out in front of you rather than from inside your head, which results in a more immersive experience.
Unfortunately, their low price point is reflected in their build quality. They feel very plasticky, and the fabric padding could be more prone to wear and tear over time. They're also bulky and lack a carrying case or pouch to help protect them when not in use. However, if you're shopping on a budget and you don't mind their plastic design, they're a suitable choice for those who like neutral sound.
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.
Feb 19, 2021: Minor changes to the text for accuracy; no changes in product picks after verifying their accuracy and availability.
Dec 23, 2020: Added the Sennheiser HD 560S to Notable Mentions.
Oct 30, 2020: Replaced Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee with Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro due to current availability. Added Grado The Hemp Headphone and Philips SHP9600 to Notable Mentions.
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.