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The 6 Best Open-Back Headphones - Winter 2024 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 765 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 for sound but are an investment. You'll also need a powerful amp to use them, which is an extra expense if you don't already have one. However, if you want the best, they create an outstanding passive soundstage that's natural, spacious, and open. They also offer an excellent build quality and a very comfortable fit for most people, so you can listen for hours without experiencing much fatigue.

    Although they lack low-bass due to their open-back design, they have a touch of extra high-bass to add warmth to the mix. Instruments and vocals sound clear and natural, and overall, they have a neutral sound profile that's suitable for a variety of genres. However, if you want more bass, you might want headphones with planar magnetic drivers, like the HiFiMan Arya. Their design allows them to reproduce low-bass more accurately and improves their soundstage. The trade-off is the complex design of planar magnetic drivers, meaning performance is more likely to vary between units. Their treble response is also brighter than the Sennheiser's, and while it helps you spot imperfections in mixes, certain sounds seem piercing.

    Also, HiFiMan has re-released these headphones with some slight changes. Known as 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; they don't feature this new magnet design. We haven't tested the V3 yet, and there may be some differences in performance.

    See our review

  2. Best Upper Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones

    If you want to save money but don't want to sacrifice a planar magnetic design, the HiFiMan Edition XS are worth checking out. They aren't as well-built or as comfortable for most people as the HiFiMan Arya or the Sennheiser HD 800 S. Still, if you're seeking neutral sound, they have a more balanced treble response than the Arya, so sibilants like hi-hats are bright but not piercing. Voices and lead instruments are also present, detailed, and clear.

    The headphones also create a soundstage that seems wide and fairly natural. However, it doesn't seem as natural speaker-like as the pricier headphones listed here. Their headband puts more pressure on your head than the other HiFiMan headphones recommended here, which can become uncomfortable during long listening sessions. That said, they have consistent audio delivery, so you don't need to worry too much about their sound changing depending on the headphones' fit and positioning on your head.

    See our review

  3. Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones

    The best mid-range open-back headphones we've tested are the HiFiMan Sundara 2020. These are another pair of planar magnetic headphones with a comfortable, sturdy design, like the HiFiMan Edition XS. They're quite a bit cheaper, and the downside is they reproduce less low and mid-bass, so your audio lacks more rumble and punch compared to the previous pick. That said, their neutral high-bass response ensures your audio has warmth and fullness, and the rest of the range is very well-balanced, with detailed and bright instruments that don't sound piercing.

    They create an open, spacious-seeming passive soundstage, but it doesn't seem as natural or out-of-head as the Edition XS. Their stretchy headband design makes them more comfortable for most people. However, they're also more prone to inconsistent audio delivery, so you might need to reposition them to get the same sound every time you wear them.

    See our review

  4. Best Lower Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones

    Audiophile headphones tend to take a hit in build quality at the lower mid-range price point, but the Philips Fidelio X2HR avoid that pitfall. They have a good build quality, with some metal elements to help make the design more durable. That said, they use dynamic drivers, which is typical at this price point, and in this case, it affects the headphones' passive soundstage performance. While their soundstage performance is still very good, it doesn't seem as wide or immersive as higher-priced options like the HiFiMan Edition XS.

    Like most open-back headphones, their sound lacks low-bass, but there's a bit of overemphasis in the mid-to-high bass range that adds a bit of extra warmth and boom. The rest of the response is neutral, so voices and instruments are reproduced accurately. They have a more comfortable fit than the Edition XS for most people, thanks to the self-adjusting stretchy headband that helps distribute their weight.

    See our review

  5. Best Budget Open-Back Headphones

    If you want to dip your toes into the world of open-backs without breaking the bank, try the Superlux HD 681. These entry-level over-ears are semi-open-back headphones. This design allows them to leak less audio than fully open-backs like the Philips Fidelio X2HR and block out slightly more ambient sound, although you'll still hear most sound around you. At the same time, they can create an open, wide, and immersive soundstage.

    These comfortable headphones have a fairly neutral sound and reproduce more low-bass than other picks on this list. While vocals and instruments are clear and natural, sibilants like hi-hats are piercing. Since they're budget-level cans, their build quality isn't very good, and they feel plasticky. For more durable headphones, it's worth considering the Philips SHP9600, which are better-built and fully open-back but have a less neutral sound profile.

    See our review

  6. Best Open-Back Headphones For Gaming

    While you can use any of the previous picks for gaming, if you don't have a standalone mic or are looking for headphones with a built-in mic, it's worth considering the Drop + Sennheiser/EPOS PC38X instead. Their great boom mic makes your voice clear and natural over team chat. They can also create a wider and more spacious-seeming passive soundstage than most closed-back gaming headsets, although it won't feel as natural as what you get from the higher-end audiophile options on this list. That said, they still create an immersive audio experience.

    They're very comfortable and even come with a choice of microfiber or velour ear cup padding, which is nice if you have a preference. Their sound profile is well-balanced, with a bump in the high-bass range that can help bring out boomy sound effects in games. While they lack low-bass, which is normal for open-backs, they don't have companion software with sound customization features like an EQ. That's normal for audiophile headphones but less for gaming headsets and might bother gamers who are used to fine-tuning their audio. If you don't need the mic, headphones like the Philips Fidelio X2HR work with most consoles via analog connection and have a better passive soundstage performance.

    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 they reproduce less bass. See our review
  • Philips SHP9500: The Philips SHP9500 are the predecessor to the Philips SHP9600 and have been a popular choice for budget open-backs. While they're discontinued, they're worth checking out if you can get a hold of them, as they offer a slightly more balanced sound profile than their successor. 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
  • 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 compared to the Drop + Sennheiser/EPOS PC38X, so your audio lacks rumble and body. See our review

Recent Updates

  1. Jan 08, 2024: We've replaced the Philips SHP9500 with the Superlux HD681 as the Philips have been discontinued. We've moved them to the Notable Mentions since they're still well-known and popular.

  2. Nov 07, 2023: We've verified that the picks represent the best recommendations in each category and that they're easy to find in stock.

  3. Sep 12, 2023: Made minor updates to the text and checked that the products are in stock.

  4. Jul 14, 2023: Made minor updates to the text and verified that the products are available.

  5. May 19, 2023: We've checked our picks for accuracy and product availability. However, there hasn't been a change in our recommendations.

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.