Open-back headphones deliver an immersive listening experience through their unique design. As they lower the level of isolation 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. On the downside, 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 and these headphones perform best in a quiet room. Open-back headphones lack additional features like a microphone or wireless design, which can hurt their versatility. 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 450 pairs 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 we've tested so far. They feature an eye-catching design and feel very durable, with a metal and high-grade plastic construction. Thanks to their spacious ear cups, lined in a premium-feeling suede-like material, they deliver a very consistent listening experience, regardless of their wearer’s head shape.
Their sound profile is very neutral, with impressive treble accuracy and extremely even mids; vocals, lead-instruments, and any other higher-frequency sounds will be very clear. That said, fans of bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop might prefer a little more thump and kick. Thankfully, they provide a very large, spacious, and natural soundstage.
Unfortunately, their very high price puts them out of reach for most. Their bulky design also means that listeners with smaller heads might find them a little too cumbersome to wear for extended periods. Finally, if you want to get the most from these headphones, you’ll need an amplifier. If none of that presents an issue, then these are an excellent pair of open-ear headphones, capable of providing an outstanding critical listening experience with excellent build quality.
If you're looking for open-back headphones with a great, immersive sound at a less steep price, check out the HiFiMan Ananda. They slightly lack in build quality and soundstage when compared to the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but have a similarly well-balanced sound profile for a considerably lower price. They're still very comfortable and even have a bit more bass than the Sennheiser. However, they can have inconsistent quality control and a few users report that they have issues with their units. Still, if you can get a properly functioning pair, these headphones can give you a great listening experience that's on par with other more expensive over-ears.
If you're looking for premium headphones that can give you a unique and immersive listening experience, get the Sennheiser. However, if you're looking for something more wallet-friendly and aren't worried about quality control issues, then check out the HiFiMan.
The best open-back headphones for gaming we’ve tested so far are the Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro 2019. These comfortable open-back headphones come in both PS4 and Xbox One variants and are designed to give you an immersive gameplay experience, especially over long gaming sessions.
Their spacious, well-padded ear cups feel soft on the skin while their wired design helps to keep you in the game without worrying about battery life or lag. They also have a USB dock that offers a variety of connectivity options. Their added bass can also add more vibrancy to your gameplay as it can make gunshots and explosions sound boomier. If you like to shotcall while you play, the boom microphone is superb too, even in noisy environments.
While their sound profile lacks detail and presence because of their reduced treble, they luckily come with a companion software called the Astro Command Center, which makes it easy to EQ this sound to your liking. You can even assign custom EQ presets to the MixAmp. If you're looking for open-backed headphones to help immerse you in your game, these are a solid choice.
The best open-back headphones under $200 we’ve tested so far are the Philips Fidelio X2HR. These open-back headphones have a premium, stylish design and feel quite sturdy, thanks to their dense plastic construction. With large, spacious ear cups and generous amounts of padding, they’re comfortable enough to wear through the longest listening sessions.
Their sound profile is very well-balanced, with faithfully reproduced bass and treble. Mid accuracy is outstanding, ensuring clear, distinct vocals and lead instruments without any muddiness or clutter. They also have a very good passive soundstage, providing a large, spacious, and natural listening experience that successfully emulates an open speaker setup.
On the downside, they aren’t especially stable on the head, as even small head movements might cause them to slip. In addition, they only ship with a 10-foot TRS cable, which, while convenient for some setups, is not always manageable for traveling. Other than that, these are a great pair of open-back headphones, offering sturdy-feeling build quality and a very balanced sound profile at a relatively affordable price.
If you’re looking for a pair of open-back headphones under $200 with a less bulky design than the Philips Fidelio X2HR, then consider the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee. Their sound profile isn’t quite as well-balanced as the Philips’ and they aren’t nearly as comfortable, but they’re lighter and have a sleeker design that’s less likely to slip around. Since they’re a collaboration between Sennheiser and Massdrop, they can only be purchased on the Drop website, although they offer a great price-to-performance ratio.
If you’re looking for a comfortable, relatively affordable set of open-back headphones, get the Philips, but if you prefer a tighter fit and want a less bulky design, then the Sennheiser are a great choice.
The best budget open-back headphones we've tested so far are the Philips SHP9500. Although the open-back design can be associated with a high price tag due to their audiophile features, these headphones offer good performance at an affordable price.
Even at their price point, these headphones deliver a great neutral sound that's spacious and well-balanced. They produce a surprisingly good soundstage that's open, although still somewhat small and narrow, and they're easy to drive so you don't need a fancy amp to get the best sound from them. Their comfortable, durable design also makes it easy to wear these headphones for long periods.
On the downside, these headphones lack in low-bass and they don't have a companion app to EQ for it. The fabric coating on the ear cups can also feel a bit rough to the touch and can bother users with sensitive skin. Still, their performance is impressive at this price point and they're a good option for those who want to try open-back headphones at a more affordable price.
If you're really limited in your budget, the Superlux HD 681 are an even more affordable, semi-open option to consider. While they feel more cheaply built in comparison to the Philips SHP9500, they're still decently comfortable. Their semi-open fit still manages to create a spacious soundstage while leaking slightly less sound. Their sound profile also produces good presence for vocals and lead instruments although the treble can be bright and piercing.
If you don't mind paying a few dollars more, the Philips are a better choice if you're looking for something more comfortable with better build quality; however, if you're on a tight budget, the Superlux are a cost-effective choice.
07/03/2020: Changed pick for 'Best Open-Back Headphones Under $200' to Philips Fidelio X2HR, moved Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee to 'Less Bulky Alternative' category and Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO to 'Notable Mentions'. Minor changes to text for accuracy and clarity.
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.