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 are not 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 287 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 we’ve tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. Since they’re critical listening headphones, they’re wired and don’t have any active features or a microphone. They’re designed for listening to music in a quiet room and deliver exceptional audio fidelity that doesn't disappoint.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S sound amazing. They have a bright, spacious sound profile 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 the HD 800 S are the best-sounding headphones we’ve tested so far, they’re also exorbitantly expensive. You’ll also need a good 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, the HD 800 S are hard to beat.
If you want an open-back design that sounds as good as the Sennheiser HD 800 S at a cheaper price point, get the HiFiMan Ananda. They're not as well-built or as premium-looking as the HD 800 S, and despite their planar magnetic drivers and very open ear cups, they do not quite sound as spacious as the Sennheisers. However, this may be due to the HD 800 S sounding a bit brighter overall.
On the upside, the Anandas pack a bit more bass and deliver a balanced audio reproduction that sounds great with any track. Their build quality is also better than the older Edition X model, and more closely resembles the HiFiMan Sundara, so they should last longer and have fewer issues with their yokes/hinges. As long as their build quality holds up, the Anandas are a great choice for any audiophile, and a slightly better value for your money than the Sennheisers.
If you want good sounding open critical listening headphones below $200, then get the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. They do not sound as spacious as the Sennheiser HD 800 S or the HiFiMan Ananda. Their sound can also be a bit sharp for some, especially on already bright tracks.
On the upside, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are incredibly well-built headphones for their price. They also deliver a great sound that's near neutral in the mid-range and does a great job with instruments and vocals. They even pack a bit more bass than typical open-back models, making them a good choice for bass-heavy genres too (see our recommendations for the best bass headphones).
Unfortunately, they can be a little tight on the head, which won't be as comfortable for all listeners, and their cable is not removable, unlike that of the more premium DT 1990 PRO. On the upside, the 990 PROs sound as good than the higher end model and cost way less.
If you’re looking for more comfortable headphones than the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO but still want to get great audio reproduction, then go with the AKG K702 instead. They don’t have the build quality of the Beyerdynamics and can sound a little bass-light, which won't be as exciting for bass-heavy genres, but on the upside, they're incredibly well-padded and a lot more comfortable for long listening sessions.
The K702 are slightly more expensive than the DT 990 PRO, but they have a more balanced treble range and won’t sound as piercing on already bright tracks. They’re also cheaper than the similar K712 PRO for almost identical performance, except for the added cable option of the higher-end model. This makes them a great choice if you’re looking for great performance to price ratio.
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 well-built like the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO and aren’t as comfortable as the AKG K702, but they have very impressive sound for the price.
The HD 681 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, the Superlux HD 681 are cheaply made and it is apparently 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 that they’re still quite comfortable.
If you want portable open-back headphones and don’t mind the on-ear fit, then get the Koss Porta Pro. They won’t have the same great audio reproduction of the Superlux HD 681, but they are fairly comfortable and offer a decent control scheme, which the Superlux lacks. They fold into a more portable format that can fit in some larger pockets, making them a somewhat decent option for music on the go while traveling or commuting, although they won't block much noise. They're also are very lightweight headphones and barely put any pressure on the head, so they're comfortable to wear for long listening sessions.
Unfortunately, they don’t have the best build quality and the thin metal frame feels flimsy. There’s also a wireless variant of these headphones, but the Bluetooth connection isn’t the best and they are a bit more expensive than the regular Koss Porta Pro. On the upside, the wired variant is easy to use, sound above average, and won’t have any latency issues when watching videos thanks to the wired connection.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best open-back headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one 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.