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 720 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.
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 aren't for everyone. You'll need a powerful amp to use them, which is an extra expense if you don't already have one. However, if you want to invest in the best, they create an outstanding passive soundstage that's natural, spacious, and open. Although they lack low-bass due to their open-back design, they have a touch of extra high-bass to add warmth back into the mix and a very neutral, versatile sound profile otherwise.
You might want headphones with planar magnetic drivers, like the HiFiMan Arya. This design allows them to reproduce low-bass more accurately and improves their soundstage. However, the trade-off is that planar magnetic headphones have a complex design, meaning performance can vary between units. It also makes them more heavy and bulky, but they still have a very comfortable fit for most people. Their soundstage seems more open, and they reproduce more thump and rumble than the Sennheiser but have a brighter treble response. It helps you spot imperfections in mixes but makes some sounds seem piercing.
Also, HiFiMan has re-released these headphones with some slight changes. Colloquially called 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 and don't feature this new magnet design. We haven't tested the V3 yet, and there may be some differences in performance.
If you want to save money here and there 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 or speaker-like compared to the previous, pricier picks. Their headband puts more pressure on your head than 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.
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 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 aren't piercing.
They create an open, spacious-seeming passive soundstage, but it doesn't seem as natural or out-of-head as the Edition XS. Thanks to their stretchy headband design, they're 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.
Audiophile headphones tend to take a hit in build quality at the lower mid-range price point, but the Philips Fidelio X2HR avoid that downside. They're mostly made of plastic but have 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 pricier 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.
Manufacturers tend to skimp out on quality build materials for budget headphones. While the Philips SHP9500 do fall victim to cheaper materials, they're still the best budget-friendly open-back headphones we've tested. They have a decent overall build, but their fabric padding feels prone to wear and tear over time, and the swiveling ear cups seem prone to breaking under moderate stress. Despite this, thanks to their roomy ear cups, they're still quite comfortable for long listening sessions.
These over-ears create a great passive soundstage that feels open and spacious. Although they lack low-bass, like most open-back headphones, they have a bump in the high-bass to help balance the range a bit more and add extra warmth to mixes. Their mid-range is also very flat and well-balanced, so vocals and lead instruments are natural, clear, and accurate.
While you can use each 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 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 the higher-end options on this list. However, you'll still get 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 from open-backs, they don't have companion software with sound customization features like an EQ. That's typical 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.
May 19, 2023: We've checked our picks for accuracy and product availability. However, there hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
Mar 06, 2023: Made the HiFiMan Arya an alternative to the Sennheiser HD 800 S instead of the 'Best Upper Mid-Range' recommendation to better reflect their place in the market. Added the HiFiMan Sundara 2020 as the 'Mid-Range' pick.
Jan 05, 2023: Replaced our gaming pick with the Drop + Sennheiser PC38X and updated article text for relevance and clarity.
Oct 13, 2022: We've added the HiFiMan Arya as the 'Best Upper Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones'. We've also added the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO to Notable Mentions.
Jul 14, 2022: Added the HiFiMan Edition XS as the 'Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones'.
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.