Open-back headphones reduce the level of isolation between you and your environment to deliver a more immersive listening experience than closed-back headphones can. They can usually produce a more spacious soundstage, which, when done right, can help give you the impression of listening to loudspeakers in a room instead of just on your head. However, their open design leaks a lot of sound, so they can be distracting to those around you, even if you don't listen to your music very loudly. They also usually don't come with many features, like a wireless design or a microphone. You'll want to check out our closed-back recommendations if you're listening for something more versatile for everyday use, but if sound quality is what you're after, you've come to the right place.
We've tested over 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best open-back headphones you can buy in 2020. See also our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones and the best headphones for music.
The best open-back headphones that we’ve tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. They’re extremely well-built with a durable yet premium design that feels ready to stand the test of time. They sound amazing and are very comfortable, which makes them perfect for long listening sessions.
These headphones have exception audio fidelity. Their bright, spacious sound is balanced enough for all genres of music but lends itself particularly well to jazz and classical music. They also have an outstandingly spacious yet natural soundstage that can make you forget you're listening to headphones and not a quality speaker setup.
While they're the best open headphones we’ve tested so far, they’re also remarkably expensive. You’ll also need a powerful 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, these headphones are hard to beat.
If you're looking for great-sounding open-back headphones that aren't as expensive, get the HiFiMan Ananda. They don't sound quite as spacious as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but their sound profile is similarly well-balanced and they cost significantly less. They're comfortable headphones with a large, natural soundstage and a very well-balanced sound profile that even packs a touch more bass than the Sennheiser. Unfortunately, HiFiMan don't have the same level of quality control as a brand like Sennheiser, and there have been a few reports of people having issues with their units. That said, if you get a properly functioning pair, they perform similarly to much more expensive headphones.
If you're looking for tried-and-true premium audiophile headphones, then get the Sennheiser. However, if you want to save some money and aren't worried about quality control issues, then the HiFiMan are worth considering.
The best open-back headphones for gaming we’ve tested so far are the Astro A40 TR + MixAmp Pro 2019. They’re very comfortable headphones with large, well-padded ear cups, which makes them suitable for long gaming sessions. They have a wired design that ensures a latency-free gaming experience, and they come with an outstanding USB dock that provides lots of connectivity options.
These headphones sound very good and their open-back design helps give them a more spacious soundstage than other gaming headsets we’ve tested. Their boom microphone is superb and works very well in noisy environments too. We even found the Xbox One variants also work on the PS4 while in PC mode. Note, however, that it's unlikely that the PS4 variants will work on the Xbox One.
While these headphones have a fairly balanced frequency response overall, they show a noticeable lack of detail and presence in the treble range. On the upside, they’re compatible with the Astro Command Center, where you can EQ their sound profile and assign custom EQ presets to their MixAmp. They’re great gaming headphones all-around and are especially well-suited to those who prefer an open-back design.
The best open-back headphones under $200 we’ve tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee. They’re the result of a collaboration between Sennheiser and Massdrop and can only be purchased from Drop’s website directly. They’re great critical listening headphones with excellent audio reproduction and provide very good value for their price.
These headphones have an impressively well-balanced sound, especially for the price. They pack a bit more bass than many open-back headphones we’ve tested, like the similarly-designed Sennheiser HD 600, without sounding too sharp or sibilant, like the AKG K702. Their soundstage is decent too, which is quite rare at this price point.
On the downside, their replacement cables can be a bit difficult to find online since they’re not a very common standard. They also don't have the most comfortable design - they clamp down rather tightly, and their large ear cups can extend past the jaw on those with smaller heads, which can be uncomfortable over time. That said, their price-to-performance ratio is rather exceptional, so if you don’t mind a tighter fit, they’re a great choice.
If you're looking for open-back headphones that more comfortable for longer listening sessions, then get the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. They don't sound quite as balanced as the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee, and they still fit rather tightly, but they have an overall more comfortable design. Their headband does a better job at distributing pressure across the top of your head while their circular earcups tend to give your ears a bit more room to breathe. However, some people find they sound a bit sharp or sibilant, especially on brighter tracks. This can differ from person-to-person, but it's still worth keeping in mind.
If you're sensitive to higher frequencies in the treble range, you're better off with the Sennheiser; if you're looking for something you can wear for longer without fatigue, go for the Beyerdynamic.
Open-back headphones are often associated with hi-fi audio equipment that's prohibitively expensive, but it's possible to experience this type of headphones at a budget price, like with the Philips SHP9500, the best budget open-back headphones we've tested so far. These headphones have a decent build quality that feels fairly sturdy and designed for maximum comfort. The headband is reinforced with metal, while the ear cups are well-padded and spacious.
Even at a budget price, these headphones perform remarkably well. They have an impressively well-balanced frequency response that makes vocals and instruments sound clear while still delivering a decent amount of punch. Another great thing about these headphones is that they're easy to drive, too. You shouldn't need a fancy amp - virtually any smartphone with an analog audio output will do just fine.
One aspect of these headphones that could use some improvement is the fabric coating on the ear cups. It feels a bit rough and could be bothersome if you have sensitive skin. They also lack quite a bit of bass, so they might not be ideal if you prefer more thump and rumble in your music. That said, if you want to experience what open-back headphones can do without spending a fortune, try the Philips.
If you're shopping on a very tight budget, the Superlux HD 681 are a unique semi-open option to consider. They feel cheaply made compared to the Philips SHP9500, but they're still decently comfortable thanks to their large ear cups and relaxed fit. Their semi-open design helps deliver more thump and rumble while maintaining a good amount of spaciousness in the sound. Vocals and leads are well-emphasized, but the treble can sound a bit sharp. Like open-back headphones, their noise isolation is practically non-existent and they leak a lot, so it's best to enjoy them in a quiet environment.
If you don't mind paying a bit more, the Philips are a better choice due to their build quality, but for the budget-conscious crowd, the Superlux remain a decent choice.
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.
03/06/2020: Verification for accuracy; only small updates to the text.