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).
So far, we've tested 27 open-back headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ones you can buy in 2018.
Best Open-Back Headphones: Sennheiser HD 800 S
The best open back headphones we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800S. They are specifically designed to deliver a comfortable and accurate listening experience. If you consider yourself a critical listener or an audiophile who refuses to compromise on sound quality, then the HD 800S will not disappoint.
They’re sturdy and comfortable headphones that deliver a well-balanced frequency response and a large and spacious soundstage. The Sennheiser HD 700 are a good and more affordable alternative to the HD 800S but they do not sound quite as good.
Cheaper Alternative: HiFiMan HE-400i
If you want an excellent sounding pair of headphone that's cheaper than the Sennheiser HD 800 S, then consider the HiFiMan HE-400i. They're comfortable, planar magnetic headphones that deliver a well-balanced audio reproduction and a spacious soundstage.
Their suggested retail price is a bit higher than the Sennheiser HD 650 but they're often on sale and sound slightly better thanks to their planar magnetic drivers.
Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
For a mid-range option, we recommend the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro. They deliver in the sound department and are incredibly well-built for their price.
They tend to be a bit tight on some heads, but are a suitable recommendation for most audiophiles. They're also cheaper than the Sennheiser HD 600 and the AKG K702 for an equally great if not better sound quality.
More Comfortable Alternative: AKG K702
If you want a more comfortable pair of open headphones that sound as good as the Beyerdynamic DT 990, then get the AKG K702 instead. They are a bit more expensive than the DT 990 and have a slightly worse build quality, but they’re a lot more comfortable.
If you wear your headphones for very long listening sessions, then the AKG K702 are a better option than the DT990 with a well-balanced audio reproduction and a spacious and open soundstage. They're also a lot cheaper than the AKG K712 for about the same sound quality.
Best Budget Open-Back Headphones: Philips SHP9500
The Philips SHP 9500 are the best budget headphones for critical listening we've tested so far. They’re not made from the fanciest or sturdiest of materials, but they feel durable enough that you would not worry if you dropped them by accident. They’re comfortable, have an excellent soundstage and they are the best budget critical headphones that we’ve reviewed so far.
Cheaper Alternative: Superlux HD 681
Like the Philips SHP9500, the Superlux HD 681 deliver a surprisingly well-balanced audio reproduction for their price range. If you're looking for a good audiophile quality headphone but are on a tight budget, then they should be your go-to option.
They're cheaper and more comfortable than the Superlux HD 668B, which are already pretty affordable headphones but they do not come with a detachable audio cable. They're also not as comfortable or as well built as the Philips, but within their price range, they're very difficult to beat.
- Sennheiser HD 700. Good, open sound and a spacious soundstage. They're a viable and cheaper alternative to the HiFiMan HE-400i. See our review
- Sennheiser HD 599. Open sound and a spacious soundstage. Comfortable lightweight design. Not as well built as the Sennheiser HD 700 but cheaper than the HD 650 for a similar sound. See our review
- AKG K712 Pro. Comfortable design and excellent sound quality. Comes with more accessories than the AKG K702 but they're considerably more expensive. See our review
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X. Above average sound and unique design. They look and feel a bit cheap for their price. See our review
- Bose SoundSport In-Ear. Comfortable and open in-ear fit. Lightweight and stable headphones for sports use, but they lack a lot of bass. See our review
- Grado SR80e. Good-sounding on-ear headphones with a unique design. However, they're not very durable and may sound a little sharp. See our review
- Koss Porta Pro. A compact and portable on-ear headphone with a good sound but a flimsy build quality. See our review
- Apple Airpods. Versatile mixed usage headphone with a sleek and well-designed build quality. But a mediocre sound and limited availability. See our review
- Sennheiser Game One. A gaming headset with an open and well-balanced sound. A bit pricey for what they have to offer. See our review
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.