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 33 open-back headphones and below are our recommendations for the best ones you can buy in 2018.
The best open back headphones we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. 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 more affordable alternative to the HD 800 S, but their audio reproduction is not as good and will sound a bit too sharp on S and T sounds and already bright tracks.
If you want an excellent sounding pair of open-back headphones that are cheaper than the Sennheiser HD 800 S, then consider the HiFiMan Sundara. They do not quite sound as good as the HD 800 S and their build quality is not the most durable and may be prone to defects in their quality control. However, they're comfortable, planar magnetic headphones that deliver a well-balanced audio reproduction and a spacious soundstage. They're better-built and sound more balanced than the older generation HiFiMan HE-400i and would also be a great alternative to the Edition X if you're on a budget.
The Sundara are easily one of the best sounding open-back headphones that we've measured so far, and they have a premium design with an all-metal build. Unfortunately, Hifiman's quality control is pretty poor, so some units may have defects with their drivers after a couple months of use.
If you want a good sound critical listening headphone below 200$, the best open-back headphones we've tested in the mid-range category are the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro. They deliver in the sound department with a well balanced and open audio reproduction that packs a decent amount of bass for an open-back headphone.
They're incredibly well-built for their price. They also sound a bit less sharp than the higher-end DT 1990. However, they won't have an as open soundstage as the more premium model and do not come with as many accessories or replaceable parts.
On the upside, they're a great entry level recommendation for any audio enthusiast, especially if you can EQ them, and they're cheaper than some of the more popular audiophile headphones we've tested, like the Sennheiser HD 650 and the AKG K702 for an equally great if not better sound quality.
If you want a more comfortable pair of open headphones that sounds as good as the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro, then get the AKG K702 instead. These headphones 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 Beyerdynamic. They have 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.
The best open-back headphones we've tested in the budget category are the Superlux HD 681. They are not the best-built headphones and feel a lot cheaper and less durable than the mid-range options on this list, which is somewhat expected at their budget price. On the upside, they deliver a surprisingly well-balanced audio reproduction that delivers a good amount of bass and a decently spacious soundstage thanks to the semi-open ear cups.
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 SHP9500, but within their price range, they're very difficult to beat.
If you want a more portable open-back headphone at around the same price range of the Superlux HD 681, then get the Koss Porta Pro instead. Their on-ear design won't be for everyone, and they have a thin metal build quality that's not very durable. On the upside, they are one of the most comfortable on-ears we've tested. They're also portable enough to fit into some pockets and they have a decently well-balanced sound with a surprisingly spacious soundstage for an on-ear design, thanks to their open-back ear cups.
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.