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The 6 Best Open Back Headphones - September 2018
Reviews

Best Open Back Headphones
266 Headphones Tested
  • Store-bought headphones; no cherry-picked units
  • Retest after major updates
  • Easily comparable results
  • No ads; unbiased reviews
Learn more about our approach to product reviews here.

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. 

  1. Best Open-Back Headphones: Sennheiser HD 800 S

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches: test

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    6.2
    Mixed Usage
    What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    8.5
    Critical Listening
    What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    4.8
    Commute/Travel
    What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    5.5
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    5.4
    Office
    What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.2
    Home Theater
    Score components:
    6.1
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    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.

    See our review

  2. Cheaper Alternative: HiFiMan Sundara

    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Planar Magnetic

    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.

    See our review

  3. Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches: test

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    6.0
    Mixed Usage
    What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    8.0
    Critical Listening
    What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    4.9
    Commute/Travel
    What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    5.7
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    5.3
    Office
    What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    6.0
    Home Theater
    Score components:
    5.9
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    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.

    See our review

  4. More Comfortable Alternative: AKG K702

    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    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. 

    See our review

  5. Best Budget Open-Back Headphones: Superlux HD 681

    Usage Ratings - Version 1.2

    Test Benches: test

    • 1.2: Winter 2018
    • 1.1: Summer 2017
    • 1.0: Winter 2017
    • 0.9: Winter 2016
    5.8
    Mixed Usage
    What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
    Score components:
    7.7
    Critical Listening
    What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
    Score components:
    4.7
    Commute/Travel
    What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
    Score components:
    5.4
    Sports/Fitness
    What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
    Score components:
    5.4
    Office
    What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
    Score components:
    5.9
    Home Theater
    Score components:
    5.7
    Gaming
    Score components:
    Type : Over-ear
    Enclosure : Semi-Open
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : No
    Transducer : Dynamic

    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.

    See our review

  6. On-ear and Portable Alternative: Koss Porta Pro

    Type : On-ear
    Enclosure : Open-Back
    Wireless : No
    Noise-Cancelling : No
    Mic : Yes
    Transducer : Dynamic

    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.

    See our review

Notable Mentions

  • Beyerdynamic DT 1990. A well-crafted and premium-looking open-back headphone with a good sound. Can sound a bit too sharp and piercing for some. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 700. Good, open sound and a spacious soundstage. They're a viable and cheaper alternative to the HiFiMan Sundara. 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
  • Philips SHP 9500. A great critical listening headphone for the price with a decent build quality and good comfort. Hard to find and will be discontinued soon . 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
  • 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
  • HiFiMan HE-400i.  They perform similarly to the Hifiman Sundara but have a weaker build quality and a slightly sharper sound. However, they are cheaper which could be a good option for some. See our review

All Reviews

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.

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