There has been a great increase in high fidelity capable audio content lately. With the mainstream global availability of Spotify, YouTube Music, Deezer, and other such music platforms more and more people are prone to good audio. Also, with games increasingly implementing better sound engine and encoding, the lust for headphones to reproduce the exact quality of the audio has increased exponentially.
This surge in popularity has caused open back headphones to take the main stage due to their excellent audio reproduction capabilities. Today in the market there are a plethora of options to choose from ranging from your traditional dynamic headphones to magnetic planer ones. In this article, our main focus is to highlight the best open back headphones for each scenario to assist you in making a better decision and also taking the research burden of your shoulder. But before we dive into the list let us look at the important aspects of open back headphones.
The Best Open Back Headphones for 2020 – Top 15 Product List
What are Open Back Headphones?
Simply put open-back headphones are a set of cans that have unsealed back of the earcup. The drivers are not closed off and the sound can leak. This ensures ample sound width and soundstage that are a trademark of open back headphones. Open back headphones tend to have a very distant but clear detailed sound like you would hear in a studio environment. Due to this reason, they are widely popular.
Buyer’s Guide – The Best Open Back Headphones
Two open back headphones can’t be completely similar in every regard and aspect. Similarly, it is important to understand various features of different headphones to differentiate among the headphones based on your preference. Below are listed all the various features and technical mark up of different headphones.
How to Choose the Best Open back Headphones
There are a lot of things that are to be considered when picking the best open back headphones for their defined categories. Sound is of course the most important culprit but comfort, build quality, quality of the supplied cable, and the ability of a headphone to be open to mods are also important aspects that play a role in deciding the best headphone. Below we have listed the things which should be considered in each category.
1) Frequency Response
Frequency response is the measure of how different sound frequencies are produced by a certain headphone. In this regard, no headphone is the same and each caters to a specific type or genre. Similarly, people have different preferences and tastes when it comes to their ideal listening experience so it is very important here to understand which frequency you want to prioritize over another if any. The common rundown of the different frequencies are as follows:
- Bass: This is the spectrum where all the low-end frequencies reside. All the thumps and rumbles are contained here. An example of sound is a drum sound hitting amid the track. Most open-back headphones do not have a prominent bass as it overpowers other frequencies and is hard to balance. Most do have a detailed bass which can be amped a bit to bring the headphone to life.
- Mid-Range: This is the sweet range of the frequency spectrum. The vocals are a prominent part of this frequency. This is the part that can either make or break a headphone and your experience with it. The mid-range should be as natural as possible and not recessed or kept forward.
- Treble: This spectrum represents all the high-pitched sounds or tones. Example being all your guitar and strings. The treble is where a good sound headphone can be separated from a mediocre one. As for the treble response it should be well managed but pushed forward a bit to improve clarity and imaging. It should not be too bright though or else the headphone can sound very itchy and irritating over a long period of listening.
Headphones implement different drivers to produce sound. There are many different drivers but this broad category can be divided into two subcategories that are Dynamic Headphones and Magnetic planer headphones. Just like the name suggests magnetic planers use magnets to produce a detailed sound while dynamic headphones used traditional means of producing sound.
Lately, magnetic planer headphones are gaining a lot of popularity for their razor-sharp sound precision. It is not to say dynamic headphones are bad but rather planer headphones can produce a lot more detailed sound. Dynamic headphones still hold their value when it comes to smoothness and just a relaxing experience which planer headphones can not pull off.
What this means for you is to look for headphone which suits your needs the best. If you are someone who likes to blast music all the time magnetic planer might not be a good option for you as they can get tiring for a long period of use.
This is pretty straight forward if a headphone is not comfortable after the break-in period then it’s not the headphone you should be using. Many factors contribute to the comfort aspect of a given headphone. First and foremost is the material used for the earpad. It can range from fabric to leather and everything in between. If you are sensitive to a certain material there might be some workarounds like replacing earpads but the general rule is to avoid that particular headphone. Earpad depth is also something to glance at. The depth should be optimal for your ear size and your ears should not touch the drivers.
Next up is the headband. There are mainly two types of headbands a fixed style headband and a spring-suspended headband. Both have their pros and cons but generally go for something which has plenty of padding. Also, consider the head clamp of the headphone. Some headphones have a really tight clamp and will cause fatigue over a long period of use.
4) Build Quality
This refers to the general build of the headphone and the materials used for making it. People who buy a pair of open-back headphones tend to keep them for a long time so checking the build quality of the headphone is very important. The materials used on the headphone should be capable of lasting a long time. Also, you should check for any creaking which the headphone might exhibit when stretched. All well-made headphones have metal construction and have great stress management.
5) Quality of cable
This is another factor that can be easily overlooked. A good quality cable can make the whole experience with the headphone much better and enjoyable. The are many sorts of materials used for cables. Some are better while others are worse. Also, some headphones come with a detachable cable which is a big plus. If the cable fails it can be easily replaced with an aftermarket cable without any hassle. As a consumer, you should look into headphones with a good quality kink-free cable which is detachable and easily replaceable.
6) Ability to Mod
This is more or less quality of life commodity. Later down the line headphones are prone to problems like the earpads getting coarse or ripped or the headband getting saggy little things like that. Not having glued earpads makes a huge difference when swapping old earpads for new ones. Likewise having the ability to strip the headphone easily also comes in handy for repairs or replacements. In this category, there is also the ability to mod for better sound quality. If a headphone has the ability to eliminate little flaws in sound quality with eq settings it becomes very convenient.
The Best Open Back Headphones for 2020 – Our Picks and Recommendations1
Sennheiser HD 800 S – Best Dynamic Open Back Headphone
Kicking off the list and the best dynamic headphone money can buy is none other than Sennheiser HD 800 S. The HD 800 name has been engraved in the open back headphone industry for a long time and with this new iteration of a classic formula has made it even better.
Starting with the build quality. This headphone has mainly plastic build but it is very well made. The joints are robust and exhibit no creaking noise. The headband adjustment is smooth and the earcup movement is also precise and tight. The finish of the plastic is also excellent and it feels premium in the hand. The cable here features a split design and is detachable. The total length of the cable is around 3m and it terminates into 6.3mm jack.
Before we talk about the sound quality, we have to address the power requirement of the headphone. HD 800 S requires a great amount of power to display their maximum potential. So right of the back, a powerful amplifier is required to drive this headphone. Not saying they won’t work without any amplifier but a good amplifier can drastically change the sound of the headphones.
Coming to the sound quality and this is where this headphone truly shines given it has been paired up with the adequate amp. Starting with the bass. These headphones certainly have the presence of bass frequency and it is very clean and well-controlled. It is certainly not the deepest but it is very clear and detailed. When it comes to mids the HD 800 S do deliver. The mids are accurate and have a great amount of clarity present. Do not confuse the mids with being overly forward they just sound natural and continue with the flow. Vocals are very clear and detailed though being a little bit thin. Also, acoustic instruments sound great with this headphone. Lastly the treble response of this headphone can be a bit bright in certain situations but it is extremely detailed. The imaging of this can is spot on and the soundstage is top-notch.
Conclusion – Sennheiser HD 800 S is a very fascinating headphone. They are capable of producing a sound that no other headphones can. The headphones have excellent treble. The imaging is second to none and the soundstage is top-notch. The only gripe with this headphone is that the headphones are very picky towards amplifiers so it is important to get the right amplifier. Aside from that these are a fantastic pair of open back headphones for listening to all sorts of audio.2
HIFIMAN Arya – Best Planar Magnetic Open Back Headphone
There are many contenders for the throne of best planer headphone but Hifiman Arya takes the cake. This headphone takes the Hifiman sound signature and molds it to near perfection.
The build quality is where most Hifiman headphones struggle but here it is rectified and we can report that the Arya is built fairly well. The construction is mainly metal but there are some minor creaks, it still feels solid though and will likely last a while. The headband is reinforced with metal and is solid and robust. Also, the headband adjustment is smooth and feels high quality.
The earcups can swivel to maximize comfort. The earpads have hybrid material with leather on the outside and nylon type material on the inside on the cup. Only 1 cable is provided with the headphone and its length is very short. Like other high-end headphones, these also require an amplifier to work at their maximum potential but unlike HD 800s these are not very amp picky.
Coming to the sound quality. This is where this open-back headphone triumphs over other headphones. The headphone has fairly neutral sound reproduction with minor peaks in the treble but we will get to that later. Starting off with the bass. Arya produces a very good bass response. The bass is present at all times but never feels overpowered. When required you certainly feel the bass hit you and when not required it just blends in with the flow. The bass in Arya never feels separated from the rest of the frequencies rather it plays along.
The mids in this headphone are done wonderfully. Unlike other high-end headphones where the mids can be recessed to pave the way for a bright treble here they are not met by the same fate. The mid-range sounds clean, clear, and detailed. The vocals are in these headphones are very engaging to listen too. Now coming to the treble. The treble here is very detailed and fairly neutral not peaky. There is a noticeable peak at 5khz though which can cause some harshness sometimes but overall, the treble is very good and well contained. Due to this headphone being a planer the amount the detail present in the sound is jaw-dropping. Lastly, the imaging and soundstage are very good. The sound has very good defined spacing and never feels cluttered. The imaging is also spot on.
Conclusion – Arya is certainly a category-defining headphone. The sound they produce is detailed, airy, and clear. Imaging, especially the little micro details they produce is industry-leading. Overall, the sound signature is also very neutral and makes for an enjoyable and relaxed experience. The flaw with this headphone comes to its build quality if you can look past that this is an excellent headphone.3
SendyAudio Aiva – Best Alternative Planar Magnetic Headphone
Do not get swayed by the tacky naming scheme this headphone definitely deserves attention and is one of the best in the crowded open back headphones market.
The amazing experience of this headphone starts with the package contents. This headphone goes well and beyond to include wires and adapters you will not find in the packaging of any headphone. The wires and adapters are also exceptionally well crafted. Taking a glance at the headphone itself and you will be surprised by the build quality. The headphone is made from exquisite materials. The earcups have real wooden inserts and the quality of each mechanism and the joint is solid and robust. The headband is made from real leather and is very plush and soft. Overall, this headphone is a treat to put on your head.
The wow factor does not just end at the appearance and looks of the headphone but rather continues with the sound as well. These headphones have a very aggressive sound and a V-shaped sound signature. Let us start by individually explaining each frequency to get a better understanding of the sound. The bass in this headphone is tight and accurate. It has a warm signature and is present when the track needs some punch. The bass by any means is not overly done rather it is the correct amount.
The midrange in this headphone lacks the warmth and smoothness of other high-end headphones but by no means it is subpar. The vocals still are very good and revealing. The midrange instruments also sound precise and clean. Coming to treble now and this where this headphone can either make or break your experience. The treble is forward and can be bright in certain situations or for some people. Despite this headphone not having the widest soundstage or precise imaging it still produces a great amount of detail in its own space.
Conclusion – To conclude these headphones, have an aggressive and fun sound signature. They have good tight bass response, mids are adequate and the treble is pushed forward. This all makes the headphone listening experience none other than any headphone. The build quality is also very posh and exquisite. While being posh they are also very robust and sturdy. All this makes this headphone an easy recommendation but people who are treble sensitive should avoid this.4
AKG K712 Pro – Best Gaming Open Back Headphone
For the folks who predominantly like to use their headphone for gaming we have chosen K712 Pro from AKG. It has excellent sound quality. The sound frequency is fairly neutral with only some peaks in the highs. The detail retrieval and imaging of this pair is amazing. Also, the soundstage is very wide making for a good gaming experience. We have further elaborated on this headphone in our best open back headphones for gaming recommendations list. We would like you to head over there if you need further information regarding this headphone.
Conclusion – This headphone is an excellent choice when it comes to gaming. It is especially fantastic for FPS games where there is a lot of stuff happening. Due to its wide soundstage, the sound from this headphone never feels timid. This headphone can also come in clutch in competitive games where a faint sound of approaching the enemy can decide the fate of the round.5
Philips X2HR – Best Overall Value Open Back Headphone
These are the sort of headphones which everyone appreciates irrespective of whether they like it or not.
The build quality of the headphone is very good. They have a relatively premium feel. The mainframe is metal and the earcups are also metal. The frame has no creaks under pressure. For the padding, the earpads have a soft velour material with memory foam insert. The headband features a suspension style and has a good amount of padding. The headphone can support a wide array of head sizes due to the suspension mechanism. The cable here is removable and can be swapped easily for something better down the line.
Now to the sound quality. Simply put X2HR is not for people who are looking for a very neutral sound. The bass from these is very good. There is sufficient sub-bass and great extension throughout the range. The mid-frequency is where they seem to lack the substance and presence. The mids are laid back and recessed. The vocals sound tiny. The treble is also another area of contention of these headphones. For some people it can sound too warm with no mediocre soundstage and detail while others enjoy a bit laid back approach.
Conclusion – At the end of the day the purpose these headphones serve is completely different from your neutral super detailed ones. While those can get fatiguing when listening over an extended period these just provide a warm enjoyable experience for hours on end. Yes, they still have their flaws but if you like the soundstage of these headphone there is not much like it.6
Sennheiser HD 660 S – Best Open Back Headphone Under 500 Dollars
Up next is another Sennheiser headphone. This headphone has mixed the traits associated with audiophile-grade studio headphones while also refining the sound to make it more pleasing. For this reason, this headphone is adored by the open back headphone community.
Starting with the build quality, HD 660 S has the usual Sennheiser treatment. The frame is very sturdy and the headphones are well made. The construction is mainly from plastic but it still manages to retain the rigidity and feels premium in the hand. This headphone features an understated all-black finish with the Sennheiser logo on the back of the earcup. The cable is detachable and the provided cable is adequate.
In the sound department HD 660 S have the distinct Sennheiser flavor which is refined further. The bass of this headphone is generally flat and smooth. There is no excessive attack and it feels very controlled. The sub-bass can be a little subpar at times though. The mid-range is where this headphone truly flexes its muscles and shines. The mids are not pushed but slightly forward. The vocals and acoustic instruments are a joy to listen to on this headphone. The treble in this headphone is very relaxing yet it maintains all the details required. The headphones have a very airy feel. The soundstage is also better compared to the other 6xx models and the imaging is also good.
Conclusion – Sennheiser HD 660 S are refinement over previous 6xx series headphones in every way and they deliver in their performance. They retain the sweet mids associated with the 6xx series while adding a lot more detail and an overall neutral smooth sound. The only gripe with these headphones is the lacking sub-bass performance and the medium average soundstage.7
Hifiman Sundara – Best Open Back Headphone Under 400 Dollars
Hifiman Sundara was already an impressive headphone but with the recent price cut it is all the more compelling. This headphone can be considered as a gateway to hifi planer headphone segment and it in itself delivers very good sound quality.
The build quality of this headphone is typical what you except from Hifiman which unfortunately translates into being subpar and not up to the quality of other high-end headphones. The build quality is not horrible though and features mainly metal construction but it not well refined. The earpads are hybrid pads with leather on the outside and nylon fabric type material on the inside. On the other hand, the cable provided with the headphone is mediocre at best. It will the typical cheap cable found in other low tier headphones but here it is detachable and can be easily replaced if you are willing to do so.
For the sound quality, the headphone has a fairly flat sound signature and does not push one frequency over another. The bass is very tight and agile. The sub-bass is noticeable in the correct tracks and comes out with a punch when needed. Despite having a good chunk of bass, it never bleeds or overshadows the mids. The mid-range in this headphone sounds natural and clean. It is neither recessed nor pushed forward. The vocals and instruments sound smooth and not overly shouty. There is also a good amount of detail present.
The treble on this headphone is well extended and a lot more energetic than your regular dynamic headphones. The soundstage here is medium and not the widest possible. While the soundstage is not the biggest strength of this headphone it still retains a whole lot of detail. The imaging also is very good.
Conclusion – Hifiman Sundara is an excellent headphone in its category which strikes a very good frequency balance and delivers stellar sound quality. The little details present in this headphone and the clean imaging make it one the best in its class. Though the headphone has a medium soundstage it still sounds relatively airy in its class. The only gripe with the headphone is the stock cable is bad.8
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro – Best Open Back Headphones Under 200 Dollars
These headphones have been renowned for delivering sound comparable to many high-end hifi headphones. Their popularity is also on the rise since a popular streamer ninja starting wearing these headphones.
Starting with the build quality. Dt 990 pro has a very robust and solid build. The frame is mainly metal with plastic used as well in certain areas to keep the weight down. The headphones have silver velour earpads which are very soft and provide a good amount of cushion. The headband features a detachable leather covering which is padded and plush. There is no creaking in the headphone when force is applied and is stretched. The headband adjustment is also silky smooth. The clamping force initially is tight but when the headphone is broken in it becomes manageable. The stock cable provided here is fine but it is not detachable and can pose problems later on.
For the sound quality, this headphone has a V-shaped signature. The bass on this headphone is plenty given the right audio. By no means, it has the thump and rumble but it compensates for having a great bass extension. Where it lacks depth, it compensates for clarity and detail. The mids are well behaved in this headphone some might say they seem a little recessed. We have to give credit though to the clarity in the mid-range when powered by a decent amp.
The treble is where people will either love this headphone or don’t like it as much. The treble is on the brighter side but it adds a lot more detail to the sound. The soundstage is wide and transparent. Nothing feels cluttered. The imaging is also very good for a dynamic headphone in this category.
Conclusion – DT 990 Pro follows the classic Beyer dynamic sound signature and delivers an excellent sound. There is a good amount of bass which is normally not expected in an open back dynamic headphone. The detail contained within the sound is exceptional. There is also a good deal of separation as well. This sort of sound signature might not be everyone’s cup of tea but for the people who enjoy a fun sound signature this headphone truly delivers.9
Grado Sr80e – Best Open Back Headphones Under 100 Dollars
Grado Sr08e is an on-ear headphone rather than an over-ear one which is a very rare case. It still manages to perform well though and has some really good things going for it.
The build quality of these headphones is adequate. They are made from plastic but since plastic is used, they tend to be on the lighter side. The earpads have some foam type of material which is not very good but gets the job done. The headband has no adjustment which can be a deal-breaker for the people with large head size. The earcups also swivel freely and can cause some irritating movements.
Where the Grado Sr80e lack they make up for it in the sound quality. There is a lack of sub-bass. The rest of the bass frequency is present but it is not clear and detail. The mids are forward. The vocals and the instruments sound very upfront and take the center stage. The treble is bright but it lacks the detail of some other high-end headphones. The imaging is good on these but the soundstage is about average.
Conclusion – Grado Sr80e is a very capable headphone. They produce a very unique sound. The shortcoming in sound can also be corrected with several mods available for these headphones on several Hifi forums and subreddits. If you like their sound signature and can overlook their flaws these can be a really good option to consider.10
Philips SHP9500 – Best Budget Open Back Headphones
Philips always amazes consumers with excellent products at adequate prices. There was a lot of hype when Shp9500 came about and still it is widely considered as the best headphone for its budget. It even punches way above its weight class and gives more premium headphones a run for their money.
The build quality of the Shp9500 is solid. It is not made from high-end posh materials or has exquisite refining but it manages to feel sturdy. Most importantly there is little to no creaking when stretched and also the mainframe is made from metal which helps as well. The headband adjustment is robust but it does not have the granular adjustment capabilities of other high-end headphones which is to be expected at this price point.
Where Shp9500 blows other similar or more lucrative options is the comfort. The earpads are made from fabric material which is very smooth and fine. It does not cause any irritation and allows the ear to breathe. The fabric also has mesh fabric covering similar to the earpads. The foam inside the fabric is soft and plush. There is a decent amount of padding present and the head does not hit the plastic headband.
The sound quality of this headphone is also surreal for the bracket it represents. It has lacking sub-bass. The mid-bass is lean and also does not come through hard enough. The mids are well produced though. There is a good amount of clarity. There are some peaks in the upper mid-range but it can be smoothed out. The treble is done wonderfully and is the highlight of this headphone but it can be on the bright side. The soundstage is also quite good for a budget headphone.
Conclusion – The Shp9500 do have a fair share of problems but the sound they deliver is remarkable to say the least. The soundstage and imaging are great. The bass and the treble peaks can be adjusted with custom EQ. For all this Shp9500 is an absolute buy for anyone looking to get into studio-grade audiophile headphones.
Hifiman Ananda – This headphone has great sound quality and it looks aesthetically pleasing. But for the price category represented here, it falls short to the SendyAudio Aiva both in terms of sound and build quality.
BLON B20 – Blon b20 is very similar to the SendyAudio Aiva to the point they both feel like sister products but Sendy has much better build quality and the materials used are also more premium. The sound is also a little better on Aiva but not by much. If you want a cheaper Sendy this is it.
Audio-Technica Ath-AD500x – This headphone is a classic budget headphone. It has good sound quality and decent build but the more recent headphones within the budget category have trounced it. Still this headphone remains a cult classic.
Audeze LCD-1 – This is the lowest end headphone in the Audeze lineup and it is actually very good. But we cannot recommend it due to the better choices available on the market today.
ThieAudio Phantom – For the price it is a placed at, this headphone is a good deal. It has magnetic planer driver, has good sound quality and decent build quality but with this headphone the highs can be too bright for comfortable listening.
Editor’s Ending Thoughts:
To put up an overall conclusion for everything we talked about is headphone choice completely depends on your taste and preference. No matter how good a headphone is if you do not like the certain type of sound it produces it will not be able to keep you entertained for a long while.
We have listed the best options for pretty much all the folks out there. Just a word of advice from our side is to not look at the “audiophile words” which is normally thrown around. A bright headphone with tons of detail and sharp response can never be as smooth to listen for an extended period as the mellow colored headphone. We are stressing this a lot but choose a headphone which suites your listening. If you need something for mixing or sound reproduction HD 800s or any reference studio headphone will be better than let’s say the HD 660s. Likewise, the smoothness of HD 660s will be better for extended listening periods than HD 800s so dig up some information and choose according to your preference.