So, after hearing all about the amazing sound reproduction of open-back headphones, you also want to buy one but are stuck not knowing which one to choose.
Well, it can get overwhelming at first with all the technical jargon involved but don’t worry as in this article I am going to simplify things for you.
At the end of the article, you will be fully ready to buy your next open-back headphone by knowing the following contained in the article:
- Buying guide on open-back headphones
- 10 best open-back headphones available in the market
Open-back headphones are gaining popularity partly because there has been a great increase in high-fidelity audio content lately.
New platforms are coming out that support Hi-Fi music and movie streaming. The open-back headphones are not anymore only for the selected few audio professionals.
Manufacturers of open-back headphones have also picked that up with renowned companies now offering multiple headphones across the board that each caters to a different individual.
This is the reason choosing the ideal open-back headphone for your needs has become rather difficult if you don’t know the basics of open-back headphones.
TL;DR – A Brief Look at the Best Open Back Headphones
Before we dive into the more detailed reviews of each, the following is a quick glance at our top picks for the best open-back headphones.
- Sennheiser HD 800 S
- Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
- Sennheiser HD 660S
- Audeze LCD-1
- Hifiman Sundara
- Grado SR325x
- Beyerdynamic DT 990 Premium Edition
- Sennheiser HD 560S
- Philips SHP9600
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X
1. Sennheiser HD 800 S
The long-standing king of the open-back headphone space the Sennheiser HD 800 S is the headphone to get. It features an amazing sound that to this day is unrivaled and has state-of-the-art build quality.
The name of the Sennheiser HD 800s has been engraved in the hall of fame of open-back headphones and for good reason. This headphone does all aspects so well that it is hard to complain.
Starting with the build quality. This headphone 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 a 6.3mm jack.
The same goodness also continues to the comfort. The headphone has large foam earpads that can accommodate even the bulkiest of ears.
Now before I talk about the sound quality, let’s address the power requirement of the headphone. HD 800 S requires a great amount of power to display its maximum potential.
So right off the back, you will need a powerful amplifier to drive these headphones. Not saying they won’t work without any amplifier but a good amplifier can drastically change the way they sound for the better.
Coming to the sound quality and this is where this headphone truly shines given it has been paired up with the adequate amp.
Despite being open-back headphones these certainly have a clean bass presence. It is certainly not the deepest but it is very clear and detailed.
The strongest point of the headphone however is the mid and the treble performance. These headphones have crystal clear vocals and detail that is unfathomable.
There is so much detail in the audio that you would be surprised by the ability of headphones to pick out granular aspects in the audio.
Sennheiser HD 800S also has a very airy sound which makes it easy to listen to. Overall, this headphone delivers the best-in-class sound experience.
2. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro has always stood up there with the best of the best reference-sounding headphones ever produced. It combines a tight bass response, sizzling highs with a lot of energy and detail that is unmatched for the price. Having the ability to display precise details in the audio with a wide soundstage these headphones are preferred for studio monitoring.
There is no denying that the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is a premium headphone. The headphone justified its price tag with the amazing build quality it has. There is no creaking or rattling in the metal components in the hinge and frame hence owing to a sense of quality.
Despite bine a large and heavy headphone, the comfort of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is top-notch. It features velvet earpads which provide a soft cushion for your ears.
The headband is also well structured hence the overall weight of the headphone is equally distributed creating next to no pressure points on your head. The clamp of the headband is also ideal, not too tight yet not loose, making this a great wear for even people with eyeglasses.
The most important aspect for any open-back headphone is high fidelity sound, and I am pleased to say that the 45mm drivers on the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro are a joy to listen to.
These headphones produce rich, full, and energetic sound. The masterful resolution makes this headphone one of the best for analytical listening, music production, and mixing. Although the headphone leans towards the treble side a bit more but has good tight bass that is present when required.
The only slight negative you will feel with the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is that the mid-range and the vocals are recessed. Also, this headphone due to having an impedance of 250ohms requires an external amplifier for the most optimal audio playback experience.
Overall, the Beyerdynamic is a fantastic open-back headphone that you should not buy if you are looking for a relaxing open-back headphone to listen to music on but for other purposes this headphone is a no-brainer.
Best Under $500
3. Sennheiser HD 660S
The Sennheiser HD 660S brings down some of the traits of the 800S to a lower price. This headphone retains that sweet mid-range Sennheiser headphones are known for. On the whole, a great headphone with relaxed sound and good build quality.
Being the iconic Sennheiser headphone this headphone gets its fame from its incredible attributes.
Starting with the build quality, HD 660 S has the usual Sennheiser treatment. The frame is very sturdy and the headphones are well made.
This headphone features an understated all-black finish with the Sennheiser logo on the back of the earcup which I have to say looks quite pleasing.
Talking about the earcups, they feature cloth padding. Although not the most premium the padding is quite comfortable.
The earcups also feature detachable cable which is great because now you can easily replace the cable if it breaks.
Now coming to the main reason why HD 660s is on the list and that is due to the spectacular sound. In the sound department, HD 660 S has the distinct Sennheiser flavor borrowed from its bigger sibling.
The bass of the Sennheiser HD 660S is smooth and controlled. The mid-range is where this headphone truly flexes its muscles and shines. The vocals and acoustic instruments are a joy to listen to on these headphones.
The treble in this headphone is very relaxing yet it maintains all the details required. The headphone also has a very airy feel.
Overall, the Sennheiser HD 660s is a very relaxing headphone to listen to. When you put them on you feel like you are in the middle of the action and the singer is standing right in front of you. This is the power of the Sennheiser HD 660s and the reason people adore it.
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Best Under $400
4. Audeze LCD-1
Audeze as a brand is synonymous with professional-grade audio equipment and their planar magnetic headphones are revered in the audio industry. The Audeze LCD-1 is the brand’s entry-level offering and despite that, it blows many other dynamic as well as planer headphones out of the water due to its sound characteristic and overall appeal.
The first planar magnetic headphone review of our list and definitely not the last. Planar Magnetic headphones are unlike their dynamic counterparts and anyone who has heard these before will swear by their precision and clarity.
For a minute if you put away the planar magnetic tag of the Audeze LCD-1 these look and function like normal headphones albeit very good-looking open-back headphones.
The minimal matte black chassis of the headphone is quite aesthetically pleasing. Looks aside the headphone is also well engineering and has a lightweight construction weighing in at only 250g.
The leather padding of the headphone is quite cushy and comfortable, but my favorite comfort feature is the ability of the earcups to fold straight.
This is quite beneficial when you want to rest the headphones flat on your neck and the folding earcups also aid in the portability of the headphone.
One thing I don’t like however in this regard is the dual cable design of the headphone which can get in the way sometimes. But having this design is necessary for the uninterrupted sound.
Talking about the sound, this headphone sounds gorgeous. Planar Magnetic headphones are renowned for their precise and balanced sound and that is exactly what you are getting here.
The sound here is reference quality level and sprinkle a mix of details on top of the sound and you have the recipe for one of the most capable open-back headphones.
The precise nature of the sound makes for amazing instrument notes and due to the wide soundstage, every instrument is accurately placed within the audio. The feeling of depth is quite prominent in these headphones.
Overall, the Audeze LCD-1 is a great pair of open-back planar magnetic headphones that exhibits top-class sound reproduction and can be driven on any device due to the low impedance of 16ohms.
5. Hifiman Sundara
Hifiman Sundara is the entry point into the upper echelon of planar magnetic headphones. It has excellent sound reproduction with balanced frequency response. Being planar magnetic it delivers the most detailed audio listening experience for the price. All this sound goodness is wrapped into a body that is comfortable and well built.
Hifiman is known for making expensive professional-grade headphones so when the Sundara hit the market at a price tag of $350 people were quite susceptible but low and behold today these headphones are considered one of the best for price.
When looked upon this headphone deserves that distinction because it truly is one of a kind offering.
Starting with the build quality, these headphones mainly have metal construction. This makes the headphone solid and sturdy with no creaks in their chassis.
On the comfort front, the earpads are hybrid pads with leather on the outside and nylon fabric-type material on the inside. This combination is quite amazing and provides excellent comfort.
With the cable, however, Hifiman missed the chance. The cable provided with the headphone is mediocre at best.
It will be the typical cheap cable found in low-tier headphones but luckily it is detachable and hence can be easily replaced with a higher quality cable.
For the sound quality, the headphone has a fairly balanced sound that does not push one frequency over another.
The bass is very tight and agile. Despite having a good chunk of bass, it never bleeds or overshadows the mids.
The mid-range in this headphone sounds natural and clean. The vocals and instruments sound smooth and not overly shouty.
The treble on this headphone is also well presented with energetic highs and a lot of detail. It however never gets fatiguing which is a big plus if you are fond of listening to your headphones for hours.
Overall, the Hifiman Sundara is a very pleasant headphone to listen to that contains detailed audio with great emphasis on balanced sound reproduction.
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Best Under $300
6. Grado SR325x
There are not many headphones left that prioritize fun over a clinical sound. If you are anything like me and have your headphones on for the better part of the day, then you want a headphone that is fun to listen to and never gets fatiguing. The Grado SR325x is such headphone that breaks the audiophile shackles and delivers an engaging sound experience.
The Grado SR325x is minimal but functional. Every element of this headphone is well thought out and executed to perfection.
Just take the frame of the headphone as a reference. Although very simple is made from aluminum and the lack of complexity makes it not prone to mechanical failures.
Oh, did I mention that this design approach results in a headphone that is lightweight and portable?
The adjustable leather headband integrated into the design is also a clever touch and not the mention it is quite comfortable as well.
Also in the comfort front, the foam earcups of the headphones are also well padded and the soft cushioning makes them very comfortable. Being made from a foam material they also breathe well and hence don’t cause that annoying ear sweat.
The only design element that I don’t like is the integrated dual-sided cable on both the earcups. Being non-removable the headphone is prone to damage if the cable gets any nick.
Now coming to the most important part and that being the sound quality. To put it in simple words, you can think of the Grado SR325x as being a fun headphone that you daily put on your ears for most of the day without getting tired.
This headphone prioritizes the fun bit of the sound than analytical tuning. That is not to say that it lacks the details and the richness of the sound quite the opposite actually.
The relaxed, airy, and detailed sound of the Grado SR325x is unique and unlike any other headphones on the list. Overall, if you want one headphone that you are going to daily listen to and also want to run it through professional music tasks then this headphone should be right up your alley.
7. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Premium Edition
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 that is versatile pair of headphone with amazing, detailed sound reproduction that can be used in most situations. The budget-friendly price tag also makes it a compelling buy for anyone looking for a solid and reliable pair of open-back headphones that can chew through anything coming its way.
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 takes a lot of its cues from its bigger brother the DT 1990 Pro we talked about earlier. That is necessarily not a bad thing since the former is one of the best open-back headphones ever produced.
Anyway, starting from the build. Beyerdynamic DT 990 like its name has a rather premium build and feel for the price. From the looks of it, you cannot discern that this is a $200 headphone.
The rigid metal frame is tough enough to survive a few nicks and drops. On the comfort front, we have velour padding which is soft and breathable. Although comfortable this material can get dirty very quickly and is a pain to clean.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room next. These headphones have an impedance of 600ohms and that is a lot of ohms if I say so myself. Therefore, these headphones should be used with an external amplifier otherwise you won’t be able to get the full grunt out of them.
If you do however pair them with an amplifier, then you are in for a treat. With a proper amplifier, these headphones are fully able to stretch their muscles and produce great sound in the process.
The sound signature of the Beyerdynamic DT 990 is treble-heavy with a lot of emphasis in the high range. The bass and the mid-range are also there but not prominent.
The emphasis on the treble paves way for excellent detail retrieval and razor-sharp imaging.
Due to the very pointy and sharp sound, these headphones can get a little fatiguing during long listening sessions.
Overall, the DT 990 is a fantastic offering from Beyerdynamic in the form of a true workhorse headphone. It can do anything you want and with the price being under $200 I can’t think of a more value-to-money headphone than the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Premium Edition.
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8. Sennheiser HD 560S
People were waiting for it and Sennheiser has finally done it. A refresh to the HD 500 series with this new HD 560S. Ever since its release the HD 560S has gained huge attraction. Rightfully so, as this open-back headphone is amazing in all regards and is truly poised to take on all its competitors by the virtue of its sound quality, build and comfort.
It would be a crime to discuss the Sennheiser HD 560S without discussing its shape. Sennheiser has kept true to the original design with a chiseled headband along with the earcups. This not only strengthens the chassis but also enhances the swivel of the earcups.
The swivel allows for greater flexibility and since all human ears differ in size the micro-movements allow for a much better fit for all folks using this headphone.
The better fit along with the soft fabric earpads and the lightweight chassis makes for a very comfortable headphone. Won’t be wrong to say that the HD 560S is the most comfortable headphone on this list.
For the connectivity, the Sennheiser HD 560S uses the 1/4 plug and the cable here is also removable making it easy to swap out for a better cable in the long run.
None of the other aspects of this headphone however outweigh its sound performance. To put it into context the Sennheiser HD 560S is the headphone you want to pick if you want to enjoy yourself while listening to music.
This headphone has a very natural sound that contains a lot of depth yet never feels overwhelming. The specialty of this headphone is definitely the vocal range, and in traditional Sennheiser fashion, it has true to life tuning where you feel like the singer is right Infront of you.
There is no harshness to the sound of this headphone but rather the Sennheiser HD 560S has an airy feel about it partly owing to the fact that this headphone has a wide soundstage.
Overall, Sennheiser HD 560S is a truly sensational open-back headphone. With this headphone, you are getting true-to-life sound and amazing comfort all for the price of $200.
Best Under $100
9. Philips SHP9600
Philips SHP series has reigned the entry-level open-back headphone market for quite a while and now with the latest iteration to this series in the form of Philips SHP9600 the bar is set even high. This headphone is your best bet if you are just starting out in the world of open-back headphones and want to pair that will blow you away with its sound quality.
Philips SHP9600 has a lot to live up to. The previous SHP9500 was a darling of the audio community and let me start by prefacing that this headphone does not disappoint and is better than its predecessor in some ways.
Starting off the headphone has amazing build quality for the price. Philips has used just the right amount of metal in key components like the headband hinge and earpad joint which makes for not only a study headphone but a light one at that.
Due to the lightweight and the plush fabric earpads, the Philips SHP9600 is also very comfortable to wear. It has a relatively loose clamping force hence even people with eyeglasses will find these headphones comfortable.
Due to the loose clamp and fabric earpads, the headphone also breathes well and is well suited for hot and humid climates.
Comfort aside this headphone also facilitates the user in other ways like with a removable 3.5mm cable which you should probably replace since the stock cable is not that great. Using a good cable will also enhance the sound quality somewhat.
Talking about sound, and to be honest it’s quite hard to believe after listening to it that this headphone costs under $100. It has amazing clarity with absolute top-notch detail retrieval for the price.
The frequency response of the headphone leans in more towards the treble side with the bass being somewhat prominent but the mids missing being shallow. This makes the headphone more tuned for analytical listening and the sound lacking warmth if you are looking for that.
On the whole, one can’t fault the Philips SHP9600 because it provides the best sound that you are going to experience from a headphone at this price point and that too in a comfortable and well-built package.
10. Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X
Audio-Technica ATH-AD500x has everything you want and need from a budget pair of headphones. While not flashy or overly premium they perform terrifically well in the sound and the comfort department.
What do you want in a budget headphone? Well, I reckon everyone might have his own wishlist but the basics remain the same.
Good sound, decent build, and a comfortable pair that can be used daily without making the ears all soar. If that is what’s you are after, then Audio-Technica ATH-AD500x will surprise you.
The headphone is not premium by any means and the build quality reflects that. Primarily plastic is used for the construction of these headphones which as we all know is not the strongest material around.
Despite that, there are no creaks or rattles, and the headphone is not flimsy at all. If anything, it can last quite a while before you see any signs of wear and tear.
The headphone tells a similar story in the comfort front, although the padding material is not the greatest, yet the headphone feels rather comfortable on the head. A major contributing factor to that might be the lightweight of the headphone.
The only major negative I could find with this headphone on the surface was the lack of any removable cable. Maybe I am expecting too much but then again, its closest competitor the Philips SHP9600 has a removable cable.
What makes matters worse is that the supplied cable is not the best quality which is a little disappointing to see.
Anyways moving onto the sound and if there is one thing that this headphone does right then this will be it. The Audio-Technica ATH-AD500x produces a sound that is both natural, balanced, and fun to listen to.
Surprisingly, there is a good amount of bass present here. Albeit not enough to make your shake but then again open-back headphones aren’t meant for that and from the list, the ATH-AD500X has the most bass presence than any other headphone.
Overall, the Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X is a very smooth and natural sounding headphone with a good bass presence.
The Buying Guide on Open-Back Headphones
Let me start this section by prefacing that people have their own sound preferences. The need of each individual also differs from the other.
Therefore, recommending 10 headphones won’t work as that doesn’t help anyone find the headphone they need.
Enter the buyer’s guide. In the guide, I will provide you thorough information on how to buy the most optimal open-back headphone for your audio needs.
What Makes Open-Back Headphones So Great
Open-back headphones are vastly different than traditional closed-back headphones, but you already know that don’t you.
For a refresher, these headphones don’t trap the sound inside the earcup capsule but rather allow it to be released to the surrounding.
What makes this design concept so unique is that it allows for much true-to-life representation of the audio.
The airiness that the open-back headphones have creates a false sense of a 3D plane around you in which you are hearing sounds. You no longer feel trapped with the audio being blown right to you.
I know this characteristic is hard to explain and is best judged when wearing both open-back and closed-back headphones side to side for comparison.
But the main thing I want you to take away is that the sound representation of open-back headphones mimics the real-life sound hearing characteristics of our ears and hence any person accustomed to that sort of airy sound cannot go back to the trapped sound of a closed-back headphone.
First Things to Consider Before Buying an Open-Back Headphone
Now that we have established what makes open-back headphones so great, it is time to set aside few important things for our next open-back headphone
- Firstly you have to decide on the budget. Open-back headphones are spread along on a wide price bracket and each headphone can differ vastly in price. Therefore, before starting the search for an open back headphone we must pin a budget for our next purchase.
- Besides the budget, you also need to evaluate your use case. Not all headphones sound the same and hence are suitable for different real-world applications. Hence you need to get a headphone that caters to your needs and your use case.
Why the Best May Not Be the Right One for You
You know it would have been so easy for me to simply say that Sennheiser HD 800 is the best open-back headphone, and you should get that.
I would have thrown in some audiophile jargon and made it look like Sennheiser 800 is vastly superior over other headphones. Although that is the case somewhat Sennheiser HD 800 is a better headphone but not necessarily the best for you.
Now you see why it is important to evaluate what you want and not the headphone is shoving at you.
With that out the way let’s see some important aspects of open-back headphones that can be used to distinguish a great open-back headphone from an overage one.
Good sound reproduction is the fundamental aspect of any great headphone. If a headphone cannot produce good sound, then that defeats the whole purpose of buying in the first place.
In a headphone sound is produced by the different frequency ranges. The varying frequency reproduction of a headphone shapes its sound signature and hence this is the reason based on which headphones differ because each has its own frequency response.
The Sound Frequencies Are Categorized 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. If you are looking for an open-back headphone with a good bass response then the Audio-technica ATH-AD500X and the Philips SHP9600 might be your best bet.
Mid-Range: This is the sweet range of the frequency spectrum. The vocals are a prominent part of this frequency. Sennheiser headphones are the most well-known for creating natural mid-range response so if you like vocals then the Sennheiser HD 660s is the way to go.
Treble: This spectrum represents all the high-pitched sounds or tones. Example being all your guitar and strings. If you fancy treble then going with the BeyerDynamic headphones or the planar magnetic ones like the Hifiman Sundara or the Audeze LCD-1 should be your priority.
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. After all, you don’t want your ears getting soar now, do you?
Many factors contribute to the comfort aspect of a given headphone. The padding, the clamping force, the weight of the headphone to name a few.
If you want the most comfortable headphone then you should look for one that has soft padding, is lightweight, and does not create any pressure points.
Ideally, something like the Sennheiser HD 660S should fit the bill with both Beyerdynamic headphones and the Grado SR325x coming in at a close second place.
This refers to the general build of the headphones and the materials used in making them. 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.
A well-built headphone like the Audeze LCD-1 should last you a long time. Ideally, for a solid build, you want headphones that incorporate a metal frame and as we all know metal is a rigid material and hence does not break easily.
Quality of cable
This factor is 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. The better ones like the one used on the Grado SR 325x is a kink-free cable that ensures an uninterrupted connection to the headphone.
Also, some headphones like the Philips SHP9600 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 that is also detachable for easy replacements down the line.
With the last headphone out of the way, it is time to wrap up the article. To quickly summarize, our list of the 10 best open-back headphones contains something for everyone.
Each headphone mentioned in our list caters to a different individual. Therefore to again reiterate buying the appropriate headphone that suits your needs is crucial. Therefore, understanding the buyer’s guide is of the utmost importance.
Now, before signing off let us know in the comment section which headphone did you buy and also let us know if you have a preference for any certain brand or not.