Many people turn to open-back headphones because they’re looking for the best quality audio, but what “good quality” means varies from person to person. If accuracy was the only factor, for example, vinyl wouldn’t be as popular as it is. While it’s hailed as a more pure audio experience, a lot of the enjoyment of vinyl comes from the imperfections — the cracks and pops, the fuzzy surface noise that’s unavoidable with even a clean record and needle. The same is true of headphones. You might be wondering if open-back headphones are better than closed-back headphones, but it’s not really about “better.” It’s about the experience you want.
What to consider when buying open-back headphones
Instead of covered earcups that isolate sound, open-back headphones have a mesh grille on the outside of the earcups that sometimes allow you to actually see the internal components. It looks cool, yes, but it also sounds cool. Open-back headphones have, perhaps unsurprisingly, an airy and open sound. These are designed to create what’s referred to as a “natural soundstage” — in effect, the feeling that you’re sitting in a room with the musicians playing around you. Sounds pretty good, right? But there’s a reason open-back headphones are not ideal for every situation.
Since they allow air to pass through, open-back headphones don’t isolate noise. If you’re standing on a busy street, you’ll hear the honking cars and surrounding chatter. Importantly, others will hear you, as well, so you may not be able to use your open-back headphones at work. Noise-canceling headphones or closed-back headphones tend to have a better bass response than open-back headphones, too. In short, if you’re going to be buying only one pair of headphones, they probably shouldn’t be open-back.
Open-back headphones not ideal for work, and they’re not ideal for commuting. But the unique open yet immersive audio experience makes them the best option for listening at home. Plus, they can be more comfortable for extended wear, because they allow air to pass through, reducing warmth and fatigue. And, as mentioned, they produce a pleasant and natural audio experience.
What we looked for when choosing the best open-back headphones
When it comes to open-back headphones, many of the options come from specialist labels, rather than brands like Bose, Sony and Apple. High-end options include Sennheiser and Audeze, but there are more affordable picks from brands like Philips and Audio-Technica. We picked options in a variety of price points, and we looked at technical details as well as reviews.
These are some of the best open-back headphones available right now.
1. Sennheiser HD 600s
The Sennheiser HD 600s are a high-end option for those who want to experience a premium audio experience. They have a surprisingly sleek and modern design. The reason that’s a surprise is that these have actually been around for over 20 years — it’s a testament to the reputation these have earned that they’re still produced despite the fact that new headphones are released all the time. They’re packed with features to optimize your listening experience, such as 42mm drivers, a wide frequency response and low harmonic distortion.
2. Philips Audio Philips SHP9500 Headphones
You might not want to spend too much on headphones whose application is limited, which is why these SHP9500 headphones from Philips are a great option. They offer a hi-fi experience without the high price tag, and the open-back design allows you to appreciate your favorite songs in a new way. The speakers have 50 mm neodymium drivers. The cable is almost 5 feet, giving you plenty of reach. It’s also detachable, so it can be replaced as needed.
3. Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X Audiophile Open-Air Headphones
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s hard to go wrong with Audio-Technica, which consistently delivers a premium audio experience at a not-so-premium price. These headphones have a unique design with two wings that rest on your head and a raised beam that connects the ear cups, rather than a single headband. This allows for greater comfort and less weight on your head. The 3.5mm jack comes with a 6.3 mm adapter. The headphones have 53mm drivers and an impedance of 38 ohms.
4. Sennheiser HD 599 Open Back Headphone
The Sennheiser HD 599 are a more affordable alternative to the premium 600 model. That said, the 599 has a bigger soundstage, which is one factor many enjoy from open-back headphones, despite the fact that the 599s are less clear than the 600s. The 599s also have a unique look — the cream and brown color is a retro touch in a sea of black and gray headphones. The detachable cable makes for easier storage and replacement if needed.
5. Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
These headphones from Beyerdynamic have plush velour cushions for comfortable long-term wear, and they’re designed to deliver a premium audio experience for a modest price. They’re available in either 250 ohm or 80 ohm models. For the best results, you’ll likely want to have a headphone amp. These headphones have a wide soundstage for an immersive audio experience.
6. AKG K702 Open-Back Headphones
For a premium audio experience, these headphones from AKG are designed to be reference-quality. That makes them a great option if you want to hear music the way your favorite artists intended, and they’re also a good pick for use in the studio. They’re also very good-looking. The leather headband and metal components not only add durability, but also a heavy dose of style.