Headphones come in different shapes and sizes. For those of you who need to merely listen to music and don’t mind much about what type of gear you’re using, a simple stock pair of earbuds will do. However, we’re assuming those of you who are here today to read up on open-back headphones aren’t in that category. For true audiophiles, every minor detail counts, and when it comes to listening to our favorite sounds, we need something top notch. Yes, there is more of a difference than just price when comparing a pair of Apple stock earbuds to a nice pair of Sennys besides the price. Let’s check out our list of the top 10 best open-back headphones on earth.
The difference between open and closed-back headphones
Although you may know the difference since you’re already here, we’ll spell it out quickly just for some background. Headphone design is relatively important when shopping for a pair of cans depending on your preferred use for them. Here’s the scoop — Closed-back headphones are closed around your ear to ensure sound isolation. Open-back headphones on the other hand are open around your ears to allow some sound leak out from the earcups.
So why on earth would you want that to happen? Well for starters, although noise isolation is great and is pretty synonymous with ‘studio headphones’ and marketing, it can cause some build-up of certain frequencies after extended use within your earcups (mostly lower frequencies with bass). This is particularly bad for those mixing and mastering professionally, since sound build-up can mess around with the accuracy of your mixes. However, closed-back headphones are perfect for recording (most commonly vocals but it could be any instrument) since noise isolation is key because you don’t want any of the sound coming from your headphones to be picked up by the microphone. That’ll blur up your track and take away from the clarity.
As you can see, there is a time and place for both headphone designs. There are of course a few similarities between the two as well. In essence, they are all technically studio headphones. All designs are going to give you prestige audio quality when compared to those typical over-marketed or stock headphones you see everywhere around the gym. So if you’re looking to merely enjoy your favorite playlist with a nice pair of headphones, either design will do. Just know that there is a chance of build-up with closed, but with open you’ll have some sound leak out and others may hear what you’re listening to (just be sure to turn it down when your favorite Miley Cyrus track comes on when you’re on the bus).
For more information on the difference between the most common headphone designs, we like Forbes’ open-back vs. closed-back article.
The top 10 best open-back headphones
Now that we have a bit of background on headphone design, the following is our list of top 10 best headphones with an open-back builds available today. Be sure to let us know in the comments if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. Don’t forget that you may need a headphone amplifier if you want to really power your pair of headphones up, unless of course you’re using an audio interface to mix your tunes.
It took some time to really decide, but we’re going with a Beyerdynamic pair of headphones here to start off our list at #1 for the best open-back headphones in the market today. Do some research and you’ll see that we’re not alone on this decision. If you can afford them, they’re one of the best open-back cans as backed up by numerous years of user reviews. To start, the DT-990 give you a super soft headband pad and earcups, a well-built design that will last you years if you take proper care of them, and most importantly some extremely clear audio quality. A very well-rounded and flat frequency response as it won’t give you inflated bass or treble. In terms of price point, we’d say it’s a hike up to the higher models, but if you can afford this bad boy, don’t look back and grab it. It looks slick as well. Check out those ear-pads, they look so comfortable I could use them as a pillow, not to mention a build that will last you a while for a solid investment.
AKG K 701
These are one of our favorite pairs of headphones out there, especially since AKG is a brand name that you can trust. This pair may be a tad bit cheaper than our previous open-back pair listed, so if you want to save a few bucks you can go this route depending on where you look. They’re stated to be “optimized for DJ’s” but really they’re perfect for mixing in general. The build is solid so it’s going to be a smart investment, super clear sound, a 3-D form ear pad make (great for a custom fit so you can adjust them accordingly), and another well-balanced frequency response. We’re still in the high-quality models when it comes to price point, so grab this pair if you can’t afford the DT-990 but still want something prestige within the best open-back headphones world.
Sennheiser HD 600
We’d be disappointed in ourselves if we didn’t have a pair of Sennheiser headphones, especially an HD model within the top 3 at least. They’re a bit up there in terms of price, but we guarantee more than half of the audiophiles you ask about open-back headphones are going to tell you to grab a pair of Senny HD’s, most likely this pair in particular. They’re one of the most popular pairs of open-back cans in the audiophile community. What steers some away however is the higher price point, so before you check pricing just keep in mind that they’re worth every penny if you have them. Aluminum voice coils, comfortable fit, clear and crisp frequencies of every level, detachable cable, and a metal mesh grille build for an all-around beast of a pair of headphones. If you are intrigued by the HD series by Senny, browse around the other models as you can go either lower or higher when it comes to pricing, quality, and type of headphone.
We hope you’ve heard of Audio-Technica, and if you haven’t, let’s just say we’re slightly obsessed with their gear. This particular model has been out for quite a few years so we have some time backing it up when it comes to longevity and a model to be considered the best open-back headphones. It has a honeycomb aluminum casing build with that self-adjusting wing system they have on some of their gaming headsets as well. Great quality in terms of all frequencies and many would be mad we’re saying this but the driver is big (we know, bigger isn’t necessarily better), but it doesn’t hurt at 53 mm. The ear-pads are velvet so this thing is going to be comfortable on your head (especially if you’re going to be going through hours and hours of use like us). It was rated pretty well on head-fi’s AD700 review.
If you’ve read any of our microphone reviews, you would have noticed there’s pretty much a Shure gear model in there at least once. Their headphones are pretty solid as well. This model is a beast of a whole different level. Before you let the price point get in the way of your decision, we recommend at least looking at it if it’s a possibility. Dual-exit cables on each side of the pair, replacable veluer pads with some custom-forming foam and most importantly super clear audio-quality with high-quality acoustic drivers. Basically everything about this pair of open-back headphones is high-quality straight down to the connectors attached to the end of the cables. It also comes with a case, replaceable pads, replacement cable and a threaded adapter in the box. It’s not for the average. Here’s CNET’s SRH1840 review for some more info if you’re interested. If you have the cash, you’re getting a top-of-the-line pair of the best open-back headphones today.
Sony MDR MA900
This open-back pair of headphones is a bit lower in cost so if you’re looking to save some money we’d say this is our favorite budget-friendly pair to grab. It has a relatively simple design with no fancy fit systems or anything like that (the headband is pretty standard). Reportedly super comfortable with those pretty dense ear-pads as you can see and the mid-range is stated to be very clear. A solid detailed sound with some warmth to them. It goes well with most types of music and rivals the HD 600 just coming short a bit (in our opinion — but the prices reflect that as well). Although many professional pairs of open-back headphones are pricey, we’d consider this in the middle price-point. Sony doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the build of their headphones so in terms of longevity, you’ll be good to go for years if you take care of them.
Here’s another A-T pair of open-back cans and this one was recently announced so it’s fresh in the market. We’re actually wearing a pair of M50x as we write this and this is their first reference pair as a part of their monitor line of headphones (very famous now among the headphone world). You have the advanced 3D-wing support system for great comfort, dual-sided detachable cable, honeycomb mesh build and an overall natural sounding audio output. We’d grab this if you’re an A-T nerd like us, want a solid build, and prefer the fresh and new pairs of headphones. You can read our ATH-R70x headphones review for some more in-depth info on the pair.
We were a bit new to HiFiMan gear to be honest, but with their reputation building higher and higher when it comes to quality we had to see what these were about. Stated to be great across the broad frequency range it provides, they give you a pretty loud sound, well-built drivers and a comfortable fit (pretty snug on your head, just check the picture for how they’d wrap around your ears and fully engulf them with the sound — the cups are a lot bigger than most). A very detailed sound here and although they’re great for most uses, we wouldn’t recommend traveling with them because of how big they are. It’s like a giant metal pillow that’s going to rest on your head and ears, really surrounding you with the sound you have in front of you. Engadget rated these super high in their HE-400 review.
Philips Fidelio X1
Just another option as the best open-back headphones to take into consideration here. It’s around the same price as the others within the middle range. It has a very solid metal build to it that will last you quite a long time if take care proper care of the pair and 50 mm neodymium drivers. The drivers are “pre-tilted” at 15 degrees which is stated to help with “precision” when reaching your ears and the 3D mesh fit is great for a custom feel when it’s on your head. The headband is leather which is never a bad thing (especially if you plan on wearing them for a long period of time, comfort will always be important, especially to avoid that pesky pain that occurs after a while). Check the price and if you can somehow find it below two bills, we’d grab it since that would be a steal.
AKG K 240 MK II
Last but not least we have another AKG model and it’s one of the more popular pairs of reference headphones in the audiophile world. The only thing we can pick at is the “semi-open” design so technically they shouldn’t be in here, but at number 10 we thought why not for a different option?? Some standard features here but still amazing quality: self-adjusting headband, 3D fit system, a solid bass and clear high frequency as well as our favorite: a detachable cable. It’s actually a bit cheaper than a lot of the headphones in this article, so if you want to go as low as you can in terms of price yet still find a reliable model, this could be it for you. They’re very affordable yet still give you superb quality.