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Best open back headphones

Let your ears catch a breeze.
By

Published onApril 9, 2024

The Best
Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X
MSRP: $299.00
8.3
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Positives
Sound quality
Plush fit
Replaceable parts
Low impedence
Negatives
A bit heavy
Not very portable
Best planar
HiFiMan Sundara
7.9
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Positives
Sound quality
Comfort
Pads are eyeglasses-friendly
Negatives
Weight
Open backs mean no isolation
Bang for your buck
AKG K240 Studio
MSRP: $99.99
6.8
Check price
Positives
Comfortable suspension headband
Lightweight
Vocals sound excellent
Replaceable parts
Negatives
Dubious durability
Quiet bass
Best for studio
Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX
MSRP: $199.00
7.8
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Positives
Good sound
Swappable cables and ear pads
Negatives
Plasticky build
Best for gaming
Corsair VIRTUOSO PRO
MSRP: $199.99
7.7
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Positives
Open-back design
High-quality materials and build
Good microphone quality
Negatives
No Bluetooth
No isolation or noise canceling
No onboard controls
Over-emphasis on bass

Most headphones you find are closed back, but for the discerning listener, open back headphones really have their place in the echelons of audio products. We’ve tested and compiled oodles of open back headphones over the years and distilled the selection down to our best picks. Whether you identify yourself as an audio enthusiast, a casual listener, a budget-conscious listener, or you enjoy gaming, we’ve got you covered.

Editor’s note: this list was published on April 9, 2024, to add more notable mentions.

Best open back headphones for most people: Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X

It’s a tough call because so many open back headphones sound fantastic, but the Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X also feels very cozy to wear, in addition to a great frequency response. These metal-clad headphones come with cushy velour ear pads and removable cabling. They’re designed with repairs in mind, in addition to a totally reasonable price tag for the performance and quality offered. You can even replace the STELLAR .45 dynamic drivers without special tools.

Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X on head
Creative folks will appreciate the comfort and tuning of these.

Unlike some other popular open back headphones, Beyerdynamic made these feel less plasticky than some headphones. For those out there who do not have or want a headphone amplifier, the DT 900 PRO X has an impedance of 48Ω, and therefore, your laptop can probably power the drivers just fine. Depending on your use, the headphones ship with a 1.8m and 3m cable and connect to the headphones via a mini-XLR and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the input. Plus, there’s a 1/4-inch adapter and a utilitarian soft carry bag. The bag could be nicer, but it works.

For the price, the DT 900 PRO X headphones hit the sweet spot of just what you need and not much you don’t. If you want something even higher end, we’ve got some picks, as well as inexpensive and planar headphones below.

Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO XBeyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X
SoundGuys Editors Choice
Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X
Sound quality • Plush fit • Replaceable parts
MSRP: $299.00
Open-back wired-only headphones for creative professionals
Content creators, music professionals, and audio enthusiasts can all get something out of the Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X. These open-back wired-only headphones are great for mixing, mastering, or just critically listening to your favorite songs.

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The frequency response of the Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X shows more treble than is ideal, but also greater sub-bass extension than many other open back headphones.

Best planar open back headphones: HiFiMan Sundara

HiFiMan has made a name for itself by delivering quality headphones at prices that undercut the old standbys. Arguably, the Sundara is one of its greatest successes as a pair of open back planar headphones that don’t cost the same as rent.

Hands hold the HiFiMan Sundara open-back headphones in front of a black backdrop with wooden accessories.
These stand as one of the best introductions to planar headphones.

Nobody is calling the Sundara cheap, but planar magnetic drivers come at a steep cost typically. Speaking of costs, the Sundara will also require a headphone amp to run properly with an impedance of 37Ω and an efficiency rating of 93dB/mW. No matter, you won’t be leaving the areas when you wear the chunky 372g headphones, so plugging in shouldn’t be an issue. HiFiMan includes one 1.5m Y-split cable cable, which is the weakest link in the package.

One of the advantages of planar magnets lies in their ability to convey fast dynamics with greater accuracy than conventional dynamic drivers. Think of plucking a string or a drumstick hitting a cymbal when you think about that. The frequency response in combination with the inherent advantages of the planar magnets, offers something a little different in the Sundara worth checking out.

HiFiMan SundaraHiFiMan Sundara
HiFiMan Sundara
Excellent sound • 3.5mm TRS jack • Low sound distortion
A pair of high-end level sound quality open-backed headphones
The HiFiMan Sundara is an open-backed headset that diminishes the resonance issues in the bass and offers an excellent, natural-like sound.

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Closely matching in the treble, mids, and higher bass registers, the Sundara headphones sound great on most applications, save for rumbly action movies.

Best budget open back headphones: AKG K240 Studio

These days you pretty much need to anticipate breaking the three-digit mark to get decent open back headphones. However, when budgets get tight, the AKG K240 Studio headphones offer solid value for less than $100. The tension self-adjusting headband, lightweight (only 240g), and generous ear cup size mean they feel comfortable. While perhaps not the most robust build out there, they’re evergreen headphones with a legacy reaching back to the 1970s, and plenty of casual and enthusiast users alike reach for them.

An aerial photo of the AKG K240 Studio semi-open headphones on an open book.
These inexpensive headphones do the job affordably.

Technically, the K240 Studio is considered semi-open back headphones. Effectively, you get the same benefits, as well as the sound leakage and absence of isolation you’ll find on any set of open back headphones. For well under $100, the K240 Studio has a removable mini-XLR cable that terminates in a 3.5mm jack. Due to the ubiquity of these headphones, you can source and replace most components with relative ease. The sound is less accurate to studio standards these days, with not a ton of bass volume, as expected. You’ll want to baby these headphones somewhat, as their durability is a bit suspect. However, for those dipping their toes in or working with a low budget, the K240 Studio is our value-priced pick of the bunch.

AKG K240 StudioAKG K240 Studio
AKG K240 Studio
Comfortable suspension headband • Lightweight • Vocals sound excellent
MSRP: $99.99
A legacy headset that’s easy on the wallet.
The AKG K240 Studio is another trusty studio headset that’s proven its worth time and time again over the past 30 years. The K240 Studio is a great option for anyone working on a shoestring budget who can’t afford to compromise sound quality. The semi-open design promotes accurate sound reproduction. Sub-bass response is lacking, so if you want a more consistent response across the frequency spectrum, keep looking.

Best studio open back headphones: Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX

The first thing to know about the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX is that they sound very much like the pricier siblings in the 6XX series. Secondly, you ought to know that these open back headphones cost significantly less dough than those venerable siblings, such as the HD 650 from which these borrow.

The Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX on a desk.
Albeit a bit plasticky in build compared to the flagships, the sound offered is on par with the best.

While much can (and has) been written on the benefits of spending the extra bucks to get the upscale version of any set of headphones, if your goal is to mix audio and not to overspend on luxury, these are the right headphones for you. For the purposes of critical listening, the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX adheres rather closely to our legacy studio frequency response, with the predictable sub-bass volume rolloff typical of the majority of open backs. Through the midrange and treble, the tuning gets very close to suitably neutral for sound engineering.

In addition, the manageable 260g mass means you can reasonably don these for hours while you get in the weeds of audio production. The headphones use a removable 2-pin connector Y-cable ending in a conventional 3.5mm TRS headphone jack. With a 300Ω impedance, you’ll want an amp.

Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XXDrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX
Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX
Sound quality • Removable/replaceable cable • Open back
MSRP: $199.00
If you're looking for a set of headphones to stay by the computer, few offer a better price-to-performance ratio than the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX. Based on the design of the legendary Sennheiser HD 650, the HD 6XX is a steal at half the price.

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Basically, you get a tuning on the HD 6XX that approaches the preferred flatter bass response desired for accurate audio edits.

Best open back headphones for gaming: Corsair VIRTUOSO PRO

If what appeals to you is the wider soundstage with greater localization, and lack of heat build-up for gaming with open backs, check out the Corsair VIRTUOSO PRO. While this market is still pretty niche, there are some good reasons to consider open backs for gaming, considering that most people game in quiet spaces anyhow, and portability is not a concern.

The Corsair VIRTUOSO PRO headset next to its included cables.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
You can remove the cables and the boom mic.

The VIRTUOSO PRO headset contains 50mm dynamic drivers in a pretty traditional looking design with a nice sounding detachable boom mic. While the padding takes some breaking in and is made of unremarkable fabric, gamers won’t have to contend with sweat. Plus, you get two cables and a headphone splitter. Overall, the sound emphasizes low mids and higher bass frequencies more than nearly all open back headphones and more than our headphone preference. Still, for experiencing immersion with rumbling sounds in games, it’s not bad at all. Check it out; it might just be the right choice for you.

Corsair VIRTUOSO PROCorsair VIRTUOSO PRO
Corsair VIRTUOSO PRO
Open-back design • Premium materials • Detachable microphone
MSRP: $199.99
An open-back headset with a detachable microphone for gaming, streaming, and creating.
The open-back design of the Corsair VIRTUOSO PRO provides breathability and great sound localization for gaming. A microphone makes this headset great for virtual meetings or streaming.

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For open backs, these offer more low end than expected.

The Sennheiser HD 490 Pro are great open-back headphones for audio professionals

Sennheiser HD490 PRO headphones on man facing left.
Chase Bernath / SoundGuys
The Sennheiser HD 490 PRO is versatile and relatively affordable.

The Sennheiser HD 490 PRO is ideal for bedroom music producers. The swappable velour and fabric ear pads provide versatility for those needing mixing and producing headphones on a limited budget. Sennheiser partnered with Dear Reality to develop the dearVR MIX plugin, a $125 value that you get a free access code for included with the Sennheiser HD 490 Pro. With durability, versatility, and good sound quality, you can’t go wrong with these open back headphones.

Sennheiser HD 490 PROSennheiser HD 490 PRO
Sennheiser HD 490 PRO
Open back • Two washable ear pads • Includes Dear Reality dearVR MIX-SE plugin
MSRP: $399.99
Built for comfort, clarity, and versatility.
The Sennheiser HD 490 Pro are professional open-back headphones tuned for professional use. Swappable ear pads and reference sound make this an ideal headphone for music producers.

Who should buy the Sennheiser HD 800 S?

A photo of a man listening to the Sennheiser HD 800 S headphones.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S do a great job with recreating the illusion of space in recordings.

Look, most of us cannot afford the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but we’d be remiss not to mention them. These chunky open back headphones feel great and offer an excellent, wide, deep, and immersive soundstage. Landing firmly in the legacy of studio style frequency responses, don’t expect huge low end, but do expect your audio to sound pretty accurate. The uniquely shaped ear cups position the dynamic drivers at an angle to really pinpoint how you receive the sound. Truly, these are worth your time if you have the cash.

Sennheiser HD 800 SSennheiser HD 800 S
Sennheiser HD 800 S
Sound quality • Illusion of space • Comfort
MSRP: $1,699.95

Best open back headphones: Notable mentions

A photo of the Focal Clear MG headphones lying atop wood.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
Open back headphones run the gamut of affordable to grail status, like the Focal Clear MG.
  • AKG K702: AKG makes some of the most lightweight and comfortable open back headphones, including these. We just wish they felt a little more robust. Nevertheless, when found at a good price ($135 at Amazon) these supply a good studio style frequency response suitable for sound mixing.
  • Audeze MM-100 ($399 at Amazon): These have a great build quality and planar magnetic drivers at a reasonable price.
  • Audio-Technica ATH-GDL3: For the gamers out there looking for another open back option these look good, and have accessible controls. You get the benefits of open backs, but unfortunately, the tuning is really exaggerated, and build quality could see improvements. Check it out for $129 at Amazon.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro: For those who already own a headphone amp, these come in for fewer bucks ($169 at Amazon) than the DT 900 PRO X, but they need the amp. Otherwise, they sound great and do what they promise: studio style tuning.
  • Focal Clear MG: For those with cash to burn, these open back headphones use a magnesium driver, similar to a standard dynamic driver, offering a heavy, but comfortable fit. The sound sits in between consumer friendly and studio appropriate, which will make a lot of people happy. This all comes in at a wallet destroying price of $1499 at Amazon.
  • HiFiMan HE400SE: Once again HiFiMan manages to outdo expectations with these planar open backs for barely over $100. If you want something a bit more premium than the AKG K240 Studio, the HE400SE are a nice alternative. Try them for $109 at Amazon.
  • Koss Porta Pro: These are the odd one out of the bunch, and definitely the most portable headphones on the list. As an inexpensive folding set of on-ear open back headphones they do not purport to suit studio style tastes. Rather, they are meant for on-the-go comfort with a fairly consumer-friendly sound. You can even wear them with glasses comfortably, for only $59 at Amazon.
  • Meze Audio 109 Pro: It’s unusual to find open back headphones without a notable bass volume rolloff. In this respect, the wooden Meze Audio 109 Pro uniquely retain the low end for $799 at Amazon. They introduce more distortion than your typical open back headphones, but still, they sound good and look good.
  • Neumann NDH 30 ($649 at Amazon): If you often mix on a studio monitor system or are simply seeking a reference headphone, the Neumann NDH 30 are worth considering.
  • Sennheiser HD 560S: These mainly plastic headphones don’t shy away from their decidedly utilitarian ethos. They sound pretty good, not overly trebly or bassy, with the right amount of midrange. Check them out for $207 at Amazon.
  • Sennheiser HD 600: Okay, while it is true that each model in the HD 6XX series possesses differences, you ought to compare them more in-depth against the Sennheiser HD 660S ($349 at Amazon), HD 660S2 (for $499 at Amazon), and HD 650 (for $399 at Amazon). They all supply a suitably similar “neutral” frequency response for critical listening and sound production, and many parts are easily replaced. For most folks, it makes the most sense to grab whichever pair you find the cheapest. Keep in mind, it might be easiest to track down spare parts for the HD 600 ($299 at Amazon) simply because they’ve been out since 1997.
  • Sony MDR-MV1 ($347 at Amazon): These are a bassy set of open back headphones best for content creators who are looking to step up their monitoring game.

What you should know about open back headphones:

Audeze LCD-5 showing the grilles on the faces of the open back ear cups.
Lightweight magnesium grilles are used to protect the open backs of the extremely expensive Audeze LCD-5.

The main thing to keep in mind with open back headphones are that they have slightly different ideal applications than closed back headphones. Sure, you’ll find overlap. After all, they’re headphones. Let’s consider some of the defining features of open back headphones.

Frequency responses on open back headphones

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Generally speaking, the frequency responses found on open back headphones will be light on bass. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily count as a bad thing. Traditionally, the domain of open back headphones is in sound mixing and mastering. There, the more “neutral” leaning mids and bass represent a more accurate presentation of audio without masking any warts that need edits. Audio enthusiasts gravitate towards these legacy studio-style tunings for the lack of overtly hyped frequencies in their favorite music.

With the ambient sound of your room and the absence of pressure from sealed closed backs, the experience of sound can feel more “natural.” The soundstage of open back headphones will vary from one model to another, but the sense of space, depth, and immersion offered by even inexpensive open back headphones rivals or outdoes that of some of the best closed back headphones. That’s simply one of the strengths of open backs. You can hear more easily where in space an instrument is located, a boon for complicated and busy mixes.

Isolation, or why open back headphones are the ultimate transparency mode

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Keeping this short and sweet, open backs offer effectively zero isolation. Arguaby, semi-open-back headphones like the AKG K240 Studio might block a little more environmental noise than completely open back headphones, but the difference remains minor. You buy open backs to listen in a quiet space, like your home. Not only do they not isolate much at all, they also leak sound. So, you really don’t want to listen to your guilty pleasure band on a crowded bus because it’ll be a pretty revealing experience for you and annoying for other passengers.

Some, but not all, open-backs need headphone amps

The Sennheiser HD 599 rests on top of an audio interface with the 1/4-inch cable held in a hand inserting it into the headphone output. A wrapped 3.5mm cable rests nearby.
Sometimes you can use an audio interface as a headphone amp.

Given that you’ll listen to your open back headphones at home or in a studio while editing, you’ll be able to supply adequate juice to your headphones with an amp. Not all open back headphones require an amp, but many do, and it’s a barrier to entry as an additional cost. Many basic audio interfaces come with better headphone outputs than just your computer, so you don’t necessarily need the most expensive boutique headphone amp.

In any case, not every open back headphone needs an amp. The lower the impedance (measured in ohms) and greater the sensitivity (usually measured in dB/SPL per milliwatt), the less power they need. Still, you won’t break your headphones if you take a risk by buying them, and if they sound super quiet, get an amp.

How we test open back headphones

Sennheiser HD650 mounted on B&K5128 test head, viewed from the front.
We test our headphones on the B&K 5128.

We subject all of our review units to the same testing methodology so that the results are directly comparable. Besides our objective measurements, we also rely on the experience and knowledge of our editors and writers to assess each product that we test with real world use. Through this combination of objective and subjective measures we arrive at our conclusions, keeping in mind how the headphones are going to be used and who will use them. After all, we want to ensure that what you get is what is promised on the box.

How we choose the best open back headphones

Relying on a combination of our team of experienced writers and editors with backgrounds in audio, and objective measurements, our picks for the best open back headphones are the result of thorough investigations into what works best for different users. If money were no object, and availability was unlimited, this list might look different. Our picks strike a balanced assessment of different types of open back headphones for various consumers with a variety of budgets with data to back them up.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

A man plays guitar wearing the Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X.
We actually use products in real scenarios before we recommend them.

At SoundGuys, we offer free, unbiased reviews and recommendations backed by sound data and experienced reviewers. None of our staff benefits financially from any purchase our readers make. If you choose to purchase an item and click through an affiliate link, the company gains a percentage of the sale, but no individual benefits from one pick over another. Our writers don’t base their suggestions on anything besides merit. We want our readers to continue to use the site, so it’s in our best interest to ensure that our picks continue to instill trustworthiness based on objective measurements and rigorous real-world testing by knowledgeable staff. This all falls under our code of journalistic ethics.

Frequently asked questions

Most open back headphones have quiet bass than closed back headphones. When simplified, the reasons come down to bass frequencies in an open housing do not color the frequency response resonances like closed backs do. Think of open back headphones as small open speakers suspended in front of your ears, so there’s a whole room as a backdrop, but no build up of bass either. Engineers also tend to encounter distortion when trying to compensate for the sub-bass volume roll off in open back designs.

If you’ve ever heard a car with the windows and doors shut blasting the sound system, and all you can discern is the bass, it’s because low frequencies have longer waves and will go further and longer than high frequencies. Play a song on your open back headphones and the bass escapes easier than treble without the sealed housings to contain those low frequencies.

Provided you game in an otherwise quiet room, you can definitely use open back headphones for gaming. There are a couple of things to note, such as the soundstage likely will give a good indication of where sounds are located across the stereo field, which is great for first person shooters for instance. You won’t get as much low end volume as closed back gaming headsets typically offer. Lastly, your selection is pretty limited if you need a microphone on your headphones. Watch out for impedance and sensitivity to make sure you can get adequate volume if you choose to use standard open back headphones.

The point of open back headphones lies in their design which allows air and sound to pass through the back of the ear cups. This results in a more natural and spacious soundstage, closely mimicking the experience of listening to live music. The open design also reduces ear fatigue, making them ideal for extended listening sessions.

Yes, other people can indeed hear what you’re listening to through open back headphones. The open design allows sound to escape freely from the back of the ear cups, leading to sound leakage. This means that in quiet environments, nearby individuals may be able to hear the audio being played through the headphones.

Open back headphones are better for mixing because they provide a more accurate representation of sound. Their ability to deliver a natural soundstage and minimize coloration results in a clearer distinction of instruments and vocals, aiding in precise audio editing and mixing decisions.

Audiophiles like open-back headphones for their superior sound quality. The open design facilitates a detailed, airy, and spacious sound reproduction, offering a listening experience that is closer to natural acoustic performances. This enhanced sound fidelity is highly prized among enthusiasts seeking the most authentic listening experience.

Open-back headphones can be more expensive due to several factors, including the complexity of their design, the quality of materials used to achieve the desired acoustic properties, and the niche market they serve. The emphasis on sound quality and fidelity often requires advanced engineering and high-quality components, contributing to their higher price.

Open back headphones are often perceived to have less bass not because they lack the capability to produce low frequencies but because their open design does not trap bass frequencies in the same way closed-back models do. This can result in a more balanced sound profile, with bass that feels more integrated into the overall listening experience rather than overpowering.

Whether open ear headphones are healthier is subjective and depends on the listening habits and volume levels of the user. However, they can be considered healthier in the sense that they allow for better air circulation around the ears, potentially reducing ear fatigue and discomfort during prolonged use. They also encourage lower volume levels due to their natural sound leakage, possibly reducing the risk of hearing damage.