Open-back headphones are usually the go-to choice for audiophiles or people who are looking for a wider soundstage. More often than not, they are also the superior choice in terms of comfort.
The only problem is that there is quite a lot to choose from and most options are not exactly cheap either. You need a bit of research to truly find the best.
So, you can either spend hours checking out various headphones – or 10 minutes to read this article and see if there’s something that suits you. So, let’s get right into it!
Things to Keep in Mind
Before you start checking out headphones, we’d recommend you keep a few things in mind at all times. Those will make your choice much easier and can save you a lot of pain down the road.
- Impedance: This is by far the most important thing to keep in mind. The higher the impedance, the harder that it will be to drive your headphones. So, if you need to use the same pair on a desktop and on portable devices alike, definitely get something with a lower impedance
- Soundstage: A wider soundstage means that you perceive the audio as if it’s coming from around you rather than inside your head. That’s not necessarily better. But, if you prefer having a narrow soundstage, then you should probably look at closed-back headphones instead
- Imaging: Imaging is how accurate headphones can pinpoint sound to your ears. While that’s not a big deal for music listeners, it can be very important for gamers
- Audio signature: Some headphones provide neutral sound while others are made with something more bassy in mind and anything in between. Keep an eye out for that and remember that while you can adjust the sound with an equalizer, in most cases, you’ll be hard-pressed to beat hardware with software
- Comfiness: If you’re planning on using headphones for long periods of time non-stop, then definitely keep an eye on how comfortable they are. And while it’s hard to understand if headphones are comfortable without trying them on in real life, you can still look for things like ear-pads, cushioning, and clamping force
- Modability: Do you want removable ear-pads? Removable audio cables and microphones? Keep such things in mind
Our 5 Best Open Back Headphones
Those were some of the most important things to keep in mind. Normally, you’d want to look out for things like noise isolation and audio leakage as well. But, the truth is that almost all open-back headphones are very bad at such things due to their design anyway. That’s why we didn’t mention anything about them.
So, with all that out of the way, let us move on.
Best Budget Open Back Headphones
If you need a decent pair of open-back headphones while you’re also not willing to spend a lot, definitely check out Philips’ offering.
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Weight: 0.65 lbs
- Features: Removable 3.5mm cable, usable with a microphone
A great thing about these headphones is that they kind of chase the neutral audio signature that audiophiles are after on the cheap while also coming with a very low impedance. This is a dream come true for people who want to try a decent pair of open-back headphones without venturing into Sennheiser’s territory which is severely pricier.
Since they come with very low impedance, you can drive them with pretty much everything from stock sound cards to tablets, smartphones, and cheap MP3 players.
Another huge plus is the fact that they are very lightweight with a very low clamping force. They are one of the most comfortable headphones we’ve ever tried – if not the most comfortable.
However, the low clamping force also means low stability. Most of you are probably not going to be able to workout with them.
The standard 3.5mm cable is removable and you can also use it to add a boom mic. But, unfortunately, the ear-pads are not. And while you can just order remove mounts, insert custom ear-pads there, and then insert the ear-pad mount to the headphones, that also costs extra money and is definitely a bit troublesome.
Last, but not least, don’t forget that the SHP9500s are huge and that their build quality, while decent, isn’t the best.
- Low impedance
- Very comfortable
- Great value
- Big ear pads
- Can be used with a modded microphone
- Very wide soundstage and great imaging
- Mediocre build quality
- Ear-pads can feel a bit hot for some
- Non-removable ear pads (Unless you’re willing to mod them)
Best Budget Audiophile Headphones
We all know that Sennheiser is one of the biggest names in the audiophile industry – if not the biggest. Unfortunately, most of their headphones are very expensive. But, there are also a lot of budget variants and we think that the HD 599s are the best among them.
- Impedance: 50 ohms
- Weight: 0.60 lbs
- Features: Removable 1/8 cable, replaceable ear-pads
Just like the SHP9500s, the HD 599s come with a rather low impedance which means that you should be able to power them with pretty much anything. They are also more or less just as comfortable since we’re looking at a very low weight and clamping force.
Now, while the audio cable is removable, do keep in mind that the headphones use the 1/8 format which means that finding replacements is going to be slightly rougher. And the same applies to microphone mods as well.
As far as audio is concerned, we’re talking about Sennheiser here. So, you can expect to get very neutral sound with great imaging and a rather wide soundstage as well. The bass is a bit lacking, even when compared to the SHP9500s. But, thankfully, you can give it a small boost through an equalizer – if that’s your thing.
The ear-pads are well padded with microfiber and are replaceable. But, only through the same sort of modding that you’ll find in the SHP9500s.
- Very comfortable
- Decent value
- Great ear-pads
- Superb sound for the money
- Low impedance
- Great soundstage and imaging as well
- The 1/8 connector is a bit annoying
- Replacing the ear-pads isn’t as cheap and accessible as with other headphones at the same price or lower (M50x, Clouds, etc)
- The 1/8 connector makes it much tougher to use a boom mic (Adapters make it very easy to lose your connection with slight movements)
Best Mid-Range Open-Back Headphones
We can’t possibly talk about open-back headphones without mentioning the HD 600s. They are quite possibly the most popular and most recognizable pair of open-back headphones that you can find at the moment.
- Impedance: 300 ohms
- Weight: 0.57 lbs
- Features: Replaceable ear-pads (Only from Sennheiser. 3rd party pads need to be modded)
Keep in mind that unlike our previous recommendations, the HD 600s are relatively high-impedance headphones. And while they are still usable with portable devices, we’d highly recommend you use them with a dedicated amp. Otherwise, maybe go for the HD 599s instead.
If you’re after a neutral sound, these are some of the best headphones that you can get without spending too much. They are not cheap – but they don’t cost you an arm and a leg either. Pricing tends to fluctuate a lot but you can generally find them around the $300 mark.
That said, don’t forget that contrary to popular belief, good sound doesn’t mean “bassy” sound. If you’re a bass lover, maybe consider investing into something that has a bit of a thump to it or just head straight for closed-back headphones instead. These are not Beats and they were never intended to be.
In terms of comfort, while they are extremely lightweight, their clamping force is noticeably stronger compared to the cheaper options. This can be a con for people with sensitive heads – but it’s also a pro if you like moving around a lot while wearing headphones.
Another pro is that despite being plastic (For the most part), these headphones feel extremely sturdy and durable which is always a plus in our book.
- Decent build quality
- Great, neutral sound
- Superb imaging
- Awesome value
- Comfortable yet stable on your head
- Audio dynamics are great when paired with an amp
- Great pads
- Very large (Also a con if you care about portability)
- Not that good for portable devices
- Clamping force may be too strong for some people
- The proprietary cables make modding much tougher
- The soundstage is surprisingly average (As far as open-backs are concerned)
As far as open-back headphones are concerned, you usually want to take liberties with how you portray sound. Maybe you want to note that the bass is a bit on the low-end (No pun intended) or that the soundstage is a bit lackluster cause these things happen even with expensive cans. That’s not the case with the Edition X. These headphones just sound good. No matter how you look at it.
- Impedance: 20-30 ohms
- Weight: 0.88 lbs
- Features: Planar Magnetic Transducer, replaceable ear pads, removable 2.5mm cables
Unlike most open-back headphones, HiFiMan’s offering can offer a strong base, great audio balance, and superb soundstage – all in one package. Maybe that’s thanks to the Planar Magnetic Transducer. But, keep in mind that they are also very expensive. You’d be lucky to find a brand-new pair for $1000 or less.
One thing that surprised us is how low the impedance is. You can basically drive these with anything. Though, powering $1000+ headphones with a smartphone would be a shame, to say the least.
As far as comfort is concerned, the HiFiMan Edition X are not too great but certainly not bad either. They are certainly a bit heavier than the rest of our picks. But, they are very well padded and very large as well.
Build quality is pretty good with mostly metallic parts. So, we assume that they are going to be very sturdy in the long run.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are two versions of these headphones with the second one having a few improvements to the design. Amazon doesn’t mention anything about it in the link that we’ve provided so we can only assume that this is the first version.
- Superb sound
- Manages to provide strong base while still retaining clarity
- Generally comfortable for something that heavy
- Soundstage and imaging are out of this world
- Great pads
- Low impedance
- 2.5mm connectors will prevent you from doing certain mods (Although we highly doubt anyone would buy these to add a mic or a cheap 3rd party cable)
Best Base on a Budget
As we mentioned above, the HiFiMan EditionX manage to provide extremely good base while still delivering the neutral sound experience and super-wide soundstage that many people look for in open-back headphones. However, these cost well over a thousand dollars. The Superlux HD 681, on the other hand, typically comes in at less than $50!
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Weight: 0.5 lbs
- Features: Removable ear-pads
There is a catch, though. Unlike our previous picks, these ones are semi open-back. This means that they are open-back – but only partially.
This design elevates the bass quite a lot without sacrificing too much of what open-back headphones are known for. In fact, their soundstage can directly compete with some severely more expensive headphones like the SHP9500 and HD 599.
Obviously, you can’t expect to get everything at this price point. In fact, their treble reproduction is quite poor, breathability is mediocre at best due to the semi-open design, and the build quality is mediocre at best.
Also, don’t forget that despite the hybrid design, these are still open-back headphones. This means that they still leak a lot of sound and they have poor noise isolation. So, just like with the rest of our picks, we wouldn’t recommend taking these to commute or for outdoor use in general.
Still, if you’re after a new pair of headphones that can provide a closed-back-like base and open-back-like soundstage without spending too much, definitely check the HD 681 out!
- Low impedance
- Good base
- Wide soundstage
- Replaceable ear-pads are always a plus
- Good imaging
- Relatively neutral sound
- Great value
- Generally pretty comfortable
- Poor high-end reproduction
- Bad build quality
- Non-removable cable
These are our top open-back headphone picks for now. Mind you, the only reason we didn’t mention the HD 800 S and anything else that’s up there is because we feel that nobody who is reading an article like this is going to buy something that’s so expensive.
The Edition Xs are expensive as well. But, you can also find them for less than $1000 and they don’t absolutely require any audiophile equipment. In short, they are more beginner-friendly which is why we thought they are a safer bet.
In any case, if all of that is too much information to take in at once, here is everything that we reviewed in a nutshell:
- Philips SHP9500: A cheap option with good sound, wide soundstage, comfy design, and low impedance. It’s a great starting point if you want to experience true open-back design for the first time on the cheap
- Sennheiser HD 599: The best Sennheiser headphones you can grab on the cheap. They are extremely comfortable and can be powered by everything while providing the neutral sound experience that audiophiles love
- Sennheiser HD 600: All around great headphones for a great price. Just keep in mind that you need an amp to take full advantage of them
- HiFiMan Edition X: The best-sounding headphones that you can get on this list. Just keep in mind that they are very expensive. Thankfully, they can be powered by pretty much everything
- Superlux HD 681: Very cheap, semi-open headphones that are a great option for bass lovers
And that’s about it for now. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to let us know about them in the comments!