The 10 Best Open Back Headphones

Updated May 25, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

10 Best Open Back Headphones
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. If you think closed-back headphones produce a sound that's too much "in your head" and you favor a more "out in the world around me" audio experience, consider picking up a pair of these open back headphones. They produce a more spacious stereo image by allowing their magnets to resonate in all directions. Just beware that other people can hear whatever it is you've got on. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best open back headphone on Amazon.

10. Audio-Technica ATHADG1

The Audio-Technica ATHADG1 combine an audiophile-quality set of 53mm drivers with a headset-style microphone that has a 100-degree range of motion. The result is a pair of cans that can deliver high fidelity from your vinyl or keep you on top of your gaming life.
  • 3d wing support system adds comfort
  • built-in amplifier
  • mute only works while depressed
Brand Audio-Technica
Weight 2 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

9. Audeze EL-8

Designed and built in southern California, the Audeze EL-8 pair well with the innovations of Silicon Valley, as their Siri-compatible inline mic makes them an ideal partner for your smartphone. Unfortunately, moving your head and repositioning them creates noise.
  • magnetic array evens out sound
  • incredibly lightweight
  • mids are a little muddy
Brand Audeze
Model 200-E8-1211-00
Weight 3.8 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

8. HiFiMan HE 1000

The HiFiMan HE 1000 feature an asymmetrical magnet circuit that's designed specifically to reproduce the nuances and complexities of a live musical performance. Their stylistic combination of silver and wood tones makes them a bit of a fashion statement, too.
  • window shade openings
  • 90db sensitivity
  • cord connection is fragile
Model HE1000
Weight 6.9 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

7. Shure SRH1840

The Shure SRH1840 deliver professional quality with highly natural and acoustic sound reproduction, thanks to a pair of 40-millimeter neodymium drivers housed in a steel frame. They have a wide stereo image and an impressive depth of field.
  • aircraft-grade aluminum alloy
  • padded headband
  • not ideal for bass-heavy genres
Brand Shure
Model SRH1840
Weight 4.8 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

6. Sennheiser HD 700

The ventilated magnet system inside the Sennheiser HD 700 helps to minimize air turbulence, as well as harmonic intermodulation distortion, resulting in a sound stage with fewer artifacts and a clean, flat frequency response.
  • tangle-free cable
  • warm tonal balance
  • additional amplification required
Brand Sennheiser
Model HD 700
Weight 3.9 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

5. Stax SR-Lambada SR-507 Pro

The Stax SR-Lambada SR-507 Pro utilize push-pull electrostatic technology, which allows the circuitry to minimize distortion and unwanted frequencies while maximizing the available dynamic range. Their rectangular shape provides ample space for ear coverage.
  • 7-41000 hz response
  • genuine leather padding
  • connector end limits compatibility
Brand Stax SR-Lambada SR-507
Model SR-507
Weight 1.8 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

4. Sennheiser HD 800 S

The hallmark feature of the Sennheiser HD 800 S is the 56mm ring radiator transducer built into each ear cup. These are the largest drivers in any pair of dynamic cans, making these an especially high-fidelity option with an expansive range.
  • 4-pin balanced xlr
  • absorber technology controls noise
  • may be too wide for some heads
Brand Sennheiser
Model HD 800 S
Weight 5.7 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

3. Focal Elear Over-Ear

The M-shaped domes of the Focal Elear Over-Ear deliver a high-fidelity sound through drivers of aluminum and magnesium. It's not the beryllium of the company's top-of-the-line unit, but the audio these headphones provide is clear and dynamic.
  • memory foam cushions
  • solid yoke adds stability
  • break in nicely over time
Brand Focal
Model 3544055725015
Weight 6.5 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

2. Beyerdynamic DT 1990

The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 are handcrafted in Germany with an excellent impedance of 250 ohms. Their 45mm dynamic Tesla drivers are made from magnetic neodymium, the strength of which creates a broad and colorful frequency range.
  • detachable cable
  • earpads made with soft velour
  • titanium-coated acoustic fabric
Brand beyerdynamic
Model Dt1990 Pro
Weight 2.7 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

1. Focal Utopia Reference

The Focal Utopia Reference deliver supremely nuanced sound on a wide, engrossing stage provided by M-shaped domes of pure beryllium. They're designed and manufactured to incredibly high standards at the company's facility in France.
  • lambskin leather cushions
  • balanced separated cable
  • comfortably fit most heads
Brand Focal
Model Utopia
Weight 7.3 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

Open-Back Vs. Closed-Back Headphones

Understanding the difference between open-back and closed-back headphones will help you determine which kind is right for your needs. To say it's all in the name would be an apt description here, as the structural difference between the two really is all in the name. Closed-back headphones have completely closed backs or cups. Open-back headphones on the other hand, have backs with many tiny holes or slits in them: picture the difference between a soup bowl and a colander. The soup bowl would be the closed-back headphones and the colander would be the open-back headphones.

Closed-back headphones are ideal for isolating noise. If you were to sit in a park listening to music with a pair of closed-back headphones, you wouldn't hear any of the ambient noises around you like birds chirping, people talking, etc. A standard pair of closed-back headphones produces roughly 10dB of noise reduction. Just as no ambient noise leaks in, closed-back headphones also prevent noise, like your music, from leaking out.

This isolating property makes closed-back headphones ideal for certain situations. In studio applications, where a sound engineer needs to hear every little nuance of the music, closed-back headphones are essential. They are also ideal for situations where one plans on listening to music, but doesn't want the noise leaking out to disturb their neighbors, like in a library or on an airplane. Closed-back headphones are also useful in applications where one will also be using a microphone, like with a gaming headset. They help prevent unwanted feedback from the headphones from bleeding over into the microphone.

Open-back headphones are designed to allow the ambient noises to pass freely through the headphones cups. This alters the listening experience and gives the effect that the music is playing in the world around you. Consider the scenario from before when sitting in the park. If you were listening with open-back headphones instead of closed-back headphones, you would be able to hear the birds chirping and the people talking.

While this might sound like a disadvantage at first, it can actually be an advantage in many scenarios. For example, if you like to listen to music while skateboarding or jogging, being able to hear the cars and the sound of a horn honking can be a lifesaver. Some also feel that having the sound feel as if it is filling the room makes it more enjoyable and allows them to feel less isolated from the people around them. A person who is relaxing on the beach and wants to hear the sound of the waves while listening to music at the same time would be better off with a pair of open-back headphones.

Considerations For Picking The Perfect Pair

Picking the perfect pair of headphones can be tough. It often becomes a juggling act of portability, comfort, sound, and price. Understanding your intended applications is a big step in helping you pick the right pair.

If you want a pair of headphones to use while traveling, portability will be an important factor. If they are too big, you may wind up not taking them along or storing them in a place that becomes too inconvenient to access. Then, no matter how good they sound, you may wind up rarely or never using them. If you travel often or need a super compact pair, consider headphones that fold up.

Comfort is another factor of vital importance. If a pair is uncomfortable to wear for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time, this can be problematic if you intend to use them on long train or airplane rides. On the other hand, if you just want to use them for quick 20 minutes walks or rides to work, comfort may not be as important. Most often headphones that are lighter in weight and those with thick foam ear cushions will be more comfortable for extended use.

One should also take the build quality and warranty into account. The more durable the build, the longer a pair will last. Those who plan to use their headphones in more extreme conditions like jogging and biking will need a more durable pair than one who will be sitting in a chair listening to music. It never hurts to have a good warranty either. Most high-end headphones come with a one or two year warranty.

After all of the above has been taken into account, sound is the final factor which must be considered. This may seem counter intuitive that sound is the final consideration for headphones, but if all of the above factors aren't considered first, one will often end up with a pair of headphones that are rarely used or break after just a few months.

Understanding Frequency Response and Impedance

Headphone specifications can be hard to understand with confusing terms like frequency response and impedance thrown around. Understanding what these terms mean and how to read the specifications will help in picking the best pair of headphones for your needs.

Frequency response simply refers to the headphones capability to reproduce audio frequencies. You'll often encounter frequency response written in the following way; 20-20,000Hz. The first number refers to how deep the bass reproduction will be. The second number represents the highest frequency the headphones can reproduce. The wider the range, the better.

Impedance refers to the electrical resistantance of the current being passed through the headphones. In essence, it means how much power it takes to push sound through the headphones at a particular volume. It is represented in ohms, and the higher the number, the more energy your device needs to play sound at certain volumes.

Those looking to listen to their headphones with MP3 players or computers, should look for models with a lower impedance of 100 ohms of less. Those who are purchasing a very high quality pair of headphones for use with a standalone headphone amplifier, can purchase a pair with 300 or more ohms of impedance.

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Last updated on May 25, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.

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