The Best Open Back Headphones

Grado Labs SR80e Open Back Headphones

If you are on the never-ending quest for the best listening experience, then eventually you will arrive at open back headphones. They have a sound all to their own that is worth hearing.

Open back headphones are headphones where there is no material on the back side of the driver to block sound from escaping away from your ears. That translates to sound from the headphones being projected into the space around you. In the same way, you are not isolated from the outside world and any environmental sound around you will be heard as much as your music.

For these reasons open back headphones are not ideal for offices, commutes to work, or any loud environments. Not only will you hear all the noise around you but those around you may get annoyed listening to your music.

The positive side to them, though, is they produce a more natural sound that can feel airy and spacious. There is also less resonance frequency buildup that can cause colorization in some closed back headphones, leading to greater transparency in the audio. Thanks to the open-air flow, they often feel cooler to wear for longer periods of time.

One thing to consider while looking at headphones of this high caliber is their impedance (expressed in ohms). Many high-quality headphones have a high impedance and will need a headphone amp to sound proper and reach a decent listening volume.

This is because most devices like smartphones or laptops don’t have enough power to drive a high-impedance headphone to a good volume. So, keep in mind the higher the impedance, the more the headphone would benefit from a headphone amp.

Below are some of the best open back headphones available on the market that are worth considering.

Best Value
Sennheiser HD600

Sennheiser's HD600 is one of the best pairs of open back headphones you can buy

The HD600 from Sennheiser has been a gold standard in the headphone world for over twenty years, and for good reason. They not only sound amazing, being neutral and spatial, they also draw attention to details within music of all genres, while being comfortable enough for hours of listening.

Their optimized magnets and lightweight aluminum voice coils ensure excellent transient response. The open design eliminates standing waves that can cause acoustical disturbances and artifacts. The HD600 are light and comfortable to wear with the head band resting with little pressure while the muffs feel unconfined and airy. The sophisticated design is simple while still showcasing its high-end quality.

The HD600 is the best value open back headphones; not for their price, which is higher, but because they are so well rounded in all aspects that they could be the last pair of headphones you buy.

These Headphones Are For:

Anyone who appreciates music.

These Headphones Are Not For:

Someone looking for a wide soundstage for gaming.

Best Budget
Grado SR80e

A Vinyl Collection with the Grado SR80e

Grado is a family-run business that goes back three generations, and through all that time they have hand built their products in Brooklyn, including the SR80e.

To lower the price while maintaining the fantastic sound that Grado is known for, they sacrifice some quality in materials, like using plastic throughout, a nondetachable cable, and cheaper foam. The sound has a neutral mid-range that helps to deliver rich voices and a smooth top end that highlights details nicely. They have a classic retro design that people either love or hate, but regardless is lightweight and fairly comfortable.

They have a low impedance of 32ohms, meaning they can be powered easily to a decent level by most devices. If you are looking to hear what open back headphones are all about, the SR80e is a great choice.

These Headphones Are For:

Those looking to have a pair of open back headphones on a budget.

These Headphones Are Not For:

Those looking for a robust pair of headphones.

Best Hi-fi
Audeze LCD-3

Hi-Fi Open Back Headphones

Audeze’s LCD-3 is a headphone uncompromising in its delivery of beautiful transparent sound and its stunning visual design, making it one of the best open back headphones for classical music. Handcrafted in the USA to high standards, every LCD-3 is tested then calibrated in Audeze’s California factory before shipping; guaranteeing that quality is maintained.

The flagship LCD-3 delivers a huge soundstage that is wide with an astonishing amount of depth. An ultra-thin diaphragm is used for fast response, reduced distortion and high resolution while a patented Fazor element guides internal sound waves to avoid resonances. Unlike most headphones, the LCD-3 uses a planar magnetic driver design, where a flat diaphragm is surrounded by neodymium magnets to produce sound.

The LCD-3’s appearance is just as impressive with the striking exotic hardwood rings that are grain and color matched. The LCD-3 arrives in a professional hard travel case and includes a premium detectable cable.

If you are looking for unprecedented audio reproduction that will transport you into the room with the musicians then the LCD-3 are the headphones for you.

These Headphones Are For:

Someone looking for an astonishing Hi-fi headphone.

These Headphones Are Not For:

Someone who isn’t fixated with audio performance.

Best Looking
Monolith M1060

The Best Looking Open Back Headphones with real wood

The Monolith M1060 open back headphones are a mix of superb audio quality and intriguing good looks at a reasonable price.

Using a 106mm planar driver, the M1060 achieves a balanced sound with impressive imaging that highlights sonic detail wonderfully. Planar drivers differ from traditional dynamic drivers found in most headphones. Users find that planar drivers have improved bass response, more transient detail, and lower distortion.

Just as impressive as the sound of the M1060 is the overall industrial design, featuring black metal throughout with attractive wood rings that add a subtle accent. The rugged design is built to last using high-quality components and adhering to rigid quality control standards.

If a great looking open back headphone is on your list and you want it to sound as good as it looks, then Monolith’s M1060 is worth your consideration.

These Headphones Are For:

Someone looking for a great looking pair of open back headphones.

These Headphones Are Not For:

Those that may find them too big or bulky.

Best Compact
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

The Best Lightweight Open Back Headphones

If you are looking for a pair of headphones that are lightweight and compact while being robust enough for professional use, then the ATH-R70x from Audio-Technica is for you.

Coming in at only 7.4oz it is one of the lightest open back headphones around. This is a big factor in why they stay comfortable while wearing them for extended periods. Adding to their comfort is the improved 3D wing support system that rests on your head with little pressure. 

Inside the ATH-R70x are high efficiency magnets and a pure alloy magnetic circuit design that help to reduce distortion and extend high frequency response. They provide acoustically transparent audio that is a pleasure to listen to no matter what the genre or application is. The detachable cable is a unique design that will maintain correct stereo orientation regardless of how you connect them.

The ATH-R70x provides stellar audio performance wherever you take them.

These Headphones Are For:

Someone looking for professional open back headphones that they can take with them on the go.

These Headphones Are Not For:

Those that will only use their headphones at home.

Best For Gaming
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

For in immersive Audio experience while gaming we recommend the DT 990 Pros

If gaming is your passion as well as audio, then the DT 990 Pros, being one of the best open back headphones on the market, will take your gaming experience to the next level as you get lost in the surrounding sounds.

The DT 990 Pros deliver balanced bass and treble with detailed resolution that has an impressive amount of spatial depth. The wide stereo image and three-dimensional sound reproduction ensures you can hear even slight changes in the positioning of the elements you are listening to; meaning footstep direction and other directional sounds will translate clearly to the player. The soft velour pads are comfortable and made with extended listening sessions in mind.

The DT 990 Pros are handcrafted in Germany with high-quality materials, and will offer a unique gaming experience at an affordable price. 

These Headphones Are For:

Someone looking to take their gaming experience to the next level.

These Headphones Are Not For:

Those looking for Hi-fi headphones.

Honorable Mention
Shure SRH1840

Top Hifi Open Back Headphones

Built upon Shure’s legendary performance, the SRH1840 is Shure’s flagship open back headphone, and delivers high-end acoustic performance with smooth, extended high-end and accurate bass.

These headphones were developed with premium materials including aircraft-grade aluminum alloy for the yoke, stainless steel grilles, and high-density, slow-recovery foam ear pads wrapped in velour. Shure is known for their durable products and the SRH1840 are no different, being built to withstand the demands of everyday use.

Individually matched 40mm neodymium drivers provide exceptionally natural sound with a wide-open stereo image. Guaranteeing a long life, the SRH1840 comes with a storage case, a replacement set of velour ear pads, and replacement cable.

These headphones are ideal for professional mastering, studio work, or critical listening.

These Headphones Are For:

Someone who works with music daily.

These Headphones Are Not For:

Applications that do not require critical listening.

Open Back Headphones Buying Guide

If you’re in the market for a pair of the best open-back headphones, then you’ve come to the right place.

To many people, especially audiophiles who are serious about their music listening experience, choosing the right headphones is just like choosing a life partner – crucial.

Deciding on a pair of open-back headphones can be very confusing. Many of the models available out there can look pretty similar, but their performance specifications and price tags can vary widely.

On your own, the search for reliable open-back headphones can seem too overwhelming, which is why we’re here playing matchmaker.

In this buying guide, we’ll be walking you through the process of choosing open-back headphones, from what they actually are, all the way to the features you should look at before making a purchase.

So buckle up, and let us help you find the best open-back headphones for your needs and budget.

On-Ear Grados

What are Open Back Headphones?

Open-back headphones are headphones designed to be open to airflow via the back of the ear cups (that side that’s facing outwards).

They’re often built with some sort of perforations (such as stripes or dots) in the ear cups to allow the entry and exit of air through the ear cups.

Thanks to this “breathability” aspect, the sound produced from the headphone drivers can escape from the headphones out into your immediate environment, while still reaching the person’s ears wearing the open-back headphones.

Additionally, such headphones’ open design prevents the build-up of excess sound pressure by allowing it to escape from the ear cups. This helps keep your sound quality intact and reduces echoes/reflections within the ear cups.

As a result, open-back headphones can deliver better sound clarity, less bass frequency build-up, and wider stereo image.

Unfortunately, if you want to experience this improvement in sound quality fully, you need to be in a quiet environment. That’s because the openings in the ear cups allow external noise to get inside the headphones.

Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones

Now that you have a better idea of what open-back headphones are, it’s only fair that we discuss how they compare to their closed-back counterparts.

So what are closed-back headphones? These are headphones where the back of the ear cups, also facing outwards, is completely sealed, preventing airflow from entering.

Such ear cups prevent sound from exiting out of the drivers and into the surrounding environment, as well as blocks external sound from entering.

Basically, the sound stays enclosed inside each headphone, and unless you’re listening with the volume set high, no sound escapes.

The closed system of these headphones is excellent for passive noise cancellation through the physical blocking of sound waves. This isolation can be easily upgraded by adding active noise cancellation.

Open-back headphones are lacking in this particular aspect. Their design causes less noise isolation since the external sounds can easily enter your ear and interfere with your listening experience.

That being said, the fact that closed-back headphones prevent sound from escaping causes narrower stereo fields and a possible build-up on bass frequencies.

Open-Back vs. Semi-Open-Back Headphones

As the name suggests, semi-open-back headphones happen when you try to mash up the open-back and closed-back design. These headphones are somewhat closed-back, but the speaker elements aren’t completely sealed, so they allow some air to flow in and out of the ear cups.

While this design does give semi-open headphones some of the pros of open-back headphones, unfortunately, they also get all of the cons. For example, semi-open-back headphones will let sound escape and let noise enter, even if it’s less than their cousins.

Still, many audio enthusiasts consider semi-open headphones to be a marketing term more than a technical one.

They think that ear cups are open to the surrounding environment, or they aren’t, which simply makes the semi-open-back design fall under the open-back headphones category.

Why Should You Buy Open-Back Headphones?

Many people refer to open-back headphones as audiophile headphones. It doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, a gamer, a producer, a music listener, or all of them combined – if you’re mainly concerned about sound quality, then open-back headphones are your perfect match.

There are many examples of applications that are best suited to open-back headphones, starting from mixing and mastering all the way to solo listening and solo gaming.

Mixing and mastering engineers generally prefer open-back headphones because of their more “open” sound. Using these headphones, they’re able to experience sound that’s closer to how studio monitors sound.

Thanks to their wide stereo image and flat frequency response, open-back headphones can produce a cleaner sound with more precision.

You should note that the level of environmental noise in these mixing settings is practically non-existent, which means that engineers won’t have to deal with external noise.

• Pro tip – if you’re a mixing engineer, it’s best that you mix/master on both open-back and closed-back headphones. Since many people will be listening to your music on earphones or closed-back headphones in addition to open-back ones, using both headphone types will provide the end listener with a pleasant cross-over experience. (No matter what headphone they’re wearing.)

Open-back headphones are also an excellent choice for solo gamers and solo listeners when spending time by themselves. The amplified realism and improved stereo width can boost the gaming/listening experience without annoying anyone around them.

One last reason you should buy open-back headphones is for situations where you must stay aware of your surroundings.

These headphones are less noise-isolating, so you’ll still be able to hear external sounds while listening to your music. Such sounds could be a knock at the door, a phone ringing, or someone trying to get your attention.

Silver Headphones

How to Choose the Best Open-Back Headphones

Once you’ve made sure that open-back headphones are the type you want, it’s time you move on to choosing a suitable pair for your listening needs. Below are the most important considerations for selecting the best open-back headphones.

Style: On-Ear vs. Over-Ear

The first thing you need to look at is the style of the headphones. This means choosing whether you want an on-ear or over-ear design.

On-ear headphones are kind of the middle ground between in-ear (such as earbuds) and over-ear headphones. They have similarities in the overall shape as over-ear models, but they’re more compact and can easily fold up for portability.

Moreover, on-ear headphones are a fantastic alternative for audiophiles who don’t like having a bud shoved into their ears but still need something compact enough to carry on the go more conveniently.

As for comfort, on-ear headphones are decently comfortable yet not so much as over-ear headphones. As the name suggests, on-ear headphones have padding that rests on the outer ear.

In this case, comfort is determined by how hard the clamp is. If it’s too hard, the headphones will hurt you after wearing them for long hours, and if it’s too soft, the headphones will fall off.

As for over-ear headphones, they’re far more superior when it comes to comfort and sound quality. But they’re also way less portable than on-ear models.

The portability isn’t nearly an issue if you just want a nice pair of open-back headphones to use while sitting at home. Though, if you often pack your headphones to accompany you on the road, then you should consider investing in a pair of on-ear headphones.

The body of over-ear headphones rarely touches your ears. Instead, they feature padding that rests around your ears, which is how they’re able to stay comfortable even after listening for extended periods.

Because they are bigger, over-ear headphones have more room for larger drivers – this is part of the reason they tend to sound so much better than on-ear models.

Connection – Wired vs. Wireless

Next, you need to choose whether you want your open-back headphones to be wired or wireless. This decision is totally up to which style you think is more convenient and makes your life easier.

Wired headphones, on one side, can be limiting when it comes to movement since the cable will be restraining your range of motion as long as you’re wearing them. But on the bright side, you don’t have to worry about battery life with such models – just plug it in, and you’re all set.

On the other side, wireless headphones give you more freedom to move within the specified connectivity range. However, you’ll need to make sure to charge your headphones, though sometimes, the battery life isn’t that long.

Frequency Response

Frequency response is the spec that tells the range of frequencies that your open-back headphones can produce to result in a full sound. Frequency response is measured in Hz (Hertz), which you can easily find in any headphones product description.

The frequency range of human hearing is 20Hz to 20kHz, and most headphones on the market have the same frequency range advertised in their specs list – this doesn’t give you much insight into the headphones’ sound quality, since it’s what you can hear regardless.

So yes, you should avoid buying headphones with a frequency response of less than 20Hz – 20kHz, but don’t deem any headphone lying within this range as quality.

However, headphones that produce sound above or below these frequencies aren’t entirely pointless. Yes, you won’t be able to hear them, but a wider frequency response will give the sounds at the two extremes a bit more room to breathe for a slightly better listening experience.

You’ll find instruments such as kick drums, bass guitars, and bass synths in the lower frequencies. The cymbals and sibilance of vocals verses, however, are part of the higher frequencies. In between the two frequencies lies other drums, guitars, vocals, and more.

Driver Type

Headphones are just mini speakers, and like speakers, they’re equipped with drivers (at least one on each side). The driver is the main component that produces sound signals within any headphones by vibrating the air.

Since they’re not sealed, the construction of drivers should be sturdy and of high quality. There are a few major types of drivers out there, so here’s a simple breakdown to help you make a decision:

• Dynamic drivers – these are what you can find on the vast majority of average-level headphones.

Dynamic drivers are the cheapest type to produce, so they’re more affordable, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they sound bad.

In fact, dynamic drivers can usually reproduce a solid bass response without consuming much power. The catch, however, is that they tend to distort easily at higher volumes.

• Planar magnetic drivers – due to their larger size, you’ll typically only find these drivers on more expensive over-ear headphones.

Planar magnetic drivers produce what most audiophiles consider to be a much better sound. They don’t distort as easily as dynamic drivers, and they offer a superior bass response.

The thing is, this type of driver needs more power than dynamic headphones, so you’ll want a headphone amp to run it properly.

• Electrostatic drivers – these operate quite differently from the other drivers mentioned above.

Electrostatic drivers produce a notably undistorted sound accompanied by a wide soundstage. Their frequency response is also pretty natural.

Still, there are a couple of downsides. For one, these drivers are much more expensive to make, so they’ll cost you more money.

Electrostatic drivers also require a headphone amplifier, and they’re commonly only available in over-ear headphones due to their large size.

• Balanced armature drivers – last but not least, these drivers are exclusively found in in-ear headphones, and they work a bit similar to dynamic drivers.

Balanced armature drivers can be adjusted to produce specific frequencies – this is why it’s common for in-ear headphones to carry multiple balanced armature drivers tuned to different frequencies. Some manufacturers will add dynamic drivers to create a more even frequency response.


Impedance refers to the opposition that your headphones offer against the flow of current from your headphone amplifier. Impedance will mainly depend on the type of setup you own.

Generally speaking, the impedance varies from 8Ω (ohms) up to hundreds of ohms on high-end models.

Most headphones on the market are built with low impedance to allow powering them via smartphones, tablets, laptops, or PCs. If a headphone is a high impedance, it’ll need a dedicated headphone amplifier to produce sufficient sound.

If you plan on using your headphones with a small device or a PC, you’ll do fine with any open-back headphones with an impedance of less than 25Ω.

However, if you’re working with a headphone amplifier, you’re better off getting higher-impedance headphones. You determine this value according to your amplifier.


Another spec you should consider on your open-back headphones is sensitivity, which refers to how loud headphones can get with the power they receive. Sensitivity is measured in decibels (dB).

In general, sensitivity is measured for every one mW (milliwatt) of power. A sensitivity level of 115dB / mW means that the headphones can generate 115dB of volume for every one milliwatt input of power.

Usually, a sensitivity of between 90dB and 105dB / 1mW will be perfectly safe and comfortable for use. Listening to music at higher levels may damage your hearing, so be mindful.

Noise Cancellation

As we mentioned earlier, open-back headphones are lacking in the passive noise cancellation department. For this reason, you should look at pairs that feature active noise cancellation, which doesn’t rely on the physical design of the headphones.

Active noise cancellation is a relatively new and complicated technology to explain. It was developed to eliminate the dependency on passive noise cancelation.

Put simply, this technology is built into the ear cups where certain electronic components detect frequencies of surrounding sounds. They then generate new frequencies that are 180 degrees out of phase with the detected noise, which causes a canceling effect.

Unfortunately, there’s no standard measurement for noise cancellation, so it’s difficult to say what a “good” noise cancellation is before actually wearing the headphones.

So is there a drawback to noise cancellation? Although most people don’t mind this, noise cancellation usually affects the audio quality in minor ways.

For example, you may hear a faint hiss using noise-canceling headphones, or the frequency response may be slightly altered.

Wrapping It Up

For most people, their wallet is the ultimate deciding factor for choosing a pair of headphones.

Luckily, if you take the time to go through the specs we discussed today, your mission will be way less confusing and frustrating.

Not only will you enjoy looking at all the features and specs that different brands have to offer, but you’ll also be able to find the best open-back headphones within your set budget right from our list at the top.

About The Author

Jack Nemo is a professional sound engineer based in Alberta, Canada. He’s managed to make a career out of his love for music while working with artists from around the world. When not behind a soundboard he can be found taking things apart to see how they work and attempting to put them back together again.