12 Best Open-Back Headphones in 2021

There are tons of headphone choices on the market, from microphone-installed earphones and headsets to pure sound devices like headphones and noise-canceling earbuds. Among those choices, you’ll find open-back headphones to be some of the more high-end options, with good reason. They can serve different purposes, whether you want a headphone for gaming, music, or even mixing. So, we’re giving you our list of the 12 best open-back headphones!

What Are Open-Back Headphones?

So what are open-back headphones? Their naming is quite apt since that’s exactly what they are, open-back headphones. These are headphones that don’t have fully enclosed speakers in a shell or covering. The gap lets air pass through the earpiece and prevents echoing due to the empty space.

Open-back headphones are usually used for sound mixing and mastering, critical listening or detailed listening, transcription, home use, and high-quality audio files. Even with its hefty price tag, most users of this type of headphones are audio professionals who rely on the additional crispness and clarity this type provides to give them an edge for their work.

 

Pros and Cons of Open-Back Headphones

PROS

  • Natural, crisp, and clear sounds
  • Distance and loudness properly emulated
  • No sound echoing due to empty headphone space
  • More comfortable since they let your ears “breathe”
  • Good for quiet and isolated spaces

CONS

  • Noise-canceling and blocking is less effective or nonexistent
  • Minimum sound isolation (has sound leakage)
  • Costly to buy
  • Can be more fragile due to the exposed electronics
  • Not good for use in public places

Open-back headphones are naturally superior to closed-back headphones in terms of sound quality and clarity. Without the rear enclosing backing, low-frequency echoing and buildup is removed. Sounds appear more naturally occurring and with an effect similar to full mounted speakers. That also leads to this type struggling to give out low-bass sounds, though.

Since this type of headphones is open, it also has poor sound isolation and noise-canceling that would let noise from the outside into your speakers. This effect also lets an average of 30% to 50% of your audio leak out to your environment. However, it does allow your ears to “breathe” while you’re using them.

Aside from an increased cost, open-back headphones are more susceptible to damage since they’re exposed to the open air.

All in all, in return for some fragility and a higher cost, open-back headphones are the best for sound-intensive and immersive needs. Whether you’re a record producer mixing the next hit or a gamer wanting an edge in your first-person shooter games, this type of headphone is a good investment.

 

Our List of the 12 Best Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones can be rare but we are giving you some good options for whatever needs. Before we start, though, we should note that all of these models have the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, but some smartphones and devices like the latest Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone lack a phone jack. You may need a headphone jack adapter to use these open-back headphones. If you do have one and it doesn’t work, though, you might want to look at our guide to hacks for making your headphone jack work on mobile.

Aside from that, you might also want to check out our guide on how to replace worn-out headphone earpads, so you know what to do when they do wear out.

 

1. Philips SHP9500

PROS

  • Great price
  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Decent build quality
  • Mid-range audio quality

The Philips SHP9500 is one of the cheapest open-backed headphones you can get. Although it’s got a good budget price, don’t discard it since it does offer all the positives open-backed headphones are known for. The SHP9500 has a good mid-range profile that lets the 50mm dynamic driver cope with most music and sounds. This does mean that it isn’t that good for extremely high or low sounds, however.

The SHP9500 is pretty average with good and comfortable ear cups with just enough pressure to keep them on your head. Aside from that, it has a mostly plastic build with a bit of metal to reinforce its headband.

 

2. Sennheiser HD 800 S

PROS

  • Great audio quality
  • Great build quality
  • Comfortable

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Costly

Now here’s the best of the best and one of the most luxurious on this list. The Sennheiser HD 800 S is the current holy grail for Sennheiser, with a price to match. The advantage of HD 800 S over others on this list is the excessive 56mm dynamic driver that gives phenomenal sound quality. From the highs to the lows and from bass to trebles, the HD 800 S will give you only the crispest and clearest audio experience available.

Aside from the audio quality, the HD 800 S is also a testament to German engineering since it has a rugged and hardy exterior paired with comfort for users. Once you’ve used the HD 800 S, you’ll find that you can’t really use any other headphones.

 

3. AKG Pro Audio K712 PRO

PROS

  • Best sound quality
  • Comfortable

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Costly
  • Bulky

The only entry from AKG on this list, the AKG Pro Audio K712 PRO, reproduces music and audio almost to a T. Its best quality is its accurate reproduction of treble responses. This means the K712 PRO is great for tasks that need high fidelity and sound quality.

Aside from the price, the major downside to the K712 Pro is its bulky plastic construction and hanging headband. This headband may be an uncomfortable hindrance to some users, while the weight might lead to some neck strain.

 

4. Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X

PROS

  • Great price
  • Comfortable
  • Great sound separation
  • Lightweight
  • Great build quality

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Mid-range audio quality

One of the lightest open-back headphones on this list, the Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X weighs just 8.32 ounces. Most of that weight is due to its magnesium frame and aluminum casing, with plastic and synthetic leather covering the rest.

Compared to the SHP9500, the AD500X also has a mid-range audio profile, but the 53mm dynamic driver has better sound separation. This lets you accurately measure the “distance” of sounds in games and react accordingly.

 

5. Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

PROS

  • Best sound quality
  • Lightweight
  • Good build quality

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Slightly uncomfortable ear cups

The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO is more lightweight than the AKG Pro Audio K712 PRO. It has a similar audio profile, but it actually has better bass responses instead of just the trebles. The DT 990 Pro also has a good build quality, even if it’s made mostly of plastic.

If you’re looking for a good and sturdy open-back headphone, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO may be the one that you’re looking for!

 

6. Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X

PROS

  • Good price
  • Lightweight
  • Good sound quality

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Decent build quality

An improved Audio-Technica offering compared to their ATH-AD500X, the ATH-AD700X is the next step up. While it still keeps a budget-conscious price, it is not a basic entry-level headphone. It has the same 53mm, dynamic drivers, as the AD500X model but has a better frequency range of 5 to 30,000 Hz. This gives it undistorted audio even at higher volumes.

When it comes to gaming, the AD700X also gives a good emulation of distance to sounds like footsteps and gunfire. Aside from that, the only flaw to this model is its lack of a microphone so you can talk with allies in-game.

 

7. Astro A40 TR

PROS

  • With microphone
  • Good price
  • Compatible Astro Command Center audio software
  • Good build quality

CONS

  • Has separate PS4, Xbox One, and PC variants
  • Mid-range audio quality

The only headset on this list, the Astro A40 TR, has the unique distinction of having a pre-installed noise-canceling boom microphone. You could also buy the compatible MixAmp Pro that comes with the proprietary Astro Command Center software. This combination of microphone and volume and chat mixer makes it the very best on this open-back headphones list for gamers to use.

Aside from its extras, the A40 TR only has a mid-range audio quality with a few problems due to its uneven treble responses. It more than makes up for it with its good build quality and the availability of the included microphone.

 

8. Sennheiser HD 600

PROS

  • Good audio and build quality
  • Availability of spare parts
  • Good price

CONS

  • No microphone

Although the Sennheiser HD 600 was originally released in 1997, the fact that it is still continually produced and sold is a testament to its quality. While it may not have the best audio quality compared to the AKG Pro Audio K712 PRO or the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO has, the HD 600 is more than enough for the job. Specs-wise, the audio is quite natural, with bass and trebles being accurately modeled. This focus on a well-calibrated audio experience lets sound mixers properly do their jobs in sound rooms.

Aside from that, its 20-year continuous production means there are tons of spare parts for the HD 600 should you need some for repairs and maintenance.

 

9. Sennheiser HD 599 SE

PROS

  • Good audio and build quality
  • Good price

CONS

  • No microphone

The Sennheiser HD 599 SE is a good alternative to the HD 600. It has a 38mm dynamic driver with a frequency of 12 Hz to 38,500 Hz that also accurately models bass and trebles. In terms of the looks, it has an all-black palette, which is a small technical step up from the normal version.

Comparatively, you should get the HD 599 SE only if you can’t get your hands on the HD 600 since there is a barely noticeable decline in audio response with the 599 SE compared to the 600.

 

10. Philips Fidelio X2HR

PROS

  • Good build quality
  • Good price
  • Mid-range audio quality
  • Classic design

CONS

  • No microphone

The Philips Fidelio X2HR is one of the best-looking open-back headphones on this list. It has a classic design with just the very basics you need in a headphone. With a distinctive arching headband, circular memory foam ear pads, and a nice self-adjusting hammock for any head size, there’s no straight line on the Fidelio X2HR to be found.

Aside from its pleasing aesthetics, this model is solidly built and has a powerful 50mm neodymium driver that snugly fits a mid-range audio quality device.

 

11. Grado SR80x Prestige

PROS

  • Great price
  • Great build quality
  • Classic design
  • Fully hand-built (in Brooklyn, NY)

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Average audio quality

Grado SR80x Prestige looks similar to Philips Fidelio X2HR, although it does lack the hammock-style headband. Audio-wise, the SR80x has a similar mid-range audio quality to the X2HR but is slightly less responsive since it only uses 44mm drivers instead of the 50mm the X2HR uses.

If you like the aesthetics and looks of the Fidelio X2HR, you’ll find that the Grado SR80x Prestige is more than enough as an alternative open-back headphone.

 

12. HiFiMan Arya

PROS

  • Great audio quality
  • Comfortable
  • Great build quality

CONS

  • No microphone
  • Costly

The HiFiMan Arya is our choice as an alternative to the Sennheiser HD 800 S. Although HiFiMan may not have as much history as Sennheiser, their Arya model has a lot of similarities to the HD 800 S. These include its superior build quality and focus on user comfort. Where the Arya and the HD 800 S differ, though, is in their audio quality.

While it may not have the 56mm driver the HD 800 S has, the Arya delivers a similar experience with a slight improvement for low bass sounds. If you can’t find a Sennheiser HD 800 S, this is our choice for a good alternative open-back headphones to use instead!

A Reminder

While we did introduce you to 12 of the best open-back headphones available on the market in 2021, you still have to be aware of the dangers headphones and other audio devices can have on your hearing. We suggest keeping the volume down to an acceptable level and occasionally letting your ears rest from loud noises in between listening sessions.

Some of the more keen-eyed might have noticed a few Sennheiser headphones on our list. It wasn’t a coincidence since we have our own list of Sennheiser’s best headphones of all time. You might have also noticed a surprising lack of attached microphones with these headphone options. But for those who use smartphones, we have a list of the best external microphones.

Some of you may also have more niche audio needs like the best over-ear headphones, the best bone conduction headphones, the best headphones for sleeping, or even the best speakers for audiophiles.

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