Anyone who's anyone knows that headphones are not created equally.
Sure, you might find a cheap pair in your grocery store's checkout lane, but are they really worth buying if you can't fully enjoy what you're listening to with them? Sound quality, comfort and convenience all play a huge role in picking out the right headphones — or at least they should.
Whether you need a good gaming headset, want some good tunes to accompany your run or are simply looking for something to drown out your household while you're working, we are here to help you find the right headphones.
Wireless headphones brought many of us to the place where we can say goodbye to the days of fumbling around with cheaply made headphone wires that get caught in everything.
But headphone anatomy goes far beyond wired or wireless. You can pinpoint and shop for specific features to completely customize your listening experiences. Do you prefer in-ear or over-ear headphones? Are you looking for earbuds with Bluetooth capabilities, or are you just looking for a simple way to get great sound? And finally, are you looking for open or closed back headphones?
We've compiled a list of the seven best open back headphones for avid audiophiles. But first, let's get clear about the difference between open and closed back designs.
Open Vs. Closed Back Headphones
What's the difference between open and closed back headphones?
Let's talk it through with a visual. When you go to grab a pair of headphones, what is your motivating factor?
For many of us, we envision something that will block out the sounds of the world while simultaneously keeping anyone nearby from joining in our listening session.
That is a closed back headphone experience.
Open back headphones provide the complete opposite experience.
Rather than keeping the sound isolated to your headphones, these models are designed to let air (and thus, sound) escape through the back of the ear cups. This design isn't intended to aggravate everyone nearby — it's intentionally designed to provide a natural and authentic sound experience.
So the next time you are tempted to tell someone they are going to burst their eardrums for listening to music too loud, it may be that they have simply chosen an open back design.
So which one is right for you?
Open Back Headphones
As mentioned above, open back headphones allow air to move through the earpiece. Think of it like sitting at a concert.
- More natural sound and listening experience
- Not as much pressure on ears
- No noise cancellation features
- You will hear more outside noise
- People can hear your music
Who Are They Good For?
Open back designs are good for audiophiles looking for the best soundstage experience and people who regularly wear headphones for long periods of time.
Closed Back Headphones
Closed back designs keep air from escaping your headphones and therefore provide a noise-canceling experience.
- Drown out outside world
- No sound leakage
- Better bass response
- Not as comfortable
- Can hurt ears with extended usage
Who Are They Good For?
Closed back designs are great for gamers, home workers, commuters, students studying in libraries and people who engage in critical listening.
Best Open Back Audiophile Headphones
Here are the best open back models from some of the industry's biggest and most trusted names.
The Original Open Back Headphone: Sennheiser HD 599
We're kicking off our list with the brand that started it all: Sennheiser.
Given that this company created the open back headphone, it's no surprise that Sennheiser HD 599 is equal parts great sound and awesome build quality.
One thing we love about Sennheiser is their commitment to comfort. The padded headband, oversize ear cup and replaceable ear pad cushions make it easy to forget you are wearing headphones.
If history is your thing and you aren't concerned with the price tag, you can celebrate Sennheiser's 75 years in the industry with this pair of high-end anniversary edition reference headphones fit for a true audiophile. Unfortunately, these headphones are limited, with only 750 pairs available across the globe.
- Serious street cred for designing open back headphones
- Proprietary transducer technology of the "Ergonomic acoustic refinement" (E.A.R.) design
- 3m detachable Cable
- Replaceable Ear Pads
- Available in Ivory or Black
Best Studio Headphone: Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
Another key player in headphone history (and recommended pick from Eugen), the DT 990 Pro from Beyerdynamic is a great option for all audiophiles. The Beyerdynamic brand has been around since the 1930s, giving them time to truly master sound delivery.
Beyerdynamic has mastered the art of a wide stereo image and three-dimensional sound, making them a go-to option for producers and editors on every level.
What sets this company apart? Their unbeatable tonal depth helps professional mixers and studio monitors pinpoint the slightest sound changes and dimensions during their listening sessions.
You will get transparent and spacious bass with a powerful treble boost that doesn't pierce the sound every time.
If your dream is to make a career out of music, you will want to grab a pair.
- Choose between 80 or 250 ohm
- Soft, circumaural velour ear pads
- Adjustable headband design
- Single-sided cable
Best Midrange: Grado SR80e
If you want a great sound that won't break the budget, the Grado SR80e is the pair for you. This brand has made itself known in the music industry by creating robust sound quality through a variety of headphone styles, including wireless and in-ear sets.
Although Grado delivers some high-end headphones, the SR80e is affordable and great for anyone who is just getting into the industry.
Through the SR80e, Grade delivered a new driver design that eliminates transient distortions — giving you a warm, pure and full-bodied sound experience that supports Grado's world-famous midrange.
These headphones are great for gamers, jammers and ebook lovers alike.
- Hand-made in Brooklyn
- S cushion
- Four conductor cable
- Gold plated mini plug
Best Affordable Sound Philips Audio Fidelio X2HR
Another familiar brand, Philips Audio has over 50 years of experience in headphone acoustics. So if great sound quality from a reputable but affordable brand is what you seek, Philips Audio Fidelio X2HR may be your match.
These headphones are Hi-Res Audio Certified with extended frequency response.
But the reason we love them? Their unique build.
These headphones feature speaker plates that are tilted at 15 degrees to match your ear's natural shape and a self-adjustable hammock. (Say goodbye to uncomfortable and forced earpieces.)
They were also designed with double-layered ear shells, which reduce resonance and vibration and give you a flawless sound.
- Hi-Res Audio certified
- Tilted speaker plates
- 50mm neodymium drivers
- Comfortable and adjustable headband