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
Best Budget For Long Use: Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X
For everyday use, you can’t go wrong with the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X. While it doesn’t have the technical detail that some of our other picks have, this pair is another good option for those just beginning to take music a bit more seriously.
These headphones feature a lightweight aluminum honeycomb casing to create the optimal acoustic experience.
They also include 3D wing support to keep you comfortable for long hours of listening.
- Great for long-usage
- Single-sided cable
Most Unique Sound: HIFIMAN SUNDARA Over-Ear
It’s been some time before a brand could rival Sennhesier and Beyerdynamic for great sound. But that all changed with the Hifiman Sundara. Their innovative technologies feature a NEO supernano Diaphragm (NsD) that is 80% thinner than other designs. The result? A fast, detailed frequency response that doesn’t sacrifice a lush sound quality.
But these planar magnetic headphones do more than just sound amazing, they feel pretty great too thanks to their weight dispersing strap and cushioned ear covers.
- Planar Magnets
- Wide frequency response
Best Bass for the Price: Monolith by Monoprice M1060
Another planar magnetic headphone is the Monolith by Monoprice M1060. This pair of open back headphones come with a unique square-shape band that doesn’t sacrifice comfort, making them great for long wears.
What we love about them? These headphones carry the acoustical benefits of a wide soundstage while somehow also maintaining the bass response more commonly found in closed back headphones.
If it seems too good to be true, it might be. Reviewers have indicated a hope for better build quality. Luckily, the company does offer a 5 year replacement warranty to help keep your music going strong.
- Bass response
- Planar magnetic headphones
- 5-year replacement warranty
Related: Top 5 Workout Headphones Under $50
The Long and Winding Headphone Road
Ever wonder how we got to this point in music history? Below is a brief history of headphone evolution.
The evolution of headphones began in the 1890s where London’s social elites would use the electrophone to listen to live performances from the comfort of their homes.
Using telephone lines, listeners could listen to music hall shows, theater performances and even church services.
While America’s military was working on headsets for radio communication, Nathaniel Baldwin was building out headphones in his kitchen.
His state-of-the-art designs surrounding sound amplification and compressed air got the Navy’s attention, since they were interested in patenting and purchasing multiple sets.
Unfortunately, Baldwin’s small kitchen setup only produced ten sets, and he declined the opportunity to patent his designs thinking that headphones were not going to make a lasting impact on the world.
He’s probably rolling in his grave every time someone purchases new headphones.
In 1937 German engineer Eugene Beyer released the Beyerdynamic DT48, budding one of the most iconic headphone lines of our time. (And the start of 56-years of production.)
Jazz musician John C Koss introduces America to personal music listening. His stereophones (SP/3) were paired with portable phonographs to mimic live performances.
Simply a pair of headphones with Beatles stickers on them, the Beatlephones sold out globally, contributing to the rise of headphones’ popularity.
Open Back Headphones
Open back headphones came to the scene in 1968 thanks to Sennheiser HD 414. These headphones remain the bestselling full-size headphones of all time.
In 1979, the Sony corporation released the portable Walkman as a way to enjoy music wherever you are –– not simply to the confines of your living room.
In 2001, Apple made a wave in the music industry as they released the first iPod, a revolutionary way to store and listen to your favorite music with ease. Accompanying this debut was the apple headphones –– sleek, compact and awesome audio quality.
Choosing Headphones Today
That brings us to the present, a time in which music lovers can choose from a seemingly endless supply of headphones to find just the right one.
Customizations include in-ear, over-ear and on-ear headsets. You can opt for wired or wireless headphones. And furthermore, you can choose whether you want closed or open back headphones.
While there are several ways to listen to music, open back headphones will create the most natural, aromatic tones you can get from a headset.
If you are looking for the best sound experience, you can’t go wrong with one of our top picks.
You might also be interested in: The 11 Best Subscription Boxes For Music Lovers Of All Ages
7 Best Open Back Headphones:
- Sennheiser HD 599
- Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
- Grado SR80e
- Philips Audio Fidelio X2HR
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X
- HIFIMAN SUNDARA Over-ear
- Monolith by Monoprice M1060
Nicole Postview post
Nicole Post is the Associate Editor for ChatterSource. Born and raised in Idaho, Nicole is a mom practicing the art of balance. A minimalist by nature, Nicole loves all things food, copious amounts of laughing, and lazy hikes in the mountains with her family.view post