In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: April 30, 2022
Prime Sound is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here
How good is a sound that doesn’t give you the feel of having a full grasp of the circumstances around you? For music lovers, I bet there is only one answer to this question; “not good”.
The intricate elements of music require a suitable and convenient medium of sound transmission for a memorable listening experience, hence the need for open-back headphones to meet this basic requirement.
As opposed to closed-back headphones, open-back headphones are designed so that the outer shell of the ear covering is perforated in some fashion.
Having understood the increasing demands for high-quality sounds, manufacturers have over the years, rolled out jaw-dropping headphone brands to meet this demand. Therefore, we will be reviewing the best open-back headphones in the market, including their key specifications and how you can choose the brand that suits your lifestyle and taste.
In this guide, we have carefully selected and reviewed the best open-back headphone models in the market. Check them out!
"With an impedance of 250 ohms, this headphone offers a spacious, bass, electrifying sound, and a strong tonal depth. Connected via a 6.3mm cord, the piece comes with replaceable, ear pads for all-around comfort."
"Comes with A self-adjusting wing to automatically adjust to your head size. The piece is also connected via the left earpiece by a single cord ( 6.3mm jack). An impedance of 38 ohms makes it highly receptive to sound waves."
The HD 800S comes with a 56mm ring radiator dynamic transducer system which leverages the air displacement feature of its large diaphragm to give you an immersive experience during use. The cables (right and left) of 6.35mm and 4.4mm jack plug respectively, give you the flexibility of assuming different positions without wire entanglement.
On a physical note, the HD 800S is a plus over the HD 800 in that it comes with an additional cable with a balanced XLR4 connector to give a significant boost to the amplitude of the sound signal/wave. On the technical aspect, however, a higher frequency response band of 4-51000Hz serves you with a wider soundstage with balanced highs and lows. Moreover, the major gain of HD 800S over other models lies in the balanced treble and sound amplification, thus, the model is better suited for music producers and sound engineers.
Why is it special?
In our opinion, there isn't much of an upgrade over other models of Sennheiser headphones, but the restoration of balance to the treble provides the immersive-listening experience that is typical of open-back headphones. That said, the highs on the HD 800S are rounder and easier to listen to, a consequence of its balanced bass sound.
What are the flaws?
Verily, a flattened response frequency of 4Hz to 51kHz doesn't look a good fit for an upgraded model over the HD 800 which responds to a frequency of 6Hz to 51kHz, thus, a more flattened frequency band could make up for a major upgrade. Also, an increased frequency response range would have given the HD800S the edge in the Mid-sound comparison with the traditional HD 800 version.
The AKG K701 Ultra is top of its class and a delight for audiophiles who desire quality and cost-efficient stereo headphones. Its Varimotion ultra-precise 2-layer diaphragm and the custom-built flat-wire technology helps to deliver a unique and dramatic sound that places its users in the right location with optimal precision. The adjustable headband, bi-wiring, and 3D-form ear pads provide for a truly comfortable experience during use.
The K701 is a considerable upgrade over the Brand’s popular models: The K240 studio variants, following the introduction of the revolutionary flat-wire voice coil which gives the device a higher frequency-response bandwidth of 39800Hz for a clearer and crispier treble. Also, the technology gives the K701 a sound pressure of 105dB/mW as against the 104 dB/mW of the K240 variants, giving a generally loud sound when supplied with any given audio source.
What makes it special?
As a "studio reference" headphone, designed for audio mixing and sound production in studios, we were impressed by the treble, which is a consequence of the moderate frequency-response bandwidth of the model. The driver unit of the K701 is also a considerable upgrade, given that the bigger driver units of the piece are more powerful and can produce better bass. Also, the K701 has a minimum frequency of 10Hz at which the lowest sound can be picked, giving a strong and sumptuous bass in the ear.
What cons did we find?
However, we were able to pick out some deficiencies in the K701. The passive-noise-reduction quality of the piece is abysmal, giving off sound to the environment. In addition, the active-noise-cancellation feature is absent but can be improved by sealing the diaphragm tightly. Despite producing one of the best basses, A neodymium magnet would have been better off in giving a better bass than its custom-built ferrite magnet. Since low impedance guarantees better sound quality, the K701 would have been the ultimate deal if it had a reduced impedance (currently have 63ohms).
This is a solid, high-end headphone with an excellent audiophile sound. Structurally, the headphone was built to offer comfort and its wide padded headband and soft velour cushions are evidence in that regard. Though, not a wireless device, its two detachable cables of 3 meters(6.3mm jack) and 1.2mm(3.5mm jack) offer you the flexibility required to connect to devices distance away.
Compared to its predecessor; the Sennheiser HD 598CS, the Neodymium magnet, and a higher highest-frequency-response of 38500Hz look a significant upgrade, giving a stronger and clearer treble and bass; which are Stark contrast to the output of the ferrite magnet and the 28000Hz highest-frequency bandwidth of the HD 598CS. Ferrite magnets are heavy and not powerful enough to improve the bass in records hence, the introduction of the Neodymium magnet in the HD 598 SE, which lightweight nature makes the headphone light in weight. The high highest frequency of HD 599 SE makes it a better fit for musicians and sound engineers to practice their craft.
What makes it special?
In our opinion, the technical changes are not as pronounced as the physical touches given to the HD 599 SE as the custom-built magnet of the headphones makes up for an effortless handling and transportation experience. Also, the 3.5mm male connector cable makes the headphone suitable for use with all Mp3 players and computer sound cards. Moreover, the appealing design is also complemented by an Over-the-ear foam that surrounds the pinna and stereo speakers that deliver sound from independent channels on both sides, creating a better and immersive listening experience.
What cons did we find?
Nevertheless, the headphone would have been a perfect fit over its other model variants if enough work was done on their technical properties. A high lowest-frequency of 12Hz compared to the 10Hz in the HD598CE is no good for bass production. Also, the passive noise reduction feature is abysmal and should be improved if the device is to be used in a crowded space. Moreover, the voice coil system gives the headphone a relatively low sound pressure (106 dB/mW), thus, it cannot give loud sounds than the HD598CE (115 dB/mW) when both are connected to a weak audio source.
From the Outlook, the DT 990 pro looks cut out for professional use, and this impression rings true with the headphone as it comes with a three-dimensional sound capacity and an incredible tonal depth that are crucial in music mixing and delivering high-quality studio sounds. With the DT 990 pro, there is little room for discomfort as the soft velour ear cups on the adjustable steel headband ensure that long-term use strains you.
The DT 990 pro betters the DT 990 edition in having a more balanced treble and bass. A low impedance is critical in balancing the bass through the speakers and the 250ohms impedance in the DT 990 pro is a considerable upgrade over the premium DT 990 edition with an impedance of 600 ohms. Its unique tonal depth is unmatched by all DT variants and it owes this to the custom-built V-shaped sound profile which provides extra space and boom to mixes while vocals and lead instruments remain bright. Thus, the headphone suits musicians, music producers, and even DJs.
What are our favorite features?
Accordingly, after a keen observation, we were impressed by the tonal depth of the device as it delivers a pleasurable listening experience in the mid-high tone. Needless to say that the aesthetic of the device is superb as its soft velour ear cushions don't strain the ear any bit. Though the driver unit is similar to other DT variants, the 250ohms impedance makes even the lowest sound increase in depth with incredible bass.
What could be better?
However, the DT 990 pro would make a perfect choice for those who favor DT variants of headphones if more work had been done on the physical appeal. With a clamping force of 35 newtons, the headphone's grip on the head is sometimes not ideal for long-term use. Also, the addition of a mic would complement the tonal-depth feature as professionals like radio presenters would favor it over other products. Moreover, the appalling noise cancellation function of the headphone can be improved when the drivers are sealed in a tighter space. Otherwise, it can't be used in a noisy environment as the diaphragm would let in too many sounds from the surrounding.
Do headphones get cheaper with increasing sophistication and sound quality? The ATH – AD 700X looks like a blend of moderate cost and sophisticated technology as its CCAW voice coils ensure an excellent sound quality, delivering outstanding treble and mid-range sound. On top of this, the mini self-adjusting 3D wings and the flexible earpads cap an impressive display of aesthetics and comfort.
With a higher high-frequency of 30000Hz, the AD 700X is a 5000Hz upgrade over the AD 500X with 25,000Hz. The higher the highest frequency, the clearer, and juicier the treble. Thus, the AD700X gives a more sharp and high-pitched sound than the AD 500X. Also, the 38ohms impedance in the AD 700X is favorably okay compared to that of the AD500X (48ohms), given that the lower the impedance of a headphone, the easier it is to get higher volume since there would be very little electrical resistance in the headphone.
Why is it special?
In addition to its CCAW voice coil, its Neodymium is another feature that we are pleased with as it makes the headphone light and powerful enough to leverage on the integrated voice coil in delivering more bass and clear high notes. To cap it all, the in-built stereo speakers can deliver sound from independent channels without interference, giving a better and immersive listening experience.
What are the flaws?
Nevertheless - in our opinion - the overall design of the headphone is far from ideal because the absence of a passive noise reduction technology would lead to sound leakages which can be prevented by creating an acoustic seal around the device. Moreover, an in-built noise cancellation technology would make the device a good fit for professional or personal use in crowded spaces as you won't have to crank up the volume to overcome background noise.
The AKG pro audio K240 headphone spots a classic design that has set the benchmark for measuring standard and quality. It comes with a self-adjusting headband for maximum fit. Also, it is no surprise that the model is AKG’s most popular professional headphone as it houses a Varimotion XXL capsule for studio sound at home, a custom-built semi-open air design with highly accurate dynamic transducers for naturally open sound quality, and around-the-ear pads for hours of wearing comfort.
Crafted in China, the K240 looks like a major upgrade over the AKG K 92 in that it has a lower low-frequency of 15Hz and a higher high-frequency of 25000Hz, a 3000Hz difference from that of the K92. Accordingly, the low lowest frequency gives a clearer treble. As a studio headphone, a loud sound is essential to complement the bass and the K92 falls short of this standard because of its relatively low sound pressure of 104 dB/mW, making the headphone highly selective of audio sources.
What are our favorite features?
In our opinion, however, the structural details of the K240 are its major plus as it comes with a detachable cable that can be switched should the need arise. The tangle-free cable also gives you the flexibility of working around your space while connected to an audio source. Also, the built-in stereo speakers can help deliver sounds from independent sources, creating a better listening experience. Additionally, the headphone offers the potential for maximum sound as its comfortable full-size form earcups help to increase sound isolation and lower sound leakage.
What could be better?
On the flip side, however, the device lacks certain technical details to complement its structural appeal. Firstly, the lack of a passive noise reduction feature means that only the physical barrier provided by the earcups will stand against sound leakage. Also, the bass and clear high note could be better if a Neodymium magnet is favored over its ferrite magnet. Moreover, an active noise cancellation technology would have provided more sound isolation as you will not have to crank up the volume of your device to the fullest to overcome background noise.
Things to Consider
Open-back headphones can vary greatly in many aspects. So let’s move on to the buyer’s guide so you know which features to look out for and how to pick the best open-back headphones for you.
How To Choose Good Open Back Headphones
Open-back headphones are cut out for a variety of functions but they all serve the same purpose, which is to give you the immersive listening experience that is otherwise lacking in a closed-back headphone. While there are varieties of open-back headphones, with exquisite designs and custom-built features, the surest way to choose the best open-back headphone is to evaluate which is a direct fit for your lifestyle, profession, and the peaceful nature of your surroundings.
What Are Open-Back Headphones?
Open-back headphones are audio devices that seek to reduce the isolation level
Trusted SourceHeadphones - WikipediaOpen-back headphones have the back of the earcups open. This leaks more sound out of the headphone and also lets more ambient sounds into the headphone, but gives a more natural or speaker-like sound, due to including sounds from the environment.
between you and your surroundings by providing a wide and spacious soundstage that gives you the impression of listening to speakers in your space rather than from a source inside your ear.
The incredible self-isolation function of this device is achieved primarily through the structural design of the ear cups, given that the rear of the speaker drive is perforated in some fashion, allowing air to pass through them. Consequently, sound waves can travel either direction through the speaker drive; thus, giving an immersive listening experience whereby you can hear everything happening around you.
Open-back Vs Closed-back Headphones
The major difference
Trusted SourceOpen-Back Vs. Closed-Back HeadphonesThere are two main kinds of over-the-ear headphones: Open-Back and Closed-Back. Each offers benefits and each has drawbacks.
between open-back & closed-back headphones is in the design of the external shell of the ear cups. While the closed-back headphones offer complete isolation and increased focus on the substance of their sound, they don’t give quite as much pleasure and comfort as the open-back headphones as their long-term use often result in the build-up of pressure and reduces the breathability of the ear due to the increased resonance of the closed rear chamber.
Who Are Open-Back Headphones For?
The ear-breathability feature makes them ideal for use in an isolated space, thus, they are ideal for recording artists, music producers, and sound engineers. Moreover, the Headphones avail them the opportunity for critical listening and lyrics mastering. Specially built for this function is the Beyerdynamic DT 990 pro 250ohms as its incredible tonal depth makes it ideal for music mixing and mastering. Admittedly, open-back headphones are suitable for casual listening but certainly not in a crowded space as most of them lack active noise cancellation technology.
Why Are Open-Back Headphones Better?
Open-back headphones are a better fit for audiophiles because they deliver an immersive listening experience through their unique design. From the outset, you will come to have the impression of being surrounded by a music band because of the natural feel of the sound which results from the reduced resonance and moderate ear pressure.
Features to Consider
Open-back headphones are so-called because of their structural design, which is perhaps their most distinguishing feature. As simple and noticeable as these physical changes are, their custom-built technologies are less so but have been modified over time to reflect the purpose and need to have a natural sound listening experience. Accordingly, the changes are aimed at improving the different elements of sound such as Bass, treble, high notes, amplitude, and the overall quality of sound. The following are things to consider when identifying a good open-back headphone.
Wireless headphones offer absolute flexibility and freedom of use. Thus, it allows for independent transmission of sound through audio devices. However, wired headphones save the time needed to connect to far distant devices. Nevertheless, cable entanglement can impair an all-around comfort during use.
Some wired headphones come with custom-built advanced cable technologies that prevent entanglement. The cable of the Audio-Technica ATH – AD700x features a unique OFC elasticity and TPE sheath to serve this function. The casing material of a headphone also makes up for its weight and durability and the aluminum honeycomb casing of the AD700X goes over the top in serving a lightweight feel to this headphone.
The breathability of open-back headphones means that sound interference from the background will be typical of the device. However, most headphones come with an active noise cancellation feature that cancels out external voice. Active sound suppression is a function of how tightly placed the speaker drives are with the diaphragm. The tighter the drive chamber, the higher the headphone can cancel out background noise.
The bass of a speaker is a function of its lowest frequency, magnet type, and driver unit size. The lowest frequency of 0-20Hz gives a juicer bass. In addition to its lightweight feature, a Neodymium magnet produces more bass than a ferrite magnet; this magnet is characteristic of headphones like Sennheiser HD 599 SE. Moreover, a large speaker driver gives a powerful and better bass. Thus, a driver of 39mm to 47mm provides a moderate feel of the bass.
Mids & Highs
A mid-range spectrum of the frequency response of 250Hz to 2.5kHz constitutes the mids of a headphone. As such, devices that fall within the spectrum give superb warm notes and in-depth vocals. However, an overhyped mid-range profile will cause the vocals and instruments in some tracks to overshadow the bass and high frequencies. Conversely, an underhyped mid-range profile will cause the audio to sound muddy.
The Durability of Open-Back Headphones
Functionally, open-back headphones don’t last as long as closed-back headphones because of the exposure to dust and moisture through the perforated rear chamber of the ear cups but the durability of a headphone is largely determined by its make-up material. Headbands with Self-adjusting steel or aluminum casing can resist tension and serve you for a long time. However, plastic or inelastic headbands would easily break at the slightest tensile strain.
Open-back headphones are loud; this is partly due to the perforations in the ear cups rear chamber. The perforations allow the diaphragm to receive external noise from the surroundings to give you a natural feel of the music. However, and sometimes, long-term use in a noisy environment can predispose you to noise-induced hearing loss since most users will inadvertently put themselves in harm’s way by cranking up the volume to serve as an effective active-noise-cancellation solution. Moreover, the characteristic stereo speakers, large speaker drivers, and high sound pressure of most open-back headphones make them louder and with rich high notes.
Generally, an incredibly high amount of sound leaks out from a typical open-back headphone. The leak is largely due in part to the perforated rear of the ear cups chamber, and a spacious soundstage, occasioned by the integrated large diaphragms and speaker drivers. The leak is most important in reducing the resonance that would have otherwise built up at the rear chamber if the ear cups were sealed, and in reducing the isolation level of the user from their surroundings. However, certain models of open-back headphones come with custom-built passive noise reduction technology to help reduce the outflow of sound into the surrounding.
Open-back headphones are not only good for your ears, but they are also perfect for your hearing. Apart from the fact that most of them come with soft velour ear cushions for long-hour use, the breathability it confers to your ear makes it difficult for heat and excess sound pressure to build up in the ear. Also, what can be safer than a device that doesn’t take away your awareness? The perforations in the ear cups’ rear chamber cause sound to travel, either way, giving you the feeling of listening to a sound around you rather than from inside your ear. The only drawback for this type of headphone is the external noise interference that can cause noise-induced hearing loss. However, most open-back headphones have passive noise reduction and active noise cancellation technologies, which aid to limit sound leakage and interference. Thus, eliminating the need to raise the volume above the limit.
Though perfectly built for studio mixing, open-back headphones are relatively better for gaming because they offer an outstanding in-game soundstage. The Audio-Technica ATH-AD 500X is specially built for this function. Much like music freaks, gamers also desire an immersive sound experience, whereby they can feel actively involved in the actions. The excellent sound quality of most headphones takes gaming pleasure over the top and provides ultimate comfort by providing adequate air in the ear to mitigate the discomfort of overheating and increased air pressure.
Our editor’s choice for the best open-back headphones is the Sennheiser HD 800S that spots a touch of exquisite design and sophistication. Its near-zero low lowest-frequency of 4Hz provides a sweet and bass-filled sound for an immersive listening experience. The AKG K 701 Ultra was second because it is both a powerful and dynamic headphone since low sounds of 10Hz can be amplified in multiple folds. The Sennheiser HD 599 SE came third; it is a solid, high-end headphone, of which Neodymium magnet produces a rich and powerful bass. Much like how the best planer headphones vary in critical technical areas, the best open-back headphones vary in some technical areas, hence, the need for critical assessment before making your choice.
Headphones - Wikipedia
Open-back headphones have the back of the earcups open. This leaks more sound out of the headphone and also lets more ambient sounds into the headphone, but gives a more natural or speaker-like sound, due to including sounds from the environment.