5 Best Open Back Headphones (REVIEW)

Open back headphones can provide a whole new listening experience. If you’ve used closed back or in-ear headphones for your entire life, then you’re in for a treat.

You might have already had the opportunity to try it out for yourself, and are either looking to get a pair of your own for the first time or to upgrade to a higher quality set.

No matter why you’ve come searching for the best open back headphones, we’ve got you covered.

Headphones are of course an essential part of a musicians arsenal. For that reason it is definitely worth checking out these other articles on the best headphones for guitar amps​ and the best audiophile headphones!

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Open Back Headphones On The Market

Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.

Buyer's Tips: What to look out for when buying open back headphones

  • Headphones come in different levels of impedance. If you just want to be able to listen to music from your laptop or phone without anything technical to worry about, choose those with lower ohm ratings. If you want to go full HiFi and get the absolute best listening experience, then higher impedance will allow you to take full advantage of an amplifier
  • Comfort is a big priority. Open back headphones are designed in such a way that listening to music becomes a singular activity rather than the backdrop to something else - so make sure they’re going to rest easy on your head and ears for a long stretch of time
  • Size and ease of portability isn’t really an issue, as open back headphones aren’t suitable for use in public due to the way they bleed sound

Ok let's look at each product in more detail. To make things easier for you, we've added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look...

5 Best Open Back Headphones

1. Sennheiser HD 700

 Sennheiser HD 700

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For those who can’t accept anything less than crystal clear sounds and want a powerful, authentic experience of their music, these headphones represent the best of the best open back headphones.

  • No distortion to sound even at high volumes
  • Ventilated magnets reduce noise to signal ratio
  • Strong drivers give an authentic ‘band in the room’ experience and are capable of generating very high pressure
  • High cost limits them to serious audiophiles or professionals in the music industry
  • Low frequencies are weaker, giving them an overly bright quality
  • Can be difficult to adjust for perfect comfort, and overheating of the ears can be a problem

Let's take a look at this product...

2. HiFiMan HE400S

 HiFiMan HE400S

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The top performing open backed headphones in their price range, these deliver a great listening experience and excellent comfort.

  • Delivers higher quality bass frequencies than many open backed headphone designs are capable of reaching
  • Easy to wear for long periods of time without discomfort
  • Provides high volume levels without being plugged into an amplifier first, allowing you to listen to music straight from your laptop, phone or MP3 player without losing anything
  • Cables are a weak spot and expensive to replace
  • Stock earpads are worth upgrading
  • Doesn’t provide any noise cancelling, but this is a feature of open back headphones, not a bug, and is integral to the unique listening experience.

Let's take a look at this product...

3. Fostex T20RP mk. 3

 Fostex T20RP mk. 3

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A reasonable high quality and affordable pair of headphones suitable for professional use as well as being some of the best open back headphones for audiophiles on a budget.

  • Cable can be easily switched between ¼” jack and 3.5mm for use with different equipment
  • Provides strong, deep bass notes
  • High quality drivers give very accurate audio reproduction for studio use
  • Earpads and band are somewhat uncomfortable
  • Can cause pain from pressure by the drivers if used for extended periods
  • Small soundstage compared to other open back headphones

Let's take a look at this product...

4. Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro

Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro

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One of the most popular professional grade open back headphones, and have limited applications outside of studio settings - which is unfortunate due to the remarkable sound quality.

  • All frequencies have excellent representation, with no weak areas and no over-emphasis either
  • Very comfortable to wear even after a long day recording and editing
  • Extremely good value for money
  • The 250 ohms version absolutely requires amplification for any decent volume without clipping issues, and has much better sound qualities than the 32 ohm model
  • Quite large, making them unsuitable for taking out of the studio
  • Doesn’t have perfect audio reference, favouring a more stylized EQ for a better listening experience (although it is only a small departure)

5. Grado Reference Series RS1e

Grado Reference Series RS1e

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At the high end of open backed headphones, the Grado Reference Series represent a serious step up in terms of quality - the only downside is the price.

  • Inspiring dynamic qualities to the sound, thanks to the 50mm transducer and 8 conductor cable
  • Beautiful handcrafted mahogany design
  • Excellent representation - about as close to perfect as you’re going to get
  • They’re expensive, and are more of a professional tool than anything else
  • Long break-in time to get the best results, until then bass frequencies are slightly muted and weak
  • Ear cushions are uncomfortable and need upgrading

Let's take a look at this product...

So what are the best open back headphones?

In nearly all categories, we prefered the HiFiMan HE400s. Although there are vastly more expensive headphones out there that can deliver better sounds, the return on sound quality rapidly diminishes.

Since the HE400S was able to provide such a dynamic listening experience without breaking the bank, it was a clear choice for the best open back headphones.

Of course, that’s not to say that the others didn’t come close. In fact, between those and the Sennheiser HD 700, it was actually quite a tough choice to decide on the number one spot.

Remember that many of these headphones don’t provide a truly accurate sound, and instead ‘colour’ the audio slightly in order to provide a particular feeling that lends more emphasis to bass or treble. If you simply need to get as close to the true sound of an audio recording as possible, the Grado RS1e is the way to go.

Featured image source: Tom CrouseCC BY 2.0

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