The 8 Best Open-Back Headphones to Buy in 2018

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If you’re shopping for headphones and have come across open-back headphones, you’ve probably learned that there’s a big difference between them and the closed-back design that’s much more commonly found. The open-back headphones aren’t less common because they’re worse though, it’s just that they don’t do much to shut out external sounds or shut in your music.

But, for that sound transparency, they go a long way toward opening up the soundstage of the music or audio you’re listening to. Complex tunes or multi-instrument movie scores will come through that much better through an excellent pair of open-back headphones, with all the different sounds feeling more separated from one another and distinguishable.

If you’re really into your music and listen to high-quality audio files, CDs, albums, or like to watch Blu-rays and listen through headphones, then a pair of premium open-back headphones are worth picking up. We’ve found a variety of options to fit most needs and budgets, and we’ll note where any have especially high impedances that will require a power DAC/Amp to drive. See below for our top picks.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Sennheiser HD660 S

Sennheiser HD660 S

Courtesy of Amazon

The Sennheiser HD660 S headphones are a great offering with a strong balance of design, performance, and value. Make no mistake, these are no cheap headphones, but they won’t break the bank like some of the highest end ones can. They feature a simple grille behind the dynamic speaker drivers, letting you clearly see right through to where the magic happens.

These headphones offer a wide frequency response from 10Hz to 41kHz, ensuring solid performance in the spectrum of human hearing and beyond it. With a resistance of 150 Ohms, you’ll benefit from using the Sennheiser HD660 S headphones with an amplifier, but some hi-res mobile players may be able to use them without one.

There’s also the design to consider. These headphones are built to be comfortable, with soft, thick padding on both the headband and earcups. The ear padding is covered in a gentle velour. The headphone cables are also detachable, so you won’t have to worry about a simple damaged cable ruining a pricey gadget.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Grado GW100

Grado makes a bunch of excellent open-back headphones, and the Grado GW100 ones are a versatile pair offering both wired and wireless performance. With very little competition in the market for open-back wireless headphones, Grado stands out as a nearly one-of-a-kind offering and does so while still providing great audio however you want to listen.

The GW100 offers up a frequency response range of 20Hz to 20kHz, which covers everything you might need to hear. With an impedance of 32 Ohms, your laptops, tablets, and smartphones should have no trouble driving the speaker. And, with support for the Apt-X codec for Bluetooth audio, you can even enjoy decent audio wirelessly.

Though open-back headphones aren’t necessarily ideal for wearing on the go, some sound bleeds out of them, so users may enjoy the ability to maintain more awareness of their surroundings while listening. The open-back design can also help keep temperatures inside the earcups from getting too warm, handy when you’re on the go in hotter months. And, with a 15-hour battery life for Bluetooth, you can be on the go a fair bit.

Best Under $200: AKG K702

AKG is a highly revered name in hi-fi audio, and it has a wide range of headphones that can fit just about every use case. Fortunately, that wide range even extends into the low price range, bringing you these AKG K702 open-back headphones. These offer a great balance of impressive audio performance and quality design.

The AKG K702 headphones have a wide frequency response range from 10Hz on the low end to 39.8kHz on the high end. With a resistance of just 62 Ohms, you might want to use a headphone amp, but you can probably get away with using a laptop or mobile devices built-in soundcard without suffering from too quiet of audio.

The K702 headphones feature a stunning, minimalist design. The headphone rest on your head with a suspended leather strap that will evenly distribute the weight of the headphones. The earcups are covered with large, soft earpads for long-lasting comfort. And, since the headphone cable is detachable, you can switch between shorter, longer, and coiled cables as you need.

Best Under $100: Grado SR80e

The Grado SR80e offers a simple look with a classic aesthetic. The dynamic drivers manage a decently wide frequency response range for the price point, hitting a low of 12Hz and a high of 30kHz. And, thanks to a low 32-Ohm impedance, you can use the SR80e headphones with just about any audio device.

If you’re just looking for an affordable pair of open-back headphones to get started on your quest for audiophile euphoria, these are a great pair to get started with. And, thanks to they’re wonderfully low price, you may have a bit more money left over to put toward your future upgrade pair if you fall in love with the open-back headphone experience.

Best Under $300: Monoprice Monolith M1060

Monoprice may be a brand better known for making affordable products, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also make an affordable product that’s truly excellent. Enter the Monolith M1060. These headphones offer a remarkable listening experience, a great value, and a distinct design (albeit a very particular one).

The Monolith M1060 headphones don’t use the typical dynamic drivers found in many headphones. Instead, they use larger planar magnetic drivers measuring 106mm. The result is highly responsive audio across the board. The frequency response is 10Hz to 50kHz and the resistance stays low at just 50 Ohms, so you can power these headphones with whatever you prefer.

Large earpads and a suspended headband will help keep the Monolith M1060 headphones comfortable on your head for long listening sessions. And, a classy combination of black with wood accents make these headphones a nice addition to your decor. If you’ve got a full $300 to spend on a pair of open-back headphones and you don’t need them for gaming, these are absolutely the ones to get.

Best for Gaming: Sennheiser PC373D

Most people probably wouldn’t think to get a pair of open-back headphones for video games, but the same wide soundstage that makes them excellent for music also has its perks in video games. Being able to distinguish between separate sounds when a lot is going on can give you a tactical advantage in video games, and the open-back design can help.

Sennheiser has options for this, and the PC 373D headphones are our top pick. They offer a simple design, with a thick-padded headband and massive earpads that wrapped in velvet. The open design won’t just make your audio clearer, but it will also help keep your ears cooler. A noise-canceling boom mic on the side offers clear audio for your teammates, and will automatically mute when raised up.

Powering the audio experience are drivers that offer a frequency response of 15Hz-28kHz with a resistance of 50 Ohms. That’s not all though, as an in-line dongle can toggle 7.1-channel Dolby surround sound, offering an even more immersive experience on top of the open-back performance.

Runner-Up, Best for Gaming: Audio-Technica ATH-ADG1x

The Audio-Technica ATH-ADG1x comes with 53mm dynamic drivers offering a frequency response from 5Hz to 35kHz and a design that’s substantially more open than competitors, so the audio experience will dazzle. For gamers that need to communicate, there’s a microphone built-in on a highly flexible gooseneck. And, volume and mute controls are built into the headphone cable. Soft earpads and Audio-Technica’s 3D Wing Support system ensure a soft and comfortable fit.

Best Premium: DT 1990 Pro

Yes, we could have picked out a pair of headphones that cost multiple thousands of dollars to fill this slot, but we’ve opted instead to go with a pair of headphones that manages to tick off plenty of boxes to qualify as premium while even nailing a price that’s not astronomical. The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro manages to be a highly compelling offer with a brilliant yet subtle aesthetic at a price that’s not little, but not hard to save up for.

The German-made DT 1990 Pro headphones are built with sturdy materials — no cheap plastics to be found here. The ear pads and headband are replaceable as well, so even if they wear out over time, you won’t have to give up these headphones. The package includes both velour and artificial leather ear pads as well as straight and coiled cable, plus a hard case.

Let’s not forget the sound. At the heart of the experience are Beyerdynamic’s 45mm Tesla drivers, which offer exceptionally high power while keeping sounds across the spectrum clean. The DT 1990 Pro headphones have a wide frequency response range from 5Hz up to 40kHz. With a 250-Ohm resistance, you’ll need to pair these headphones with an amp that’s up to the task to get the best listening experience. But, if you do, it’s sure to sound good.

Our Process

Our writers spent 6 hours researching the most popular open-back headphones on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 80 different headphones overall, screened options from 18 different brands and manufacturers and read over 24 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.