What are Open-Back Headphones?
Open-back headphones are ones that allow air to pass through the earcups from the back of the speaker driver, hence the name “Open Back”. The main advantage of the open back design is that compared to the typical closed-back design of headphones open backs don’t have to deal with resonances and low-frequency build-up caused by an enclosed rear. As a result, the open-back design also allows for a more natural and clearer sound.
This is why most high-end and expensive studio headphones use the open-back design. Now I know what you’re thinking. “If the open-back design is so great then why don’t all headphones use it?”
Well, there are a couple of caveats to talk about when using an open-back design. One is that open-back headphones can’t block the outside noise very well. This is due to the headphones’ design. This also means that noise will leak out. so you’ll want to use these headphones at home in an isolated place free from noise.
Also due to the open-back design, these headphones typically don’t have a lot of low-bass and thump to them, so if that’s something that you’re looking for in your listening experience, then open-back headphones might not be for you. Another is that open-back headphones tend to be more fragile than closed-back headphones.
Having an open-back design also opens up the headphones to moisture getting inside which could potentially damage the electronics. Thus, these headphones must be treated with more care.
The added quality of sound definitely comes at a price, but if you are someone who needs to be able to listen to clearer audio and works in a studio where outside noise isn’t an issue then open-back headphones will definitely serve you well.
your Type of Listening
If you’re in the market for a good pair of open-back headphones, then you must know first if open-back headphones are the right type of headphones for your type of listening. It’s true that open-back headphones give a clearer and more natural sound, however, the design of these headphones makes it hard to listen in noisy environments, lack that low-bass thump, and makes the headphones susceptible to electrical damage due to moisture.
So if you’re someone looking to buy headphones to use on your daily commute or for use in a quiet office around a number of people trying to work, these types of headphones might not be for you.
As for those looking to game with open-back headphones, it’s really about where you play games. If you play somewhere where there’s plenty of outside noise and maybe people talking around you then open-back headphones won’t do you any good because you won’t be able to enjoy the added quality it brings because they can’t block the outside noise from coming into your listening experience.
So who are open-back headphones made for? Open-back headphones are made for those who need to listen to audio at a higher audio quality and are going to do so in an isolated area without much noise. These are people who are music enthusiasts, music producers, and mixers, transcribers, or even the casual audiophile who listens at home.
Now that we’ve established if open-back headphones are right for your listening purposes, let’s talk about the next factor to consider, budget. Typically, open-back headphones have a higher price tag compared to close-back headphones, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find open-back headphones at a lower price point.
There are many selections that you can find even below $100. However, don’t expect the audio to blow you away or for them to last for more than 5 years of use. Pricier open-back headphones are going to have better sound and build quality.
If you have the money to spend on more expensive open-back headphones, then go ahead; it’s worth the money. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something on a budget, there are plenty of selections that provide good quality audio for good value.
The next thing to consider when purchasing an open-back headset would be the quality of the audio it’s outputting.
There are many ways to measure sound quality, but the best way to really test the quality of sound that headphones are producing is to try it for yourself. However, if you’re just shopping online, these are the following measures and specifications that you should be looking for when shopping for headphones:
- The first would be the Frequency Response which is represented in a range. This measure is usually displayed on the headphones’ web page so no added research is needed. The Frequency Response is the range of sound frequencies that the headphones are able to output. Although the human ear can only hear frequencies ranging from 20Hz-20kHz. headphones that have a higher range than this are considered more desirable and high-end. The reason for headphones having wider frequencies than what the human ear can hear is because the human brain and body have the ability to feel these frequencies.
- The next measure of sound quality would be the Total Harmonic Distortion or THD. Unlike Frequency Response. THD is usually hidden from the spec sheet of headphones and it measures the harmonic distortion caused by driver imperfections in a signal received by your headphones. Most customers can’t understand the true meaning of this measure or even recognize it when using their audio equipment and the measure is mostly used by audiophiles and professional musicians.
- Another measure of sound quality is the Signal-to-Noise and Distortion Ratio or the SNDR. The SNDR measures the quality of the signal coming from an audio device. SNDR is usually expressed in dB. also knOwn as decibels. The higher the number the better for this measure.
- The following measure is the Spurious-Free Dynamic Range or SFDR. This is a measure of the smallest power signal that we can distinguish from one large spurious signal.. In other words, it’s a ratio of the basic signal to the most powerful interfering signal within the output It is commonly measured and expressed in dBc in terms of a carrier signal or as a full range. dBFS.
- The last measure of sound quality that we will discuss is the Signal-to-Noise Ratio or SNR. This is basically a measure of sound quality expressed in decibels (dB). Higher SNR values mean that your headphones are producing more accurate and clearer sound.
In the end, the only measurement that you’ll most commonly see when buying headphones is the Frequency Response measure. However, sound quality isn’t something that can just be dictated by a number and must be felt in person so that you can have a proper gauge on whether the headphones that your looking at are up to your standards.
Aesthetic and Build Quality
The last thing that you would most likely consider when looking to purchase open-back headphones are aesthetics and build quality. Since you’re most probably going to be listening to audio in a secluded area with this kind of headphones it goes without saying that aesthetics are probably the least of your worries.
However, something about a well-designed pair of headphones still makes you feel that the money you spent on them is money well spent. On the other hand, build quality is something that should be considered more because open-back headphones are susceptible to moisture damage and require more care because of this fragility.
You would want headphones that are made of high-quality metal and have ample protection or at least a less moisture susceptible design than other selections. This will ensure that you will be able to enjoy the headphones for more than a reasonable amount of time.
In the end, if you want to purchase a pair of open-back headphones there are a few things that you have to consider: first; namely, if you will benefit from the use of open-back headphones and if your listening environment is conducive for them, what your budget is and what your expectations are for the headphones you will be getting at that budget, the sound quality of the headphones that you will be purchasing, the overall looks of the headphones if looks are important to you, and lastly the build quality which is an important consideration if you want to be able to enjoy your purchase for the years to come.
Take note of these factors that you should consider as we list down the 5 best open-back headphones for you.
5 Best Open-Back Headphones
|Sennheiser HD 800s|
|Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro|
|EPOS | Sennheiser Game One|
When talking about the best open-back headphones we will be taking into consideration the different factors discussed in the previous part of this article, the reason for use, value for money, sound quality, aesthetics, and build quality.
There are also going to be categories for each pair of open-back headphones on this list. We will be featuring 5 categories that will be featuring one pair of open-back headphones each: Best Overall, Best value for money, Best for Gaming, Best for Mixing, Best Under $100.
These are the set of open-back headphones that can do it all. They are perfect for people who have enough budget for them and for those that appreciate the quality of audio that it provides along with great design and build quality.
Although this pair of headphones will come at a premium, there’s no doubt you’re going to get the value out of the money that you paid for.
The only real caveat in this category would be that it may be unattainable for those who are working with a smaller budget or those who are just experimenting with different types of headphones. This category caters more to those who are at the enthusiast and professional level of audio listening and appreciation.
Sennheiser HD 800s
If money isn’t a concern and you’re looking to get the best listening experience out of your open-back headphones, then you should consider the Sennheiser HD 800s. These pair of headphones were made with audiophiles, musicians, and music enthusiasts in mind.
Although the price is steep at $1.574.99 on Amazon at the time of writing this article, with a brand like Sennheiser you know you’re getting all of your money’s worth when purchasing these headphones. With the 800s, you will be getting a Frequency Response of 4-51.000 Hz and a THD of 0.02%. These measures are definitely at the top of the industry, so you know you’re getting the best of the best when purchasing these headphones.
Another unique feature of the HD 800s is its 56mm ring radiator transducers which are the largest drivers ever used in dynamic headphones.
Sennheiser also prides itself on its innovative absorber technology which reduces unwanted frequency response peaks. This allows all of the sounds coming from music to be audible. The HD 800s also features a unique ear cup design that directs the sound waves it outputs at a slight angle. This creates a more spatial and natural listening experience for the user.
Another interesting part of purchasing these headphones is the included cables. Sennheiser was generous enough to provide 2 different cables to fit your needs. As for the build quality, it’s exceptional.
With metal construction, these headphones are sturdy enough to last for years. The cushioned earcups and headband also allow for a very comfortable fit for those long listening sessions. Although these headphones are designed with music listening in mind, you can pretty much use them for any high-quality audio listening that you do.
Nevertheless, you do have to consider the extreme premium that you’re paying for this pair of headphones.
- The best listening experience and audio quality
- Sturdy and world-class-quality design
- Bulky and heavy
If you want to purchase the Sennheiser HD 800s, you can visit this page: Amazon.com: SENNHEISER HD 800 S Reference Headphone System : Electronics
Best Value for Money
If you have a decent budget, are willing to dish out a bit of cash on a good pair of open-back headphones, and want to get every bit of your money’s worth or even more, then this pair of headphones are for you.
These open-back headphones are for those who understand the value of high-quality audio but at the same time want to stay within a reasonable price range. Rest assured, you will be getting a bargain for the quality of these headphones bring. It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend outrageous amounts to have a great listening experience.
People who would be interested in this category are those that don’t have a need for professional high-quality audio listening.
This category is for those who enjoy casual music listening or for those that are just starting to get into music mixing or editing and understand the value of high-quality audio that open-back headphones provide.
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro
For under $200. the DT990 Pro can be yours. Primarily meant for studio mixing and mastering, these headphones are set at a competitive price point that even casual listeners can afford to get that high-quality audio that we all desire.
For the price of $159, you’re getting 5-35.000 Hz of frequency response which is studio-quality audio.
You will also be getting a stronger bass sound with these headphones which is something that isn’t usually found in open-back headphones and is seen as this type of headphones’ weakness. As for the aesthetics, the headphones look very modest with not much of an aggressive or bulky design.
The shape of the ear cups and the velour material used which is replaceable all contribute to a very comfortable and soft feel which is suitable for long use. What makes this Beyerdynamic able to competitively price this pair of headphones is the build material.
Most of the headphones’ headband is made out of plastic which saves on the manufacturing cost. Yet this doesn’t mean that these headphones easily break, the plastic is hard and will last you a couple of years, but do expect that once these headphones have been used for a few years you will be seeing some damage on the replaceable earcups and in some cases, the plastic may crack if dropped.
- Great studio-quality sound with a more pronounced bass
- Plastic construction
- Non-detachable cable
If you want to purchase the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro, you can visit this page: Amazon.com: Beverdvnamic 459038 DT 990 PRO open Studio Headphone: Electronics
Best for Gaming
Although most of the gaming headphones market use a closed-back design to prioritize sound cancelling, there are still a handful of great selections out there of open-back headphones for gaming.
The price range that we will be using for this category would be comparable to those of the average gaming headset which is around $100-$300. The difference between these headphones compared to those that are designed for music listening or mixing is that gamers will need to communicate with their team in-game, so they will be needing a mic to do so.
There might even be a need for surround sound for those that are into shooter games or for those that just want a more immersive experience.
EPOS | Sennheiser Game One
Featuring a game-centric design, the Game One is able to cater to all the needs of gamers while dishing out the high-quality accurate audio that open-back headphones are known for.
The main selling point of the Game One is that it has a mic that features noise-cancelling and is compatible across many gaming platforms such as Xbox, Play Station, PC, and Mac. Gamers looking to experiment with open-back headphones should definitely consider this pick.
The overall construction is made of plastic but high-quality sturdy plastic. The design also keeps these headphones at a really lightweight which helps with those long gaming sessions. The ear cups are also made of velour material so they’ll be comfortable even with prolonged use and also comfortable for those who wear glasses.
At the time of writing this article, the Game One comes in at $134.09 which is a great price for what you’re getting.
- Good sound quality
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Great value for the money
- The mic is too quiet
- Lack of bass
If you want to purchase the EPOS | Sennheiser Game One, you can visit this page: Amazon.com: EPOS I Sennheiser GAME ONE Gaming Headset Open Acoustic. Noise-cancelling mic. Flip-To-Mute. XXL plush velvet ear pads, compatible with PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Smartphone – Black (506080): Video Games
Best for Mixing
These headphones are built with studio mixers in mind. Whether you’re a professional mixer or just a casual mixer just starting to get your foot into the industry, these headphones will be great for the purpose of editing and mixing audio.
Expect that these headphones to come a bit pricier than usual, but nothing too extreme.
Sound quality is definitely the prominent factor to consider when looking for headphones for the purpose of mixing audio or music and although the headphones in this quality come at a higher price tag there’s still great value for the money you’re getting.
The SRH 1840 was made with professional audio mixers in mind. With 40mm neodymium drivers, the SRH 1840 is able to deliver accurate and smooth sound with surprisingly accurate bass. Being a premium pair of headphones you will be expected to pay a premium price as well.
The SRH 1840 comes in at $499 at the time this article was written. However, you can expect that the SRH 1840 can deliver exceptional sound at a frequency range of 5-30.000 Hz and premium quality build materials.
Although the construction is made out of metal, it still feels lightweight. The metal construction is also very sturdy because it was made to withstand live performances as well. However, it’s probably best not to use them for live performances because it doesn’t do a good job of keeping outside noise out.
You also get a detachable cable and replaceable velour ear cups. Overall, the SRH 1840 is perfectly designed for those who are into mixing audio in a studio environment and still provides great value for money at the price.
- Extremely sturdy material
- Natural listening experience
- Comfortable earcups and lightweight
- Made for live performances but isn’t suitable for it
If you want to purchase the Shure SRH 1840. you can visit this page: Amazon.com: Shure SRH 1840 Professional Open Back Headphones (Black)
Best under $100
When shopping for a pair of headphones under $100 don’t expect to get the same quality or durability as the selections provided previously. There will always be a drawback to the price that you’re getting the headphones at.
For the price, you really can’t have everything that you want in a pair of open-back headphones, but you will get a decent listening experience.
If your goal is to experiment with open-back headphones and decide if you’ll want to purchase a better pair then it’s a good idea not to spend so much on something you’re not sure you’ll even use long into the future.
At this price point, the Philips SHP9500 delivers great sound and great value for money. The SHP9500 is priced at a very low $74.99.
So what are you getting for the price? You’re getting 50mm neodymium drivers which give a full spectrum of sound, breathable ear cushions for a comfortable fit, and a reasonably sturdy design.
The frequency response for these headphones is great for the price at 12-35.000 Hz. Its main drawbacks are its bulky and heavy design and leak audio more than most open-back headphones. However, for the price, you really can’t argue about the build quality or audio leaks because you’re getting great sound quality for under $100.
- Great sound quality
- Audio leaks are more pronounced
If you want to purchase the Philips SHP9500. you can visit this page: Amazon.com: Philips Audio Philips SHP9500 HiFi Precision Stereo Over-Ear Headphones (Black)
In the end, purchasing a pair of open-back headphones boils down to considering 4 things, who’s going to use the headphones and what for the budget you’re willing to expend, the sound quality that you are going to need, and the aesthetics and build quality.
If you have the money to spend and you understand the value of high-quality audio and enjoy listening to great audio, then go for the Sennheiser HD800s. Even if it’s expensive, you know you’re getting the best in the market in terms of quality.
If you have a more modest budget but still want a pair of great studio headphones, then go for the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro, these pair of headphones are reliable and are used even in the mixing industry but are also great for those who want a studio experience from the comfort of their homes.
If you’re a gamer who enjoys highly accurate audio and also listens to music often, then you should consider the EPOS | Sennheiser Game One. Although it has a weak mic, it can easily be fixed by using third-party software, and for the quality and price of the headphones, you really can’t complain.
Let’s say you’re a music mixer or producer, then you’re looking for something more premium such as the Shure SRH 1840. It provides professional-quality sound with great durability and a lightweight design.
Lastly, if you’re someone who’s just getting started with open-back headphones and don’t want to spend too much, then the Philips SHP9500 is for you. At a low price you’re getting good audio quality and decent durability but at the price of a bulky and heavy design and more audio leaks than usual.
Even though the design of open-back headphones are mostly catered to those who need higher-quality audio for studio purposes, there still are great selections of open-back headphones made for a variety of purposes and budgets.