Which open-back headphones are best?
Open-back headphones allow air to pass between the speaker driver and the rear of the headphones’ ear cups. Most audiophile-quality headphones are open-back, as this alleviates low-frequency buildup inside the enclosure and cuts down on resonance to give a more natural and clearer soundstage.
The best open-back headphones comprise excellent materials and design features, with a good example being the aptly named Focal Clear MG.
What to know before you buy open-back headphones
Open-back vs. closed-back headphones
While open-back models generally sound better, they aren’t as good at blocking outside noise as their closed-back counterparts and they leak sound from their apertures. This makes them ill-suited to use in close public spaces, such as while commuting, on airplanes or at the gym, where others might become annoyed by noise leakage. If this is likely to be an issue, try closed-back headphones instead.
No noise cancellation
Not only do open-back headphones let ambient noise in, but they also cannot incorporate noise cancellation technology. On the one hand, this can make them more useful in situations that demand situational awareness, such as while jogging or cycling in traffic, but they’re not ideal for total immersion in environments where ambient noise levels are high.
Better comfort over long periods
You’ll appreciate open-back headphones if you work in any job that demands wearing headphones for long periods, or if you simply like to indulge in musical isolation for hours at a time. They’re generally lighter and better ventilated than closed-back headphones and are commonly used in studios and other pro-audio environments.
What to look for in quality open-back headphones
Those headphones with a metal frame to reinforce the headband always perform well in durability tests as compared to fully plastic models, but build quality doesn’t stop there. Choose a set with sturdy connecting joints and replaceable cords, as these moving parts suffer the most stress. Some boutique sets even incorporate materials like wood, leather and carbon fiber into their designs, which are both long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing.
Sound quality and enhancement
Most decent headphones support a frequency range of between 20Hz and 20,000Hz. A flat frequency response gives the most faithful reproduction of the source material and is sought by most professionals. However, some prefer a colored frequency response such as an enhanced bass boost, and it’s worth doing your research if you have a preference.
The driver is the beating heart of the headphones and consists of the magnet, coil and diaphragm that comprise a speaker. Smaller headphones often adopt dual drivers due to their small size, whereas larger headphones usually have just one per side. Check the headphone spec sheet for your drivers’ size, measured in millimeters. As a rule of thumb, drivers of 40 millimeters or over perform the best.
How much you can expect to spend on open-back headphones
While you can pick up an entry-level pair of open-back headphones for around $70, serious sets start around the $150 mark. From here, there’s a great variance in price between models, with some professional options costing upward of $1,000.
Open-back headphones FAQ
What length cable is best?
A. The standard headphone cable length is 1.2 meters; however, as open-back headphones are mostly intended for use at home or in the workplace, cables can run from 2-3 meters for practical reasons. Some headphones have removable and replaceable cords, allowing you to switch lengths as required.
Are wireless options worth considering?
A. While Bluetooth headphones are undoubtedly more convenient for mobile use, there’s a notable reduction in sound quality as compared to wired options. For most casual use, this won’t be an issue, but if you’re using your headphones for reference work or immersive listening, you might get more out of a wired set.
What are the best open-back headphones to buy?
Top open-back headphones
What you need to know: This high-end set from Focal combines the best materials and technology with stunning design, resulting in a product that performs on every level.
What you’ll love: The M-shaped magnesium domes of the Clear MG deliver a pure, flat response that projects with clarity across a wide frequency spectrum. Their aluminum, leather and microfiber construction is both visually appealing and comfortable to wear for extended periods.
What you should consider: Other models sound just as good at a much lower price, but there will be a compromise on build quality and/or aesthetics.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top open-back headphones for the money
What you need to know: It’s no secret that Grado products represent exceptional value, and even this entry-level set leaves much of the competition in the dust.
What you’ll love: The SR80x has undergone some minor upgrades, including a vegan-friendly headband and anti-kink woven cable, as well as fourth-generation Grado drivers that offer exceptional sound, especially at this price point.
What you should consider: Their retro styling might not be for everyone, and expect some sound leakage from the on-ear cups.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: Beyerdynamic, the brand that brought you the classic DT-100 studio staple embraces the 21st century with these extremely precise-sounding headphones.
What you’ll love: The Amiron delivers a neutral and precise sound of very high quality, with a wide dynamic range. The oversized earpads are very comfortable and not overly heavy, and they’re aesthetically appealing with sturdy construction.
What you should consider: This is a basic set as far as features are concerned, and there’s no microphone, inline remote or noise-canceling functionality.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Luke Mitchell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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