What Are Open Back Headphones?

what are open back headphones

What Are Open Back Headphones?

If you’re looking for a quality pair of headphones, you’ve seen all the different shapes, sizes, and varieties that they come in. Depending on what you want to use them for will depend on what type of headphones that you should get. If you’re just looking to listen to music on the go or in the gym, then a simple set of in-ear headphones will do just fine. But, if you’re an audiophile, who likes to experience their audio in the best possible way, then you’re going to want something a bit more special.

When it comes to on-ear headphones, there are two main varieties; open back headphones and closed back headphones. In this article, we will be dealing with only about open back headphones. So what are open back headphones?

Before we go into open back headphones, it’s best to explain closed back headphones….

What Are Closed Back Headphones?

Closed back headphones will make up the majority of headphones you’ll see on the market. Closed back headphones are popular because most people want to just be able to hear what they are listening to and shut off the outside world. They do this by closing the back of the headphone cup, and creating a good seal between the headphone and the user’s head. This isolates the noise of the headphone, from the noise of the outside. You’ll want this for when listening to music or for when playing games. This is also good for recording vocals as you won’t want the track from the headphones to bleed into your vocal track.

For certain other situations, however, you don’t need to have that isolation between the headphone and the outside. This is when you might consider open back headphones. Open back headphones get their name because the back of the cup is open and allows sound to leak out into the environment. But this design also allow outside sound to leak in.

So why would you want sound to be able to leak out into the environment. Well this brings with it a certain amount of advantages. The first and most noticeable is that an open back headphone creates a more natural sound. They give the perception that the sound is coming from your surroundings. This is the opposite of closed back headphones which isolate the sound into your ears. This effect is known as ‘Soundstage’. Open back headphones will have a wider soundstage, making your music sound more immersive than closed back headphones. For more information, check out this article here.

Now that you know what open back headphones are and why you’d want to use them, we have five open back headphones that we’d recommend. If you have any questions or comments for us, please leave them below and we’ll try our best to help you out.

Entry level – AKG K240 MK II

akg k240 mkii

Our first recommendation for a pair of open back headphones are technically semi-open back headphones. Semi-open back headphones help to prevent excessive sound leak, while trying to maintain that wide soundstage. They feature a self adjusting headband, a 3D fit system, and the thing everyone wants, a detachable cable. They are a fairly comfortable set of headphones, and deliver a spacious, even delivery of sound to the user. The frequency response in these headphones is pretty good, with above average audio reproduction.

What I noticed during our testing was that the bass response was a little lacking, and there was a little too much high end than what I usually prefer. They also seemed more susceptible to ambient noise than others on this list. Regardless, these headphones are brilliant for the price and an excellent entry level set of open back headphones, perfect for a music tech student or a home studio user.

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Under $100 – Grado SR80e

grado sr80e

The next set is the Grado SR80e Prestige series headphones. I have a slight bias towards Grado, as they were my first set of studio headphones when I was a student. I unfortunately lost these between classes and haven’t really had a pair like them since.
Grado are an extremely under-rated brand, but they make excellent headphones that are always on point. The Grado SR80e headphones are old-school looking, but are very comfortable to wear during long sessions in the studio. The quality of the cable is brilliant and feels very sturdy. The build itself is clean and simple.

The soundstage is wide, with nicely balanced audio, and surprisingly little sound leak. I was able to use these in my class with no complaints from anyone. The sound reproduction is good, with tight bass and clean treble, you’ll hear even small details in any track. The frequency response is great, with no obvious boost applied to any part of the range.
These are a great pair of headphones and I’d recommend these over the more expensive pairs any day.

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Under $200 – AKG K701

akg k701

This set of headphones, the AKG K701’s are brilliant headphones and are quite popular among many audiophiles. They are very well built, sport an impressive sound, and are extremely comfortable, due to their weight and well cushioned ear cups. You can wear these headphones for hours with no problems what so ever.

One thing I really love about this set of open back headphones is how simple and minimal they are. AKG set out to make a great set of headphones with no frills, and they achieved just that.
With regards to the sound quality from these headphones, they are perfect for picking up all the finer details of the song you’re listening to, or the track that you’re producing. Because these headphones are able to pick apart the finer details from songs, these really do deserve the title ‘reference class headphones’. These headphones are perfect for mixing in the studio, or live on stage.

The AKG K701 headphones have a clean, flat, and balanced frequency response. With little bass boosting happening under the hood, these aren’t the most exciting headphones for listening to music, but their excellent analytical sound makes these perfect for production. ADefinitely consider picking up a pair.

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Under $500 – Sennheiser HD600

sennheiser HD600

When I started my music tech class in college, I can safely say that over half of the people I shared the class with had a pair of Sennheiser headphones. Of course they all had different models, but it’s clear that Sennheiser has a strong position in the audio market, and for good reason.
The open back Sennheiser HD600 headphones are just excellent. To start, they are extremely comfortable, lightweight, have a very soft headband and pair of earcups, and a good looking open back design. One feature I always like my headphones to have is a removable cable. The Sennheiser HD600’s do have a removable cable, but it is a proprietary jack. You won’t be using any 3.5mm cable, but you’ll need one from Sennheiser.

One reason why I love this set of headphones, and why they prove to be a popular model in the audiophile community, is that it is a very flat sounding headphone which reveals a lot of the sound of whatever it is you are listening to. Once again, this is a set of headphones that is perfect for mixing in the studio or live on stage. To really squeeze all the potential out of these headphones, it’s recommended to get a good audio amp. This will greatly increase the sound resolution of the headphones and really show their potential. They deliver smooth details, an excellently layered soundstage, and a good dynamic response.
If you wanted a set of headphones with a warmer sound, then perhaps consider the Sennheiser HD650’s. They are a bit more expensive than the HD600’s however.

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Final recommendation – Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO

Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO

Here is our final recommendation for open back headphones, the Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO’s. If you can afford a set of these headphones, you are in for a treat. Beyerdynamic are an excellent brand in the industry and are well known and recognised amongst audiophiles. The DT990’s have a very stylish and good looking design. The headphones are flexible, so will resist accidental damage well. These headphones are lightweight, and are definitely some of the comfiest I’ve used. This is due to the amount of padding around the cup, which forms a tight, comfortable seal against your head. Unfortunately, the cable that these headphones come with is non-removable. It is a good length though, so you shouldn’t have any problems there.

The frequency response of the DT990’s is very satisfying. It features crisp highs that are nice and bright, which will help to reveal some of those upper frequencies that other headphones just won’t manage. The bass is nice and tight; very strong with slightly boosted low mids. While the frequency response isn’t as flat as I might like it, it’s hard to deny how awesome these headphones sound, and mixing with them is awesome. The open back design of these headphones delivers a large, well layered soundstage which won’t leave you disappointed.
If you ever see these on sale, pick them up.

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