6 best open-back headphones: for more natural sounding

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When you are listening to music, you do not always hear accurate representations of the sounds and tone as originally intended on the records. There are several factors that alter the tone and the overall sonic picture of the music you’re listening to, with the physical design of the audio device (speakers, headphones) being one of the most crucial aspects. 

There is no doubt that many modern headphones, especially over-the-ear headphones, are designed to look contemporary and visually appealing. However, it’s more than just the style that the design has to do with as it also affects the audio performance of the headphones. Compared to the mainstream closed-back headphones, open-back headphones are less popular as they cater more to the niche audiophile market. 

What are open-back headphones? 

To better understand open-back headphones, let’s go back to the basics of the two ways how sound speakers are designed. Sound speakers, especially loudspeakers, have either an open or closed design at their back enclosure. 

Image credit: Roland

Image credit: Roland

In most cases, speakers with a closed-back enclosure deliver punchy bass and an overall tight sound as the airmass produced by the vibrating speaker can only move forward and not backward. 

On the other hand, speakers with an open back enclosure deliver natural-sounding audio as the sound waves travel in an omnidirectional pattern. This is because the open back enclosure allows the airmass of the vibrating speaker to move backward as well. 

Open-back speakers are usually the preferred option for natural audio performance requirements. Some of the most famous musical instrument amplifier speakers (aka amps), including the prestigious Fender ‘65 Twin Reverb Electric guitar amplifier, have an open-back enclosure for sonic transparency. 

Open back enclosure of the Fender ‘65 Twin Reverb amplifier

Image credit: Sweetwater

From a basic perspective, headphones are a shrunken version of speakers and therefore the type of enclosure has a significant impact on their audio performance. Similar to amplifier speakers with open back enclosures, open-back headphones are more natural sounding. 

In what ways are open-back headphones better?

Similar to speakers with an opened back enclosure, open-back headphones have a better frequency response than closed-back headphones. Open-back headphones have ear cups that have a perforated design or mesh grill at the outer enclosure. 

Here’s an open-back headphone with perforated ear cups. 

Image credit: Sweetwater

Here’s an open-back headphone with mesh grill ear cups. 

Image credit: Sweetwater

Open-back headphones are more natural sounding

Compared to closed-back headphones, the audio and the overall tone of the records you’re listening to sound more natural and organic. This is because the open enclosure allows more room for the airmass and sound waves to move. 

Open-back headphones are more comfortable to use

Due to the partially-open ear cups of open-back headphones, they feel more open when wearing and therefore are more comfortable for long hours of use than their closed-back counterparts. Compared to closed-back headphones, open-back headphones do not feel compressed or claustrophobic on the ears. 

Open-back headphones are a great choice for home studio

It’s important for professional studio or home studio monitors to be dynamic and natural sounding. Although speaker monitors are the best choice, headphone monitors are a great alternative. Open-back headphones make the best alternative to high-quality speaker monitors as they deliver sound that’s more dynamic and true to the recorded tracks. 

The trade-off you make with open-back headphones’ natural audio performance

Although the partially-open enclosures of open-back headphones work wonders in delivering dynamic frequency response and natural-sounding audio performance, they aren’t good at passive noise cancellation. As compared to closed-back headphones that completely block external noise, open back headphones do not eliminate external noise. 

Depending on your requirements, this can come as an advantage or a disadvantage. If you are someone who wants to be aware of the surroundings while listening to music on your headphone, the non-noise isolation design of open-back headphones will come as an advantage to you. 

On the other hand, if you do not want any disturbances when listening to music, it’s a trade off you will have to make for prioritizing natural-sounding audio of open-back headphones. 

Passive noise cancellation not to be confused with active noise cancellation

Many people often confuse passive noise cancellation with active noise cancellation or think they are the same. However, it’s not as they are totally different. 

Passive noise cancellation is just a marketing term for external noise isolation that many headphone/electronic brands use to promote their products. Passive noise cancellation is the elimination of external noise in the environment, such as traffic and construction noise. 

It’s generally the closed or sealed enclosure/ear cups of commercial and affordable headphones that eliminate external noise. 

Image credit: ams AG YouTube

On the other hand, active noise cancellation is totally different. It’s a technology that is designed to eliminate external noise. Headphones with active noise cancellation technology use anti-phases (opposite sound frequencies) to eliminate ambient noise for delivering a focused listening experience. Noise cancellation technology also works well for disturbance-free audio calls. 

Learn how active noise cancellation technology works in three simple steps: 

A dedicated miniature microphone on the ear cups pick up the ambient sound waves. 

Image credit: ams AG YouTube

After recognizing the ambient sound waves, the ear cup microphone transmits it to the active noise cancellation processor. 

Image credit: ams AG YouTube

The active noise cancellation processor then produces an opposite sound wave that cancel out the ambient sound wave. 

Image credit: ams AG YouTube

6 best open-back headphones

Some of the best open-back headphones are the ones that strike a fine balance between dynamic audio performance, comfortable wear, high-quality build, and uncompromised adjustment options. 

The open-air headphones that we have listed below vary in terms of audio performance, price, quality, and extra functionalities. 

1. Shure SRH1440 – check it out here

Shure SRH1440 perfectly blends the timeless open enclosure concept with a modern and contemporary form factor. The mesh grille open back of this headphone allows the 40mm sound drivers to move freely and deliver a dynamic audio performance. Frequencies stay true to what you’re hearing, whether it be the lows, the mids, or the highs.

2. Sennheiser HD 560S – check it out here

If you want to get your hands on one of the best Sennheiser open-back headphones, you cannot go wrong with Sennheiser HD 560S. The large-sized mesh grille opening helps the headphones deliver crisp and articulate audio performance for a highly enjoyable listening experience. The dynamic frequency response of this headphone makes it a perfect choice for casual music listening as well as home studio recording and mixing. 

3. AKG K15 – check it out here

AKG K15 comes as an unmistakable choice for you if you’re looking for one of the best cheap open-back headphones in the portable form factor category. Although portable in overall size, this headphone doesn’t back down in delivering an articulate audio, thanks to its mesh grill opening at the ear cups. Be it for entertainment or work, AKG K15 adapts to every requirement with its high-performance 40 mm sound drivers. 

4. Audiotechnica ATH-AD900X – check it out here

Audiotechnica ATH-AD900X will not disappoint you even if you are a discriminating audiophile. The combination of large-sized 53 mm sound drivers, completely open mesh grille enclosure, and a mid-range price makes this model one of the best Audiotechnica open-ear headphones. This model is well-suited for casual music listening as well as home studio recording and mixing requirements. 

5. Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO – check it out here

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO is one of the best open-back headphones under $150 in terms of versatility. This open-back headphone can outperform many mid-range and premium headphones with its dynamic frequency response. With an uncompromised build and comfortable wear, Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO offers exceptional value and comes as one of the best budget open-back headphones. 

6. Pioneer SE Master 1 – check it out here

Pioneer SE Master 1 is one of the best open-ear headphones in terms of its uniqueness. It seamlessly combines vintage design with modern aesthetic elements and features. Its high-performance 50 mm sound drivers benefit from the large-sized mesh grille opening which help in creating a more airy and transparent sound. 

3 best semi-open headphones 

Semi-open headphones bring the best of closed-back as well as open-back headphones. The back enclosures of semi-open headphones are sized just right to lower sound bleed and maintain a significant level of noise isolation. 

Here are three popular and high-quality models that you cannot go wrong with: 

1. AKG K240 Studio – check it out here

AKG K240 studio works well in retaining the natural sounding audio of prestigious open-back headphones. Its semi-open design helps you experience just the right amount of external noise isolation required to add more definition to the overall audio performance. 

2. Samson SR850 – check it out here

Samson SR850 is affordable yet high-performing. What’s great about this model is it perfectly suits hobbyists as well as professionals. Its acoustically-tuned semi-open ear cups work great in ensuring dynamic frequency response for better audio replication. 

3. Fostex T50 RP – check it out here

Fostex T50 RP is perfectly-suited for home studio professionals. This is because it features Fostex’s regular phase technology that works great in producing sharp and crisp audio which is required for accurate studio monitoring. This semi-open headphone performs equally well for casual music listening as well. 

3 best open-back headphones for gaming

Open-back headphones/open-air headphones aren’t just reserved for music listening and home studio recording and mixing requirements. They can also exceed expectations in the gaming department with uncompromised audio dynamics and crispness. 

Here are three open-air headphones for gaming that give a tough competition to their closed-back counterparts:

1. Audiotechnica ATH PDG1 – check it out here

Detailed audio puts every gamer at a competitive advantage, and Audiotechnica ATH PDG1 is just about that. This open-back headphone uses 40 mm sound drivers that work well in producing sounds originally intended by the game developers. 

2. Koss GMR 545 AIR – check it out here

Koss GMR 545 AIR is one of the best open-back headphones for gaming to have a clear sonic picture of the game you’re playing. The sound drivers of this headphone are custom tuned for sound frequencies that are common to game effects and theme music. 

3. Epos Sennheiser Game One – check it out here 

Epos Sennheiser Game One makes gaming more enjoyable and comfortable sonically with its pleasant audio experience. Compared to closed-back headphones, this model doesn’t tire you even during long hours of gaming, thanks to its perforated ear cups make it more natural sounding and comfortable to wear. 

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