7 Best Open-Back Headphones [2022]

The Susvara are difficult to drive and some even use speaker amps to power them to their full potential.
The Susvara are difficult to drive and some even use speaker amps to power them to their full potential.

A curated list of some of the best open-back headphones in the world.

NameDriver TypeImpedanceSensitivityPrice
Hifiman Susvara Editor's ChoicePlanar magnetic60 ohms83 dB/mWBUY
Sennheiser HD650 Best BudgetDynamic driver300 ohms103 dB/mWBUY
Final D8000 Best BassPlanar magnetic60 ohms98 dB/mWBUY
Sennheiser HD800 S Best All-rounderDynamic driver300 ohms102 dB/mWBUY
Meze Empyrean Best DesignPlanar magnetic31.6 ohms100 dB/mW BUY
Raal-requisite SR1A Most UniqueRibbon0.6 ohms91 dB/W BUY
Sennheiser HE-1 The EndgameElectrostatic driverN/A114 dB/mW BUY

How to Pick the Right Open-Back Headphones for You

Open-back headphones are coveted for their natural staging and a more out-of-the-head presentation. They are often preferred over even speakers for personal listening since one can push the volume high without waking up their neighbors.

All being said, there are numerous options at every price point, so choosing the right open-back headphones often becomes a complicated task. As a result, you might end up with something less-than-ideal for your specific needs.

In addition, there are often compromises along the way. The headphones with the most balanced tonality might not have the best soundstage or imaging. On the other hand, a pair of headphones with spectacular resolution might require a significantly more expensive amplifier to power them.

There is a second-guess at every turn, and that is putting things mildly.

Fret not — we got you covered! This highly curated list was made after thoroughly listening to most of the critically acclaimed headphones out there across a variety of price points.

But before heading into the actual list, let’s look at the factors that influenced us the most in picking the winner.

Comfort

A well-designed headphone will enable hours of carefree listening without ever feeling the need of taking them off. Headphones with heavy magnet assembly may weigh down on your head and lead to discomfort in the long-term. On the flipside, headphones with inadequate padding on the headband, poorly designed earcups, and high clamp force may even cause physical pain.

Even the best sounding headphones can become a chore to listen to if they are not comfortable or ergonomically compromised. As such, comfort becomes one of the key factors when choosing a pair of open-back headphones.

Driver type

Open-back headphones utilize different driver types, with each driver type bringing something new to the table. Check out our article on driver types to learn more.

Choosing the driver to go for depends highly on the user’s preferences.

Some prefer the tonal richness and bass impact of dynamic drivers, whereas others may like the slam of planar magnetic drivers or the speed of electrostatic membranes.

Driver type may not be a big factor in the purchase decision, but they represent some characteristics that one may expect from the headphones.

Tonal profile

A pair of open-back headphones are only as good as they sound, and that is where personal preferences and peeves come into play.

The idea of a “neutral” sound often varies across manufacturers, and the tuners might add their own flavor to the frequency response to attain a specific “house-sound”.

Too bassy or too bright headphones hide the details in the midrange and can get fatiguing to listen for long hours – something to be wary of during purchase.

Technical prowess

Last, but not the least: technicalities. This is a catch-all term we use here to explain the soundstage, imaging, and general resolution of the open-back headphones in question.

The better a pair of headphones do in this regard, the more information you can pick up in your music. A wide, deep soundstage can give you the feel of being in a mini-concert hall, so these factors are taken into account as well.

Amplification requirements

So, now that you got the right pair of headphones after hours of research, how do you power them?

Do they have drivers requiring high voltage swing, or are they sporting low-impedance, low-sensitivity planar-magnetic drivers that need high current amplifiers?

Then there are the exotic driver types, e.g. Electrostatic or Ribbon drivers that require very different amplification topologies. Factoring in the cost and availability of amplifiers become a concern as a result.

7 Best Open-Back Headphones [2022]

Hifiman Susvara

Editor’s Choice
Our top pick: The HiFiMan Susvara (From: Amazon)
Our top pick: The HiFiMan Susvara (From: Amazon)

Key features

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
    • Nanometer-grade diaphragm
    • Stealth magnet assembly
  • Impedance: 60 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 83 dB/mW
  • Weight: 450 g
  • Tonal Profile: Warm-neutral
  • Perhaps the most natural reproduction of music among all the consumer-level flagship headphones.
  • Lifelike vocals, exceptional tuning and timbre.
  • Superb imaging and staging.
  • Very comfortable, perfect for hours of listening.
  • Fast transients help in accurately reproducing very complex tracks.

Hifiman’s flagship planar-magnetic headphones, the Hifiman Susvara, offer one of the best and most natural sound that you can find in the TOTL space. The proprietary nanometer-grade gold-deposited planar-magnetic diaphragm offers class-leading timbre and a very pleasant tuning. These do not skimp on the technicalities though as staging, imaging, and general resolution are all top-notch.

The Susvara have a class-leading midrange that is highly transparent and resolving without a hint of grain or shoutiness. Vocals are placed right in front of you with abundant clarity as even the most minute nuances can be picked up. Acoustic guitars sound sublime, every single note being delivered with precision.

The bass and treble performance is not class-leading like the mids but even then those frequencies are not rolled-off or masked in any manner. Add to this the high level of comfort and it is easy to see why the Susvara have become some of the most popular flagship headphones around.

The Susvara are difficult to drive and some even use speaker amps to power them to their full potential.
The Susvara are difficult to drive and some even use speaker amps to power them to their full potential.

Are the Hifiman Susvaras perfect? Of course not, nothing is. They need a high current amplifier, with many owners pairing these to speaker amps. Let that sink in for a while.

Moreover, the general build quality, fit, and finish do not reflect the astronomical price tag. The wood inserts in the ear-cup look cheap, whereas the headband loses its shine quickly.

Add to that the awful stock cable, which is the worst among all the headphones on this entire list, and suddenly there are a few compromises to be made.

Fortunately, these issues are not deal breakers for us, especially with their sound quality; so Hifiman Susvara deservingly take the Editor’s Choice award.

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Also good:

Final D8000 Pro

The D8000 Pro strike a great balance between tonality and technicalities.
The D8000 Pro strike a great balance between tonality and technicalities. (From: Amazon)

Final’s flagship headphones, the D8000 Pro, offer a revamped orthodynamic driver design which was inspired by the Yamaha planar magnetic headphones in the 80s. They have a distinct design language and the build quality is as good as it gets across any price point. Comfort is also good though the heavy earcups coupled with the heavy stock cable may lead to some discomfort after long usage.

As for the sound, these are near-neutral in tone with a slight recession in the upper-mids. In terms of bass and treble performance, the D8000 Pro are very competitive with other TOTL headphones in this price range.

The industrial design of the D8000 Pro makes them immediately recognizable.
The industrial design of the D8000 Pro makes them immediately recognizable.

It’s the midrange that takes a back seat compared to our first choice Susvara. These are fine margins though and when taking into account the significantly lower retail price against the Susvara, the D8000 Pro become a viable second choice.

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Sennheiser HD650

Best Budget
Sennheiser's midrange open-back headphones are legendary in their own rights.
Sennheiser’s midrange open-back headphones are legendary in their own rights. (From: Amazon)

Key features

  • Driver Type: Dynamic driver
    • 40mm drivers
  • Impedance: 300 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 103 dB/mW
  • Weight: 260 g
  • Tonal Profile: Warm-neutral
  • Exquisite midrange
  • Reference tuning
  • Very durable, time-tested build

Sennheiser HD650 have been on the market for almost 20 years now and they are still loved and recommended by many in the audiophile circle.

The 40mm dynamic drivers have a relatively older design and the headphones themselves look utilitarian. The old driver design is no issue as the HD650s still perform well in measurements, and the no-frills look makes them perfect for professional use.

What sets them apart from the rest is their midrange performance. The mids on the HD650 are breathtakingly beautiful. Every subtle articulation of vocals, the strum of acoustic guitars, the undertones of piano keys – these are presented in their full glory.

The treble is relaxed while keeping a sense of airiness and extension. Nothing is forced upon the listener, rather most of the details are there for the listener to pick up at their own pace. For the asking price, this level of performance is nothing short of incredible.

The HD650 shine on good amps.
The HD650 shine on good amps.

Sadly, the bass response falls short of the stellar midrange performance. Mid-bass takes the front seat as the bass rolls-off drastically in the sub-bass regions. As a result, the HD650 have little to no sub-bass rumble and won’t give you a sense of slam and impact. The staging is also narrow whereas the imaging lacks absolute precision. They also require a decent amplifier given the high impedance of 300 ohms.

None of these caveats dampen the charm of the HD650s once you listen to them on a good amplifier, though. Their comfortable fit, long-lasting build, and reference-grade tuning make them indispensable to this day. Add to that the Drop version (named HD6XX) which has a lower price than the regular HD650 and you got yourself a bargain.

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Also good:

Koss Porta Pro

The porta pro have a retro design.
The porta pro have a retro design. (From: Amazon)

Koss have a long history with headphones and they were the first brand to popularize portable headphones. The Porta Pros were originally released back in 1984 and later went through a driver update.

The modern iteration of the Porta Pros are still relevant and have set standards in the ultra-budget range. They have a V-shaped tuning, meaning the bass and treble are at the forefront of the signature. Despite the bass focus the mids are not too recessed and vocals come through fairly well.

Koss Porta Pro have an exceptional soundstage for a pair of budget headphones.
Koss Porta Pro have an exceptional soundstage for a pair of budget headphones.

The area where they exceed expectations is soundstage.

These have a natural, open stage that often makes you forget that you are wearing headphones. Comfort is also excellent with the lightweight and adjustable clamp force. While the stock cable is very thin and general build quality is fragile, aftermarket parts are readily available and Koss offers a limited lifetime warranty.

Unfortunately, these won’t be as resolving in the mids and treble as the HD650s as they don’t have the same level of build quality and the Porta Pros tend to distort at very high volumes unlike the HD650s. However, they have enough perks to make them a very enticing purchase, especially at the budget asking price.

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Final D8000

Best Bass
Final D8000 got some of the most textured, dense, and articulated bass response.
Final D8000 got some of the most textured, dense, and articulated bass response. (From: Amazon)

Key features

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
    • Air Film Damping System (ADFS)
  • Impedance: 60 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 98 dB/mW
  • Weight: 523 g
  • Tonal Profile: Warm
  • Superb industrial design
  • Visceral bass response with excellent speed and tactility of bass notes
  • Laid-back, warm midrange
  • Good staging and imaging

The love of bass is very much an acquired taste. Some listeners do not like a hint of emphasis in the bass. Then there are those bassheads who are not satisfied until they feel the thump of the lows on their chest.

Tuning the bass thus becomes more of an art, as a number of factors can affect the perception of bass quality including the driver type used, the design of the housing, the existence of passive radiators etc.

The D8000 and D8000 Pro share a similar design but different tuning.
The D8000 and D8000 Pro share a similar design but different tuning.

Final D8000 balances bass quality with quantity in a manner that is very hard to find among open-back headphones. These treat bass notes as first-class citizens with excellent mid-bass punch and a dense, rumbling sub-bass that can reach to the lowest octaves. The sense of slam and impact are addictive. These maintain the rhythm and speed needed to keep up with complex bass-lines.

Final’s Air Film Damping System (ADFS) mechanism is the secret behind such a unique bass response. It’s not all about the bass though, as the D8000 have a natural midrange (despite the recession in the upper-mids) and sparkly, airy treble. The staging and imaging are also top-notch with precise localization of instruments and vocals.

They are not perfect, with the heavy earcups causing long-term fatigue and the upper-mid recession masking some of the details in the mids. There are also some unevenness in the treble. If you love high quality bass though, the Final D8000 deserve an audition.

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Also good:

Audeze LCD-2

Audeze LCD-2 can be equalized into a basshead's delight.
Audeze LCD-2 can be equalized into a basshead’s delight. (From: Amazon)

The Audeze LCD-2 are some of their most popular models and have gained a following thanks to their warm, laid-back tuning and a solid bass response. Their full potential is unlocked via EQ, however, as they have very low-distortion 106mm planar magnetic drivers.

As a result, you can boost the bass to proper bass-head levels without any distortion setting in.

When EQ’ed, the LCD-2 slam and punch harder than most headphones in their price range, all the while maintaining the speed and precision expected from planar drivers. The texture and depth of the bass response on the LCD-2 is exemplary, especially when considering the price.

There are drawbacks as usual, with the 595g weight being a constant reminder that you are wearing something substantial. They also require a good quality amplifier to perform at their best, especially if you are planning to EQ them.

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Sennheiser HD800 S

Best All-rounder
The HD800 S are great all-rounders.
The HD800 S are great all-rounders. (From: Amazon)

Key features

  • Driver Type: Dynamic driver
    • Ring-radiator driver
  • Impedance: 300 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 102 dB/mW
  • Weight: 330 g
  • Tonal Profile: Neutral
  • Very comfortable to wear
  • Highly resolving signature
  • Class-leading soundstage and imaging

Sennheiser’s consumer-level flagship, open-backed HD800 S are jack-of-all-trades, and master of some. Probably the most mundane thing about them is their bass response which is just alright. The treble also has some presence-region emphasis that may sound fatiguing for some.

Fortunately, both issues can be fixed by specific amp pairings or via good ol’ EQ.

The mids have excellent tuning with natural voicing and a stunning rendition of acoustic instruments. The treble, despite the bright-tilt, is extended, sparkly, and can portray a sense of airiness hard to find in dynamic driver headphones. These are achieved because the ring-radiator driver helps with lightning-fast transients and very low distortion.

To top it all off, the HD800 S are very comfortable to wear and aftermarket parts are readily available.

The most standout feature though is their soundstage and imaging. The HD800 S have a nearly speaker-like presentation where the sound seems to be originating from the front of the listener. Spatial qualities set them apart from the rest of the competition.

In short: very few weaknesses and a pair of headphones that work well across a variety of genres and tasks, making them truly versatile for the end-user. If you want to buy just one pair of headphones in the flagship level without going into the summit-fi territory, the HD800 S should be a top contender.

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Also good:

Focal Clear Mg

Focal's TOTL open-back headphones have few weak points.
Focal’s TOTL open-back headphones have few weak points. (From: Amazon)

Focal’s successor to the very well-received Clear are the Clear Mg. Their prime differences are the earpads and the driver-dome material which is Magnesium on the Clear Mg compared to Al-Mg alloy on the Clears. The Clear Mg also sound warmer in tone which is more pleasant for long listening sessions.

They tick nearly all of the boxes, with a beautiful design, great comfort, low amplification needs, and a highly resolving signature. The bass hits harder than the HD800S and they have even better texture and speed in the lows.

Where they fall short of our top pick is the voicing of the midrange and soundstage width and depth, where the HD800 S pull ahead dramatically. The replacement earpads of the Clear Mg are also quite expensive, making the HD 800 S cheaper to maintain in the longer term.

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Meze Empyrean

Best Design
The Meze Empyrean have a stunning design and meticulous attention to detail.
The Meze Empyrean have a stunning design and meticulous attention to detail. (From: MezeAudio)

Key features

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
    • Isodynamic hybrid magnet array
  • Impedance: 31.6 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 100 dB/mW
  • Weight: 430 g
  • Tonal Profile: Warm
  • Gorgeous design
  • Warm, laid-back tuning
  • Good staging and imaging

Meze Audio is known for the design of their headphones and earphones, and their Meze Empyrean takes the design supremacy up another notch. The Empyreans might even pass as art-pieces due to the craftsmanship Meze has put into them.

The Copper-Black color scheme is my personal favorite. The grille design has intricate detailing, and the carbon-fiber headband seamlessly blends form and function.

The Empyrean are not all about design though, they have a rich, warm tuning that is excellent for laid-back listening. They do lack a bit in the “bite” department as things sound smoothed over due to an emphasis on mid-bass, which hurts the sense of resolution. The soundstage is good for a change, so is the imaging.

The Empyrean are not the most resolving headphones in their price class, but they are one of the most beautiful pieces of gear you will come across in audiophilia.

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Also good:

ZMF Atrium

ZMF's latest creation have a vintage, classy styling.
ZMF’s latest creation have a vintage, classy styling. (From: ZMFHeadphones)

ZMF’s latest co-flagship, the Atrium, sports a revamped bio-cellulose dynamic driver and a proprietary damping system. The technical aspects of these headphones are impressive indeed, but what grabs immediate attention is their design.

Wood, metal – these materials are prevalent in all of the ZMF headphones, and the Atrium is no different. The grille design is stunning with a Gothic architecture-inspired pattern. The leather headband and earpads, the sandblasted, machined-aluminum yokes, and the gorgeous cherry-wood cups give them a timeless demeanor.

The Gothic cathedral inspired grille design is a highlight of the Atrium.
The Gothic cathedral inspired grille design is a highlight of the Atrium.

When it comes to sound, the Atrium are no slouch with a punchy bass that envelops the mids in a gentle warmth.

Treble has good extension with a sense of airiness rarely found in warm tunings. Staging is spacious and open with precise instrument positioning. In this particular aspect the Atrium is better than any of the previous ZMF releases from my experience.

The primary caveats are the somewhat recessed upper-mids and the lower-treble emphasis that can be jarring at times. The Atrium are also not as resolving as some planar-magnetic and electrostatic headphones in this price bracket. They are gorgeous though, and exude an undeniable charm.

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RAAL-Requisite SR1A

Most Unique
RAAL-requisite's SR1A are unlike anything out there in the market.
RAAL-requisite’s SR1A are unlike anything out there in the market. (From: RAALRequisite)

Key features

  • Driver Type: Ribbon
  • Impedance: 0.2 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 91 dB/W
  • Weight: 425 g
  • Tonal Profile: Analytical
  • Perhaps the best staging and imaging in headphones
  • Highly resolving
  • Exceptional treble rendition

RAAL-requisite is based in Serbia and the SR1A are the only headphones they have on offer at the time of this writing. These headphones are an anomaly compared to nearly every other headphone on the market.

First up are the amplification needs. If you look at the specs carefully, you will notice the incredibly low impedance of 0.2 ohms and a sensitivity of 91 dB per Watt.

That makes the SR1A some ridiculously power-hungry headphones, requiring specific speaker amps to perform well. Also, the earcups can be rotated to vary the seal which can alter the sound signature.

Finally, the deal-breaker for many would be the bass response which rolls off drastically in the sub-bass region. As a result, modern pop and hip-hop tracks are likely off the plate.

For all those sacrifices, you get probably the most open-sounding headphones in the world with a panel-speaker like sound.

The treble is extremely resolving with lighting fast transients, and the mids are revealing to mastering flaws. The design alone can be a conversation starter, and coupled with the proprietary driver tech and unique acoustic design, the SR1A are truly one-of-a-kind.

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Sennheiser HE-1

The Endgame
Sennheiser's unobtanium, the HE-1, are true endgames in this hobby.
Sennheiser’s unobtanium, the HE-1, are true endgames in this hobby. (From: Sennheiser)

Key features

  • Driver Type: Electrostatic driver
  • Impedance: N/A
  • Sensitivity: 114 dB/mW
  • Weight: 550 g
  • Tonal Profile: Neutral
  • The best sounding headphones in the world
  • Lifelike timbre and tonality
  • Comes as a complete system with matching energizer and DAC

Sennheiser’s money-no-object headphones are considered the best of the best in the world of audiophilia. The HE-1 are stuff of legends. In every audio show, they attract a sizable audience, all pining for a 10 minute audition of a headphone system that is out of the reach for most.

The exorbitant price-tag is matched by the sheer exclusivity of these headphones, as each pair is built upon order with a considerable backlog in place and requires specialized installation on-site.

Once you go through that ordeal, you get in hand (or on your ears) the most natural sounding headphones one can acquire. The mids are breathtakingly realistic, and the lifelike timbre is intoxicating. It’s hard to judge the technical merits of these headphones like staging, imaging etc. as the music itself becomes the center-piece.

The HE-1 are hard to describe in words, they are even harder to encapsulate as a value proposition.

If there exists a pair of legit end-of-the road headphones, the HE-1 would probably be it. The pinnacle, the end-game of an otherwise arduous hobby.

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