Open-back headphones are often considered to be the next level after closed-back headphones. There are some downsides to their designs, such as the sound leakage and lack of sound isolation. However, these are still highly preferred over closed-back headphones due to their superior imaging and soundstage as well as overall sound quality. You can learn more in our dedicated closed-back and open-back article.
If you are looking to get your first pair of open-back headphones, then you have come to the right place. We will be talking about industry standard headphones such as the Sennheiser HD600 as well as lesser-known models like the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro.
But, of course, there are plenty of models to tackle here. So make sure to keep on scrolling to learn more about these models. Also, if you are interested in checking out the best closed-back headphones under 300 USD, make sure to check out our dedicated article.
(Please note, at the time of publishing, all these were selling for $300 USD or less. Prices may have fluctuated since then, possibly pushing them over the original budget.)
Best Open-Back Headphones Under $300
Sennheiser HD600 – Reference Pair
If you are looking for a neutral sounding headphone, then one of the best ones that you can get at this price point is the legendary Sennheiser HD600. This headphone is one of Sennheiser’s most celebrated headphones.
It is the follow up to the Sennheiser HD580 and is widely considered to be one of the first true high-end models at the time. It was first released in 1997 and has been the number one choice for professionals.
The HD600’s design hasn’t seen too many revisions, which is a testament to its excellent build quality. There are some minor, aesthetic differences, but the core components remain the same.
The current iteration of the Sennheiser HD600 sports a new grey color scheme and has a frame design similar to the newer Sennheiser HD660s. Everything else from the drivers to the cable seems the same.
Aside from its build quality, the HD600’s defining feature is its sound signature. Its neutral sound signature has helped set the standard in professional headphones.
It is also the headphone that introduced the HD600’s signature midrange reproduction. The HD600 manages to not only accurately reproduce vocals but to reproduce them in a smooth yet very detailed and engaging manner.
Even in today’s headphone market, there are very few headphones that can compete with the HD600 when it comes to vocals. The only ones that come close are, of course, the rest of the headphones in the HD600 lineup.
There are, however, some quirks with the HD600’s sound signature. Its bass reproduction isn’t particularly the best at this price point. It doesn’t over exaggerate the bass, which some users may find lacking.
The highs are also not as airy, detailed, and well extended compared to its competitors. Again, its accurate reproduction will not suit everyone’s tastes, especially since it doesn’t add any extra flair to these frequencies.
And lastly, the soundstage isn’t the biggest. It is better than closed-back headphones but isn’t as wide as competing models. It, unfortunately, is not the best representation of the speaker-like experience that open-back headphones are known for.
Those are some of the tradeoffs that you get with these headphones. But these are also part of its appeal and help define the HD600’s sound signature.
Overall, even after two decades, the Sennheiser HD600 still has a special place in the professional audio industry and audiophile hobby. If you want to experience one of Sennheiser’s best models, then make sure to give the legendary HD600 a try. But if you are bothered by some of its issues, then make sure to keep on scrolling as we will check out the other models in Sennheiser’s family of headphones.
Sennheiser HD6XX (Sennheiser HD650)
The Sennheiser HD600 isn’t the only well-known headphone in Sennheiser’s lineup. Its follow-up, the Sennheiser HD650, is equally popular. It was initially made to address the issues of the HD600. However, the end product became a unique product that is more than just a slightly modified HD600.
The only issue is that the HD650 ended up becoming more expensive than the HD600. But thanks to Drop (formerly Massdrop), audiophiles can now get the HD650 in an affordable package in the form of the Drop x Sennheiser HD6XX.
The HD6XX may have a different name, but it manages to faithfully recreate the HD650 experience. Everything from Sennheiser’s signature build quality to the HD650’s legendary sound quality is kept intact.
It features the mid-centric sound that has been the famous party trick of the HD600 series. Unlike its predecessor, the HD 600, it does not sound too analytical since it has slightly more bass. It does, however, result in a darker sound signature.
Highs are also smooth without losing its quality. In comparison, no headphone that retails at this price point can even begin to touch the technical capabilities of the HD6XX except for Drop’s very own HD58X.
The HD6XX does, however, also carry the downsides of the HD650. One of those downsides is the intimate soundstage, which was also the problem with the original HD600.
But overall, none of these issues have stopped professionals and enthusiasts from recommending the Sennheiser HD6XX. It is a tried and tested design that has withstood the test of time. If you want to experience a more modern take on the Sennheiser HD600, then the HD6XX is one of the best purchases that you can make.
Sennheiser HD 560s – Best Budget
Sennheiser is mostly known for the HD600 and HD800 series. These headphones have essentially become the standard in professional headphones and are considered must-haves in your audiophile collection.
But this wasn’t the case a few years ago. Sennheiser’s 500 series was also very successful. However, most models did not stand the test of time and couldn’t keep up with the rest of the competition.
However, this no longer seems to be the case because Sennheiser has recently revived the HD500 series with the new Sennheiser HD560s. This is a headphone that exceeds all expectations and is looking to once again set the benchmark for reference open-back monitors in the sub 300 price range.
The HD 560s shares the same design elements with the rest of the HD500 lineup. It has a plastic construction with smaller ear cups compared to the HD600 series.
The grills are also not as revealing as the HD600 series meaning the drivers aren’t as exposed. And the detachable cable is only located on one side instead of two.
But there are some notable changes that modernize the HD560s’ look. The headphones are now rocking an all-black color scheme similar to the latest version of the HD 600 and the HD 660s. The headband and the grills also resemble the ones found on the HD 650 and HD 660s.
But the biggest change here is the new drivers, which offer better sound quality than the rest of the HD 5XX headphones. This new tuning is even regarded as an improved version of the Sennheiser HD6XX series. It solves several key issues of the HD 600 series, such as the intimate soundstage, while adding more quantity and detail to the highs.
Its analytical sound signature is very detailed and can capture a lot of the small nuances in tracks. The HD600 series still beats it in some areas, but the HD560s comes very close. This is very surprising given the HD560s has a lower position in Sennheiser’s headphone lineup. Overall, if you are looking for a budget reference headphone, the Sennheiser HD560s is incredibly hard to beat.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
Sennheiser isn’t the only brand that has achieved legendary status in the professional headphone market. Their oldest competitor, Beyerdynamic, has also helped shape today’s modern headphone market. One of their most successful release is the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro.
It is the older version of the DT 1990 Pro and was first released in 1985. Despite not having a sound signature as neutral and accurate as the DT 1990 Pro, it is still widely considered as one of the best headphones for professional and critical music listening.
Unlike its higher-end counterpart, the DT 990 Pro comes in various impedances. It comes in 32 ohms, 80 ohms, 250 ohms, and 600 ohms. This makes the DT 990 Pro highly versatile, especially if you do not own a headphone amplifier or DAC/Amp.
Another change that you will notice with the DT 990 Pro is its build quality. It is still solid, but it is now mostly made of plastic instead of metal. It is similar to the closed-back DT 770 Pro meaning the cable is non-removable.
Compared to the higher-end DT 1990 Pro, the DT 990 Pro is leaning more towards a V-Shaped sound where the lows and highs are more pronounced. The DT 990 Pro’s bass response is stronger but not as accurate or controlled as the DT 1990 Pro’s neutral bass response.
The DT 990 Pro does not have the same peaky treble response that the DT 1990 Pro has. And while you may not be getting the most accurate high-end, you will at least have a smoother and more tolerable treble response.
Overall, if you are looking for a headphone that is tried and tested in the industry, the DT 990 Pro is hard to beat. It may not have the resolution or technical capabilities as the other models on this list, but it still firmly stands on its own and competes very well.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro
Beyerdynamic has a vast headphone lineup. However, there are models that have been slept on due to hits, such as the DT 990 Pro. One of those is the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro.
But despite not being as popular as the other models in Beyerdynamic’s lineup, the DT 880 Pro is well regarded by enthusiasts. Some even consider this pair to be a competitor to higher-end headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800S.
The build quality of the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro is very similar to the rest of the DT series headphones. Like DT 990 Pro, it is built with a plastic and metal construction. The cable is also quite long and non-detachable.
In terms of sound signature, the DT 880 Pro is leaning towards a more analytical sound, which is different compared to the DT 990 Pro’s V-shaped sound signature. The mids of these headphones, in particular, are also well regarded. They can be compared to more expensive headphones such as the Audeze LCD 2.
Speaking of higher-end headphones, we mentioned earlier that this is being compared to the Sennheiser HD800s. Their similarities lie in their similar frequency response graphs. They are both leaning towards the same sound signature.
Most aspects of the HD 800s, such as the detail retrieval, are, of course, superior. The soundstage is also noticeably wider than the DT 880 Pro However, the soundstage of the HD800s is more artificial and sometimes fake-sounding, while the soundstage of the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro is more intimate but more realistic.
Overall, the fact that you can compare one of Beyerdynamic’s lower-tier headphones to flagship headphones is astounding. If you like Beyerdynamic’s sound signature, then you will definitely like this pair.
Hifiman Sundara – Best Planar Magnetic
So far, we have talked about dynamic driver open-back headphones on this list. However, there are more types of headphone drivers that offer a different kind of sound. One of these is planar magnetic drivers.
And one of the best budget planar magnetic headphones is the Hifiman Sundara. It manages to capture the magic of the higher-end Hifiman headphones and does not have too many weaknesses.
The Hifiman Sundara shares the same design elements with the entry-level Drop HE4XX but with a more modern look and the new Hifiman headband design. The headband is self-adjusting, similar to other higher-end Hifiman headphones.
In terms of the sound quality, the Hifiman Sundara retains the clear and punchy bass that the Hifiman HE4XX is known for. However, it significantly improves upon the midrange and highs of the HE4XX. Both the mids and highs have more detail, have better clarity, and do not exhibit the veil that some users notice on the HE4XX.
The midrange is once again perfectly balanced between the highs and lows. They exhibit excellent detail and clarity and have a good amount of separation from other instruments. Both male and female vocals are handled well by Sundara without encountering any noticeable peaks.
The highs on the Sundara are well extended. It manages to have excellent clarity and detail retrieval without sounding too harsh. They do sound brighter compared to the HE4XX but not as bright as more expensive headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro.
The Sundara has excellent imaging and soundstage. Its soundstage is not the widest since there are other planar magnetic and dynamic headphones that have a wider soundstage. However, it does the job of conveying a natural experience.
The imaging, on the other hand, is excellent. It is easy to tell the direction of sounds. This certainly helps when using the Hifiman Sundara for gaming.
Overall, the Hifiman Sundara provides an enjoyable listening experience. It perfectly balances accuracy and enjoyment. If you want the best value planar magnetic headphones, then you should check out the Hifiman Sundara.
Monolith is not exactly a household brand in the audio industry. Their parent company, Monoprice, is known for making a lot of things, and headphones are not exactly their specialty. They have made a couple of headphones, such as the infamous M1060, as well as amplifiers such as the Liquid Spark.
Now, they are back again with another budget planar magnetic headphone, the Monolith Monoprice M1070. As its name suggests, it is the follow up to the successful Monolith M1060. It aims to make modifications and alleviate various build quality concerns that were found in the original model.
Most of the changes aimed to address the complaints that users had with the M1060. The M1060 featured detachable 2.5mm cables. Most users complained that this was a weak connection, so Monolith implemented a 3.5mm connection for the M1070.
Another complaint was the non-removable pads on the M1060. You could change the pads, but you could potentially damage the headphones during the process. The M1070’s pads are still not easy to remove but are at least now removable. And as a bonus, the M1070 now comes with velour pads.
Those two were just minor complaints. One of the biggest major complaints that users had was the wooden earcups found in the M1060. The wooden ear cups were beautiful and added a premium feel to the earphones. However, the wood material wasn’t as durable as plastic or aluminum. The wooden ear cups made the headphones feel fragile and required more maintenance.
The M1070 changes this by using plastic instead of wood. The color scheme is also changed to black, which arguably gives it a classier look. It now fits in well with other premium planar magnetic headphones in the same price range.
As for the sound quality, the M1070 is easy to listen to and provides a relaxed listening experience. It is leaning towards the warmer side with its smooth and inoffensive highs. It still does not have the strongest bass, but it is still a very respectable performer in its price range.
The midrange has a different approach compared to similarly priced headphones like the Hifiman Sundara. The presentation of the midrange for the Sundara is wider, while the M1070 is more focused. It isn’t as forward or highlighted as the Sennheiser HD660s, but it manages to achieve a similar effect.
The only area where some users have mixed feelings about the M1070 is the highs. The highs have a bit of a peak in the upper treble around the 8-10Khz area. The M1070 does a great job of avoiding sibilance, but the treble feels active and energetic most of the time, which can result in a slightly fatiguing experience on specific tracks.
Overall, the Monolith M1070 manages to improve a lot of the criticisms found in the original M1060. It is now a product that can compete with most of the headphones on this list without having to worry about any weird build quality concerns.
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s