If you're a hi-fi enthusiast or music professional, there's an obvious advantage to using open-back headphones. Their unique design allows them to deliver an incredibly immersive audio experience with a soundstage that's absolutely enormous. They basically make it sound like you're at live concert or listening to the artist in the recording studio. It's amazing.
But open-back headphones aren't for everybody. Their open-back design means that everybody near you is going to hear what you're listening to. It's also going to let outside sounds seep in, which can easily ruin the audio experience. Basically, you need to listen to open-back headphones in a quiet environment, which is why open-back headphones are perfect for at-home listening.
Of course, open-back headphones tend to be more expensive than traditional closed-back headphones. They generally have superior drivers, support high-resolution audio and made of nicer materials. But that doesn't mean you can't get a great affordable pair. We've rounded up the best open-back headphones that are under $500.
To get the best performance out of these open-back headphones, you should seriously consider buying an external DAC/amplifier for your headphones. For more info, check out our guide to building a great work-from home audio system.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
These are some of our favorite open-back headphones. They sound excellent, especially considering that you can find a pair for under $200 right now (because they were first released over 15 years ago). And they're some of the most comfortable headphones you're likely to ever wear. I mean, just look at those ear cups! They're made of memory foam and wrapped in super soft velour.
AKG K712 Pro
The AKG K712 Pro is the successor of the company's classic K701 open-back headphones. Both have a very similar designs, but the K712 Pro have been upgraded with superior drivers. The K712 Pro are excellent reference quality headphones designed for mixing and critical listening. And they're definitely comfortable, with big cushy ear cups. The only real downside is that they leak a lot of noise, which is something expected with open-back headphones. But these leak more than most.
Sennheiser HD 600
The Sennheiser HD 600 true audiophile headphones that are designed for critical at-home listening. They have neodymium magnet drivers that are designed to minimize distortion, which are very similar to some of the company's higher-end and more expensive headphones; Sennheiser is able to keep the price of the HD 600 down by giving it a mostly plastic design. The HD 600 have a replaceable cable (in case you want to upgrade) and replaceable ear cups (in case you want to get nice new ones).
Audeze is well-known for it headphones that use planar magnetic drivers, which are able to achieve incredible fidelity with virtually zero distortion, and they're typically really expensive. Think well over $1,000. But Audeze has been able to keep the price well down on LCD-1, and right now they're some of the best-sounding headphones you can buy for under $500.
Grado's Reference Series headphones are some of the best-sounding and most beautiful open-back headphones you'll find. The RS2e are made of real mahogany wood and genuine leather; they're essentially a smaller version of the company's RS1e headphones (which cost an extra $200). They deliver a warm sound with excellent mids and highs, and a huge soundstage. If you're fan of classical or jazz specifically, these are the headphones you want.