Top 10 Best Open Back Headphones under $500 – 2017 Edition
Fancy open back headphones? You are most definitely not alone. These past few months I fancied open back headphones more than closed back headphones. Why? Well there are several advantages of open back headphones that my ears find it very pleasing. First of all, soundstaging, imaging and layering are (far) better compared to closed back headphones. Depending on how the audio was recorded, with open back headphones the music or audio is relaxed, it’s like the artist or band is playing right in front of you and not just in your head. Well I know you get what I mean. The music also feels free flowing, relaxed and natural to my ears, and not forced into my ears. Finally, I can hear my kids call me even when I am wearing a headphone! (Lol) Last one isn’t so relevant.
However, two common downside of an open back headphone is they have a tendency to lack bass presence or the punchy-ness of the bass when compared to closed back headphones; and they definitely leak sound. This means people who are near you will hear what you are listening to. So don’t ever make the mistake of using open back headphones and watch NSFW stuff when somebody is around! Joke aside; these headphones are definitely not for bassheads, in my opinion. But if you are a basshead, you may want to try something new for a change.
Anyway, I have listed here my top 10 best open back headphones under $500 for this year. These are all audiophile grade, hi-fidelity and hi-resolution gear that would very much please our ears without draining our wallets (too much). These are my personal top picks, so don’t be surprised if there’s an open back headphone that you liked and it’s not included in the list. You may want to comment that below and let’s see if I have already tried it or not. Let’s proceed to the list below.
My 10 Best Open Back Headphones under $500
Again below are my personal choices of what I think (or my ears think) are the best open back headphones you can buy under $500. Some consider these headphones as mid-fi, but for me these are real value headphones and the audio quality is top notch for their price. If you are looking for the best of the best headphones out there, those will be listed in my succeeding articles.
Also, the list below is sorted according to their prices, starting from the lowest priced down to the highest priced open back headphone. There’s a chance that by the time you visited this page, prices have already changed. Please do check the links for their updated prices. I selected these headphones based on their sound quality / signature and performance, as well as their comfort and build quality. So without further ado… my 10 best open back headphones under $500 USD.
Fostex T50RP MK3 Semi-Open Back Planar Headphone
The Fostex T50RP MK3 is not a full open back headphone, but it’s a semi-open back headphone and currently retails for $131 USD. This features the refined Fostex proprietary Regular Phase diaphragm driver using copper foiled etched polyimide film paired with neodymium magnet. This is also one of the cheapest planar headphones around. The T50RP Mk3 has an impedance of 50 Ohm, so it’s a little bit harder to drive compared to typical headphones. You need a good amp (not necessarily an expensive one) to drive this headphone.
The Fostex T50RP Mk3 is comfortable to wear. It weighs around 315 grams, and the cable is detachable. However, I would suggest that you change those ear pads and find something a little bit thicker. In terms of sound quality, the Fostex T50RP Mk3 features a flat, clear and natural sound quality. Not so much sub-bass here, but the bass is defined and fast. This is also a slightly analytic headphone (leaning towards the highs), treble is detailed and transparent.
Philips Fidelio X2 Open Back Headphone
Second on my list is the Philips Fidelio X2 open back headphone, currently retails for $265 USD. This headphone has been in the market for quite some time and it has been tested and proven to produce a very musical listening experience. It features a 50mm dynamic driver with double-layered ear shells, layered motion control diaphragm and the drivers are pre-tilted. It also comes with a (long) Oxygen free cable; I like the cable but don’t like the length.
The Fidelio X2 features velour memory foam that is very comfortable and the self-adjustable airy hammock with 3D mesh sits nicely on my head. The ear cups are made from a sturdy metal material and I think it’s very sturdy. The X2 surprisingly features a rich and full bodied bass (not so common with open backs), similar bass experience with closed backs. Mids are rich and doesn’t feel too forward or recessed. Treble is nowhere sibilant but presents a certain amount of detail. Overall this is a fun and musical best open back headphone.
Grado Prestige SR325e Open Back Headphone
If you want clear, flat, sparkling highs and forward tuning, the Grado Prestige SR325e open back headphone could be your cup of tea. Currently retailing for $295.00, the SR325e feature what many audiophiles calls “the Grado sound”. This open back headphone has a great tonal balance and it’s transparent across frequencies. It’s very dynamic and compared to the SR225e (and some other Grado headphones), this one tends to lean just a bit on the warm side.
The SR325e is light but not necessarily the most comfortable headphone I tried due to its foam type or spongy ear pads that may need some time for your ears to adapt. Its cable is not detachable though and it’s a little bit thick compared to the usual headphone cable. It’s also noteworthy to mention that a lot of DIY people like to customize Grado’s headphones, making them look better and more comfortable to wear.
Beyerdynamic DT-880 Premium Semi-Open Back Headphone
Up next is the Beyerdynamic DT-880 open back headphone. This headphone comes in three different variants, at 32 Ohm and 250 Ohm (both retailing for $249.00). And there’s also a 600 Ohm at $215 USD. Obviously the 600 Ohm might be the less popular amongst the three as you need a powerful amplifier to drive that much impedance. The 32 Ohm version is basically design for mobile listening, while the 250 Ohm is designed for home stereo and relaxed listening. The DT-880 Premium has a neutral and linear tonality. I like this kind of tuning since it’s great for different genres thanks to its sound characteristics.
Build quality of the Beyerdynamic DT-880 Premium is superb and it’s also very comfortable to wear, as expected from the company. It’s also light at 290 grams; however the cable is not detachable making me think twice.
HIFIMAN HE400S Open Back Planar Headphone
The HiFiMAN HE400S is the second open back headphone in this list that uses a planar technology. It currently retails for $299 and it’s currently the company’s cheapest planar headphone. Some sites even consider this headphone to be the best open back headphone under $500, but not for me. It’s very easy to drive with an impedance of only 22 Ohms. You can basically use this with your smartphone without having the need for an external amplifier. The pleather pad rests nicely on your head and the full sized ear cups with velour paddings are comfortable as well.
Compared to the HE400i, the HE400S is leaning towards the warm side. The HE400S has a bit more bass and mid-bass presence compared to the HE400i. On the other hand, the HE400i has more clarity and treble presence. But do take note that their difference is not that huge but noticeable, and built quality is almost exactly the same, except for the color. The mids are great on the HE400S with a combination of very smooth presentation and slightly rolled off highs.
AKG K712 Pro Open Back Headphone
The AKG K712 Pro Audio that currently retails for around $300 to $350 USD is also a good open back headphone. It features 62 Ohms impedance so you might want to use a good DAC/AMP to make this headphone sing. It’s lightweight at only 235 grams and the full-sized cups with velour ear pads are quite comfortable as well. The headband doesn’t have a strong clamping force so it may be loose fitting for some.
The AKG K712 Pro also has a neutral sound signature with a bit of warmness. Like many open back headphones, it also feels spacious and airy. Stereo imaging is quite good, mids are great and highs are present without being sibilant. Bass is also better with the K712 Pro since AKG improved low-end performance by 3dB. Yeah, I definitely like this headphone compared to other AKGs.
Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Headphone
Ahhh the Sennheiser HD600, retailing at $384 USD. Some consider this (and the HD 650) to be the best open back headphones around. Well at least for their price point. The HD800 and HD800s are still the kings of dynamic open back headphones in my opinion. Some would prefer the HD 600 over the HD 650 while some prefers the other way around. Either way, we can’t deny that these headphones are truly great.
Build quality of the HD 650 is great, but I like the HD 650 better on my head. In terms of sound quality, it is very balanced, natural and the details are certainly there. Bass is rich (but probably lacks sub-bass), mid-range is fantastic and the highs are smooth. Soundstaging and imaging is good, but the HD 650 does it better. I don’t like the stock cables, but the good thing is they are detachable and I can simply replace it with an upgrade cable.
Sennheiser HD 650 Open Back Headphone
The Sennheiser HD 650 at $410 is a tad more expensive compared to the HD 600. But it’s also one of the kings and the best open back headphones under $500 out there. Many find that their difference are not that significant (some finds the HD 600 better), that’s why many settled for the cheaper HD 600. In fact some audiophile gurus recommend the HD 600 over the HD 650. Then again, sound is subjective. But remember, both headphones have 300 Ohms, meaning you definitely need a good amplifier for these cans to sing.
Like I said earlier, soundstage is better with the HD 650, but I think vocal presentation is better with the HD 600. I also find the HD 650 to be slightly warmer compared to the HD 600. Overall their difference is not that huge for me, but I am leaning towards the HD 600 as well. If you ever have the time to audition both headphones, that would be better.
HIFIMAN HE400i Open Back Planar Headphone
And the last open back planar headphone in this list is the HiFiMAN HE400i, currently retails for $449. For the price, I consider the HE400i as one of the best open backs because I prefer more detail and clarity; things that the HE400S is lacking a little bit. Also, I prefer the color or finish of the HE400i (I’m sure you would too).
The HiFiMAN HE400i is basically similar with the HE400S in terms of build quality but sound quality is noticeably different. Soundstage is amazing, mid-range is rich and lush, and the highs are well extended without being sibilant. The HE400i do however lacks some bass punch. It’s not as punchy compared to the HE400S, but it’s fast and tight. The so-called planar magic is definitely here with the HE400i. This is a good example of an open back headphone that has a good balance between musicality and technicality. This is definitely also one of the best open back headphones under $500 USD. Personally, I like to pair this with my ALO’s CDM.
Beyerdynamic T90 Tesla Open Back Headphone
And finally, the last but not the least is the Beyerdynamic T90 Tesla open back headphone. It currently retails for around $489 USD, made in Germany and comes with a two year warranty from Beyerdynamic USA. The T90 features the company’s Tesla technology that provides highest level of efficiency and produces high resolution and spacious sound. Built quality is definitely great (again as expected from Beyerdynamic), however the cable is non-removable. There are some services that offer conversion to make the cable detachable but that would be at your own risk, and added expense.
If you can’t afford Beyer’s T1, the T90 could be your next option at sub $500. It has a well-balanced and neutral tonality with great bass and highs. Details and clarity is present with this headphone, but the mids might be a little bit off, probably a tad recessed (not sure). Soundstage and imaging is good, but not the best I have heard. You definitely need a good amp to make this headphone sing since it’s rated at 250 Ohms.
Open Back Headphones Specs Comparison
|T50RP MK3||Planar||50 Ohms||92 dB||15 - 35000 Hz||Detachable||315 g|
|Fidelio X2||Dynamic||30 Ohms||100 dB||5 - 40 000 Hz||Detachable||380 g|
|SR325e||Dynamic||32 Ohms||99.8 dB||18 - 24000||Non-detachable||358 g|
|DT-880||Dynamic||32, 250, 600 Ohms||96 dB||5 - 35000Hz||Non-detachable||290 g|
|HE400S||Planar||22 Ohms||98 dB||20 - 35000 Hz||Detachable||350 g|
|K712 Pro||Dynamic||62 Ohms||105 dB||10 - 39800 Hz||Detachable||235 g|
|HD 600||Dynamic||300 Ohm||97 dB||12 - 39000 Hz||Detachable||260 g|
|HD 650||Dynamic||300 Ohm||103 dB||10 - 39500 Hz||Detachable||260 g|
|HE400i||Planar||35 Ohms||93dB||20 - 35000 Hz||Detachable||370 g|
|T90 Tesla||Dynamic||250 Ohms||102 dB||5 - 40000 Hz||Non-detachable||350 g|
There you go guys, these are my top 10 best open back headphones under $500 for this year. I may add/remove a headphone in this list, specially if something new is released in the market and gets my ears’ approval.
I was going to add the Audeze EL-8 (open back) in this list, but it’s currently retailed at $699. However, I consider the EL-8 as one of the best open back headphones and will be featured on my succeeding articles.
One important fact of being a music lover or audiophile (aside from having a great headphone), is you NEED a good amplifier to drive your gear to their fullest potential, and also a good DAC. Typical consumer might not realize this, but amplifiers are important. A great headphone but no or bad amplifier = poor to no musical enjoyment. A great headphone paired with a great amplifier = audio bliss!
Don’t forget to leave a comment about your preferred open back headphone or comment if you like something that is not on the list. Also if you like my article and find it helpful, please do consider sharing this with your friends. Thanks and happy listening! ^_^