The Best and Ultimate HiFi Open Back Headphones – Money No Object! 2016 Edition
In the world of audio, there are the mid-fi headphones, then there are the HiFi headphones; and just as you thought it couldn’t get any better, something new, something better and more expensive comes out. These are just the best of the best, the ultimate or end game (as some calls it) HiFi open back headphones on the market. But be warned, these headphones are not for the thin or weak wallet! These headphones cost a thousand dollars or even more, and are considered to be luxury headphones; built with the best materials the headphone manufacturers can come up with. No doubt sound quality is better and superior than the open back headphones under $500. But do note that diminishing returns greatly applies on audio as well.
Some of these headphones are used by many audiophiles as their reference whenever they listen or compare a DAC, AMP or another (open) headphone. I’m sure you are familiar with some of the headphones I’ll list here, or at least one. Aside from prices, physical design, technology used, the open back headphones I mentioned here have their own unique sound characteristics and tuning. Remember, these are my top picks and you may or may not like one or two of these headphones since we each have our own personal preference and that’s okay. But generally, all of these open back headphones not only looks fantastic, but they all sound great as well. Check them out below.
10 Best Open Back Headphones – Money No Object
Like my previous list, I’ll start with lowest priced open back headphone amongst the 10. But it doesn’t mean that the first of the last one is the least. Also, it is very possible 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, sound signature and performance, as well as their comfort and build quality. So without further ado… my 10 best / ultimate open back headphones money no object.
Sennheiser HD 800 Dynamic Open Back Headphone
First on my list is the Sennheiser HD 800 dynamic open back headphone. If you are an audiophile I’m 100% sure you have at least heard of this high end open back headphone. The Sennheiser HD 800 has been in the market for several years already and is considered to be one of the best headphones around (but not for long). It has been used as a reference by the many due to its detailed, transparent and neutral sound characteristics. It features a big and wide soundstage and imaging, plus build quality is top notch.
The Sennheiser HD 800 is on the bright side and lacks a bit of bass. There’s also a 6 kHz spike that some may find a little bit annoying. In fact some HD 800 users have come up with a DIY solution to rid this spike. Currently, the HD 800 retails for around $1,015 USD. Sennheiser released an updated version of the HD 800, called HD 800 S, which addresses the issue(s) with the HD 800 and offers a more warm sounding tone.
Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Gen. Dynamic Open Back Headphone
Next is the Beyerdynamic T1 2nd generation dynamic open back headphone. Like its name suggest, the Beyerdynamic is the second generation of the company’s flagship T1 headphone featuring highly efficient Tesla drivers. It’s just a tad priced higher than the old HD 800, at around $1,100 USD. It features breathable and super soft velour ear cushions with memory foam, a 3 meter detachable braided OCC 7N copper cable and comes with a 5 year warranty.
The Byerdynamic T1 2nd gen. features a spacious and transparent sound. It’s very dynamic and has better resolution, lows and transparency compared to the 1st gen T1. This is generally a warm sounding headphone with emphasis on lower mids. Mids are great and a bit warm, while highs are smooth, well-extended but not sibilant. This high end open back headphone is great for all around genres, but you will need a good and powerful amp to drive this can since it has an impedance of 600 Ohm.
MrSpeakers ETHER Planar Open Back Headphone
The MrSpeakers ETHER is one of my favorite from this list. It features a not just an ordinary planar driver, but make use of the V-Planar diaphragm. This technology allows the ETHER’s driver to not only push more air at low frequencies, but also allows it to deliver better dynamics with greater acceleration, high-end frequency response and measurably lower distortion. This headphone retails for around $1,530 USD or more depending on the customization or accessories included. There’s also a closed version of this called the ETHER C (Flow).
The ETHER Planar open back headphone is tonally neutral with a strong bass articulation. It also has a great soundstage, imaging, layering and dynamics; and it’s also airy with well-articulated sound. I can consider the ETHER as a better option compared to the higher priced ones (below) if price is also a determining factor. It’s also noteworthy to mention, that despite its size, the ETHER is comfortable to wear. I guess this is due to the design and materials used on its headband.
Sennheiser HD 800 S Dynamic Open Back Headphone
The Sennheiser HD 800 S is the successor, or should I say the improved or upgraded version of the old HD 800. It features a similar design and look, but you now get an overall black themed headphone. Like the HD 800, the HD 800 S is a reference dynamic open back headphone, featuring a luxurious design and built quality. It’s also more expensive than the HD 800, currently retailed at around $1,700 USD. That’s almost a $600-$700 jump for a “black-looking HD 800” and fix for the annoying spike.
Overall, the Sennheiser HD 800 S is warmer compared to the HD 800 and the 6kHz spike is no longer present. It also has a large soundstage, neutral sounding with better bass response and overall has an excellent audio reproduction. Personally, I prefer the HD 800 S compared to the HD 800. Not only that I prefer the dark look, I also like the warmer sound signature compared to the brighter HD 800.
HiFiMAN Edition X Planar Open Back Headphone
Up next, below the $2,000 mark is the HiFiMAN Edition X planar open back headphone. This is basically like the small brother of the HE1000. “Small brother”, not that it is physical smaller, but it’s easier to drive, lighter and overall sound quality or performance is not as good compared to the HE1000. I do, however, like the color of the Edition X compared to the HE1000. This one is generally geared towards, mobile users or people who are on the go who don’t carry around a powerful desktop amplifier.
The HiFiMAN Edition X is warm sounding and has a great bass response. The lows are extended and it sound generally relaxed. Soundstage and imaging is great but not as huge as the HE1000. Treble is also not as detailed compared to the HE1000. Currently it retails for around $1,500 USD and comes with a limited 1 year warranty from the company.
Audeze LCD-X Planar Open Back Headphone
The Audeze LCD-X planar headphone is one high end and premium headphone, built with top of the line technology from Audeze and premium materials. This one is a very dynamic headphone, nimble and accurate. The company uses an ultra-thin diaphragm that is 4 times larger than a typical headphone; double-sized magnet; patented Fluxor magnet arrays and patented Fazor elements to deliver an amazing sound quality. It $200 more expensive than the HiFiMAN Edition X, with a retail price of $1,699; and I think this would be a better pick than the Edition X (depending on your audio preference of course).
The Audeze LCD-X features a very neutral, transparent and natural sound. You get that great bass response as expected from a planar headphone. Mids are incredibly rich and detailed and the treble is excellent as well without being harsh. Soundstage, imaging and instrument separation is just amazing with the LCD-X. Overall the sound that it produced is well balanced. Amongst the LCD series, this would be my pick. The LCD-4 is the latest and most expensive LCD, but price-wise I think LCD-X would be my choice between the two. Oh, almost forgot to mention, the LCD-X is one heavy headphone, weighing 600 grams only!
HiFiMAN HE1000 Planar Open Back Headphone
The HiFiMAN HE1000 planar open back headphone is one very expensive and premium product from HiFiMAN. It is currently the company’s flagship headphone and is considered to be the world’s first planar headphone to use a nanometer thick diaphragm. It also features an advanced asymmetrical magnetic circuit and patented “Window Shade” system that reduces sound reflection for a wider sound stage. When it was first launched it had a retail price of $2,999 USD, making it one of the most expensive headphones around. Currently, it retails for around $2,400 USD. Although the price is already very steep, make no mistake because the sound it produce is exceptional and very addictive (like most of the headphones here).
The HiFiMAN HE1000 is a reference headphone with a neutral tonality, but is also musical. Soundstage is fantastic both depth and width and it’s very dynamic and precise without being analytic. Layering is superb, from bass to treble with great extension, airy-ness and detail. Many audiophiles consider this headphone to be the world’s best or at least one of the best around.
Pioneer SE-MASTER1 Dynamic Open Back Headphone
The Pioneer SE-MASTER1 is a new product from the company. We don’t usually see Pioneer release a very expensive audio gear. But here they are, with their SE-MASTER1, their flagship headphone, currently with a price tag of $2,500. It’s a dynamic headphone and doesn’t use any of those planar or electrostatic technologies. But the driver features a 25 microns thick diaphragm with ceramic coating, that is said to be so accurate and capable of producing sound up to 80kHz (that is already beyond human hearing).
With snug-fitting soft ear pads, the SE-MASTER1 is a very comfortable to wear headphone. The housing is made of aluminum allowing it to have a well-defined and tight bass. It’s also very dynamic and the sound is just accurately detailed. Of course soundstage, imaging and layering are also superb in the SE-MASTER1. However, you may need to burn them in properly to get the most out of it.
Stax 009 Electrostatic Open Back Headphone
The Stax 009 is one very unique and expensive open back headphone. It doesn’t use a dynamic driver or a planar technology. Instead, it features an electrostatic (push-pull)) technology, with the new high polymer ultra-thin film material called the super engineering plastics. The technology is really quite different, even the cable used and you also need a really powerful (and also expensive) amplifier to drive the Stax 009. This isn’t one of those plug and play headphone unlike the other headphones listed here.
The result of this technology, the Stax 009 produces superb detail and clarity. It’s very transparent and the dynamics is simply amazing. Overall it is a neutral sounding headphone, producing a natural and well-balanced sound. Soundstage and imaging is excellent as well, but like I said it needs a top of the line amplifier to make this headphone sing.
Audeze LCD-4 Planar Open Back Headphone
Finally, last on the list, but not the least (only the most expensive), is the new Audeze LCD-4. Every angle of this headphone, inside and out just screams luxury and premium-ness. Aside from the metal and wood parts, the headband itself is made out of carbon fiber material. The diaphragm features a sub 0.5 micron with Uniforce diaphragm circuit. There are Fluxor magnet arrays on both sides and Fazor acoustic coupler to deliver the exceptional sound quality that it produces.
The Audeze LCD-4 features a well-defined, detailed and controlled bass, not to mention textured as well. Mid-range is superb and it has a smooth treble. Overall sound is smooth, natural and life-like. Soundstage, imaging and the holographic effect is just great. Compared to the HE1000, the LCD-4 is warmer, has more bass presence and bass impact. Both headphones are top of the line but are different when it comes to sound signature. The LCD-4 looks great, I like the build quality and design, but like I said earlier the LCD-X seems to be the better choice, price-wise that is.
High-End Open Back Headphones Specs Comparison
|Sennheiser HD 800||Dynamic||300 Ohms||102 dB||6 - 51000 Hz (- 10 dB), |
14 - 44100 Hz (- 3 dB)
|Beyerdynamic T1 Gen 2||Dynamic||600 Ohms||102 dB||5 - 50000 Hz||Detachable||360 g|
|MrSpeakers ETHER||Planar||23 Ohms||96 dB||16 - 20000 Hz||Detachable||370 g|
|Sennheiser HD 800S||Dynamic||300 Ohms||102 dB||4 - 51000 Hz (-10 dB)||Detachable||330 g|
|HiFiMAN Edition X||Planar||25 Ohms||103 dB||8 - 50000 Hz||Detachable||399 g|
|Audeze LCD-X||Planar||20 Ohms||103dB||5 - (20000) - 50000 Hz||Detachable||600 g|
|HiFiMAN HE1000||Planar||35 Ohms||90 dB||8 - 65000 Hz||Detachable||480 g|
|Pioneer SE-MASTER1||Dynamic||45 ohms||94 dB||5 - 85000 Hz||Detachable||460 g|
|Stax 009||Electrostatic||145k Ohms||118dB||5 - 42000Hz||Non-detachable||454 g|
|Audeze LCD-4||Planar||200 ohms||97dB||5 - (20000) - 50000 Hz||Detachable||600 g|
There you have it guys, these headphones are simply great and produces exceptional sound quality; not to mention very (very) expensive as well. My personal top three would be the Sennheiser HD 800 S, LCD-X and HE1000. You may have a different choice and sound preference.
Again, you generally NEED a good or top of the line amplifier to drive your gear to their fullest potential, and also a good DAC. 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! ^_^
See also my Top 10 Best Open Back Headphones under $500