The Best Open Back Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

Highest Rated Open Back Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

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Open Back Headphones are an excellent option for mixing when you need to hear specific detail and you don't have the room treatment necessary to get the finer details with studio monitors.

Checking the low end? Making sure the reverb doesn't occupy too much space? A pair of headphones can provide key insight into things usually lost or muddied up by the variables of your room.

Here we have recommended the highest rated open-back headphones currently on the market which are priced under $1000, along with advice to help you get a pair that suits the music you work with.

The Best Open-Back Headphones for Mixing & Mastering

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

AKG K240 Studio

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 12350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$55
AKG K240 Studio Professional Headphones - Semi-Open

Cons

  • Frequency response is a bit too flat for casual listening

Pros

  • Flat response
  • Budget friendly versatile headphones
  • Viable for mixing, video editing and more
  • Detachable cable

The AKG K240 Studio is part of a long line of K240 headphones with roots going back as far the 70s.

This particular iteration features a 30mm driver and has a neutral sound, which makes it work great for mixing. It's flat response allows mixes to translate reasonably well to speakers. Just don't expect it to perform as good as expensive equipment made specifically for studio use.

Speaking of flat, some may consider it too flat sounding for casual listening.

In addition to mixing, the AKG K240 is also a good affordable tool for video editors and content creators who want to listen in to their work without having to spend too much on professional studio equipment.

The K240 Studio is built to last and parts like the cables and foam pads are easily replaceable.

It has a detachable cable that is fixed onto the unit with a mini XLR jack.

A longtime studio staple, the K240 Studio is trusted by many audio engineers the world over as an affordable but neutral and durable studio workhorse.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 30mm
  • Magnet Type: Not Specified
  • Frequency Response: 15Hz-25kHz
  • Maximum Input Power: 200 mW
  • Sensitivity: 104 dB
  • Impedance: 55 Ohms
  • Weight: 0.52 lbs.
  • Cable and Connector: 10' cable attaches via mini XLR jack, 1/8" old plated stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
HomeTheater Review Editor 100/100
SoundGuys Lily Katz 71/100
Head-Fi DisCHORDDubstep 85/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 15600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Open-Back Studio Headphones

Cons

  • Open back leaks sound by design
  • Non-detachable cable

Pros

  • Treble exposes poorly mixed tracks
  • Expansive, speaker-like soundstage
  • Excellent comfort and fit
  • Great Long term durability

The DT-990 Pro's sound signature is bright and clear, it has a treble spike around the 10khz that audiophiles criticize for being too sibilant for some recordings. Hence the reason why some have a love or hate relationship with the DT 990 Pro.

But as a mix engineer, I think this headphone's treble emphasis exposes a lot about a mix. For me, this "problematic" treble spike is a blessing in disguise for critical mix decisions, I use it to my advantage to avoid sibilance on my own mixes.

Another good thing about the headphone is how uncluttered the midrange is. Paired with its relatively wide soundstage, it helps place elements in a dense mix. The bass frequencies have a focus around the 100hz to 200hz range which gives it a bit more thump than sub extension. This is good for balancing kick and bass guitar.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO driver enclosure
Like the pads, the headband of the DT 990 Pro is replaceable. In 5 years of using it, I haven't had the need to do so.

I like their robust and soft padded headband, along with their cushion ear pads that are washable and replaceable. I find it to be comfortable, thanks to its open back nature, which makes it cooler on the ears.

Because of how it leaks sound, the DT 990 Pro will not be as useful for tracking, so it will most likely see action on no one else's head but yours. It will still need washing when it gets dirty but not as often as a pair that's used by different people every session.

Overall, the DT 990 Pro is an excellent choice if you're looking for a pair of mixing headphones to balance your high end and be more aware of sibilance. It's not the best for tracking as its open back so it's better as a supplementary pair than your main pair.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 45mm
  • Magnet Type: Not Specified
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 35,000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 100 mW
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Weight: 13.4 oz
  • Cable and Connector: 9.8' coiled cable, 1/8" old plated stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearspace Diogo C 85/100
Equipboard lunoxismusic 100/100
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 94/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Professional Open-Back Headphones

Cons

  • Requires a high-powered headphone amp

Pros

  • Wide soundstage
  • Balanced sound with clear highs and mids
  • Natural open back sound
  • Robust with comfortable fit

The ATH-R70x is a set of professional reference headphones that feature a pure alloy magnetic circuit design to reduce distortion. They provide a balanced and wide sound with clear highs and midrange.

The 45 mm drivers produce good bass response, and they also extend the high frequencies. The aluminum honeycomb-mesh housings provide a natural open-back sound.

Their robust and light weight build make them comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

They are equipped with a dual-sided detachable locking cable that is designed so that the stereo orientation will be correct whichever way you plug them in.

For optimal sound you need a headphone amp capable of driving 470 Ohm headphones, most budget audio interfaces won't drive them hard enough.

If you're a fan of the Audio Technica M series but want a more open sounding, more mix-oriented pair of headphones, the ATH-R70x is a great choice for fans of the Audio Technica sound.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 45 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 40,000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 1,000 mW
  • Sensitivity: 99 dB
  • Impedance: 470 Ohms
  • Weight: 7.4 oz
  • Cable and Connector: Dual-sided detachable locking cable

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Sam Inglis 96/100
MusicTech Editor 90/100
Gearspace Reptil 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Sennheiser HD 600

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 2600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Sennheiser HD 600 Open-Back Professional Headphones

Cons

  • It clamps a bit tight at first
  • Thin cable

Pros

  • Near-neutral frequency response
  • Wide soundstage
  • No harsh high frequencies, less ear fatigue
  • Comfortable and lightweight headband design

The HD600 is a favorite set of headphones for mixing and mastering with other audio engineers I know, thanks to their near-neutral frequency response and wide soundstage.

They feature open metal mesh earpiece covers for transparent sound, lightweight aluminum voice coil for exceptional transient response, and optimzed magnet systems that reduce distortion.

Because of the generously spacious enclosure design, standing waves and resonance are minimized. This results in a more natural sound and better dynamic range, making it easier to listen to, with no harshness in high frequencies that could cause listening fatigue.

Speaking of fatigue, the HD 600's lightweight design and soft ear padding makes it comfortable to wear and use, even for long periods of time. The initial clamp force may feel uncomfortable at first, but it will loosen up with time. Be mindful, of its thin cable when moving around.

A favorite of studio engineers and audiophiles alike, the HD 600 has been a benchmark for audio quality at this price point for many years. Once you get past the clamping force discomfort and have the headband mold to the size of your head, you're in for a comfortable experience that will make a 5-hour mixing session feel shorter.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium-ferrous
  • Frequency Response: 12 - 40500 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 200 mW
  • Sensitivity: 97 dB
  • Impedance: 300 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.28 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 9.8' cable, 1/8" to 1/4" stereo connector

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearspace Rev. Eslam 86.7/100
Audiofanzine Blue Xrysalis 80/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Sennheiser HD 660S

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
SENNHEISER HD 660 S Open-Back Headphones

Cons

  • Bass is not deep enough for some uses

Pros

  • Balanced treble and mids
  • Near-field monitor like flat voicing
  • Easier on the ears
  • Premium build quality

The Sennheiser HD 660S is the successor to the HD 650, it shares several similarities with its 600 series siblings, but with refinements that make it good for critical listening.

The HD660S has a more hi-fi oriented sound with great clarity on the high end and midrange, and it does so while maintaining good transient response and soundstage. The sound you are getting is close to that of near field monitors, with good sound reproduction of instruments and vocals, while having enough sound stage for deciding on panning and compression.

The bass is tight but not too boomy, so those who are used to bass heavy monitors may find it lacking. The midrange and treble have just the right boosts and cuts to be pleasing, without being too flattering or overwhelming. This neutral sound combined with its open-back design help reduce ear fatigue, even when used for long sessions.

Build quality and comfort is up to the usual high standards of Sennheiser.

If you want a more "fun" sounding HD 600 to check your midrange and treble balance, especially with denser mixes, the Sennheiser HD 660S is an exciting treat for the ears that still remains critical enough to expose flaws in your mix.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 10 - 41000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 500 mW
  • Sensitivity: 104 dB
  • Impedance: 150 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.17 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 9.8' cable, 1/8" stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Audio Science Review amirm 94/100
Sound Guys AJ Wykes 74/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Sennheiser HD 650

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 3450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$550
Sennheiser HD 650 Open-Back Headphones

Cons

  • Sound stage is a bit narrow

Pros

  • Near neutral sound
  • Balanced sound with fast transient response
  • Comfortable fit
  • Good build quality

The HD 650's are headphones designed for audiophiles, with near neutral sound that makes them quite useful for mixing and monitoring.

The aluminum voice coils of these headphones ensure fast transient response across the frequency spectrum. They provide detailed sound reproduction and low harmonic distortion which makes them suitable for referencing. The detachable oxygen-free copper cable also allows low handling noise sensitivity.

The lows, mids, and highs have noticeable detail, making these great for reference, and allowing for better informed mixing decisions. On the flip side, the soundstage is a bit limited and the relaxed midrange might cause some to up the level of vocals in the mix more than they should.

Its large elliptical design and velour earpads allow for a more comfortable fit, which together with its open-back design make it ideal for long sessions and for leisure listening.

Compared to its similar looking sibling the HD 600, the HD 650 steps it up with better bass definition and a slightly relaxed midrange. If you feel that the HD 600 would be too flat or neutral for you, or if you want something more hi-fi sounding but still able to translate mixes, the HD 650 is a good pick.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 10 - 41000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 500 mW
  • Sensitivity: 103 dB
  • Impedance: 300 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.12 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 9.8' cable, 1/8" stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
TechRadar Richard Black 100/100
Inspiring Headphones Jurgen Daems 98/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 2000+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$599
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open-Back Studio Headphones

Cons

  • Needs a 250 ohm compatible headphone amp
  • Can be a bit too trebly for some

Pros

  • Clear sound with natural ambience
  • Balanced sound that's easy on the ears
  • Switchable ear pads
  • Comfortable fit

The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro combines German build quality with innovative design, with specially designed transducers using "Tesla Driver" (Tesla is a unit of measurement for magnetic flux density) technology that provides good sound clarity at higher volumes.

The drivers work together with titanium-coated acoustic fabric on the open-back earcups to produce a balanced sound with natural ambience that makes for a more relaxed listening experience.

Another stand out feature are its replaceable velour ear pads, which lets you switch from a well balanced sound, to a more focused mixing friendly sound. This focused sound has a bit more treble that ups clarity, but you can simply switch the pads if you don't want the extra treble.

Aside from subtly changing the sound, these pads are made from memory foam, which makes for better fitting and comfort.

To make the most out of the DT 1990 Pro, you need a headphone amplifier that matches its 250 ohm impedance.

While most people would stop at the DT 990, the DT1990 takes it up a notch higher with clarity, frequency response and soundstage. Do take note that for some, clarity means extended high frequencies which may be a downside for others.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 45 mm
  • Magnet Type: Tesla Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 40000 Hz (-10dB)
  • Maximum Input Power: Not Specified
  • Sensitivity: 102 dB
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Weight: 12.96 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 9.84' Straight cable, 16.4' Coiled cable, 1/8" jack plug, 1/4" Adapter plug

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
TechRadar Lewis Leong 100/100
Headfonia Lieven 90/100
AudioTechnology Mark Davie 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Things To Consider When Using Headphones for Mixing or Mastering

Although studio monitor speakers are generally better for primary mixing and mastering, open-back headphones are affordable and convenient alternative options for situations where you can't make a lot of noise or don't have an acoustically suitable room . They also make great reference monitors to see what your mixes will sound like to listeners using high-end headphones. You can also bring your headphones on the road if you are planning to mix in different locations. Headphones are also useful for checking unwanted hisses, clicks and pops, and are also ideal to use for focusing on subtle details of each individual track.

Open back headphones allow the diaphragm of their drivers to move more freely with less air resistance or pressure than closed-back design. This results in less internal reflection which in turn provides a bigger soundstage. This is useful when making critical panning and level decisions as open back speakers are useful as a secondary reference alongside studio monitors. The tradeoff however, is less isolation. This makes them less than ideal for tracking and more suited towards reference, mixing, and mastering.

Frequency Response

Most studio headphone manufacturers add a high-frequency roll-off since high frequencies sound louder when close to the ears. They also add a slight bass boost for you to feel thumping rhythm like what you hear from monitor speakers. It's highly recommended to look for headphones with the closest to a neutral frequency response so you can hear the clear and natural audio in your mixes. Most open-back headphones have an extended frequency range in both ends for deeper responses.

Comfort and Durability

Comfort is a subjective factor yet should be considered since you will be mixing or mastering for long periods of time. Open-back models tend to be more comfortable compared to closed-back headphones. Their designs have grilles that expose drivers, which gives a natural and 'airy' sound when mixing. They allow sound to leak from both directions of each earcup and lets your ears have a bit space, which gives your ears less fatigue while listening for hours at a time. In cases of mishandling, some manufacturers provide replacement parts for earpads or cables, especially for higher-priced headphones so you don't have to replace an entire set when parts wear out.

Headphone Terminology

Clamp Force determines the pressure or tightness of earpads on your ears. It's ideal to find headphones that provide an even amount of clamp force where they're not so loose as to fall off easily by minimal movement, and not too tight so as to be uncomfortable.
Sound stage refers to the perception of width and depth of the sound coming in from the drivers of the headphones. This recreates the placement or imaging of instruments while listening.
Roll-off refers to the gradual attenuation (reduced volume) that occurs often at the lower or higher end of the frequency range of headphones or speakers.
Transient response is how fast a driver reacts to changes in the audio.
Impedance is how much resistance the headphones provide to the source. Higher output amplifiers or interfaces may benefit from higher impedance headphones while lower impedance would be easily driven by most interfaces and mobile devices. Running a low impedance headphone with a high output interface or amplifier is fine if you control your volume. However, matching a high impedance headphone with a low output sound source like cheaper interfaces or mobile sources may result in the driver being underdriven. Cranking low output sound sources may result in output stage distortion and may affect your perception of the mix.

Best Mixing & Mastering Headphones Selection Methodology

The first Edition was published in 2017 and the Current Edition was published on July 18, 2022.

We looked at all the popular open-back headphones, available from major online music gear retailers, priced under $1000, that are suitable for mixing and mastering. You can see the headphones that made our short list in the Music Gear Database. We then analyzed the most recent reviews, ratings and forum discussions and processed this information with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 you see above.

We processed 17% more rating sources than the previous Edition adding up to over 55,600 sources. We then recommended the highest rated options in this guide. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Some of the recording gear I use in my studio includes the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Samson QH4 Headphone Amp and Cloudlifter CL-1. My mics include Aston Origin, Aston Element, Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Rode PodMic and MXL V67G.

Contributors

Alden Acosta: Product research.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Compiled using photographs of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, Sennheiser HD 600 and Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers with the exception of the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO Headband which was photographed by the author.

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