The Best Open Back Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

Highest Rated Open Back Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

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Not everyone has the space or the treatment for studio monitors. For many producers from amateur to pro, a pair of headphones for mixing is always a welcome tool for critical listening.

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.

In this edition, we see a consistent lineup topping the list with addition of two new top picks at more affordable prices. This welcomes new producers with budget-friendly picks that wont make you feel like you're missing out on more expensive headphones.

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

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 11200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$55
AKG K240 Studio Professional Headphones - Semi-Open

The AKG K240 Studio is a neutral sounding offering from headphone icons AKG. It features a 30mm driver and a detachable cable that is fixed onto the unit with a mini XLR jack.

This iteration is just part of a long line of K240 headphones with roots going back as far the 70s.

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

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

Pros

Long term users call the K240 Studio their go-to mixing headphone when working away from their monitors. They note that their mixes done on the K240 Studios translate particularly well to speakers as well as other sound sources. Aside from mixing, video editors and content creators note that they allow you to hear very minute details in videos.

Cons

Many who rated the K240 Studio down were people who bought the units expecting them to be DJ headphones. Their open-back, non folding nature does not allow for use as a DJ headphone.

Overall

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.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 13100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Open-Back Studio Headphones

The DT-990 Pro is a set of dynamic headphones made for studio and monitoring applications.

The spring steel headband, built with a soft padded material, provides both comfortable and secure fitting.

The soft earpads built around the earcups also provide comfort and are replaceable.

The lightweight diaphragm and moving coil have the same pulse characteristic as electrostatic headphones with a tailored frequency response.

These headphones come with a single-side coiled cable fitted with a 1/8" stereo jack plug with a 1/4" adapter.

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

Pros

Many customer reviews mention how transparent these headphones are. They deliver an accurate sound with clear & crisp highs in particular. The wide soundstage and stereo image is also praised. Comfort, even after long hours of use is very much appreciated by users who commend it's soft and ear-friendly velour pads. The durable build is also frequently mentioned in customer reviews.

Cons

There are a few people who feel these headphones have slightly recessed mids and overpowering lows. Some felt that the velour pads need washing after some time as they tend to absorb sweat and grime.

Overall

If you're looking for a pair of headphones for mixing that are comfortable and have a hi-fi tonality with slightly relaxed midrange, the DT 990 Pro is a good choice.

Sennheiser HD 600

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 2300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Sennheiser HD 600 Open-Back Professional Headphones

The HD600 has been a favorite set of headphones among mastering engineers worldwide.

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.

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

Pros

Near-neutral frequency response, wide soundstage, natural sound and good dynamic range are the main aspects that are widely favored and commented upon for the Sennheiser HD 600's. Some users also mentioned they never experienced any fatigue or harshness in high frequencies after using for long hours in part due to their light-weight with soft ear padding.

Cons

A few people have suggested that quality of the plastic headbands weren't on par with the price, though they are still durable. The initial clamp force of these headbands feel uncomfortable at first to some users and need time to loosen up. Others felt that transients (like snares) aren't as apparent especially when using an audio interface with less than optimal headphone amplification.

Overall

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.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

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

The ATH-R70x are professional reference headphones that feature a pure alloy magnetic circuit design to reduce distortion.

The 45 mm drivers reproduce extend low and high frequencies while their aluminum honeycomb-mesh housings provide a natural open-back sound.

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.

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

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

Pros

The general feedback is positive when talking about the construction of these headphones. Many reviewers found them to be robust and light weight while wearing them. When it comes to sound quality, they provide a balanced and wide sound with a good bass response, clear highs and midrange. In his MusicRadar review, Robbie Stamp said they "create and maintain a full width stereo image, allowing for confident pan decisions and the construction of complex sound fields, as well as extreme ones."

Cons

Some users said they weren't loud enough due to their high impedance - using a headphone amp compensates for this situation.

Overall

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. Do check if your interface is capable of driving 470 Ohm headphones efficiently first.

Sennheiser HD 650

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 3150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$550
Sennheiser HD 650 Open-Back Headphones

The HD 650's are headphones designed for audiophiles which 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.

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

Pros

As expected from Sennheiser, this set of headphones has exceptional sound reproduction as attested to by the numerous users who have praised the high quality and near neutral sound of their drivers. The lows, mids, and highs have noticeable detail, which lets users analyze their mixes or reference a mix. They also mentioned their large elliptical design and velour earpads are comfortable enough for their ears to rest well.

Cons

Although majority of users mentioned these headphones are durable, some users thought the quality of plastic material didn't match up with the price. Some also preferred a much wider sound stage. The relaxed midrange also made people tend to increase vocals in the mix, resulting in a vocal-focused mix which may not be desired for some genres.

Overall

Compared to its similar looking sibling the HD 600, the HD650 steps it up with better bass definition and a slightly relaxed midrange. If you feel that the HD600 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.

Sennheiser HD 660S

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 1150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
SENNHEISER HD 660 S Open-Back Headphones
At publication time these were the Highest Rated Open Back Headphones For Mixing Under $1000.

The Sennheiser HD 660S is the successor to the HD 650. Improving upon the platform set by the original flagship HD 600, the HD 660S was designed for critical listening.

On paper, it shares several similarities with other headphones in the 600 series, including aesthetics. Under the hood, several refinements over many iterations push the reproduction and quality of the 660S

Unlike the HD 600, the HD660S has a more hi-fi oriented sound with great clarity on the high end and midrange. Despite that, the headphones still maintain great transient response and soundstage, allowing for better panning and compression decision making.

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

Pros

Users praise the comfort and sound reproduction of the 660S. Instruments and voices sound very realistic with an intimate sound stage similar to referencing through nearfield monitors. Midrange and Treble was noted by audio engineers to be even with just the right boosts and cuts to make it pleasing but not flattering.

Cons

Lows, particularly sub frequencies, are noted to be lacking.

Overall

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.

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1750+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$599
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open-Back Studio Headphones

German made products are generally highly regarded because they are usually very well made, and feature cutting-edge technology - and the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is exactly that, with its premium build quality and innovative design.

Beyerdynamic developed their own transducer design that better handles sound at higher volumes, and they call the technology "Tesla Driver" (Tesla is a unit of measurement for magnetic flux density).

The drivers work together with the titanium-coated acoustic fabric on the open-back earcups to produce a balanced sound with natural ambience.

Another stand out feature of the DT1990 Pro is its replaceable velour ear pads, which lets you switch from a well balanced sound, to a more mixing friendly sound.

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

Pros

Sound quality is the top most commended feature of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, many are impressed with the clarity. Coming in close second is comfort, most users appreciate the memory foam ear pads and the feel of the headband. These are also sought after for their versatility, thanks to the replaceable ear pad design which subtly changes the sound. Lewis Leong of TechRadar concluded his review with this: "Said simply, they’re professional-grade cans that anyone will enjoy listening to."

Cons

To make the most out of the DT 1990 Pro, some users recommend getting a headphone amplifier that matches its 250 ohm impedance. There are a few who comment that it tends to emphasize the higher frequencies. This tendency to be harsh will lead to mixes that generally sound warmer to compensate. Take note of this if that's the kind of mixing you want to do.

Overall

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.

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

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 almost double the amount of data as last year, with this edition adding up to over 47,500 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.
Denise Azucena: 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.

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