Traditionally designed for audiophiles and audio professionals, open-back headphone designs have slowly been making their way into the gaming industry. In fact, more and more manufacturers are getting in on the trend.
Although having more to choose from is a good thing, this has admittedly made it more difficult to find the best open-back headphones for gaming.
With known manufacturers claiming to have the best open back gaming headset, finding out which one is the best won’t be easy.
Lucky for you, we’re here to help.
Open back vs Closed-back Headphones: Which Is Better For Gaming?
Open back headphones are designed to let air pass through the rear of the earcups. This results in minimal sound pressure buildup, allowing for a more natural and clearer sound.
Meanwhile, closed-back headphones are designed so that the back fo the earcups prevent airflow, completely enclosing your ears inside the earcups and allowing as little sound to escape as possible.
Which of these two are better for gaming, you may ask?
Well, that depends.
For pro gamers playing in a competitive environment, a closed-back headphone is ideal.
The tight fit and sealed enclosure guarantee that in-game music doesn’t leak out nor will outside noise leak inside. The latter is especially important for professional gamers who, despite playing in sound-proof booths, can and will still be able to hear the roaring noise of an entire venue, among other things, without the proper equipment.
Most gamers play in private and quiet environments where people won’t mind hearing in-game music and that’s if there are even other people around at all.
In these situations, open back headphones might be a better choice.
Because of their design, open-back headphones benefit from a broader and more natural-sounding soundstage, as well as an acoustic profile that can be considered considerably softer.
They don’t just sound better as well. They also feel better to wear. This is because the design makes it feel less like the sound is being fed straight to your ears and your eardrum. But, rather, because the sound feels much more expansive.
With open back headphones, it feels as if you’re not entirely sure if what you’re listening to is coming from what you’re listening to or playing or from your physical environment.
The Best Open Back Headset for Gaming
1. Sennheiser GSP 500 Headset
The open back twin to the well-reviewed GSP 600, the Sennheiser GSP 500 and GSP 600 are essentially one and the same.
Both of these headphones use the same drivers and share the same design. This includes the ergonomic and breathable ear cups, as well as an innovative headband that guarantees a tight yet comfortable fit for various head sizes. The only difference? The GSP is open back, and it might be better because of it.
The environment sounds of open-world titles like The Witcher 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will feel much more immersive on the GSP 500, and it’s not just because of its open-back design. It’s also because of how Sennheiser placed the transducers inside of the ear pads, resulting in better audio feedback.
Of course, superior immersion isn’t as great if you’re too distracted worrying about how uncomfortable a particular headset is to wear.
Thankfully, that’s not a problem with the GSP 500.
Not only is the sound quality good, but the headset has a headband with soft fabric wrapped around it.
This design choice makes wearing the headset easier on your head and ears, especially during long gaming sessions.
As an added bonus, the GSP 500 is compatible with modern gaming consoles and can even sound just as good on low-powered listening devices. But, before you think of using these on the go, you might want to consider that they’re rather bulky and not all that too portable to be used to listen to music on your daily commutes.
If you’re not quite sure about open-back headphones just yet, you might want to take a look at the Astro Gaming A40 TR X-Edition.
The A40, as we’ll call it for simplicity’s sake, is a rather aggressively designed pair of headphones that was created using significant input from professional gamers, as well as game developers alike.
Perhaps as a result of this, the A40 has a secure enough of a fit without sacrificing comfort and ear cushions padded with a soft fabric for the kind of premium comfort that belies its rugged exterior.
In addition this, the AK40 benefits from having a removable unidirectional built-in microphone. More importantly, the A40 can be used as an open- or closed-back headphone.
If you’re still on the fence, then the AK40 is for you.
In case you don’t like the natural sound and airiness of using an open back headphone, you can always mod the AK40 to be a closed-back headphone.
Connectivity: 3.5mm 5-pole Mini-stereo and PC Splitter
Impedance: 48 ohms
Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
Removable and swappable microphone
Can be used as open- or closed-back (with Mod Kit)
Tuned for gaming
The non-gaming performance leaves a lot to be desired
One of the many reasons why the DT990 Pro has become so well-loved is its build quality.
It’s safe to say that the DT990 Pro was built to withstand the occasional rage quits and bashes to the wall. Sure, being made out of plastic doesn’t inspire much confidence at first. However, once it’s in your hands, you’ll see that the plastic is much, much thicker than in other headphones.
It’s definitely easy to envision the DT990 Pro lasting for years.
In addition to the mostly plastic construction, the headband itself is made out of high-quality spring steel that’s been covered with a pleather type material for added comfort.
Speaking of comfort, the velour earpads feel heavenly on the ears.
Add the fact that the headband adjustments allow the DT990 Pro to fit on top of nearly every head size out there, and you’ve got a well-padded headphone that you wouldn’t mind wearing for hours.
Of course, comfort is one thing, but gaming performance is what we really want here, and to that end, the DT990 Pro delivers.
Not only does it benefit from being an open-back headphone, but Beyerdynamic also made sure that this headphone lives up to the company’s reputation. The sound is clear and transparent.
The hard-hitting bass is immediately felt when listening to music or watching movies. Plus, when gaming, the soundstage, and imaging combine together to give you accurate information on enemy positioning based on footsteps.
While you definitely would want to get a DAC/Amp to get the most out of these headphones, they are more than fine for gaming out of the box.
Connectivity: 2 x 3.5 mm (3-pole connectors) 1 x 3.5 mm (4-pole connectors)
Admittedly, the Philips Fidelio X2HR isn’t as well-recommended as the other choices on our list of best open ear headphones for gaming. However, don’t let its lack of popularity fool you, the X2HR combines being easy-to-drive, solid construction quality, and comfort or feel that looks premium even though it costs significantly less than it feels it should.
Yes. The X2HR is still made out of plastic. However, it’s high-quality plastic with a metal-like finish. Also, in terms of build quality, this is arguably the only con, as the X2HR has a genuine leather outer headband with spacious and removable velour earpads with a memory foam padding for the ultimate premium feel and look.
As for the sound quality, this is where the XH2R really shines.
The tight and impactful bass almost feels like it’s not coming from an open-back headphone, and while the slightly recessed midrange is a bummer, it’s still able to retain enough detail not to muddle the overall sound quality. It also helps that it has a balanced treble with excellent depth and soundstage width.
Overall, we recommend the X2HR for bass-oriented gamers who want the benefits of having an open-back headphone without necessarily losing out on the lows.
Connectivity: 1 x Detachable Oxygen-free Cable (3m)
First things first, the Grado SR80e Prestige was not designed for gaming.
This award-winning headphone is known for having immaculate clarity and exceptional sound detail, as well as an affordable price point. It definitely won’t be as bassy as most gaming headphones that you’re probably used to using.
But, here’s the thing, if sound quality is what you’re after and you don’t want to pay a premium price for it, this is for you.
However, a couple of compromises were made to make a pair of headphones this good this affordable.
For starters, comfort is not these headphone’s strong suit. The foam pads, in particular, are pretty average, if not worse.
Luckily, the foam pads are replaceable, so, in case they break or you find them too uncomfortable, you can always swap them out with foam pads made out of better quality material.
If you’re looking to try out audiophile-grade stuff, the Grado SR80e Prestige makes for a great gateway pair of headphones.
Connectivity: 1 x 4-conductor connecting cable w/ 6.5mm golden adapter
The Nubwo U3 is arguably the best open-back headphones under $100 and what’s even more amazing is that it undercuts most of its competition by at least half their selling price.
Selling for the price of a couple of cups of coffee, the Nubwo U3 doesn’t feel cheap at all. In fact, it feels the opposite. It feels like the kind of headsets that can take a beating, which it probably could considering how heavy it is at 280 grams.
But, being heavy nor affordable aren’t good selling points if the sound quality is meh, and in that aspect, the U3 punches well above its weight.
Although the U3 won’t be mistaken for top-of-the-line headphones, for something this affordable, you’d expect it to cost at least twice as much as it actually does. The sound is clear and you’re able to make out what’s happening in-game, as well as any movie dialogue or the lyrics of the song that you’re listening to.
As an added bonus, the U3 has a built-in noise-canceling microphone that’s able to pick up your voice clearly and make it feel as if you’re talking to someone beside you.
The Philips SHP9500 is proof that good open-back headphones don’t always have to come at a premium price point.
Costing just a shade under $100, the SHP9500 is a solid choice if you don’t want to splurge on a new gaming headset but don’t want to feel like you’re compromising.
In terms of build quality, the SHP9500 won’t blow you away. The plastic-heavy build, though high quality, is pretty much standard at its price point. Even the headband is made out of plastic, although it does have a foam padding, which is a huge plus.
Meanwhile, the earpads are not user-replaceable, which is a shame since they’re so comfortable to wear.
Despite all of this, the SHP9500 earns a place on our list because one simple thing — it sounds good.
Bassheads won’t be getting their money’s worth here, but if you’re upgrading from cheap gaming headsets, the difference in sound quality is staggering. The well-balanced midrange will let you listen to all the vocals and instruments you never could hear before.
Meanwhile, the highs, save for minimal distortion, is clear, and the wide soundstage is paired with excellent imaging.
For gaming, this means that you’ll be hearing enemy footsteps and gunshots quite clearly, allowing you to make out where your enemies are just from listening closely.
If you pair this with a good microphone and a capture card, and you’ll have a stream-ready gaming set-up with the incredible sound quality for the fraction of the cost of what other more expensive set-ups usually go for.
Connectivity: 1 x removable 3.5mm audio jack cable (1.5m) with gold-plated 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter
Compared to its cheaper siblings, the K712 Pro can be described as more fun and enjoyable. It’s not as overly critical. As a result, it can function just as well in a casual setting like when playing video games and listening to music as it would when inside the studio booth and doing professional work.
The slightly fuller mid-range and more engaging soundstage also bode well for gaming use, as it allows you to hear your enemies more clearly.
Connectivity: 1 x 3.5mm (1/8-inch) audio jack with 6.3 mm (1/4”) screw-on adapter
The Audio Technica ATH-AD500x finds itself in a rather convenient price point where it’s better than the AD300 without costing so much more and arguably just as good as the more significantly expensive AD700.
Of course, the more expensive AD-series headphones from Audio Technica are better, but for most gamers, the AD500x brings more than enough to the table.
Easy to drive with a wide, open sound, the AD500x might not be built like a tank, but they don’t feel flimsy at all. They actually feel quite strong, with a soft velour material on its earcups that’s joined using two metal wires adding comfort.
Although the thinly-padded plastic headband doesn’t inspire confidence at first glance, it’s equipped with a spring that helps ease the tension of wearing the headphone for hours.
Besides, at 0.52 lbs, the AD500x is relatively weight, making the thin padding a non-issue.
Of course, while it’s fairly comfortable to wear and very durable, the strong suit o f the AD500x is its sound quality. It might not have punchy bass, but it’s not lacking either. It’s accurate, which is a good thing for critical listeners, as well as those who prefer clearer and more detailed mids and highs.
For gaming, the positional audio lets you hear even the most subtle of movement sounds.
Wearing one while playing a shooter will definitely help you perform better as it will allow you to pinpoint the enemy’s location more accurately.
Connectivity: 1 x gold-plated stereo 1/8″ (3.5 mm) connector with 1/4″ (6.3 mm) adapter
Last but certainly not the least on our list is a recommendation for people who want professional studio-grade headphones that can still perform relatively well in gaming.
Unlike other open back headphones, the Shure SRH1840 has a deep bass without sacrificing accuracy. This allows these headphones to produce sound with clear and detailed mids, as well as highs, without compromising bass performance. This is especially evident at higher volume levels where other headphones tend to have distortion.
On top of its studio-grade audio quality, the SRH1840 is made out of high-quality components as well.
You have a yoke made out of aircraft-grade aluminium as well grilles made out of stainless steel. You’ll find little to no plastic material here. But, despite being made out of such tough components, it manages to weigh less than most other headphones and because it features an ergonomic design, wearing it for hours on end won’t be a problem at all.
Connectivity: 1 x HPASCA2 detachable cable with HPAQA1 threaded ¼” gold-plated adapter
Open-back headphones might be an unusual choice for gaming, but they’re starting to gain popularity, and for a good reason — they are superior to closed-back headphones in a lot of ways.
True, closed-back headphones are usually better isolated and more bassy, which many gamers seem to prefer. However, their often-lacklustre soundstage leaves a lot to be desired in terms of sound quality.
The difference between open-back and closed-back headphones is significant, especially if you plan on using the same pair of headphones for watching movies and listening to music.
The design of closed-back headphones also inherently lends itself to some uncomfortable heat build-up. Although using premium quality materials can help make this less of an issue, it’s a design flaw that’s not present in open-back headphones. This, then, naturally makes them better suited for long hours of wearing.
Of course, this isn’t to say that open-back headphones are perfect.
For example, the open back design means there’s far less technology you can stuff inside these cans. This explains why can’t find an open back wireless gaming headphone. This is because manufacturers stuff the electronics inside the cups, or so to speak. Also, most of them don’t come with built-in microphones, although some do.
With that said, we’re hoping our list of recommended open back headphones for gaming can help you.
Even if you don’t end up buying our recommendations for the best open back headphones for gaming, you’ll at least have a good idea on what makes an open back headphone good for gaming.