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Do you like wearing headphones when gaming?
Probably the biggest complaint about wearing headphone, especially the over-ear type, is heat.
All that hot air gathering in the earcups can take away from a good gaming session.
But what if you got some open-back headphones?
Surprisingly, many people are not aware of this fundamental physical difference in headphones.
Audiophiles are more likely to be fussy about this, but gamers tend to be into noise isolation, so the open-back doesn’t get highlighted very often.
So how about a glance at some open-back headphones for gaming?
Quick List: Top 5 Open-back Headphones For Gaming
- Sennheiser Game One Headset – Best Overall
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X Headphones – Best Under $100
- Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition – Best Budget Option
- Philips Fidelio L2 Headphones
- Astro A40 TR Gaming Headset
Are Open-back Headphones Great For Gaming?
To be honest, the gaming market for open-back headphones isn’t as widespread as the close-back. Why? Well, there’s this assumption that its open design creates less of an immersive quality. Gamers do like to sink into their game world.
But is that assumption true? We don’t think so.
The open-back headphone will give you a wider, more neutral soundstage because of its airy configuration. But it will lack the noise isolation that the closed-back offers, and may have less of a thumpy bass production. However, that open soundstage gives sounds a more natural quality, and will likely give you better overall listening experience.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. But since we’re talking about the open-back, what did we look at?
How well does the sound balance out with the open design? There’s always a possibility of too much external noise leaking in, which will detract from the overall quality.
What about sound seeping out? These are open-back, remember? Your colleague might not be too happy with you if they have to put up with all the explosions exuding from your headphones.
Comfort was another important factor. Are the earpads soft and cushy? Do they cup your ears or flatten your earlobes? This, of course, will depend on your ear size.
Since it’s open-back, we expect the headphones to be relatively light. Is the weight distribution good around the headband? Headbands are known to generate headaches if it presses too hard on the top of the skull.
And of course, build quality. An open design implies fewer materials to maintain the structure of the earcup. Do the earphones feel fragile? With all that in mind, here are our top picks.
The 5 Best Open-Back Headphones For Gaming in 2020
1. Sennheiser Game One Headset – Best Overall
You normally wouldn’t associate Sennheiser with gaming peripherals. The names that pop up would be like Razer, Logitech, or HyperX. That said, these particular headsets wouldn’t have a problem competing with those gaming bad boys.
✔️ What we like: Great comfort with incredible sound quality
❌ What we don’t like: Volume button doesn’t drop to zero
👌 Standout Features:
- Rich, accurate sound
- Open soundstage
The Sennheiser Game One fills a particularly sparse spot in the gaming personal audio space – the open-back headset. And it does so audaciously with superb sound quality.
The open acoustics offer some very accurate, airy, expansive sound. Trebles are rich and the bass is well-balanced. If you’re used to closed-back headphones, this kind of style might take some getting used to at first. But, your game effects are going to feel more natural and sound the way the designers meant them to. The output quality is neutral enough that you could probably use these as studio headsets for monitoring.
That said, the Game One will probably perform best when fed through an aftermarket soundcard or amp. Most PC motherboards don’t supply enough power to drive them properly and that will make the sound quality suffer.
There’s a volume button on the right earcup. Just note that the volume won’t drop down to zero, which is weird. The boom mic automatically mutes when raised. There’ll be a little click to let you know it’s been muted. Because of the open design, you won’t have a problem hearing yourself talking. Sound will still leak in from the outside if you’re in a very noisy space, so it’s best to use these in quieter places.
The Game One has an all-plastic construction that’s lightweight, and users have reported it to be fairly durable. The cord is of the braided type so it stays tangle-free.
What about comfort? Those velour earpads are pleasantly cushy. The best part about open-back headphones is the ability for your ears to breath, which these do very well.
Compatibility isn’t an issue. Exchangeable cables are supplied so you can use them with your PC, Mac, consoles, mobiles, and tablets. No Bluetooth though.
These are great headphones for gaming. Excellent sound and comfort with plenty of options for connections. If you’re going to test a pair of open-back headphones, why not give the Sennheiser Game One a go?
2. Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X Headphones – Best Under $100
Audio-Technica has some great headphones at budget prices. The ATH-AD500X is the smaller one in their ATH open-back series.
✔️ What we like: Awesome positional accuracy in the audio
❌ What we don’t like: Wing design of the headset might not make everyone happy
👌 Standout Features:
- Extra-large drivers
- Great positional audio
- Comfy earpiece
The ATH-AD500X might slip by your vision in the beginning. They aren’t marketed as gaming headphones. They don’t have a mic. But you really should rewind that vision and take a good look at them as gaming headphones with no mic are quite popular..
This is one of Audio-Technica’s smaller headphones in the ATH series. Smaller as in, it has the smallest frequency response range. Technically, it can push 5Hz – 25kHz, while its bigger siblings can go up to 40kHz.
Does that make it a lightweight in terms of sound production? Of course not. Lightweight in physical bulk, maybe, but sound-wise, the ATH-AD500X is pretty solid as they come.
Some may find its sound quality too neutral. But it has a lovely, wide, soundstage with less enclosed feeling. Less bass too, be forewarned if you like the kind that vibrates the earpiece. But the sound quality is true. Clean and clear trebles with milder bass that is going to highlight all those little details in your audio file that you might have otherwise missed.
Positional accuracy is pretty awesome for gaming. That wide soundstage will give you great audio cues. Movies are going to sound good too, with voices coming clear over whatever is running in the background.
And did we mention lightweight? Yup. They are. Comfortable earcups rigged with an aluminum grill in the open section. The somewhat odd wing design of the headpiece might not suit everyone though. Some users love it, others find it uncomfortable to the point of being distracting.
The ATH-AD500X doesn’t have a mic, but you can always pick up a modmic for chatting. These headphones are meant for a quiet environment as it does let in quite a bit of external sound. It lets out sound too. Best to use them in a personal space.
The ATH-AD500X comes with 53mm drivers, a comfortable airy design, and a nice price tag. They might not look that sexy, but who cares when that soundstage is going to up your next RPG adventure.
3. Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition – Best Budget Option
Here’s an oldie that’s still keeping up with the times and staying relevant. The Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition comes with a slight upgrade in looks, but otherwise, everything is pretty much the same.
✔️ What we like: Awesome sound for a budget price
❌ What we don’t like: Super flimsy cable
👌 Standout Features:
- Sound quality
- Standalone volume control
Koss has been making the Porta Pros for years and hasn’t had much reason to modify the mechanics of it. The changes in these Limited Editions are only some color options and the addition of the inline controls. Which is a good thing, because these headphones sound great.
According to many users, that Koss sound hasn’t changed. Considering how old this design is, to have maintained the quality through the decades is rather amazing. There is richness in the audio, with crisp attention to detail. The bass is clean, though it can get a little muffled sometimes. Not the type that vibrates your ears.
Because these are open-back, there is no isolation. You will get sound leaking in from the outside, and sound seeping out from the headphones. But it’s not that bad unless you’re in a super noisy place.
Unlike many open-back headphones, the Porta Pros are on-ear, not over-ear. So you might have to fiddle a bit getting them to clamp nicely. But they come with a comfort slider that allows you to adjust the amount of pressure applied on the ears. They’re also extremely lightweight, so if you can get those earpads adjusted, you’ll probably be able to forget they’re even on your head.
The build does feel a little flimsy, especially the thin cable, so it’d be advisable not to drop these too often. It’s a good thing they fold up into a nice hard case, so you can just throw them into your backpack.
The inline mic is functional but not that great. You might have to hold it closer to your mouth to get a clear audio input. The volume control is good though. It’s not tied to your device volume but controls the sound directly into the headphones – old-school style. The remote can help answer calls and navigate play controls.
All-in-all, these Koss Porta Pro’s are a great pair of classic open-back headphones, with sound quality that exceeds its budget price. Their portability is an added plus. Seriously, why not get these for some mobile PUBG sessions?
4. Philips Fidelio L2 Headphones
The Philips Fidelio L2 is something that falls somewhere in between the open-back and closed-back segments of the headphone world. Technically a semi open-back, it manages to sit on that border quite nicely.
✔️ What we like: Spatial sounds of an open-back with some noise isolation
❌ What we don’t like: Clamping pressure on the earcups may be too much
👌 Standout Features:
- Semi open-back design
- Supports Hi-Res audio
- Good soundstage
- Solid build
You could think of the Fidelio L2 as an open-back headphone with some noise isolation, or a closed-back with a bit of airy soundstage. Everyone listens differently. But what does that mean?
Sound-wise, these headphones have the spatial quality of an open-back. Clean, clear trebles with a softness that won’t fatigue your ears. The bass is detailed and strong, but it’s not going to rumble. So if you want a really powerful bass, these aren’t for you.
But, if you want a good soundstage for positional audio in gaming, these will work. And if you want that soundstage to give you some instrumental direction, they will work too. Instrument separation is good. If the tune is too complicated, the audio does lose some definition but overall, the L2 will offer a great listening experience.
The L2 works fine out of the box. But if you have a soundcard, it will likely sound better, as a PC motherboard might not have enough power to drive it to capacity. Running it through an amplifier is another option to get the most of its abilities.
There is some noise isolation on these compared to full open-back headphones, but loud noise will still bleed in. And because it’s semi open-back, some noise will also leak out, but not enough to annoy anyone nearby.
The build quality is pretty solid with a metal headband, aluminum earshells, and leathery earpads. Some might find the clamp pressure a bit strong. It’s best if you can physically test them before buying. The inline mic sits a little low, so if you need them for in-game chat, you might want to attach a modmic instead to make sure your fellow gamers hear you.
The Fidelio L2 is a nice set of headphones that manages to blend the qualities of an open-back and closed-back. Did we mention they support Hi-Res audio too? If you want a clean, well-defined sound for your gaming or an evening of relaxing music, these might the ones for you.
5. Astro A40 TR Gaming Headset
Astro is a name that’s pretty familiar in the gaming headset industry. So it’s no surprise that these A40 TR headsets come with a look and design geared towards the players.
✔️ What we like: Spatial sounds and some nice realism for gaming
❌ What we don’t like: Mod kit to turn into closed-back is sold separately
👌 Standout Features:
- Clear, defined sound
- Good soundstage
- Swappable boom mic
When you first see the Astro A40 TR, you might not think they are open-back because of the speaker tags.
Speaker tags? That’s what Astro calls the panels that cover the back of the earcups. But these are, actually, open-back headphones. The speaker tags are attached magnetically and are raised to allow an air gap for the drivers to breathe. And they’re customizable, so you can get some neat designs on them.
Do the A40 TR perform like an open-back headphone?
Yes, they do. They an open soundstage that works well for FPS games. The positional audio is accurate and manages to capture those tiny nuances in the game. The audio quality is crisp and defined, though as in any open-back, the bass may feel lacking if you’re into booming vibrations. But in return, sounds are more natural. This offers a fair amount of realism, which is nice for RPG and adventure genres.
Are they comfortable headphones? Very. They’re light and the open-back will cut some of the sweating from your ears. But don’t expect noise isolation. If you want that, you can get the mod kit that is sold separately. The mod kit has sealed speaker tags that will turn the A40 TR into a closed-back headset.
The swappable boom mic is also another plus. It’s convenient to be able to switch which side you want them on. Just make sure to fully plug in the mic wire, or it might not work. Chat quality is good, which is what we all want in a mic.
The Astro A40 TR is marketed as a tournament-ready headset. In terms of sound quality, they do qualify. But even if you’re not a tournament player, these are still a great pair of gaming headsets that meet virtually all your multimedia needs. We wish the mod kit came in the same package, but hey, you can’t have everything, right?
A Guide to Choosing Open-back Headphones For Gaming
Are open-back headphones good for gaming? A good return question to that would be, do you care about others hearing what’s going on in your game? Keep reading as we touch on a couple more features of open-back headphones that you should consider.
Open Sound Quality
An open-back headphone is going to have a very natural soundstage. Because sound can pass out through the back of the earpiece, you won’t get the feeling of having sound enclosed within your head—which is what happens with closed-back headphones. You’ll have a rather expansive, airy listening experience, which is good for gaming. It will give you a good balance between sound effects and voices.
As with any headphone, the driver quality will improve the sound that you get. High-end open-back headphones are usually built with planar magnetic or electrostatic drivers. These produce much better sound than the dynamic drivers usually used in lower-end or closed-back headphones.
Headphone driver size can also contribute to sound quality. Theoretically, a larger driver will sound better and bigger. Headphones usually have drivers in the 40mm to 50mm range. But as sound is subject to the listener, make a point to test the headphones before taking them home.
Comfort & Looks
After sound quality, this might be the next best reason to get open-back headphones. Think about it. No back panel means more air to cool your ears. Less material built onto the headphones means they’ll be lighter.
They might have to sit back in the looks department compared to their closed-back cousins since they have less to dress. But your ears will probably love them more.
If you can test them, pay attention to the padding because that’s what’s going to be in contact with your ears the longest. You’ll want to have a good balance between that and the pressure of the headband, especially if you intend them for long hours of gaming.
You’re not going to get much noise isolation with an open-back headphone. They’re just not built that way. So if you want to shut the world out, the open-back style may not be for you.
And if you’re concerned about others hearing what’s going on in your game world, again, you might have to give the open-back a miss. But do consider the trade-off—not much noise isolation for a great soundstage and extra comfort.
The open-back will have a lighter build because of its airy nature. These headphones may look a little more delicate compared to the closed-back because of their earcup venting. Note the materials used. You’ll want something that’s durable and won’t break easily.
If it comes with a mic, you’ll want that to perform well too. A clear chat session is a massive plus during team play, instead of having your teammates yelling “what??” at you all the time. A mic that has some noise isolation would be good. If it’s one of those that have a flip-up auto-mute function, even better. No fumbling for the mute button when you want to close the line.
Taking the Open-back Home
Are open-back headphones better?
Only you can answer that question.
That said, we do think that open-back headphones deserve a bigger chance in the gaming world, instead of being mostly confined to the high-end audiophile space.
Most of us aren’t in a competitive arena, in need of absolute isolation to focus. Open-back headphones could do wonders for your gaming soundscape in the relative quiet of your room.
Your ears would probably be happy with the extra breathing space.
So, why not give them a try?