Over-ear headphones come in two varieties. Closed-back designs are among the most popular, but more and more people are turning to open headphones for gaming.

Headphones with an open back feature some slits or perforations on the side of each ear. These allow air and sound to pass through your headphones, which gives you a completely different experience when gaming since you’ll be able to hear ambient noise around you.

Depending on where you are,you might hear everything from the sound of birds chirping to a flurry of keycaps attempting to rocket past 300 APM. Some gamers might want high-quality audiophile models while others may prefer to invest in dedicated gaming models that come with an integrated microphone. You’ll also want to consider things like input impedance and frequency response, just like if you were buying any other pair of headphones or speakers.

We took a look at the top five best open back headphones for gaming.

Sennheiser HD 599 Headphones

Pros:
• Comfortable design
• Convenient 50Ω connector
• Comes with two cables

Cons:
• Requires a AAA battery
• Battery door is easily lost
• Microphone has to be installed separately

Sennheiser’s HD 599 is the newest in a long line of similar open back designs that they’ve marked for years. They still keep many of the features found on traditional ones going, however. For instance, they feature ivory colored sides and a head strap that resembles what you’d find on higher-end audio equipment.

That’s made the Sennheiser brand quite popular with gamers who are looking for headphones under 200. You can just as easily use them to rock out to your favorite tunes once you’re done fragging the enemy.

While the HD 599 model doesn’t come with an integrated microphone, it’s designed to work with external ones. For instance, some fans have gotten the Antlion ModMic to work well with it. Sennheiser’s own sales representatives don’t make any suggestions, but this aftermarket fix has proven quite popular with gamers who want to add on their own gear.

Ergonomically-speaking, you can’t do much better than the HD 599 even if you’re the kind to spend an eternity trapped in a dungeon in an MMORPG. Players of Fortnite Season 5 Battle Pass who spent several hours getting everything just right when they first downloaded it often complained that ears hurt afterward. The HD 599 helps to solve problems like that.

HIFIMAN HE-400I Headphones

Pros:
• 30 percent lighter than standard headphones
• Improved pressure pattern from headband
• Includes special ear pads
• 30Ω characteristic impedance makes it highly compatible

Cons:
• Slightly flimsy
• Somewhat expensive compared to other models

Sennheiser’s HD 599 is the newest in a long line of similar open back designs that they’ve marked for years. They still keep many of the features found on traditional ones going, however. For instance, they feature ivory colored sides and a head strap that resembles what you’d find on higher-end audio equipment.

When the current HIFIMAN design got released, gamers gave it plenty of attention. While some of this was focused on the adjustable headband that made it possible to use it for hours without discomfort, more was given to the vendor’s proprietary FocusPad technology.

This special padding is designed to fit well over almost any sized ear. If you find it difficult to fit certain headphones on because they have a tendency to crunch your ears, then this might be the best pair for you.

With a sensitivity that tops out around 93dB, the HIFIMAN headphones are even perfect for those who want to play games on their smartphone. Those who take PC or console gaming seriously will appreciate the 1.5m removable cable that features 3.5mm connectors. It’s compatible with everything from Chromebooks to full-sized desktop PCs.

A ¼-inch adapter is included for those who want to connect their game system to an external stereo. You might very well be tempted to, since these headphones boast a generous frequency response that starts at right under 20Hz and goes to 35kHz.

GRADO SR80e Prestige Series Headphones

Pros:
• Very comfortable
• Traditional design
• Sturdy as far as frame-based headphones go

Cons:
• No isolation at all because of generous open back grille
• Won’t boost bass tones

Budget-minded gamers who want to save enough money to buy DLC packs have turned to the GRADO SR80e Prestige Series for a few years now. They’re very traditional-looking headphones, which could appeal to those who like retro style gear.

That being said, they’re radically different from old-school closed-back headphones in almost every way. GRADO’s engineers put larger holes into the ends of these than you’d find on most open headphones, which gives a flatter and wider frequency response than would otherwise be possible.

As a result, they’re perfect for players of RTS or FPS games who want to sample every single explosion sound effect in perfect concert pitch. They’re also a great backup pair for those who want to have something extra to carry around in their laptop bag.

Hardware hackers have also adopted the SR80e since it’s so easy to make your own add-ons for it. That’s made them an attractive option for those who want to tinker with something that won’t cost too much.

Sennheiser GAME ONE Gaming Headset

Pros:
• 116dB sound pressure level
• 38 dBV at 94 dBSPL microphone sensitivity
• Extra large ear pads
• Works with Macintosh games

Cons:
• Backs aren’t as open as some other designs
• Microphone boom may feel clunky
• Tad heavy

Perhaps due to the proliferation of aftermarket add-ons for their other gear, Sennheiser has decided to also market a genuine gamer headset using their patented open back technology. It features a 3.5mm jack that’s compatible with almost every device imaginable.

While some Apple products now lack headphone jacks, the GAME ONE is compatible with full-sized Macintosh gaming rigs that do come with them. Large plush velvet ear cups make it easy to wear them for long periods of time without too much in the way of discomfort.

In spite of the brand name, they’re not all that much more expensive than many other similar products. Budget-minded gamers might look at these an investment, since they shouldn’t have to be replaced for quite some time.

Nintendo Switch and Xbox One players should find they really fit the bill. Sennheiser’s engineers made sure that they were resonate at the frequencies those consoles output sound on.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO Studio Headphones

Pros:
• Comes with a hard shell case
• Supple ear pads designed for large ears
• Secure fit
• Robust steel headband

Cons:
• Cord may be too long
• 250Ω impedance sounds strange on lower-end audio devices
• Brand name drives up price somewhat

If you’re the kind of gamer who has a tendency to play sweeping online fantasy titles with orchestral soundtracks, then you’re in luck. The DT 990 Pro edition is designed to respond well at musical frequencies. That means it’s an ideal pick for playing games that feature an OST worth jamming too.

Overwatch and Minecraft players have been recently adopting the DT series for the same reason. The soundtracks for many special mods that fit these games are recorded in multi-channel stereo. These headphones provide a rare opportunity to listen to them with full clarity.

Those who like to post Let’s Play videos should also like these, since they’re perfect for editing videos and listening to commentary tracks before merging them into the final product. Some gamers who regularly use open-source packages, like Blender, to edit their replays have said that they love their pair of DT 900 Pro headphones for this reason.

Conclusion

All the models on this list represent the best open back headphones on the gaming market today, but those who consider themselves hardcore players will probably like the Sennheiser GAME ONE more than the others. It’s the closest to a traditional gaming headset that still comes stock with an open back.

FPS and RTS players often need a hands-free microphone that’s constantly on. The GAME ONE not only delivers this, but it does so with a microphone that’s so sensitive you could use it to record podcasts. If you like to comment on your games and host replays online, then this might be the best pick for you.

Budget-minded gamers who don’t always play the latest games might prefer the GRADO SR80e Prestige or the HIFIMAN HE-400I headphones. Either of these have a very wide frequency response that allows them to easily double as standard headphones for listening to music. They might also be great picks for those who use an emulator to play classic Sega and Nintendo games. Some fans of DOSBOX and other platforms used to deploy golden age PC games will love these as well. For everyone else, though, the GAME ONE set should sound great.

*Any prices mentioned in the article were at the time of publishing and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

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