Open-back headphones aren’t the obvious choice for gaming, with their poor sound isolation and lack of ultra-deep bass. But while open-back headphones can’t rival their closed-back cousins for sheer bass impact, the best open-back headphones for gaming prove it’s not always about the bass.
Open-back headphones offer more natural sound, with increased comfort due to the extra airflow through the earcups. While they’re not going to work for everyone, we think that anyone shopping for a pair of gaming headphones owes it to themselves to check out some open-back options as well. Let’s get going.
- Best Open-Back Gaming Headphones Overall: Epos Game Ones combine neutral sound, great comfort, and a reasonable price, making them a great pick for most users.
- Best Mid-Range Open-Back Gaming Headphones: Audio-Technica GDL3s have a hyped-up sound signature and detachable mic, which should appeal to some users.
- Best Premium Open-Back Gaming Headphones: Drop x Epos PC38xs have it all: great sound, amazing comfort, and an excellent mic.
- Best Budget Open-Back Gaming Headphones: Philips SHP9600MBs add a detachable mic to the tried-and-tested Philips SHP9600, creating a versatile budget pair.
- Best Audiophile Open-Back Gaming Headphones: Hifiman HE400ses are excellent audiophile headphones with a neutral sound and amazing comfort.
our favorite Open-Back Gaming HEadphones
A quick note before we start: we often refer to TRS and TRRS jacks throughout our list. If you’re unfamiliar with these, we recommend visiting our buying guide first. There, we explain the differences between the two and why you should care.
Epos’ Game One is a solid pair of headphones that tick a lot of boxes: they sound great, are comfortable to wear for long periods, and are usually available around the $100 mark. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s likely as close as you’ll get for a pair of open-back gaming headphones.
Epos started as Sennheiser’s gaming brand, so it’s no surprise that the Game Ones have superb sound. They fly the flag for neutral, balanced sound, with excellent midrange and treble performance.
These have clear mids and treble, with a slight emphasis that keeps everything focused and sharp. These will be great for competitive shooters, where you want a clear soundscape to track footsteps and audio cues better.
The Game Ones’ sound signature makes them great for listening to music, too. While they can’t compete with a high-end pair of audiophile headphones, they’ll do a much better job than your average gaming headset. Bass-heavy genres like EDM and trap likely won’t come across too well, but most other genres should sound fine (if not excellent) on the Game Ones.
Mic quality is also solid, with balanced audio quality across the board. The microphone doesn’t sound tinny or flat and should be able to represent most voices without issue. It sounds surprisingly natural, which isn’t something we can always say about headset microphones.
Epos’ Sennheiser heritage comes through in the comfort department, too. While the headphones are a bit on the large side, the soft padding on the headband and earcups make them comfortable even over long gaming sessions.
While we prefer the Epos Game Ones’ sound over most gaming headphones, we can’t ignore their lack of software options. Unlike many modern gaming headsets which offer fancy mic audio processing or software-based EQ, the Game Ones connect to your rig using a traditional TRRS ⅛” audio jack (with an included adapter for dual ⅛” TRS jacks), with no USB connection present.
On the one hand, this means they’ll work with any device, so long as they have ⅛” audio ports. But it means you’re stuck with how the headphones sound out of the box, with no room for tweaking. That’s not a huge issue for us, but it is a potential stumbling block, depending on your preferences.
If you can live with the lack of software and tweaking, you’ll likely find that the Epos Game Ones are some of the best open-back headphones for gaming. While it’s not the only great pair available, its combination of audio quality and reasonable pricing makes these an excellent place to start.
Audio-Technica is better known as a hi-fi and audiophile brand, but the GDL3 headphones show they know how to craft a solid gaming headset. Its decidedly un-neutral sound signature and relatively uncommon detachable microphone make it an interesting alternative to the common names.
Many open-back headphones strive for a more neutral, natural sound signature, but that’s not true with the GDL3. Audio-Technica has opted for extra emphasis in the bass and midrange, plus some extra treble energy at the high end. This gives the GDL3 a more “fun” sound, although it may get overwhelming with some content.
The exaggerated high-end frequencies will be particularly troublesome. While they’ll help add detail and sparkle to games and laid-back content, any bright or aggressive music (such as metal) will likely come across as grating and unpleasant.
Like most of its rivals, the Audio-Technica GDL3 connects via traditional analog audio jacks with no provisions for software tweaks. You get two cables you can swap between, courtesy of the GDL3’s detachable jack. You get a TRRS ⅛” cable, ideal for phones and other devices that support the jack, plus a more conventional dual TRS ⅛” cable that you can connect to separate headphone and microphone jacks.
While the lack of software EQ means you’ll have to live with the GDL3’s unconventional frequency response, the upside is that it’ll work with any device with an ⅛” audio jack. This includes your PC, some smartphones, the Nintendo Switch, the PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X. However, note that you’ll have to connect to the controller headphone jack for the latter.
It’s also worth pointing out the detachable microphone, which replaces the usual flip-up mechanism on other gaming headsets. While it’s not quite as useful as the flip-up style in-game, the upshot is that you can remove the mic entirely if you want a more casual look.
The boom microphone itself is decent, too. It’s not going to threaten dedicated USB or XLR microphones, but the sound is more than adequate for in-game communication and online meetings. There’s a treble emphasis that may not work well with some voices, but we think the overall sound is generally pleasing.
Unfortunately, the Audio-Technica GDL3 isn’t as comfortable as the competition. You don’t get any padding on the headband, and the earcup pads aren’t very cushiony. This isn’t to say they’re uncomfortable, though; it’s just that they’re not as plush as the cheaper Epos Game Ones.
Overall, the Audio-Technica GDL3s are an interesting pair of open-back gaming headphones. They don’t sound much like their rivals, with a much less gamer-y look that should appeal to some users. The sub-par padding is a slight downer, but there’s enough here to make the GDL3s worth checking out despite that.
Drop and Epos’s PC38x is the pair of open-back headphones to beat, offering excellent comfort, great sound, and a solid microphone. They’re not cheap, but those willing to shell out will get their money’s worth and then some.
The PC38x isn’t quite as neutral as some other Epos-branded headphones, but we think this may make them more appealing to a broader audience. You get a boosted mid-bass spectrum and a slightly reduced treble, giving the PC38x a warmer, more laid-back sound overall.
However, note that this warmth doesn’t come at the expense of midrange clarity. So you’ll still be able to discern important in-game cues, such as footsteps, gunshots, and AWP scope-ins, without issue.
The treble dip you can see likely won’t have a huge impact on games, so it’s nothing to worry about if you’re primarily going to use these for gaming. However, the PC38x’s treble does make musical elements such as cymbals and certain stringed instruments sound a bit dull, so these may not be that great if your music demands a lot of treble detail. They’re fine, just not quite as good as other options.
Drop ships the PC38x with two sets of ear pads: you get microfiber ones attached by default, but there is a set of plush velour pads in the box that you can install. Both sets of pads are very comfortable and, combined with the padded headband and 253-gram (8.9-ounce) weight, should let you wear these all day without issue.
As with other headphones on our list, you don’t get any way of tweaking the PC38x’s frequency response, at least not on the headphone side. These headphones connect via standard analog jacks (either a ⅛” TRRS jack or dual ⅛” TRS jacks), so there’s no software-based tweaking of the mic or headset available here.
But you likely won’t need to tweak much, as the PC38x’s boom microphone is among the best on the market. It has good noise cancellation, but the star of the show is its full-bodied sound. It won’t make you sound thin or nasally and is likely good enough for some podcasting in a pinch.
Overall, the Drop x Epos PC38x is one of the best open-back gaming headphones on the market. They sound great, are comfortable to wear, and have an extremely high-quality mic. The roughly $170 MSRP is steep, but keep an eye out for discounts; you may be able to get a pair for between $130 and $150. Still pricey, admittedly, but more than worth it for this level of quality.
Philips isn’t a brand you associate with gaming hardware, but the SHP9600MB is the company’s clever way of breaking into the market. It’s taken the well-loved budget open-back SHP9600 and added a detachable boom mic, creating an excellent sub-$90 pair of headphones perfect for almost all use cases.
The SHP9600MBs are identical to the SHP9600s featured in our list of the best audiophile gaming headphones, so you can expect a neutral-warm sound signature with a noticeable emphasis on the mid-bass region. While the ultra-low bass frequencies are quite weak, this mid-bass hump helps add a lot of punch to the sound.
Thankfully, the bass doesn’t overpower the mids, and you’re still getting decent clarity across the rest of the frequency range. The upper-mid dip can make some instruments sound a bit weak, but it shouldn’t be too much of an issue for gamers.
The SHP9600MBs may be on the cheaper side, but Philips hasn’t skimped on the padding here. While you shouldn’t expect high-end materials, the ear and headband pads are still quite plush and comfortable. The open-back design helps keep your ears cool, too, so these should be fine for extended gaming sessions.
One minor inconvenience is that the SHP9600MB headphones only connect via a TRRS ⅛” jack if you use the microphone. Depending on your motherboard or gaming PC case, you may have to buy a splitter cable to get separate TRS ⅛” jacks for the audio and microphone signals. But those aren’t too expensive, so we don’t think this is a deal-breaker.
The microphone is also attached directly to the cable, meaning you’ll need to swap cables outright if you want to use the SHP9600MB without the microphone. It’s not a huge deal, but it does mean another cable you’ll need to keep track of and not lose. On the upside, this means you can upgrade to a dedicated XLR or USB mic without rendering the SHP9600MB redundant.
Despite these minor niggles, Philips’ SHP9600MB is still a solid set of open-back gaming headphones ideal for those on a budget. They sound good, are comfortable to wear, and the detachable mic is a handy feature for those who want to use these in non-gaming scenarios.
If you already have a dedicated microphone—or simply don’t need one—you may want to consider getting an audiophile set of headphones instead of the gaming options on our list. While there are many options, the Hifiman HE400se stands out for its combination of excellent sound and affordable price.
The HE400se has a mostly neutral sound signature, with the typical rolled-off sub-bass frequencies common to all open-back headphones. But the midrange is flat and accurate, complemented by a slight low-mid boost that helps add some body to sounds and music. These will reveal every detail you’ll need in gameplay, making them excellent for those moments when you need to know what’s happening around you.
However, there is a slightly inconsistent treble response, which can make voices and some instruments sound a bit dull. However, it’s not too bad; you still get exceptional audio quality overall.
Like any audiophile headphone worth its salt, the Hifiman HE400se excels in the comfort department. You get padding on the headband alongside the standard earcup padding, and both are quite plush and comfortable for long periods. However, the cloth material gets quite warm, which may become uncomfortable over extra-long gaming sessions.
Given the HE400se’s audiophile credentials, it shouldn’t surprise you that these connect via standard ⅛” TRS jacks. You get a ⅛” to ¼” adapter for connecting to high-end external soundcards, but that’s about it. Of course, the HE400SE doesn’t need anything else, as it doesn’t have an extra microphone signal to worry about.
One issue that you may want to be aware of is that the HE400se can be quite hard to drive, meaning you’ll need a source with lots of power to get good volume and the best possible sound quality. You can just crank up the volume on your computer, but you’ll get the best results from a headphone amp (or combination DAC/amp). Something like the Schiit Fulla will do a good job here.
Power-hungriness aside, there’s little to complain about with the Hifiman HE400se. Between the great sound quality, impressive comfort, and excellent-value pricing, these are the headphones to get if you’re interested in diving into the world of audiophile headphones.
Need more recommendations? Check out our list of the best audiophile gaming headphones for more suggestions.
Before You Buy
Buying headphones is tricky, as you can’t know if they work for you until you try them on. But there’s a great way to gauge whether a pair is worth investigating, so let’s discuss that here, alongside some other useful topics.
If you’re used to gaming headphones, you’re likely used to connecting via USB to get all manner of software customization or audio enhancements. But most—if not all—open-back gaming headphones don’t go down this route; instead, they stick to the traditional analog jacks for audio.
All the headphones on our list use either ⅛” TRRS or TRS jacks to connect to your PC or console. These jacks are not interchangeable, so you’ll need to know which your device supports to decide the cable or adapter you need.
TRS jacks only carry stereo audio and have two lines on the connector. These are usually found on motherboards and most DAC/headphone amps. TRS jacks require you to plug in two jacks, one for audio and the other for your microphone.
In contrast, TRRS jacks have three lines and carry the microphone and audio signals simultaneously. These were common on many smartphones, but these days you’re most likely to find these on the PS5 and Xbox Series X controllers.
You can buy adapters to convert between the two, and most of our headphones come with replacement cables or adapters, so this isn’t too critical. That said, you should still pay attention to the headphones and your equipment before buying.
Frequency Response Graphs
Frequency response graphs are the squiggly lines you see in all good headphone and earphone reviews. These try to represent how the headphones sound by showing you how loudly they reproduce sounds across the frequency spectrum.
Frequency response graphs have two axes: horizontal and vertical. The horizontal axis covers the frequency range, with bass sounds to the left, mid-range in the middle, and high frequencies to the right. The vertical axis indicates the volume of each frequency; the higher the line, the louder the frequency (and vice versa).
Charting the headphones’ behavior across the frequency range of human hearing gives us the squiggly lines of frequency response graphs. Let’s take the Philips SHP9600MBs as an example. Here, we can surmise that the Philips headphones have an elevated mid-bass and a reduced upper-mid and lower treble response.
Of course, this won’t mean a thing if you’re unfamiliar with audio jargon. So, the best way to get familiar is to check out the frequency response graphs for equipment you already own or have easy access to. Listen to the headphones and compare them to the graphs to try and match what you’re heading to what you’re seeing.
Doing this also helps you identify the sort of frequency responses you should look out for. If you like a particular pair of headphones, check out the frequency response graph and try to find new equipment that comes close. While this isn’t a guaranteed way to find a pair you’ll like, doing this will help eliminate headphones that offer a drastically different sound signature and thus may not be to your liking.
Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones
Full-sized headphones come in open-back and closed-back varieties. The difference is in the naming: open-back headphones have open ear cups. These let sound pass through, so they’re not good for blocking background noise. However, you get a more natural sound signature and a less “closed-in” sound in return, albeit at the cost of reduced sub-bass.
So while they’re not great for commuting or noisy environments, many audiophiles prefer these for home listening where isolation isn’t an issue. Open-back headphones also let your ears breathe better, reducing heat and sweat buildup and making them more comfortable overall.
In contrast, closed-back headphones have fully closed-off earcups. These have the benefit of offering passive noise isolation since they physically block external sound from entering. Another advantage of the closed-back design is that it often helps emphasize bass frequencies, making closed-back headphones ideal for bass-heavy genres.
However, closed-back headphones will run hot, with the lack of airflow stopping your ears and skin from “breathing.” So you’ll have to take closed-back headphones off more regularly, especially during summer.
If you’re after sound quality (and don’t mind less bass), go with open-back headphones. Their lack of isolation isn’t ideal, but the sound quality and improved comfort are worth the sacrifice in our book.
Open-back headphones aren’t usually the go-to solution for gamers, with their lack of sound isolation and restrained sub-bass making them less appealing than their closed-back cousins. But what you lose out in bass, you gain overall sound quality, especially in the better soundstage that helps games, movies, and music sound much more lifelike.
The Epos Game One headphones are our top recommendation, as they combine great performance and quality with a reasonable price around the $100 mark. But if you’re on a tighter budget, Philips’ SHP9600MB is the headset to check out.
Need more bass or just want to block out the outside world as much as possible? Check out the best closed-back headphones for gaming instead.