The 12 Best Semi-open Headphones
Semi-open headphones are not as popular as open-back and closed-back headphones, with much fewer options on the market. This makes shopping for them more difficult, especially considering many of them also have limited reviews. But we’re here to make things easier for you. Below are the best semi-open headphones currently out, including a few headphones in earbud and in-ear formats.
The Beyerdynamic T1 (2nd Generation) are high-end headphones that are ideal for listening to music at home. They are over-ear headphones that sound fantastic and are comfortable to wear for long hours, not to mention their build quality is excellent. They are all-around headphones that are suitable for most music genres and are also good for other forms of media like movies and video games.
Featuring a padded metal headband, the T1 are premium semi-open headphones with plenty of metal parts. In addition to the headband, their ear cup grilles and hinges are all metal, making for a sturdier and more durable build. Unlike the DT 880 Pro, they don’t have exposed wires near the hinges and include a 10-foot detachable audio cable. The default audio cable is braided and durable and ends with a gold-plated 3.5 mm analog plug. A screw-on 6.3 mm plug adapter is also included in the box, but there are no additional audio cables.
Although they are a bit tight, the T1 are comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. Their earpads are composed of memory foam with breathable velour covers while their headband is flexible and has artificial leather-coated padding. They stay securely on the head, with their tight fit contributing to their stability. The ear cups can fit around most ear sizes while the headband easily adjusts to large heads, making them suitable for just about everyone.
The T1 are not meant to be portable. They are bulky and not exactly lightweight and lack an in-line remote for easy music and volume controls while on the move. Their ear cups don’t fold into the frame for a more compact format, which means they will take up more space in your bag. The included hard case is also quite large, making it more cumbersome to carry. But considering the T1 are not designed for travel or outdoor use, their mediocre portability is not a big deal.
If you have high expectations for the T1 regarding sound quality, especially considering their price tag, you won’t be disappointed. They are some of the best-sounding semi-open headphones currently out on the market. They sound articulate and engaging, with a good soundstage, and are absolutely enjoyable to use for a variety of music genres. Their bass is deep, controlled, and powerful, while their mid-range is clean, accurate, and balanced.
While they are designed for listening to music at home, the T1 are also good for listening to podcasts and audiobooks and for watching movies and gaming. Their clear and detailed sound quality is perfect for games with an excellent soundtrack, while their wide soundstage allows for better positional awareness in competitive first-person shooter games. Of course, we don’t really recommend buying them just for gaming alone, as there are much more affordable gaming headsets that offer better value for the money.
Regarding sound isolation, the T1 are just as bad as DT 990 Pro and other fully open headphones. Their noise isolation is terrible, making them a poor choice for listening to music in a busy office and while commuting. Their sound leakage is also high even at moderate volume levels, which means people nearby will definitely hear the audio coming out from them. While they are advertised as semi-open headphones, they are practically open headphones that are best used for listening to music and other media in a quiet environment.
Overall, the T1 are some of the best semi-open headphones on the market. Their build quality is top-notch while their audio reproduction is superb. Their sturdy and durable build will allow them to last many years. While they are quite expensive, usually selling for around $800-1,000, they are well worth the investment for audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts.
If you prefer earphones instead of over-ear headphones, the Audeze iSine 20 are the best option. They are wired earphones featuring planar magnetic drivers, which are usually found in full-sized over-ear headphones. Although they are less versatile than your typical earphones, they are recommended for audiophiles who want great-sounding earphones with a unique sound profile.
Compared to most earphones, the iSine 20 have much bulkier housings that make them more noticeable in your ears. Their large housings are hexagonal with webbed backplates that might remind some people of TIE fighters in Star Wars. Their plastic-and-metal construction feels sturdy and durable, but it’s not as premium as their price tag suggests.
Terminating in a 3.5 mm mini-plug for universal compatibility with most mobile devices, the standard audio cable is durable and flexible. But it lacks an in-line remote for music and volume controls. If you are going to pair the iSine 20 with iOS devices like an iPhone or iPad, we recommend getting the optional Cipher Lightning cable. Unlike the regular audio cable, the Cipher Lightning cable has an in-line mic and remote and features a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which is crucial to getting the most out of the earphones.
The iSine 20 are comfortable to wear for long hours. Although they are bulkier than regular earphones, they are still lightweight, with each unit weighing around 0.35 oz (10 g). Like all other earphones, they are significantly more breathable than over-ear and on-ear headphones, which means you don’t need to worry about your ears getting uncomfortably hot after several hours of continuous use. Their silicone ear tips also don’t enter your ear canals too deeply. There are different ear tip sizes included in the box, along with a set of ear hooks for stability.
While they are not as portable as truly wireless earphones, the iSine 20 are more portable than over-ear headphones. They are more compact and weigh significantly less, making them easier to carry from one place to another. A nylon travel case is also provided for protecting the earphones from scratches and dust. You need to be careful when packing the earphones with their ear hooks still attached, though, as the thin ear hooks seem like the most fragile part of the earphones.
An all-rounder suitable for different genres, the iSine 20 are some of the best-sounding earphones on the market. Their bass is deep and powerful while their mid-range is rich and detailed. Their treble is clear and smooth while their soundstage is wide. Their distortion also remains minimal even at high volume levels. But while they are still better than most earphones with their standard audio cable, their true sonic potential can only be unlocked if you use the Cipher Lightning cable.
With the Cipher Lightning cable, you can modify the sound to make it even better than the default tuning. When the iSine 20 are connected to an iOS device, you can access the Audeze app, which offers a 10-band equalizer for sound modification. If you are not using an Apple device, you’ll need to look into other solutions to get the most out of your earphones.
As mentioned earlier, the iSine 20 are not as versatile as most other earphones. The chief reason for that is their more open design, which automatically translates to poor sound isolation performance. They are mediocre at blocking out background noise and have high sound leakage. They are not recommended for traveling and commuting and are not the best for sports use. You can use them for listening to music in the office, but only if their high sound leakage is not going to be an issue to your co-workers.
It’s hard to convince people to spend more than $500 on non-custom earphones. But if there’s a product that’s definitely worth the money, it’s the iSine 20. Their sound quality is excellent and one of the best among earphones while their overall build quality is good. They are the best option if you want semi-open headphones in an in-ear form. If you plan to connect them to an iOS device, make sure to get the Cipher Lightning cable for optimum results.
Selling for just around $30, the Superlux HD 681 are the best budget semi-open headphones that you can get right now. While their build quality is predictably mediocre, their sound quality is one of the best among cheap headphones. In fact, they sound even better than some headphones selling for a much higher price. You can use them for listening to music at home and for sound mixing and mastering in the studio, with their neutral sound being especially helpful for studio use.
The HD 681 won’t impress you with their aesthetics. They are over-ear headphones with a bland and unappealing look, with the red accents on their ear cups not really doing them any favors in the style department. They have large, circular ear cups with ample padding and feature a dual headband design with an artificial leather strap. Their audio cable, which ends in a mini-plug and connects to the left ear cup, is non-detachable.
With their mediocre plastic build, the HD 681 are not exactly a picture of durability. They feel fragile and more susceptible to wear and tear, especially on the headband side. But the good news is that they are comfortable to wear for long hours despite their weak build quality, which is a big plus. They are lightweight and breathable and don’t feel too tight on the head. Their large ear cups can fit around most ear sizes, but their earpads are not the softest and are better off replaced with different ones.
For accessories, the HD 681 only include a soft pouch and a gold-plated, screw-on 6.3 mm plug adapter. The former is especially notable for cheap headphones, as most other products in the same price range don’t include a case or pouch for storage. But while the soft pouch will guard your fragile headphones from scratches and dust, it won’t protect them against hard physical impact and major water spills.
Often praised for their neutrality, the HD 681 are some of the best-sounding headphones under $50, making them a good choice for audiophiles. Their bass and mid-range performances are accurate while their treble is decent but can be too sharp in some tracks. Their soundstage is also quite good for semi-open headphones. However, their sound signature is not for everyone, especially if you prefer a more bass-heavy sound.
In addition to listening to music at home, the HD 681, as mentioned, are also suitable for sound mixing and mastering in the studio. Their neutral sound profile will allow you to better analyze the audio and pick out faults. They are comfortable to wear for long hours in the studio, with their lightweight design being a big factor, but their non-coiled audio cable can be restricting in a studio environment.
Regarding noise isolation, the HD 681 are unsurprisingly mediocre. They are ineffective at blocking out ambient noise even in moderately noisy environments. And while they don’t leak as much as fully open headphones, their sound leakage is still rather high, which means you’ll disturb or annoy nearby people with your loud music. Their high sound leakage also makes them unsuitable for recording tracks in the studio.
All in all, the HD 681 are a solid pair of headphones that offer great value for the money. There aren’t many similarly priced headphones that are better-sounding or sound just as good as them. While their build quality is subpar, they are comfortable to wear for long hours, whether at home or in the studio. If you are limited to a $50 budget for the best semi-open headphones, check out this Superlux product.
The Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro are the best semi-open headphones for sound mixing and mastering in a studio environment. They offer much better value for the money than the high-end T1 and sound more neutral than the open-back DT 990 Pro. Although they normally sell for around $250, you can get them for less than $200 from some resellers.
A pair of over-ear headphones, the DT 880 Pro have a practical design that will work for most people, featuring a sturdy metal headband and large ear cups. Their ear cup grilles and hinges are also made of metal, making for a more durable build. They are actually better-built than some headphones selling for a higher price and feel like premium headphones. Their default audio cable is coiled and ends in a 3.5 mm analog plug for universal compatibility with most mobile devices. Unlike with the T1, their audio cable is non-detachable.
The DT 880 Pro have few moving parts that are susceptible to wear and tear, which further adds to their overall build quality. Unlike most modern headphones, they don’t fold into a more compact format and their ear cups don’t rotate into a flat position. This makes them take up more space in your bag, hurting their portability. But considering they are designed for home and studio use, their mediocre portability is not exactly surprising.
While the DT 880 Pro are quite bulky and have a tight clamp, they are very comfortable to wear, which is especially beneficial for long hours in the studio. Their padded headband is flexible, easily adjusting to large heads, while their ear cups feature velour-coated cushions that feel nice on the skin. They are just as breathable as the DT 990 Pro, which are fully open headphones.
Regarding accessories, the DT 880 Pro are straightforward, with not much else included outside of the essentials. They come with a 6.3 mm plug adapter and a zippered case for storage, with the former being a common accessory for professional headphones. The included case is a soft type, which means it offers less protection against hard physical impact than a hard case. It provides protection against scratches, dust, and minor water spills.
The DT 880 Pro are great-sounding headphones that deliver a clear and detailed sonic performance, with balanced reproduction of vocals and instruments. They are more neutral-sounding than both of their open-back and closed-back counterparts, making them more suitable for critical listening in a studio setting. Their mid-range performance is almost flawless while their soundstage is good for semi-open headphones.
Although they are designed for professional studio use, the DT 880 Pro are also great headphones for listening to music at home. Their neutral sound profile can be undesirable for some people, though, especially those who mainly listen to mainstream music genres like hip hop and electronic dance music (EDM). For watching movies and gaming, these Beyerdynamic headphones are also good, with their spacious soundstage being useful in some games.
However, the DT 880 Pro are best used in a quiet environment. Despite being semi-open headphones, their sound isolation is just as bad as that of the DT 990 Pro. They will hardly block any background noise even in moderately noisy places and their sound leakage is high. Their mediocre sound isolation makes them unsuitable for listening to music at the office and while commuting and traveling.
If you like the neutrality and overall design of the T1 but prefer a much more affordable alternative, check out the DT 880 Pro instead. They offer great value for the money, especially if you can get them for less than $200. Their sound quality is great while their build quality is terrific, with their very comfortable fit making them ideal for long listening sessions in the studio and at home. You can also check out the regular, non-pro DT 880, which are basically the same headphones but are better-suited for home use.
Many people use closed-back headphones to block out background noise while working out, especially in a crowded gym. Others, however, prefer headphones that allow for better situational awareness during workouts, most especially while outdoors. If you want sports headphones that will allow you to monitor your surroundings, get the Bose SoundSport Free.
They are semi-open truly wireless headphones with an earbud fit, which is less common than a typical in-ear fit. They are noticeably bulkier than other truly wireless headphones and easily protrude out of your ears, making for a less discreet profile. Their build quality is good, with their IPX4 rating meaning they are protected against sweat. They are extremely breathable and are more comfortable to wear continuously for long hours than in-ear headphones. Moreover, their truly wireless design means there are no cables that might get caught into something while you are exercising.
While they are quite bulky, the SoundSport Free stay securely in your ears even during more intense workouts with lots of head movement. Their ear tips have small fins that help with stability and allow for a more secure fit. There are three ear tip sizes included in the box, but there is no option to remove the stability fins and combine different ear tip and fin sizes for a more personalized fit, which is possible in some sports earphones.
The SoundSport Free are the most portable among the headphones in this guide. They are extremely compact and lightweight and will easily fit into small pockets. This makes the earbuds easier to carry for daily use, especially if you don’t usually carry a bag to the gym. Meanwhile, the included case, which also serves as a charging dock for the earbuds, is bulkier than usual, but it’s still very portable. A charging cable is also provided for connecting the case to a power source.
Unlike some truly wireless headphones, the SoundSport Free have a simple control scheme composed of physical buttons on the earbuds. With the earbud buttons, you can manage your calls and music, adjust the volume, and initiate the Bluetooth pairing process. However, the buttons are quite stiff and not easy to use while on the move. Although it’s less practical, it’s much easier to simply use your smartphone for music management and volume control.
Truly wireless headphones are not exactly known for their sound quality, with many of them being only decent at best on that front. The SoundSport Free, however, stand out as some of the best-sounding in their category. Their bass is smooth and balanced while their mid-range is clean and accurate. They will sound consistent among different users and are suitable for a variety of music genres.
On the other hand, their mic performance is mediocre overall, which can also be said for most other truly wireless headphones. The app support is also disappointing, with not many customization options like being able to modify the sound profile with an equalizer. Their app’s best and most useful aspect is the “Find My Buds” feature, which helps you find your expensive earbuds if you lose them.
Regarding battery life, the SoundSport Free are fairly decent. They can run up to five hours on a single charge, which should be good enough for sports use for most people. You get two additional charges in the charging case, which brings the total battery life to 15 hours. The charge time is around two hours, according to the official specs.
The SoundSport Free have poor noise isolation performance, which is actually beneficial if you prefer better situational awareness while working out, especially outdoors. If you usually run outdoors, their more open design will allow you to monitor your surroundings to avoid accidents. But while they are poor at blocking out background noise, these Bose earbuds have low sound leakage – which is useful if you want to use them at the office and while commuting or traveling despite their poor noise isolation.
Overall, the SoundSport Free are the best semi-open headphones for sports. They are great-sounding truly wireless earbuds that are well-built and comfortable to wear for long workout sessions and are extremely portable. They also come with a sturdy case that keeps the earbuds securely in place when not in use and holds additional charges to increase the total battery life.
If none of our top picks above meets your preferences for semi-open headphones, check out the products below. Most of the products in this section are on the relatively affordable side, with three options under $100, one of which sells for less than $50.
The Superlux HD 668B are budget headphones that are similar to the HD 681 in both build quality and sound quality. They are wired over-ear headphones with a bland aesthetic and a mediocre plastic build, which can also be said for many other cheap headphones. Unlike the HD 681, their lower headband is composed of two paddle-like cushions instead of a leather strap and their audio cable is detachable – a big plus for many people. There are two audio cables included – a short one and a long one – along with a soft pouch and a plug adapter.
Compared to the HD 681, the HD 668B are less neutral-sounding, but only by a slim margin. Their bass is punchy and not too emphasized. Their mid-range performance and soundstage are both good while their treble is decent but can be piercing in some tracks. Sadly, they are not as comfortable to wear for long listening sessions as the HD 681; although they are well-padded, their headband clamp feels too tight, especially on large heads.
Featuring a sturdy metal-and-plastic build, the Philips Fidelio L2 are good-looking headphones that are suitable for listening to most music genres. They sound good, with a detailed and transparent mid-range and a tight and controlled bass. They are easy to drive and include an audio cable with an in-line mic and remote, which makes them unique among the over-ear headphones in this guide. A soft pouch and the usual 6.3 mm plug adapter are also included in the box.
The Fidelio L2 are well-designed headphones that feel durable, with their metal-reinforced headband, which has a stitched leather coating, making for a sturdier frame. Their circular ear cups are similarly reinforced with metal and have a nice grille design. Covered in artificial leather, their earpads are made of memory foam and don’t get uncomfortably warm after just a couple of hours of use. Their overall build quality is good, with minimal moving parts that are susceptible to wear and tear.
A pair of over-ear headphones, the AKG K240 MKII are a solid option if you are limited to a $100 budget for the best semi-open headphones. While they normally sell for around $150, you can easily get them for less than $100. Their audio reproduction is decent, with a clear and detailed mid-range and a spacious soundstage. However, their mostly plastic construction is unimpressive; their overall build quality is satisfactory, but there are plenty of headphones in the same price range that are better-built and feel more durable.
On the bright side, the K240 MKII are comfortable to wear continuously for long hours, with their more breathable design being one of the reasons. Despite their bulky design, they are lightweight and don’t feel fatiguing on the head. Their headband clamp is not too tight while their large ear cups are adequately padded. AKG also includes an additional pair of velour-coated earpads, which feel more luxurious. There are two audio cables in the box: a straight cable and a coiled cable, with both of them terminating in a 3.5 mm analog plug. The coiled cable is especially useful when using the headphones in the studio. A gold-plated 6.3 mm plug adapter is also provided.
If you like the Bose SoundSport Free but prefer wireless earbuds that can last a bit longer on a single charge, check out the SoundSport Wireless instead. They are sports-oriented earbuds featuring a behind-the-neck cable design with an in-line mic and remote. Their build quality is decent. They are compact, extremely breathable, and rated IPX4 for sweat resistance. While their earpieces are quite bulky, they don’t easily pop out of your ears, with their fins making for a more secure fit. There are three different pairs of ear tips in the box, along with a travel pouch and the short charging cable.
The SoundSport Wireless are good-sounding wireless earbuds that sound clear, detailed, and balanced, with the right amount of bass. They support NFC technology for faster pairing with compatible mobile devices and can run up to six hours on a single charge. Their quick-charge feature allows for one hour of playback after just 15 minutes of charging. Like their truly wireless counterpart, they have low sound leakage, but they are similarly poor at blocking out background noise. Their app support is also disappointing, with limited customization options.
Designed for professional studio use, the Fostex T50RP MK3 are planar magnetic headphones that sound good but are hard to drive. They are over-ear headphones that include an audio cable ending in a 6.3 mm plug, with another one terminating in a 3.5 mm mini-plug for mobile use. While their bland, utilitarian design is not going to get many style points, their build quality is good. Their padded headband is sturdy while the metal rods connecting it to the ear cups are well-secured.
Compared to their predecessor, the T50RP MK3 are better-sounding headphones with a more balanced audio reproduction. Unfortunately, they are not very comfortable to wear for long hours, mainly due to their mediocre earpads. Their leather-coated earpads are thin and shallow, which makes the headphones feel more like on-ear headphones. On the bright side, you can easily replace the default earpads with different ones – the headphones are actually easy to disassemble and modify, making them popular among the DIY community.
The Klipsch Heritage HP-3 are high-end headphones that look absolutely gorgeous and sound good, with a detailed treble, a powerful bass, and a balanced mid-range. They are over-ear headphones featuring a metal headband and wooden ear cups made of either walnut, ebony, or oak. Their sturdy headband is coated with hand-stitched genuine leather while their earpads are made of sheepskin. They are premium headphones in every aspect and easily stand out due to their beautiful design. If you have no problem spending more than $1,000 on headphones, this Klipsch product is one of the best and most premium semi-open headphones that you can get.
Although they are on the heavy side, the HP-3 are comfortable to wear for hours. Their earpads are soft and thick while their headband is flexible, easily adjusting to large heads. There are two braided audio cables included: a short cable and a long cable. A 6.3 mm plug adapter is also provided. Unlike many high-end audiophile headphones, there is no hard case included in the package. Instead, Klipsch ships the headphones with a steel headphone stand, further emphasizing that its product is meant to be shown off.
Selling for around $2,500, the Audeze LCDi4 are high-end earphones that are better-built and better-sounding than the relatively more affordable iSine 20. They are Audeze’s flagship earphones, featuring the same Nano-scale Uniforce diaphragm used in the LCD-4. Equipped with planar magnetic drivers, they are some of the best-sounding earphones on the market, with a pleasant treble, a detailed mid-range, a powerful bass, and a wide soundstage. They are more natural-sounding than your typical earphones and sound balanced overall. On the other hand, their sound isolation is mediocre, which makes them less suitable for outdoor use than regular earphones.
The LCDi4 look similar to the iSine 20, with their bulky, hexagonal housings making them easily stand out. But instead of a webbed design, their backplates have horizontal grilles with the company logo at the bottom. Their metal housings are lightweight and feel durable. There are multiple ear hooks and ear tips included in the box, along with a nylon travel case for storage. In addition to the regular audio cable terminating in a 3.5 mm plug, the unique Cipher Lightning cable is also included in the package.