If you’re looking for some semi-open headphones, you’ve been able to constrain your search for the perfect pair into a relatively more rare design as compared to other common solutions out there. We’ll get into what exactly these types of headphones are best used for in a moment and if they’re even something to keep in mind during our headphone search adventures. In our opinion, we feel they are if you’re into grabbing something in the middle of the studio headphone realm — attaining sound isolation while at the same time allowing some frequency leakage out of the ear cups to ensure an accurate and clear sound with little to no buildup.
What are semi-open headphones?
There have been quite a few debates in the headphone world when it comes to what the use of semi-open headphones exactly are. As we’ve highlighted in our headphone differences guide the numerous “designs”, the most commonly found builds include open-back and closed-back headphones. Closed-back are ideal for those recording so no sound leaks out into their microphones and clouds up the mix, while open-back are ideal for those mixing and mastering for post-production in the studio to allow a cleaner frequency build-up of their mixes (closed-back can allow for some of the lower frequencies to say “inside” of the ear cups and eventually cloud the mix).
So what about something in the middle? A pair of headphones that will allow for some sound isolation and a little leakage? This is the critique — “what’s the point?” many would state. Well, they’re correct in a way. There’s no reason to grab semi-open if you’re recording or mixing, as you might as well get the previous two common designs we spoke about. However, let’s keep in mind a few reasons we think semi-open designs of studio headphones are relevant (for some of us, at least).
Some call it “just a marketing term“, while others will reject that and state, “there’s a time for both open and closed headphones, and having a mixture of both allows you to have the best of both worlds”. For one, we’ve heard of mixing and mastering pros prefer semi-open over open-back (a few, at least) — they’d personally prefer less sound leakage than typical open-back headphones, especially with mastering since it’s not as picky as opposed to mixing. Again, this all comes down to personal preference. We’ve also heard of audiophiles wanting semi-open headphones to allow for some sound leakage to have an accurate listening experience the artists intended while still attaining some isolation (especially if you’ll be traveling with these or listening in public) as opposed to the rather noisy nature of true open-backs being too loud for public spaces.
If you want this “in the middle” usage and feel, it can benefit your listening experience or intended applications when it comes to audio, we feel they’re worth it! Why don’t we get a debate going in the comments? Let us know your thoughts and opinions below — we’d love to hear your feedback, especially your personal experience with the debate. We digress, and now let’s get into our picks for the best semi-open headphones.
The best semi-open headphones
AKG K 240
First, we take a look at the AKG K 240 studio professional headphones, which overall clarity and build makes them of the best semi-open headphones for professional applications like mixing, mastering and playback. The advanced-patented “Varimotion” 30mm XXL transducers deliver a wide range response (15 Hz – 25,000 kHz) and increase sensitivity to produce clean sound at high levels. The headphones have an over-ear design that fits nicely over the ears, and come with a self-adjusting headband for optimal fit and pretty solid comfort for extended studio sessions or DJ sets.
They also come with a 3m detachable single-sided cable and a professional mini XLR connector — both easy to replace if lost or damaged. The cable includes a convertible jack plug for easily connecting portable equipment. Reasonably priced studio headphones are often tough to find when you are on a tighter budget, but the AKG K 240 sit on the lower price point and provide pretty solid features for the price you are paying as our pick for the best semi-open headphones available right now.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 PRO
Next, we have the Beyerdynamic DT 880 PRO, which are another one of our favorite pairs of the best semi-open headphones for reference monitoring, mixing, mastering or leisure listening in general. The semi-open design blend the strengths of an open and closed-ear headphone, so that you may have the best of both worlds. The DT 880 PRO’s have an impressive 5 Hz – 35 kHz response, which spits out pretty solid detail at your highest highs or loudest bass — key when monitoring multiple instruments. The Beyerdynamic’s also come with an incredibly soft headband pad and ear cups to reduce headband pressure to ensure optimal comfort for your long listening sessions.
They also have a standard single-sided, coiled cable which is fitted with a gold 1/8″ stereo jack plug and 1/4″ adapter. The DT 880 PRO’s are in the middle-to-high price range of our guide, so if you take your listening experience serious and you’re in the market for some monitoring headphones, or stereo headphones in general, these may be the right fit for you.
Here we feel out one of our more economical models, the Shure SRH144. These may be one of the best semi-open headphones if you need something for an on-the-go lifestyle, as these headphones are more mobile and versatile. The SRH144’s deliver an extended range audio with an enhanced high-frequency response (30 Hz – 20 kHz) which is very solid for the price you are paying. The Shure’s have a lightweight, collapsible design to ensure they are convenient when storing — making these one of the stronger options if you need some travel headphones. They come with adjustable, on-ear ear cups and a padded headband for an ergonomic and secure fit.
The SRH144’s also come equipped with a 5 foot, fixed, single sided cable that can be easily replaced if damaged or lost. These are very price-friendly, and if you need something for your on-the-go lifestyle but don’t have the largest budget, these headphones with a semi-open build may become your best friend.
The Superlux HD668B are another one of our economically priced models in our guide yet are quite impressive when it comes to the overall specs and quality they can bring your audio experience. These headphones are one of the best semi-open headphones for just about anything — basic listening, mixing, monitoring, mastering, stereo listening — you name it. They offer a natural, spatial and accurate sound for the price paid and although the brand is a bit less known, try not to let that steer you away. They also provide you with diverse sound like clear cymbals, natural trembles, and balanced, deep bass — all important if you are percussion or wind instrument user. The HD668B combines its’ patented rugged construction (to provide long-lasting durability) with its lightweight headband (to supply a long-lasting comfort) for a user-friendly, secure fit during any application.
It also comes with 2 detachable cables: the short one is 1 meter long, best for personal sound source on-the-move applications, and the long cable which is 3 meters long, ideal for professional monitoring applications. As stated in the beginning, these are one of our budget-friendly models if you’re looking for some bang for your buck.
AKG K141 MKII
We now look at another AKG model, this time around, the AKG K141 MKII, which is a little more high-end than the AKG K 240 discussed earlier in our guide. The K141’s are professional semi-open, on-ear headphones which are one of the best semi-open headphones for studio monitoring. They are composed of the previously explained 30mm XXL transducers with “Varimotion” technology which delivers high sensitivity, wide range, and a high quality SPL for the price. They are also featured with leather ear cups and a self-adjusting headband for optimal fit and long-lasting comfort — perfect for studio sessions.
The K141’s are optimized for single-ear use, as they deliver familiar sound and make intotation easy. It also comes with a professional mini XLR connector which can be quickly replaced in case it is damaged. If you need some solid monitoring headphones that sit in the middle price point, then AKG’s K141 MKII might be the best semi-open headphones for you.
Moving forward, we have the Fostex T50RP, which are one of the best semi-open headphones for monitoring. The semi-open feature of these headphones provide the listener with flat and clear sound at an impressive frequency range of 15Hz – 35kHz. The T50RP is packed with a proprietary “Regular Phase” (RP) diaphragm driver that uses copper foil polyimide film and neodymium magnets to refine sharper audio reproduction for more accurate monitoring.
The construction of the housing, ear pads, and head pad are designed to pull out the maximum performance of the “RP” driver, while providing solid comfort simultaneously. The Fostex’s come with a 3m 1/4” detachable cable — optimal for monitoring applications, and 1.2m mini audio jack for portable audio use if you are ever on the go — quite nifty! Fostex’s T50RP will provide you with professional-grade monitoring headphones at a fairly manageable price, as they sit on the middle price point of our guide.
Almost to the end of our guide, we look at another studio model, the Samson SR850. The Samson’s are quite arguably one of the best budget-friendly headphones with a semi-open design that provide quality sound for musicians, sound engineers, and music enthusiasts, in general. The price-friendly SR850’s come equipped with 50mm drivers for pretty good sound reproduction, and a wide dynamic range to provide you with a better listening experience if you are monitoring or mixing. They also come with a self-adjusting headband for a secure, comfortable fit to give you extra mojo for your extended studio sessions.
With quality bass, clear highs and an over-ear design, the SR850 by Samson make for a solid choice if you’re in the market for some studio headphones, but don’t want to crush your wallet. Samson is known for their cheaper musical instruments and audio gear, and they know what they’re doing when it comes to knowing what to sacrifice in order to keep that price-tag down yet still provide a quality solution.
Finally, we have our most high-end model, the Beyerdynamic T1. The T1’s are our priciest model, and should be considered if you are an audiophile that appreciates top quality and pretty luxurious features. Before we explain, just know they aren’t listed last for any reason other than the majority of readers possibly finding these out of their range — if not, grab them! These headphones are packed with 1.0 Tesla technology drivers to provide the listener with the most spacious, transparent and powerful sound — a sound hi-fi enthusiasts can appreciate. They also carry a high impedance of 600 Ohms.
The Beyerdynamic’s come with a studio-quality plug-in cable to provide solid sound transmission. The plug-in can also be removed from the headphones, and replaced with an XLR connector which helps listeners with a headphone amplifier to take advantage of ‘symmetrical transmission.’ The T1 is composed with open ear cups covered with a metallic grille that gives the headphones a clean-looking appeal — these ear cups are combined with soft, velour ear cushions to really take comfort to the next level. Mentioned earlier, the Beyerdynamic T1 is one of the best semi-open headphones for audiophiles who really value a stylish design and robust sound that most in this guide (or the market in general) cannot match.