Definitive List of the Best Semi Open Headphones in 2020

Last Updated on October 30, 2020 by Ryan Harrell

Intimate sound and wide open sound stage come together in this list of the best semi open headphones

Our Top Picks

Best performance: Beyerdynamic DT880
“Pristine audio and incredible clarity make the DT880 an ever-popular classic”

Best value for money: AKG K240
“A design so good that it has barely changed in several decades. Great sound. Even better value.”

Most portable: Shure SRH144
“Affordable and lightweight. These are the best portable semi open headphones you can find”

Best entry-level: Superlux HD-672
“Ultra affordable but with great audio quality for the price. A great entry-level pick”

Best for audiophiles: beyerdynamic T1 2nd Gen
“Expensive, but one of the best sounding headphones money can buy”

Choosing headphones always comes with a dilemma: do you choose closed back or open back headphones?

Closed back headphones are, as you can imagine, closed from the back. This makes them more intimate with a tighter sound stage. The music feels very close to your ears. But on the flip side, these headphones are also uncomfortable. Plus, the tight sound stage means that you don’t get a sense of “space”.

In contrast, open back headphones are, well, open from the back. This helps the headphones “breathe” and creates a much wider sound stage. With open back headphones, it’s almost like you’re wearing speakers on your head. You get a much better sense of space and presence.

On the down side, open back headphones offer zero privacy. Everyone within earshot will hear everything you’re listening to. Plus, the wide sound stage also means that you miss some of the complex instrumentation in tracks.

Semi-open headphones seek to bridge the closed/open back divide. As the name implies, these headphones have a semi-closed back. While some sound leaks out, it’s far less than open back headphones. At the same time, the semi-closed back gives you a greater sense of intimacy.

If you can’t decide between closed or open back headphones, or want to buy just one pair of headphones, semi open headphones are a great alternative.

Below, I’ll look at some of the best semi open headphones on the market and share my recommendations for different budgets and needs.

We use rigorous research, reviews, and real-world performance when recommending products. Our reviewers include producers, performers, and active musicians. You can read more about our review process here. Be advised that MIDINation might earn referral commissions on purchases made through this website. This does not affect your final purchase price.
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The Best Semi Open Headphones

Here’s a closer look at my favorite semi-open back headphones currently:

beyerdynamic DT880

Dig through any “best of” list and you’ll invariably find beyerdynamic’s three ever-popular trio – DT770, DT880, and DT990 – somewhere near the top. The DT880 is the company’s semi-open offering and features the trademark “thickness” of sound beyerdynamic is famous for. The audio quality is pristine, the fidelity is incredible, and the price is reasonable for an entry-level audiophile. One of the best semi open headphones around.

When you think of professional headphones, the name Beyerdnamic keeps coming up. With models such as the original DT 770 PRO or the somewhat newer DT 880, the German company has already won over the hearts and ears of numerous sound engineers.

With the DT 880, Beyerdynamic offers headphones that, despite their high performance, are still in the middle class in terms of price. They are dynamic studio headphones in a semi-open design. So that means a mixture of an open and a closed concept. In detail, an attempt is made to find an optimal mix of the transparent sound of open headphones and the pressure in the low-frequency range of closed variants.

As is so often the case in this class, the ears are completely enclosed by the auricles. So they don’t rest on them. The DT 880 weighs 290 grams. It cannot be folded up due to its very rigid construction. Beyerdynamic is very consistent here, albeit a bit old-fashioned. After all, you never get into the embarrassment of having to “knot” the headphones apart.

As with the other Beyerdynamic models, the frame construction of the DT880 is made of spring steel. It is not only robust but also ensures sufficient stability. The bracket can, of course, be adjusted in size so that it can be individually adapted to the circumference of the head.

On the upper edge of the bracket is the typical button-off padding, a leather strap filled with foam. This also serves as a cable guide between the two ear cups.

They are available in three versions, 32, 250, and 600 ohms. With a specified nominal impedance of 250 ohms, the DT880 has a core sound pressure level of 96 dB. You only need a little more steam for the same volume compared to the DT-770.

As with the other BeyerDynamic models, the nominal load capacity of the DT 880 is 100 mW, which is completely sufficient.

What I don’t like

The headphones are not balanced in sound reproduction. There’s a little difference in impedance between each phone. Taking the 600-ohm headphones up, while one of the phones measure 520 ohms, the second measures 550 ohms. It also has a design that leaks sound.

Recommended for: If you have the budget for it, the beyerdynamic DT880 is the best all-around pair of semi open headphones you can buy. Sure, there are better sounding headphones (like beyerdynamic’s own T1), but for the sheer mix of performance and price, I can’t recommend the DT880 enough.

Best Value Semi Open Headphones: AKG K240

The K240 models have quite a long history. The classic is considered an all-rounder in the musical or auditory studio environment. It was mostly used for monitoring in the recording room and is still used for this purpose.

The classic headphones not only have a charming retro look but also feature high-quality workmanship. The K240 is largely built with plastic and, with its color combination of black and gold, appears robust and stable.

However, if minor damage occurs, it can be eliminated in no time. The replacement is uncomplicated due to the screw connection of the bracket mechanism and the easy-to-change ear pads.

Working in the studio requires neutral and defensive headphones that do not distort the sound and carry the objective sound directly into the ear canal. The AKG K240 was designed precisely for this occasion. Thanks to the 55 ohms of the K240, the headphones are also suitable for listening to music via smartphones or other playback devices. The sound is more than solid and puts a lot of pressure on the ears.

The lower bass as well as the upper treble are somewhat milder during playback but remain within limits. The middle frequency range is reproduced naturally, so voices can be differentiated from one another very well.

The bottom line is that the AKG K240 headphones keep their promises.

Individual sound sources can be easily located thanks to the semi-open processing of the headphones. The reproduction is extremely airy and transparent.

The objective and moderate sound reproduction is practically the showpiece of the headphones. So, mixing and mastering work perfectly.

Even if the K240 can call up its full potential in the studio, other listening enjoyment is also possible without any problems. The headphones even cut a fine figure on the street.

In addition to the sound, it impresses with a rudimentary design that harmonizes with robust workmanship.

What I don’t like

The headphones are made without breathable materials and with body-hugging materials. This can be a bit sweaty with prolonged use. Carrying the AKG K240 could be a bit uncomfortable, especially at higher temperatures in the summer months or in studios with stuffy air.

Recommended for: The K240 headphones from AKG were mainly produced for professional use such as mixing, mastering, and playback. Yet, their price tag remains within the reach of the casual listener. If you want studio-grade performance at a budget price, these are the best semi open headphones for you.

Most Affordable/Portable: Shure SRH144

Designed by a brand with one of the greatest legacies in music history, the SRH144 semi-open portable headphones offer an extended audio range and improved high-frequency response.

The Shure SRH144 is a pair of supra-aural semi-open Hi-Fi audio headphones. It’s suitable for natural sound and great listening comfort. Intended for domestic and nomadic use thanks to its featherweight, it also has a lined hoop and a foldable structure.

Comfortable and lightweight, the SRH-144 headphones is the semi-open version of the SRH-145 headphones. It is particularly suitable for mobile use with a walkman or smartphone. This pretty headset also benefits from a careful design and all the know-how of the American brand in the field of headphones.

The headphones offer an extended audio range and an improved response in high frequencies. Its adjustable design is for natural sound reproduction and a custom fit.
The semi-open ear cups allow for natural sound reproduction. It has an ultralight, foldable design for easy storage and uses on the go. The adjustable ear cups as well as the padded headband, ensure a secure and ergonomic fit. There is a two-year warranty which covers free replacement or repair.

In the range of affordable portable hearing aids, it is common to see fragile materials and boring designs. But Shure is committed to breaking the mold. This has a very interesting design that adorns an effective ergonomic system of rails directly on the cushioned headphones and joints on the headband. Portable hearing aids should be lightweight, so plastic is indispensable. But Shure made sure to place metal in places that are more exposed to stress, such as the hinges and the screws on the cover.

As I mentioned above, these headphones are very light, designed to be worn on the road, and for long periods. But they are strong when pressing the ear, as they make an effort to isolate outside noise (very effectively considering they are on-ear) and avoid falling. The earphone and band cushions are soft and welcome. But still, it is difficult to tolerate pressure for more than a couple of hours.

What I don’t like

I must start by mentioning that Shure lies in the ad and packaging. It is not true that they have a full audio range (30Hz-20KHz). I dare say that their true performance is between 60Hz-8KHz, which is the space where they really deliver a clear and precise sound. Also, their ends are very weak.

Recommended for: The headphones are suitable for those who want natural sound and great listening comfort. I recommend it for travelers and anyone who wants a pair of lightweight, affordable headphones.

Best Entry-Level Headphones: Superlux HD-672

The HD672 is a wired over-ears headphone system from Superlux. It has a semi-open design and a sound level that would be expected in significantly higher price regions. This makes it an extremely attractive entry-level product for the Hi-Fi world.

In terms of size, the over-ears are not necessarily subtle, but rather have a stately appearance. At the same time, the hi-fi headphones with a weight of 270g are not a heavyweight which is noticeable when worn. The suspension of the headphone shells, which is rigid in itself, ensures sufficient adaptability, especially on the horizontal plane, thanks to a very flexible bracket construction. It has a simple but well-thought-out construction that creates a tight fit with noticeable contact pressure. However, it offers a good grip on the go.

The padding of the headphone shells is made of rubber and is reminiscent of car tires due to the surface texture. However, it is visually striking. It has an extremely puristic approach, as there is only air underneath the “rubber tires”.

The rubber padding tends to accumulate heat despite the semi-open design. However, the criticism can be put to bed when the price segment is taken into account.

Also, the processing quality of the HD672 is extremely good, and there is nothing else to complain about. On the contrary, the permanently installed, longer than average cable of the hi-fi headphones also makes a robust, quality impression. It does not cause any cable noise and has a gold-plated mini-jack plug. The supplied jack adapter is also gold-plated.

The bass is always powerful without being dominant, while the mids are present, powerful, and rich in detail. There is no drop in the upper frequencies so that the highs also have presence and give the sound a lot of openness.

The HD672 has a high output and can also be used in noisy environments such as public transport. However, the hi-fi headphones are not only loud but also impress with their clear, balanced sound. The round, harmonic tuning has a direct response and has a good stereo image without offering a huge stage.

What impressed me most, however, was the spatial representation of the over-ears, which I would not have thought possible in this price range. Here the advantages of the half-open design are used and optimally brought to bear.

What I don’t like

The sound has dull properties and appears slightly washed. However, it is difficult for me to seriously criticize this due to the overall sound quality offered. The cord cannot be removed.

Recommended for: Due to their relatively low weight and a firm hold, the over-ears are suitable as a mobile alternative to heavy or expensive systems that are more designed for home use. If you are prepared to accept restrictions in terms of wearing comfort, these are the best semi open headphones for entry-level users.

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Best for Music Production: Samson SR850

The Samson SR850 is a pair of half-open headphones for the studio and living room. When you unpack the SR850, you experience your first surprise: instead of black headphones, as the packaging suggests, the outer parts of the ear cups shimmer slightly into olive green. This optical stumbling block is not a real drawback, because the headphones still look very high quality and stable.

You experience a second surprise when you connect the headphones for the first time. Because worlds open up for the price. The frequency response sounds quite linear and only a bit reduced in the middle. The bass is defined without being overdrawn. The gradation of depths can be heard, as well as the lofty heights, which only sometimes appear slightly pointed, for example when listening to an opera. Only the impulse behavior could be a little more defined.

Even if the Samson headphones are advertised as studio-type headphones, they look great on the couch at home. The sound is balanced and feels equally comfortable in all styles of music. This may also be due to the relatively linear frequency response, which does not explicitly favor or exclude any musical genre. Since the headphones are half-open, they are only suitable for use in public transport to a very limited extent. The lack of foldability and the lack of a camouflage sports bag also suggest stationary operation.

In addition to hi-fi use, they also do well as studio headphones. The padding is pleasantly soft and encloses the ears. However, a changeable cable would be a very useful addition to the headphone.

Still, the SR850 sounds like much more expensive headphones.

What I don’t like

It lacks foldability and a detachable cable. The latter is a particularly big miss since the cable is usually the first thing that breaks in studio headphones.

Recommended for: The SR850 is ideal if you make music and want the best semi open headphones for reference purposes. The frequency response is flat and unlike closed back headphones, the semi open design gives you a better, monitor-like idea of the music.

Best for Audiophiles: beyerdynamic T1 2nd Gen

The Beyerdynamic T 1 (2nd generation) are semi-open headphones with dynamic drivers and circumaural auricles. The weight of the T1 is a moderate 356 g without cable, and there is no folding mechanism for transport purposes.

The metal-dominated mix of materials in the headphones are manufactured and perfectly crafted in Heilbronn. They look extremely classy, serious, and stable. The finely crafted, fabric-like metal cover of the ear cups, which makes the T 1 unmistakable, is striking. The cable, which runs on both sides, is covered with fabric over its entire length. It is therefore optimally protected from damage.

The Beyerdynamic headphones have cable routing on both sides. The cable ends are provided with a 3.5mm jack connection and can therefore be easily exchanged. The cable length is 3 m and ends in a gold-plated 3.5 mm jack plug. A screw adapter to 6.35 mm is included in the scope of delivery. Alternative cable lengths and an audiophile connection cable for operation with balanced headphone amplifiers are optionally available.

The T 1 is delivered with a practical transport box. In contrast to the bulky suitcase of the previous model, it is much easier to store in luggage or a backpack.

Like its predecessor, the T1 (2nd generation) is a representative of BeyerDynamic’ proven Tesla technology. This is characterized by a strong magnetic field and high converter efficiency. Somewhat against the general trend is the high impedance of the Beyerdynamic headphones with 600 ohms. The manufacturer hereby deliberately limits the area of application of the T1 to operation on “reputable” headphone amplifiers.

As with most currently available headphones, the transmission range with the specified 5 to 50,000 even exceeds the human hearing range quite significantly.

What I don’t like

I know BeyerDynamic are a reference in the audio technology industry and their products come at a premium. However, the T1 2nd generation could be a bit cheaper. Also, there is limited usability on mobile playback devices.

Recommended for: The T1 is priced beyond the reach of most casual listeners. Audiophiles will appreciate it, especially if you have the hardware to back it up (a good amp is a must). For sheer sound quality, however, these are easily the best semi open headphones on the market.

Over to You

Semi open headphones aren’t nearly as popular as their closed and open back counterparts. But if you try one of the models listed above, you’ll find that they’re a great and comfortable alternative to bulky closed/open headphones.

Use this list to zero-in on the best semi open headphones for your needs.

For more suggestions and recommendations, email us using this contact form.

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References:

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  • October 30, 2020: Article first published

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