Open headphones recommendation (plus a bit explanation)

So, I may be buying a new pair of headphones in December/January and want some open/semi-open cans. I already have a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M40x, which are closed and fairly neutral (kinda obvious being studio headphones). They are great and I would buy them again (or the M50x) but I don't always want to be isolated while wearing headphones, thus the search for (semi-)open headphones.

I came across the beyerdynamics DT 770 and noticed that there are not only version with different ohms but also M and Pro (both 80ohm). I didn't really find a clue what the difference between those is and thought maybe some of you guys can tell me.

I'm also open for suggestions regarding other headphones. Here's some info what I'm looking/would be using the for:

  • under 100€ (the lower the better)
  • genre: rock, metal, classic, acoustic guitar and a bit of everything (but mostly the first ones)
  • good for gaming too
  • comfortable
  • if possible with a detachable cable (but not that important)
  • I don't have a DAC/AMP, so using them with the onboard sound at a decent volume would be nice
  • over-ears only, don't like on-ears

I live in Austria, so you can use this site to see what's available in my country ->

Thanks in advance for any explanation/suggestion/recommendation!

I am personally a fan of my akg q701 with modded headstrap and O2 amp/dac combo. pretty light on bass but when I want it I just use software to change the EQ settings and boost bass.

Alright, I am going to explain some stuff, but I am not going to make recommendations (yet) as I am not familiar with the prices there (without doing some research which I might do soon for you).

First of all, I don't care what Audio Technica calls the m40x (or the m50x for that matter). They are NOT reference quality (flat/uncolored/accurate frequency response). They are V shaped, meaning that the bass and treble is more prominent than the mids. You might be very off-put if you get an actual reference quality headphone if you think that the m40x is neutral.

Secondly, if pricing is somewhat similar to what it is here in the U.S., 100€ (~$125) isn't going to get you a great upgrade. What it will get you is a side step to your m40x. Generally the same quality, but a different sound signature (I really like having multiple sets with various sound signatures that compliment each other). You might want to think about saving up more and getting something later on which will be a really noticeable upgrade that way you don't feel like you've wasted your money. I've been there. It isn't pleasant. You should also think about getting a dac/amp. Something like the Fiio e10 or the e7k (if available) would be sufficient for most things and are well reviewed.

Third, the link below goes into a lot of detail about what the differences between the Beyer models are. If you are actually interested, then have a look. The DT880 is generally considered a pretty good reference quality headphone for the price (albeit with overly bright highs).


I also have the Q701, and I honestly think that they would be a bit of a shock to you, considering that you think of the M40x as being neutral. Teh Q701 is generally considered to be bass light (even after the bass increasing mod). That is perfectly fine for those who want that, but for those who don't....... well, it leaves something to be desired. I would look into the HP100 if I were you. Great all-arounder imo. It is pretty close to reference quality, and has no lack of bass while still being fast enough for all but the fastest music (I do love my techdeath, so they aren't quite fast and spacious for me on occasion).

Thanks for the detailed reply!

Seems like I was under a false impression. Unfortunately, the M40x are my first pair of decent headphones, so I don't really have a good reference (despite crappy headsets, and I mean crappy, and stock iPod earphones - not the earpods though). But I had to mess with the EQ to make them sound less flat to me.

@ 2nd: I'm not really looking for an upgrade, just a side-step, similar quality/price but with a different sound signature and open. I don't really want an upgrade until I'm familiar with more than one pair of headphones (getting to know the differences in sound signature, what people mean when they say some headphones sound 'muddy', 'treble cannons', etc.; which doesn't mean I want to experience those extremes and buy headphones that sound like that on purpose just to know what people mean by that).

I was planing on purchasing a dac/amp next year (among other peripherals - like the speakers - that need to be replaced *sigh*). I want it to be something that will last and that I won't be purchasing/upgrading like headphones, so....the ones you mentioned might not do it.

I also don't really want to spend more than 200€ (okay, maybe more if it's really worth the additional money and if it will last me a long time) on a single item (doesn't matter if it's a CPU, headphones or a monitor) because my budget is pretty tight and the time it takes me to save up that amount of money is too long.

And thanks for the link!

logan has some words

Thanks! But I've already watched this video - and several other videos about headphones by him (if not all of them; I like to listen to whole playlists while gaming). I just wanted more opinions or rather a deeper insight of the topic.
I also watched some videos by other YouTubers (Barnacules, JayzTwoCents, Linus).

The California headphones are nowhere near the price in the video (almost 230$ / 180€) and don't get shipped from Germany to Austria (non of their models).

The Superlux HD681 and HD668B are both available where I live and both under $50/40€ but unfortunately the HD681 Evo are not (those are said to be more bass heavy).

As for the rest of the mentioned headphones in the video: Monoprice - not available here. Sennheiser - not a fan of (had 3 headsets and 2 earbuds; all broke after 3-5 weeks (headsets) and ~6 months).

Based on what you are telling me, I would say that you are looking for a detailed, airy set of open cans. Something with a big soundstage and good instrument separation will be a good compliment to the M40x, imo. I still don't know the prices of stuff there, but I am going to list some around that price range which would probably fit the bill.


You've already heard/read plenty about the DT880 and DT990 if you read all the stuff in that link that I posted, so you should have a good idea of how those sound. If any of those sound interesting to you, any of them would likely fit the bill.

Then there is the Q701, which I have and like plenty well. The sound signature is a bit different/less reference when compared to the DT880. What the Q701 does have in spades though is detail, speed, and instrument separation. These are all really important to me because of my love of fast and complex metal, so it might be less important to you than getting your hands on some neutral sounding cans. The soundstage does lend itself to classical/orchestral music very well though, so if you have an interest there, these might be worth some serious consideration.

The SRH1440 is a bit out of your price range, I believe, however they have tons of detail. I am not too familiar with these, but they are worth a look. The whole Shure line is pretty interesting.

Audio Technica has some decent open headphones such as the AD700(x) and the like. Again, I am not too familiar with them, so you should look into some reviews on your own. You might like what you find, you might now.


As far as dacs and amps go, the O2 and ODAC are pretty hyped, I'm sure that you've heard of them in the past. They are a pretty solid option. I personally have the Fiio E17 and find it to be pretty decent overall, though I would like to replace it with something a little better. I personally like Schiit's products, though I don't know how available they are over there with them being an American company and all. You should look around for that. Open back headphones tend to require a decent amp more than closed back. The Q701 and DT880 both have a reputation for needing amping to reach their full potential. Taht said, as I am not familiar with the rest mentioned, they might also require a lot of amping. You can get by with most without an amp though, if you need more time to save up. I see no problem in doing that. The headphones are by far the most important part of an audio line up, so start there.


I urge you to do some reading by yourself of reviews of stuff that is available to you and in your price range. What people say first hand is often the best indicator of how things will sound. I personally like reviews on, but there are plenty of other places to find reviews (I like to avoid professional review sites as they could possibly be enticed to say one thing or another, whereas user reviews on a forum seem to be more honest and straight forward).

This is a great utility for getting a general comparison of some headphones. I generally like to use the Sennheiser hd800 as a reference as I like their sound signature. It isn't the end all be all by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer some nice learning tools.

Yes, the description sounds like what I would like. Although, I'm not really familiar with the terminology when it comes to headphones and lack experience (and it's kind of a vicious circle: can't express what I'm looking for because I don't know what the terminology means, don't know if the terminology fits my description because I don't know what those things sound like).

I'm afraid the best thing would be to gather some information about headphones in my price-range with a description of their characteristics/sound signature and try them out in a store to get a better understanding....that sucks -_-  And I'm absolutely no fan of ordering a pair, testing them and sending them back in case I don't like how they sound either (but it might be a more convenient option than buying them in a store and taking them back if I'm not satisfied with them).

Speaking of it, that's a store that's not "too far away" from me:
I bought my M40x there and tried the fit of the K171 MK II (which were terrible to wear and felt like on-ear).

I might be able to try out my cousin's K701, though.

Regarding amps/dacs, I don't think there's a store here that sells Schiit. I would like to look at some that ahve ports for 2.0 speakers AND 3.5/6.35mm (+volume control). It doesn't need to be portable, something that doesn't move around on my desk would be much more comfortable.

Thanks for the detailed reply!


Edit: correction: my cousin has the K601 and I can borrow them tomorrow :-D

The HD681 Evo are available at thomann.

If you are looking for a more airy and open alternative to your ATH-M40 the DT 990 Pros could be an option.

They are around 130€ in Gemany and the 250 Ohm version sounds OK even with. onboard.

If you want to upgrade your source, I can highly recommend the FiiO E10k DAC/Amp.




I am just going to address everything that you brought up in order for you. So, terminology. I honestly can't believe that I forgot to add this earlier. Keep in mind that the "Describing sound" definitions are pretty fast and lose in general, but it will give you a good idea. Reading plenty of reviews will give you a better understanding overall. I would suggest |joker|'s multi-iem review as a good start. That one is a classic, constantly updated, mega-thread.

As far as trying out headphones go, it really does help you get a better understanding. I found it really helpful while learning about audio to familiarize myself with what the "audiophiles" say about a headphones before listening, and then learning to associate what I heard with the terms and descriptions they used. It doesn't necessarily have to be a full review either. A lot of people don't put up reviews, but respond to threads about whatever topic you might want to learn about which would give you the information you need. I am not being too articulate here, but basically, spend some time looking through threads on head-fi and just try to learn as much as you can. The audio world doesn't move nearly as quickly as the computer hardware world, so any information that you learn now will be applicable in years to come.

If you can get your hands on the K701, I would really suggest giving them a listen. They are very similar overall to the sound of the Q701. Below is a link to a thread about their differences. The comment that I linked seems to be what everyone who has tried both the K701 and the Q701 has said the differences are. You should also check out the reviews that I linked below of them as well.


As far as amps go, it would probably be the best solution for you to get two different units. One for headphones and one for speakers. Here at least, a Lepai amp is about $20 and is perfectly fine for most 2.0/2.1 set ups. That is what most people I've heard about have used. As for what dac/amp to get, I honestly don't know because I don't know what is available there. The O2 might be available and is a good option. I find my E17 to be sufficient for my Q701 (though I do plan to upgrade that when I can). You could look into an E7k and E09k combo if that is available there.

Thanks again for your detailed response! I really appreciate your effort!

Seems like I have a lot of reading to do before I should even start to consider a new pair of headphones. But it kinda baffles me that I haven't found anything like that glossary of terms. Seems like my research skills are pretty rusty.

Little correction: looks like I got the numbers confused in my head because my cousin has the K601, not the K701. But still, they will be nice for a comparison.

Hehe, you're speaking of the Q701 and suddenly Logan and Tyler do a give-away with them xD Would be awesome if I would win them (and the modmic which is only available via the UK for me^^).

I still don't get why people say the M40x aren't flat/neutral. When I first used them without any EQ settings they sounded very flat and "boring" to me. Had to set the EQ to a "U" shape; up the lows and highs to get a better (in my opinion better clarity and differentiation between lows, mids and highs) sound. Now, I can't imagine how headphones that are really neutral sound like, if the M40x sound already flat to me.

And then there are the dac/amps. I really need to read up on them. Baffles me how a $20 amp can do a better job than most soundcards (or at least are considered to do; since I can't confirm it myself and don't have the knowledge I have to rely on what others say). But it baffles me in a positive way.
Would something like those Audioengine D1 configurations (back: speaker ports, front: headphone port) be better than 2 seperta amps? Ordering from somewhere else than Austria/Germany might be a bit of a hassle (customs, shipping costs, etc...), so Mayflower Amps/DACs may not be the best way to go for me (shipping-wise, not quality-wise). Fiio stuff is available here, but I'm kinda more interested in dac/amp combos rather than seperate products.

Today I've got to listen to the K601. Here's my first impression of them (haven't tinkered with the EQ):

  • Less bass than my M40x. They sound ok but I find bass-heavy genres like Rock, Metal, Hip Hop, Rap, Electronic, etc. benefit from the M40x. This is a huge minus for me.
  • Lower E-Guitar notes sound less accurate and a bit flat. Bass guitars on the other hand sound fine but the drums are kinda lacking the deep punch.
  • The onboard sound can drive them surprisingly well (despite them having a higher impedance (120 ohm) than the M40x (35 ohm)).
  • The K601 are much more comfortable (less clamp force, bigger ear cups, velour pads).
  • Only limited use with portable devices (smartphone, iPod,...) because of the higher impedance.
  • No detachable cable and comes with the 6.35mm + 3.5mm adapter, which might be ok for use with a DAC/AMP but not on the PC's I/O (too heavy, stress on the port).

I'm not sure how much different the K601 would sound with a DAC/AMP, so the first two points might not be that big of a deal, if the bass gets a boost with an AMP.

Okay, I just looked up the  comparison of the M50x and the AKG K601 with that "Build a graph" tool and adjusted the EQ a bit. The bass is now a bit better, but still lacks a certain "punch" and is not very "full".

The level of comfort the K601 offer is undeniable very high, but I'm not sure if I would use them on a daily basis, regarding the sound signature. Maybe for gaming, movies and everything non-musical, but not for music.

The k601 sounds different from the k701 which both sound different than the Q701. You can compare the graphs of each if you would like. Personally, I don't like using EQ at all because I want to be able to hear what the headphones actually sound like. Also something which you should consider is that you adjust to the sound signature that you listen to the most often. I would expect that if you spent more time listening and getting used to the sound of the K601, you would likely get used to the way they sound. If you are really used to the bass heavy M40x, then a more accurate sound would sound "off". This would be an interesting read as well. Use the comparison between the k601 and the k701 then use the comparison of k701 vs q701 to see what you think of the Q701 (which is the one that I was recommending).

Sorry for the leate response! Dealing with the flu right now and my ears are a bit sore, testing headphones would result in false impressions :-(

I'll focus on this topic again when I'm feeling better.