Semi-open headphones are a compelling alternative to traditional open and closed-back options. But within this niche category, there is a wide gap between the best and the worst.
This guide takes a deeper look at the leading options, and after hours of research and testing, our Editor’s Choice is the AKG K240 MKII. It provides excellent comfort and accurate sound for studio use.
With years of experience behind us, we set out to create a website we wish we had access to at the start of our music journey: A one-stop location with essential guides and reviews on gear important to studio professionals, DJs, and live performers.
Details matter, so we undergo a lengthy research process that leverages a multi-faceted approach to selecting the top candidates. Supporting this is unbiased testing to help trim these choices even further until only the best remain.
AKG K240 MKII
Very neutral response for accurate sound delivery. Self-adjusting headband for high comfort and multiple cable options.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro
Outstanding sound quality with fantastic balance. Super comfortable ear pads and dependable construction.
The emphasis from many manufacturers is on open or closed options. But there are still plenty of high-quality semi-open options available. Below we take a look at the best semi-open headphones you can buy for your studio.
AKG K240 MKII Review
- Neutral Delivery – The K240 MKII stands out thanks to the impressive level of neutrality. From the low-end to the high-end these deliver an accurate representation of the source material.
- Comfortable Fit – The self-adjusting headband along with the ear padding delivers high comfort. These are also very lightweight making them great for long sessions in the studio.
- Good Build Quality – Despite a fairly conservative price, the K240 MKII is well built. Component quality is high from the frame to the drivers and the ear cups.
- Flexible Inclusions – Two included cables give you options to choose your preferred style. So does the spare set of velour ear pads.
- Underwhelming Bass – The small 30mm driver doesn’t do a great job with bass response. If you work with bass-heavy music you may want to look at alternatives.
AKG is a well-established brand in the headphone space. They consistently produce high-quality headphones at a broad set of price points. The K240 MKII is another excellent example of their capabilities.
The star of the show is the neutral sound profile. Spending hours in the studio doing detailed work requires accuracy. In this area, the K240 MKII is among the best. Long sessions in the studio also demand comfort. Another area that these excel in.
The AKG K240 MKII also offers a smooth and restrained appearance. While a little large they don’t draw attention to themselves. A professional-looking pair of headphones. The low impedance rating also makes these a good option for lower-powered devices like smartphones.
With detachable cables and spare pads, these also offer great value for money. These are accurate, flexible, and dependable. One of the best semi-open headphones available and they should be high on your list of options.
Read our full AKG K240 MKII review for more detailed information.
AKG K240 MKII
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro Review
- Superb Sound Quality – The DT 880 Pro delivers sublime sonic performance. Exceptionally transparent and well-balanced. These are professional headphones tailor-made for serious mixing work.
- Durable Construction – Every part of these headphones features high-quality craftsmanship. Excellent materials that will ensure these headphones last you a long time.
- Relaxed Fit – Clamping force is minimal making these relaxed and comfortable. But the relaxed fit does result in not the best stability. Unless you bop your head a lot this shouldn’t be a big issue.
- Plush Earpads – Speaking of comfort the plush ear pads are fantastic. Super comfortable. The ear cups envelop your ears without excess pressure. Great for long sessions in the studio where comfort is paramount.
- A Bit Bright – The top-end of the DT 880 Pro is a little sharp. This can lead to ear fatigue if you listen to a lot of music with a pronounced top-end.
Beyerdynamic is among the most respected brands in the headphone space. And it is not hard to see why when they produce headphones of this quality.
The DT 880 Pro is very suitable for professional use. Exceptional neutrality and natural sound that doesn’t color the source material. The linear frequency response is broad and accurate. An ideal option for mixing and mastering.
The high comfort level also makes these suitable for long sessions. The listening experience is pleasant albeit a little bright at the top-end. In my personal experience, I’m rather sensitive to higher frequencies so this may not be a huge issue for you.
The high impedance can also be a problem. These are best used with a headphone amp. Most consumer electronic devices like smartphones don’t have enough power to get the most out of these.
Superior quality also sets these headphones apart. But with that comes a higher price tag. Despite the higher price, these are easily one of the best semi-open headphones available on the market.
Read our full Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro review for more detailed information.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro
AKG K240 Review
- Balanced Sound – Much like the new MKII version the original K240 offers exceptional sound. Very transparent and balanced across the full frequency range. A perfect budget choice for mixing and mastering.
- Super Affordable – Setting up a studio can be expensive. But these semi-open cans won’t hurt your wallet. Very affordable while still delivering in the audio department.
- Slick Styling – The gold accents coupled with the matte black frame give the K240 a classy vibe. For some, it may be a bit showy. But if you like your headphones to have some character these have that in spades.
- Replaceable Parts – You can replace both the cable and ear pads. Considering how the ear cup’s padding will deteriorate over time it’s a good feature to have.
- Low-End Issues – The K240 suffers the same issues as the K240 MKII in the low-end. Not very punchy and lacking in depth.
The K240 MKII is our top choice but if you are working with a smaller budget these are a great alternative. They feature an identical audio profile that is great for natural sound. Accuracy is very high making these an excellent workhorse set of semi-open cans.
The fit is very comfortable thanks to the self-adjusting headband. Breathability is also high due to the semi-open design.
Speaking of design these offer up plenty of pizzaz. In a world filled with plain black headphones, I’m happy to see some more bright options.
Despite the low price these headphones are decently built and feature replaceable components. Something usually reserved for more expensive options.
These are ideal for a budget-conscious buyer that wants the best sound possible. One of the best semi-open headphones available today.
Read our full AKG K240 review for more detailed information.
Direct Sound DS-73 Review
- Wide Frequency Range – With a top end that reaches to 36kHz and a low end that extends to 10Hz, these offer a broad range and remain relatively neutral throughout.
- Precise Balance Between Open And Closed – Decent enough isolation to eliminate some exterior noise while breathable enough to prevent ear fatigue and heat build-up.
- Eye-Catching Design – In a sea of black, great, and silver, it’s nice to see a company offer a splash of color. Eye-catching and unique without looking cheesy.
- Easy To Drive – The low impedance makes these easy to drive. You won’t need a headphone amp to get the most out of these headphones.
- Exposed Wires – The connecting wires from the cup to the headband are secure but still at risk of catching on things that could lead to early failure.
Direct Sound is best known for its range of high-isolation headphones, but they have expanded into the semi-open market with the DS-73, and the results are impressive.
The build quality is top-notch, with high-quality materials and components. The design is also modern and refreshing while retaining professionalism.
Performance-wise, these also are up to the task with excellent clarity and detail. They especially excel with louder instruments which other semi-open headphones can struggle with.
If you like your headphones to look a little different but still perform well, these are worth exploring.
Direct Sound DS-73
Miktek DH80 Review
- Excellent Clarity – The listening experience is better than you may expect from this price point. Excellent clarity and a natural openness that retains good neutrality. A solid choice for mixing, monitoring, and mastering.
- Unique Design – The checkered high gloss finish attracts the eye. It is not often that you find a pair of studio headphones with this much design flair. Attractive while still retaining excellent performance.
- Auto-Adjusting Headband – The headband delivers in the comfort department. The two-piece design gives the top of your head breathing space. An area that is usually under the most pressure.
- Short Cable – The short 3.3′ (1m) cable is an excellent inclusion. Along with a low impedance rating, these are a good choice for on-the-go listening. No long cables that you have to wrangle.
- Average Build – These are quite solid but there are a few weaker elements. The connection points don’t inspire confidence.
The USA-based Miktek brand has a strong reputation in the microphone market. But their foray into the headphone space is equally impressive. The affordable DH80 delivers an excellent stereo listening experience. But more importantly, clarity and neutrality are present for serious work.
Comfort is also high thanks to the intelligent padded headband. Padding is just right and clamping force isn’t excessive. These flex and adjust to your head shape with ease. The over-ear design is well-executed with a secure fit.
I also like the decision to include a short detachable cable. Most brands opt for two longer cables. This can be a little cumbersome if you want to use your headphones outside of the studio.
If you want a comfortable and accurate set of mixing headphones the DH80 is worth considering.
Samson SR850 Review
- Accurate Sound – These are a very neutral pair of semi-open cans. They do lean a little on the bright side but the response curve is very flat for the majority of the range. A good candidate for mixing and mastering that focuses on cleaning up top-end issues.
- Wide Dynamic Range – The soundstage and range are also impressive. The semi-open design does an excellent job of delivering a broad and generous soundstage for music.
- Low Price – These headphones are very affordable and often listed well below their MSRP. A good value option for both amateurs and professionals.
- Low Breathability – Despite the semi-open design, the breathability is quite low. Heat build-up is present and not as airy as other options on the market.
- Hard Wired Cable – No flexibility to change cables or to replace the cable. Can lead to early failure if you accidentally tug on the cord.
The Samson SR850 is another very popular pair of semi-open cans. The low price is very attractive but it backs it up with great performance. The generous soundstage combines perfectly with the neutral frequency response.
But it isn’t without some issues. The comfort level is quite good but the lower level of breathability can be a problem over longer sessions. Plus the lack of detachable cable does make it lose a few points.
Despite a few drawbacks, the SR850 is still on our recommended list thanks to the impressive audio profile.
When you also factor in the price point it keeps its spot as one of the best semi-open headphones available today.
Read our full Samson SR850 review for more detailed information.
Our Expert Buying Guide
Selecting the best semi-open headphones can be a challenge. These unique offerings straddle a fine line between the two more common types of headphones. Below we take a closer look at the pros and cons of semi-open cans. And answer the age-old question of whether they are worth buying.
What Are Semi Open Headphones?
There are two main types of studio headphones. Closed and open. But an often-overlooked third option is semi-open.
Closed headphones don’t allow the passage of air from the driver through the ear cups. This allows for superior isolation and they won’t leak sound.
They are ideally suited for recording sessions or for DJs. But they do suffer from low-end build-up along with heat build-up. The result is less accurate sound and lower comfort levels.
Semi-open headphones are great for casual listening and serious studio work.
Open headphones allow the passage of air from the ear cups which increases comfort levels and audio quality. The frequency response curve on most open headphones is very flat and neutral. This makes them an ideal option for mastering pros.
Music sounds airy and more natural. This leads to an easier workflow where you can identify issues in your mix easily. But without any isolation, they are not great for recording sessions or in noisy environments.
Semi-open headphones aim to be the best of both worlds. They offer the benefits of open headphones sound profile. But they still retain some isolation and aim to minimize sound leaks.
Benefits of Semi Open Headphones
Semi-open headphones offer better sound compared to closed headphones.
They also allow better breathability so your ear doesn’t get hot and uncomfortable. This passage of air and increased soundstage delivers a more natural audio profile. Plus neutral representation of the music you are listening to is very important when mixing.
Semi-open headphones also offer some level of isolation. Some sounds will escape. Likewise, some external noise will also be audible. But they offer greater isolation compared to fully open headphones.
Drawbacks of Semi Open Headphones
The main drawback of semi-open headphones is that they are a jack of all trades but master of none.
If you need to record vocals or instruments you will want a fully closed option. You don’t want sound leaking into your recordings.
Semi-open headphones are not ideal for recording sessions.
For supreme accuracy for mixing and mastering a fully open pair will provide maximum transparency.
In both these instances, semi-open headphones are not the right choice. But there are several scenarios where you won’t need isolation or maximum transparency. This is where semi-open headphones shine.
Are They Worth It?
A semi open pair of cans can be an excellent addition to your studio. The ability to experience better sound without excessive sound leakage issues is ideal for some studio setups.
They are also a great option for casual listening where you want to retain some isolation. Many professionals swear by semi open options as a perfect middle ground when working.
Depending on what you need your headphones for will depend on whether a semi-open option will be right for you.
Are Semi-Open Headphones Good?
Semi-open headphones strike an excellent balance. You’ll enjoy more natural sound but at the expense of some sound leakage.
Can Other People Hear Semi-Open Headphones?
Other people will be able to hear what you are listening to when using semi-open headphones. But they do offer less sound leakage compared to full open headphones.
Which One Should You Buy?
There are some fantastic options available in the semi-open headphone market. Semi-open headphones are a great choice for many studios. The combination of a better soundstage while retaining some isolation is hard to ignore.
For a well-rounded and reasonably priced option, it is hard not to recommend the AKG K240 MKII. Excellent comfort level backed up by impressively neutral frequency response. A great middle ground between budget choices and high-end expensive cans.
But if you do have the extra to spend the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro is another exceptional option. Premium build and components along with high comfort level and precision sonic performance.
These two are easily the best semi-open headphones available today. But the other options on our list are also worth considering depending on your needs.
AKG K240 MKII