How to Choose a Pair of DJ Headphones

Headphones

Choose your DJ headphones wisely for trouble-free sets.

I was only being provocative when I posted Do Digital DJs Even Need Headphones Any More? recently. Of course they do. But your iPod earbuds won’t cut it, a pair of stereophile ‘phones won’t survive in a clubbing environment, and posh noise-isolating headphones are best left for frequent air travellers.

So as DJ headphones have to satisfy a pretty definable set of needs, let’s go through the eight things you need to consider when buying yourself a set of headphones specifically for DJing with.

Technics RP-DH1200

The Technics RP-DH1200 headphones, designed for DJs.

1. Make sure they’re comfortable
This is for me the most important thing. You will have these things on for hours on end. So make sure they feel good on your ears (not too tight, and not too big/small for the shape of your ears), and – when they’re hanging around your neck rather than on your ears – that the band doesn’t chafe or catch. Make sure the lead doesn’t catch or dig in when your move your head.

2. Go for “closed-back”
Closed back headphones are ones with solid rather than open casing around the ear pieces. These ensure that background noise is as isolated as possible from what you hear in the headphones. That’s important when DJing as in order to “cue up” the next track, you need to be able to hear it well, and with open-backed headphones, to do so might involve pushing the volume up to potentially ear-damaging levels.

Sony MDR-700

The Sony MDR-700 are popular DJ headphones.

3. Are they LOUD enough?
Clubs are loud places. A set of headphones that sound OK at home may simply not pump out enough volume for you to be able to hear them properly in a club. Some digital DJ kit doesn’t have the loudest of headphone output volumes either. So ensure that they are loud and clear at high volumes. Some say it’s good if DJ headphones accentuate the high and lows of the frequency range but I don’t really see it – you can beat-match using frequencies throughout the spectrum! Loud and clear is what counts.

4. Cheap headphones will break
They are going to be trodden on, yanked (so make sure the lead is well attached), stuffed in a bag in a hurry at the end of the night, have beer splashed on them, be sweated into for hours on end, have things piled onto them… a DJ’s headphones have a hard life. Buy well-made ones, but still be aware that if you gig regularly, you’ll probably be replacing them regularly.

Vestax KMX-3 single cup DJ headphone

The Vestax KMX-3 single cup DJ headphone has a padded handgrip for an alternative mixing stance

5.What’s your “mixing stance”?
One of the most common ways to use a set of DJ headphones is with one ear on, one off. This is a basic technique for mixing, as the “off” ear is listening to your monitor speaker and the “on” ear monitoring the other channel. Many DJ headphones have the ability to spin one of the earpieces out of the way while wearing them, and if you are considering a pair like this, try this feature out.

Such a feature is not not essential – but work out how you will wear the pair you’re considering when you’re mixing. (My technique involves using my shoulder to “hold” an earpiece onto my ear – not advisable if you want to keep a straight back as you grow older, says my chiropractor…)

6. Make sure they have a 1/4″ jack
That’s the plug. If it’s the size of an iPod plug, it’s an 1/8″ jack, and you’ll need a converter to plug it in to the majority of DJ mixers and controllers.

Sennheiser HD-228 headphones

For non-club gigs I use a pair of Sennheiser HD-228s – they look good, they’re portable, and though not DJ phones, they’re good enough for bars.

7. Are they portable enough?
For a digital DJ, having a pair of ‘phones that fit in your gig bag along with your laptop, controller and other essentials is a consideration. Make sure they fit where you intend to store them as you’re on the move.

8. Looks DO count
Like it or not, DJing is performance and you’re standing in front of people who are looking up at, and maybe even to, you.

Making sure your headphones look the part will make you feel more confident if nothing else.

What headphones do you use? Would you recommend them to other DJs? How long do your ‘phones last before you have to replace them? Let us know…!

Comments

  1. I tear through headphones ridiculously fast, breaking them more often than any of my friends. Then again, my friends aren’t really doing weeklies and dancing like a mad fool on stage and slamming their headphones around in a backpack. If you’re looking for a budget set of headphones that have fairly good isolation and not horrible response, I’d encourage giving the Panasonic HTX7 a whirl- they’re under $30, so you’re not getting the amazing sonic features that other headphones have, but they’ve held up well for me for nearly a year now.

  2. StrangeMatter says:

    I’ve been using a pair of Sennheiser ocx 880 earbuds. I barely notice I’m wearing them sometimes. Fairly pricey but perfect for me. Comes with a cleaning kit too which is useful but I find it’s better to pich that bit of mesh out as it can get clogged with ungodly levels of crap and basically remove all sound out of ‘em. Sound quality throughout the frequency spectrum is great too, far more responsive than any other pair of cans I’ve ever used.
    Word to the wise though, they take a bit of getting used too as too much volume in them WILL fuck your hearing FAST!

    As a side note, one piece of advice I’d give is to have your ‘good’ headphones (whatever you’re using) and a pair of backups. Doesn’t matter if they’re cheap as, as long as you can use them long enough to finish your set if your main pair die (you’d be amazed how many times this has happened to me!)

  3. Phil Morse says:

    Good advice re carrying a spare set of ‘phones. Interesting that you use earbuds – how do you tie that in with having a monitor speaker? Do you just take one of them out of your ear when you use the monitor?

  4. StrangeMatter says:

    No, I got used to playing small places without a monitor so I usually play both channels in my headphones with the master headphone volume turned town a bit, even if a monitor’s available, one of my wierd quirks I guess. I use a DJM 600 at the moment and I mix externally rather than in Traktor so it’s quicker hitting the cue buttons on the mixer than fiddling with the buds over and over. The only other person I can think of that plays like this is Giuseppe Ottaviani with his live setup.
    The extra upside is that I can pretty much ignore everyone unimportant while I’m in the booth and focus on what I’m doing.

  5. Phil Morse says:

    I’ve seen live musicians do this too. I love your method of DJing though, never heard that before. Have you seen this article I wrote? Maybe I ought to add “wear earbuds and ignore the obvious going on around you”!

    http://www.digitaldjtips.com/2010/06/how-to-deal-with-unwanted-people-in-the-dj-booth/

  6. Phil Morse says:

    This was posted by The Doma over on the IDM forum, funniest headphone post I’ve ever read I think!

    “I don’t know a lot about headphones or sound science, but I do know that I like headphones a lot. Mainly because headphones and celestial electronic music are a great way to escape this horrible world we live in. I currently have a pair of Sony MDR-V500s and Sennheiser HD 25 1 II’s. They both serve their purposes, even though the HD25s are much higher quality. I bought the HD25s because they’re great and they’ll last me. Sometimes I wish I bought the Allen & Heath XD-53’s, though. Then I realize that would have been retarded.

    Yeah, they’re all studio and DJ headphones. I don’t DJ but I want to. I bought both the pairs of headphones I have now during a time when I had money. Now I have none, and I wish that I instead had spent them on an Audio 4 DJ soundcard from Native Instruments and an inexpensive MIDI controller so I could actually do things DJ wise. My mistakes have left me with a couple of cheap turntables, a damn good inexpensive mixer, a few useless records and nothing but sweat inside my hands. I dig into my pockets – all my money is spent, so I dig deeper, still coming up with lint.

    Such is the drama of my headphones. Now they keep me sane. I am left to fight for success in a household of social demotivation on all fronts. I have almost no future ahead of me because my only skill is writing creatively and nowhere will you find freedom of mind beside any kind of decent money unless you’re a savant. My headphones help me out a lot. That’s why I love them so much. I don’t need to give a fuck about specs.”

    :D

  7. Boney Collins says:

    Headphones… that part that has as much controversy as analog vs digital.

    I really liked my technics rp-dh1200 they look really good the color of the sound they give i really like it for the clubs, but whenyou put them on your neck are like two big potatoes. Now one thing REALLY important for dj headphones and you have to consider it more if you play long sets its the weight, now i have the pioneer djm2000 and they are really light half the technics, so take that in count. Expensive headphones also tend to break, all my friends djm1000 and mdr700 are broke. If you have the budget i would go for hd25-ii (but i think they are some how ugly) or djm2000 (the fit on the head its just really impressive.

  8. I find it somewhat alarming that a criterion for the headphones mentioned is that they have to be loud enough to outpower the house speakers. If you have headphones that don’t isolate worth a damn towards the outside and then blast them until you overpower the outside noise, your DJ career will be pretty short – I figure it’s pretty hard to enjoy DJ:ing with serious tinnitus and hearing damage.

    • Phil Morse says:

      To Frost: A bit of clarification: Even great isolating headphones aren’t going to completely isolate a house PA. If they are then equipped with insensitive drivers that can’t give you enough volume, and furthermore are fed by quiet equipment (the Vestax VCI-300 has a notoriously quiet headphone output due to being USB powered, I guess), you will be straining to hear them even with the monitor level on full. I guess I really mean “sensitive enough to give sufficient volume to hear the m over the residual noise from outside”.

      Thanks for pulling me up on it though, ear damage is not fun.

  9. Yep, just a huge issue that people tend to not think so much about, I think. The problem is that hearing damage is cumulative and doesn’t repair itself, once you screw your ears up they’re permanently screwed up and can only get worse, never better.

    I wonder if some serious earplug-style phones would make sense for a DJ. They’re not nearly as cool as a big set of honking huge cans around your neck that say “I’m the DJ!” loud and clear to everyone watching, but a pair of Etymotics in-ear phones can isolate 20+db worth. And then of course there’s the earplugs that just lower incoming volume without affecting the sound spectrum, as well.

  10. That’s what always got me about earplugs, the fact that they muffled things. I know you can get pairs that let everything through but just more quietly – I wonder if they’re any good though?

  11. I have the DR.dre beats (over the ear) and i had my 1st in front of a crowd djing experience last night at a Halloween party..i only played maybe 5 or 6 songs(i needed more clean versions) but they worked really well it muffled out the speakers but i could still hear the song playing while I was listening to the next song on my laptop. And they look official.theses where the 1st pair of DJ equipment i bought.and my fav so far.

  12. Phil Morse says:

    Well done on your gig, and glad to hear the Dr Dre’s worked for you.

  13. What is a similar product to the Dr DRE that would be cheaper but still carry a nice noise isolation?
    It is not supposed to be in a club but be able to actively isolate noise in a noisy house :-)

  14. Phil Morse says:
  15. Sony Headband Headphones (MDRZX100W)
    http://www.bestbuy.ca/en-CA/product/sony-sony-headband-headphones-mdrzx100w-white-mdrzx100w/10170533.aspx?path=d24427908f9d0ca1b65dbb917f3b0459en02

    is this good for just house party, practice at home, just as a hobby.

  16. Doug Maye says:

    One set that I can reccomend is the Sennheised HD280’s. Light, fairly comfortable(on the head or around the neck) and good sound for the price. I’ve been through about 10 sets of different headphones doing live sound and they have held up for the longest time. That alone says a lot.

  17. Ryan George says:

    Im 14 i practice djing in the bedroom with a netbook and a dj2go,yes i know not profesional but still,i am using kitsound ksdj headphones,look like the sony ones,and they are used on a saturday when i go with my dad as he dj’s at wedding and parties,they are loud and clear and isolate well,and he is using a 1200w system,they also fold up,i made a headphone bag aswell out of an unused favric flag

  18. i have two pairs of senheiser HD25. the 600 ohm and the 70 ohm. when digital dj’ing with Kontrol S4, i prefer the 70ohm ones. (louder) with analog gear the 600 ohm.

  19. Considering the Sennheiser HD 25-1 II what’s your opinion?

  20. Great topic … Wish I read before I purchased my Dr Dre Pro headphones, they work well for me, The only draw back is they are so expensive, I always think they are a target for theft, should I go to a restroom break! They are built like a tank, and suppose they are somewhat a status symbol, (or maybe pretentious), I saw David Guetta using them in a video, and thought, he seems to got it down… I use a VCI-300MKII, running Serato itch on a 2011 Macbook Pro, …Does anyone think a pair of WIRELESS Dre Beats would work with that setup?!

    Gabriel
    Southern CA

    • Ahhh, yes. That was a marketing ploy done by the guys over at DRE. They got top DJs to wear their headphones when recording videos. I almost bought a pair off the back of that too!

  21. I’ll give a shoutout to the Monoprice 8323 headphones. From what I’ve heard they’re rebranded Klipsch phones that sound pretty good. They’re well-built and have a break-away audio cable so a ruined cord doesn’t kill the headset. Oh, and on Monoprice’s site they’re under $25. Yeah. Only issue is that they’re a bit uncomfortable (a bit tight, band not plush, ear cups are a bit small) but there are plenty of places on the internet that give modding tips and alternate ear pad suggestions that are supposed to greatly improve the experience. Either way, I’ve been using them out-of-the-box for a few months and they’re astounding for the price.

  22. As far as i know, the Monoprice 8323 are rebranded Kicker HP541 headphones.

  23. What about ATH-M50 from audio-technica. Nobody mentioned them and I think that they worth it. They have a very nice mids and highs and a tight bass. Isolation is very good too

  24. Isaiah Furrow says:

    I’m looking into headphones, as that will likely be my next purchase. Looking in the $100 and under range. I’m looking at the Numark Redwave, the Reloop RHP10, the Shure SRH550DJ, and the Pioneer HDJ-500. Leaning to the Pioneer or the Numark Redwave. Am I correct in thinking the lower impedance of these will make them louder on my Mixtrack Pro 2 than ones with a higher ohm rating(24ohms vs 45 ohms)? I’d like the dual cord, but I also like the Numark styling. Please, anyone who has experience with these kinds of headphones, let me know what’s up… Thanks again to all on DDJT… Isaiah
    santacreekfurrows at gmail dot com

  25. I’ve been using a set of Ultrasone DJ1’s for gigs for four years. They have such good noise isolation that if I’m practicing with them on I can’t hear people pounding on the front door of the house. (True story.) They excel in the club. I frequently have to turn the cueing DOWN if I’m following someone with Sennheisers or Sonys because their cueing volume is way too loud!

    Not only that but the detailed sound these give is flawless.

    Three years on and the cord tangles a bit more than it used to, otherwise they are as new. Not cheap, but cheaper than DREs.

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