Picking a set of DJ headphones that will last can be a daunting task, even for the most experienced DJ, simply because there are so many to choose from. First off, the market is saturated with poorly made headphones that look and claim to be the part, but are actually more likely to break after heavy use. Then, there are also well-made headphones and earphones that are suited for casual listening, but not for DJing with. Each different type of can has its plusses and minuses.
In this article, we detail what you should be looking for in an “ideal” set of DJ headphones and what to avoid…
5 Things To Look For
1. Noise isolation
If your headphones lack good noise isolation, you will find yourself cranking up the headphone volume on the mixer to block out the sound coming from the club speakers / booth monitors. This is a surefire way to ruin your ears, as the longer you do this for, the quieter your headphones will seem and therefore, you will continue to overcompensate with even more volume. Make sure any headphones you are looking at are good at blocking out external noise. Save your hearing!
The added bonus of good sound isolation is that if you commute on public transport, you’ll never have to listen to the aggravating “tshh-tshh” from an inconsiderate someone else’s phone / earphones.
2. Sufficient bass and an accurate sound
This is one of the most important factors here, of course. Generally, the best way to find out if a headphone is suitable for DJing is to check out and ask other DJs what they are using. Accurate headphones are key for tight mixing, no one wants a set full of trainwrecks, no matter how well your set was programmed.
You need a pair of headphones that have a punchy enough bass and detail in the high end. Work out what you want and if possible, ask some mates or head down to the local DJ / music shop and ask to try out a couple of different models. It is also worth pointing out that most headphones need to be “burnt in”, so if you have just got a new pair, don’t expect to hear the best from them until they have had a bit of constant use.
3. Solid build quality and comfort
Durability is an important quality when it comes to DJ cans: you don’t want to be mid-set and have your headphones snap in two. Most headphones come with flexible headbands to prevent this, while others are a bit more rigid. This is why it is also advisable to make sure that they are comfortable even during extended use. Anyone that has used poorly designed headphones for more than half an hour will recognise the grim feeling of the headband grinding into your skull.
There are also things like the earpads to consider. Can you swap them out for different ones? Everyone has different sizes of ears and therefore, (you guessed it!) different preferences.
4. A sturdy lead, whether coiled or straight
This again boils down to personal opinion, but most DJs I know plump for a coiled headphone lead over a straight one. The springy coiled lead allows you to move around the booth without risking yanking the cable out of the mixer. A straight lead is ideal for everyday use as it is often much shorter. That being said, it is always great if both types of cable come with the headphones.
It can also be preferable for DJ headphones to have one input jack on one ear as well, this makes it easy to take your headphones off and generally move around the booth freely. Also, you’re better off using a lead that doesn’t have an inline microphone built-in, like the ones you find on a pair of smartphone earbuds, because these are for phones, tablets and laptops instead of DJ mixers and controllers.
5. Swivelling / movable earcups (or a flexible headband)
Do you like to monitor your mixing by flipping one earcup over? If so, whether or not the cans swivel is an important thing to keep in mind. Headphones that swivel are often easier to fold away, so there’s an added bonus in the guise of portability.
It is worth noting that lots of popular DJ headphones don’t have swivelling earcups, but compensate for it by having a flexible band instead, such as the TMA line of headphones from AIAIAI. This is just one of those things where it boils down to personal preference.
Other extras to look out for…
Other considerations to make are whether or not they need batteries to function (some noise-cancelling earphones require batteries). Constantly reminding yourself to bring batteries before each gig is one headache I could do without.
Another thing to consider is if it’s possible to replace broken parts on your own – bits like the headphone pads and headband wear out over time, so manufacturers like V-Moda offer replacements at reasonable prices. There are also third-party companies like Zomo that offer spare parts as well as accessories to “pimp out” your cans.
Basically, you don’t want to be forking out hundreds on a new set of DJ headphones, only for them to break a week outside of their warranty, and the only way to fix them is by sending them back for nearly the same cost as a new pair.
The ideal DJ headphone?
When you put all the aforementioned qualities together, what you get is a solid pair of DJ headphones that you can use both for practising at home and for gigs. As an example, here’s the Pioneer DJ HDJ-2000MK2, which is a pair that we’ve already reviewed.
It has all the characteristics we listed, along with a couple of extras in the box such as replaceable ear pads, a choice between coiled and special tangle-free straight cables, and a zippered clamshell case.
Of course, the great thing about choosing DJ headphones is that it is something very personal and subjective – what one DJ thinks is the holy grail of monitoring could be something lacklustre or over-hyped for another. We’re not saying the Pioneer DJ HDJ-2000MK2 is the perfect pair of cans, rather it’s one of the many DJ headphones we’ve reviewed that tick all the boxes we’ve listed in this article.
It is unlikely that you will ever find all of these “ideals” in one set of DJ headphones as compromises always have to be made when regards form and function. AIAIAI allow you to pick and mix different components to build your perfect headphone in their modular TMA-2 model but many DJs claim Sennheiser HD-25 are better cans. This is all a debate for the ages and depends on your own personal preference.
The best advice here is to test out different headphones wherever you can, borrow your friends’ to get a feel for different styles and work out what suits you best.
Which headphones do you use? How long have they lasted for? What do you think is most important to look for in a set of DJ headphones? Let us know in the comments below…