The Pioneer DJ HDJ-S7 is an on-ear headphone that’s more compact compared to the full-size HDJ-X series. The design is slimmer, lighter and feels less obtrusive when you’ve got it hanging around your neck. That comfort comes at a cost though: while the sound is rich and the bass plentiful, it lacks the power of the flagship HDJ-X10 because this has smaller speaker drivers and ear cup pads. The noise isolation also isn’t as good because the cups sit on your ears, as opposed to completely enveloping them. They are an improvement over its predecessor the HDJ-C70, though, and if you prefer smaller cans these should be on your shortlist.
First Impressions / Setting up
Pioneer DJ’s HDJ-S7 is the latest model to join its current generation of headphones (the other models are the HDJ-X5, HDJ-X7 and the flagship HDJ-X10). The HDJ-S7 is different from all of these because of its form factor: it’s an on-ear model that’s got a more compact, lightweight design.
On-ear vs over-the-ear
There are two main types of DJ headphones: over-the-ear, and on-ear. Over-the-ear phones have bigger ear cups that cover your entire ear, creating a seal between the cup and the side of your hear. Generally, these are able to provide more noise isolation because of their design, plus they’re able to house larger speaker drivers inside the ear cups. However, they are bulky, especially if you’ve got them hanging from your neck, plus they tend to be heavier because of the larger cups.
On-ear headphones have ear cups that sit on top of your ear. Because the cups are smaller, they don’t cover your entire ear and, as a result, tend to provide less noise isolation compared to over-the-ear headphone models. They also tend to house smaller speaker drivers, so that means a potentially lower overall output and low-frequency response. However, they make up for it in comfort: since they don’t hog your entire ear, it’s not difficult to wear them for extended periods of time, plus it doesn’t feel like they’re choking you when you’ve got them around your neck.
It’s not the first time Pioneer DJ released an on-ear model: the HDJ-C70 launched back in 2015 was the company’s initial foray into slimmer cans. They were decent, but had a number of design shortcomings in hindsight.
The HDJ-S7 is the spiritual successor to the HDJ-C70, and it deals with most of the HDJ-C70’s bugbears: the ear cups now swivel (the HDJ-C70’s headband was prone to snapping because the cups didn’t have swivel arms), and the headphone cable is now detachable. It also now comes with brand new speaker drivers capable of “High-Res Audio” playback, and a zippered clamshell case for storage and transport.
The biggest plus of the HDJ-S7 is how comfortable they are when you’re using them. While Pioneer DJ’s own HDJ-X10 scores points in the comfort department, they’re still big cans that you’ve got wrapped around your head. Not so with the HDJ-S7: they’re much lighter in comparison to the point that you forget they’re there after a while. Imagine how a bird perches on a tree branch – that’s the closest analogy I can think of in terms of how delicate these feel on my head and ears.
The HDJ-S7 is lightweight and made predominantly of plastic, but it doesn’t feel flimsy at all. Pioneer DJ claims that these headphones have cleared the US Military Standard Shock test, but it remains to be seen if they can handle the wear and tear of weekly gigging. I’m currently in the process of verifying that, having used them for the past two weeks for all my shows. So far, so good.
The ear cups swivel 45 degrees – that means it’s easy to use these in various monitoring styles, including having an ear cup on your shoulder. One of the complaints of the HDJ-C70 is that the cups don’t swivel, and that places a strain on the headband leading it to snap. This happened to owners, including me – I’m not the most careful of DJs when it comes to headphones because I’m quite active when I’m behind the decks, but I was a bit disappointed that Pioneer DJ didn’t take that into consideration. With the HDJ-S7, it appears that Pioneer DJ has done just that.
These cans look slick and professional – they’ve got a muted elegance to them similar to what you’d find when donning a pair of TMA-2s from AIAIAI. They’re basically the antithesis of the “loud”, overly bright headphone aesthetic that dominated the 2000s and 2010s championed by brands like Skullcandy and Beats By Dre. In other words, these are mature, minimalist and professional.
The HDJ-S7 sounds decent: there is lots of bass, the mids are upfront, and the highs aren’t shrill. However, you do begin to hear that these are smaller headphones compared to the rest of the HDJ-X series. They’ve got 40mm speaker drivers in the ear cups and when you compare them to the HDJ-X10 or HDJ-X7 which have 50mm drivers, the differences are clear: You get relatively less bass, plus a relatively lower output. The sound distorted at volume levels that the HDJ-X10 could handle without breaking a sweat. Alas, these are to be expected with smaller speaker drivers: you just can’t fight the laws of physics.
Pioneer DJ says the 40mm speaker drivers on the HDJ-S7 are capable of reproducing sounds from 5hz – 40khz, earning them the “Hi-Res Audio” specification. While the headphones may indeed be capable of extreme ends of the audio spectrum, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the sound is “better” or that you can even hear the extended resolution. “Hi-Res Audio” is used more as a marketing badge than an actual marker of playback quality, so caveat emptor.
I DJed at a venue that had challenging acoustics and a rowdy dancefloor that was right in front of the DJ booth. I’m no stranger to situations like this, and I am able to manage beatmixing by relying on my booth monitors and headphones. I’ve been using the HDJ-X10 and the HDJ-2000Mk2 before that, and they have excellent noise isolation that lets me zero-in on what’s happening in my mix. This time, I found myself cranking up the volume because the HDJ-S7’s on-ear design just didn’t block out as much ambient noise.
If you’ve DJed long enough, you know this isn’t an ideal scenario for two reasons: one, your ears get tired quicker because of the higher volume, and two you’re pushing your cans harder. The latter isn’t a problem if your headphones can handle them, but as mentioned earlier, I found the HDJ-S7 had a tendency to distort at higher levels. Granted, you probably won’t listen to music at home at that level, but when you’re at a gig and you need a bit more juice even for just a few seconds, the HDJ-S7 sounded like it wouldn’t be able to provide that without the sound getting mushy.
If isolation is of paramount importance to you, go for over-the-ear cans like the HDJ-X10.
The Pioneer DJ HDJ-S7 is for DJs who want something different or who prefer a more compact build when it comes to headphones. Those qualities come at a cost: it struggles a bit sound-wise when put in more demanding live performance situations, although it does make up for that in comfort and convenience. It allows for versatile monitoring positions thanks to the swivel cups, which are nice additions, plus we have to admit that it looks cool when we’re wearing them (therefore making us appear cooler than we really are!).
Overall, an improvement over its on-ear predecessor the HDJ-C70 and a decent pair of compact headphones that should be on your shortlist if you’re in the market for a new pair of cans this year.