The best DJ headphones aren’t the same as the best studio headphones. We’ll discover what sets them apart and how to pick the right set for you!
Why Having a Quality Pair of Headphones for DJing Is a Must
Nearly everything we do as music producers, engineers, performers, and DJs is contingent on appropriate monitoring for the given task. While engineers and producers want to listen critically for mixing and mastering, DJs and anyone on stage needs to be able to hear themselves over the roar of the crowd and the music.
- SEE ALSO: The Best Headphones for Music Production
With that said, power and isolation is going to be the number one factor that sets DJ headphones apart from studio headphones. There’s no chance a DJ who can’t hear their set is going to be able to cue, mix, and blend seamlessly. That’s why having a powerful (i.e., loud) and isolating (i.e., closed back) pair of headphones is paramount for the job. Sure, you can still take an ear out to feel the room, but you need at least one ear listening to precisely what’s going on before it hits the PA.
What to Look for in a Pair of DJ Headphones
So what are the differences between headphones for DJing and those for the studio or casual listening? Let’s check it out!
1. Closed Back vs Open Back Headphones: Which Is Better For DJing?
Closed back headphones have sealed ear cups. They provide isolation from the external environment with some detriment to the overall sound quality. The reason is that frequencies tend to build up inside the cups and skew the precision of frequency response and the stereo image. As a plus, in the studio, closed headphones prevent bleed into the microphone while a musician is recording. And as a DJ on stage, closed headphones help block out the noise of the room and what’s coming from the speakers.
Open headphones do not have sealed cups. They offer better sound quality overall, and are more accurate for critical listening, but don’t have the same isolation as closed cans. For DJing, closed headphones are absolutely the way to go. It’s funny that one of the biggest complaints about closed headphones is how low-end builds up unnaturally — that might actually be a good thing for DJs to feel the punch of the songs they’re playing!
2. Comfort & Durability
Anything you’re going to wear for an extended period of time should be comfortable. And anything you’re going to toss in a backpack and take from gig to gig should be durable. These are two key factors everyone should consider when shopping for the best DJ headphones. Try them on yourself if you can, and assess the build quality and material.
Bigger drivers means better low-end and, in many cases, more volume. That’s important as a DJ who, 1) needs to hear the thump of their songs to keep the dance floor moving, and 2) needs headphones loud enough to compete with all the external noise. It isn’t the only important, or even most important, factor to keep in mind, but it may influence your decision-making one way or the other.
4. Frequency Range & Impedance
Frequency range isn’t as important in DJ headphones as it is for mixing/mastering headphones. Still, you want a pair that has adequate bass and enough highs to easily pick out snare drums and hi-hats in order to tempo match and keep the groove going. The good thing is that nearly all headphones have a full-spectrum frequency response for DJing.
Finally, we have impedance. Low impedance headphones are easy to drive to their maximum volume. You can use them with mobile devices and laptops with no issue. High impedance headphones need more power to drive to their highest level in the form of some sort of headphone amp. Most DJ equipment with a headphone output should have enough power to juice up most headphones. When in doubt, go with lower impedance to be sure.
What Are the Best DJ Headphones? Here Are Our Top Picks!
1. Sennheiser HD 25 – Best Overall
Senneheiser HD 25 headphones take into account a lot of the variables we didn’t even mention above. For one, they tolerate high SPLs very well, so you can drive them hard without worrying about distortion or break-up. They also offer excellent isolation from the environment, a wide frequency response, and a universally compatible 70-ohm impedance. One of the coolest features for DJs is the flip-away ear cup, so you can quickly “take an ear out.”
2. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x – Most Versatile
If you want a pair of headphones that’s perfect for DJing, music production, recording, and even critical listening, here it is. There’s a reason these Audio-Technicas are one of the most popular headphones around, and it comes down to a combination of versatility, sound quality, durability, and price. They have 45mm drivers for a wide frequency response, 90° swivel ears, and flat, accurate sonics for hitting the stage or mixing in the studio.
3. Korg NC-Q1
The Korg NC-Q1s have quite a leg up over traditional, “old school” cans. These are smart DJ headphones that use active noise cancellation to attenuate incoming sound for not only isolated monitoring, but also hearing protection in loud environments. It does so with no distortion, so you can listen accurately without disturbance. They’re wireless Bluetooth cans, so you’ll need to be sure they integrate with your DJ gear, but these are truly cutting-edge.
4. Pioneer DJ HDJ Cue1 – Best Budget DJ Headphones
Who says the best DJ headphones have to be expensive? Pioneer, one of the biggest names in DJing, said “absolutely not.” These budget-friendly headphones are ideal for the stage. They actually have impressive drivers boasting a massive frequency response of 5 to 30,000 hertz (beyond the range of human hearing, to be fair). These headphones also sport the handy 90° swivel to feel out the room as needed. They’re lightweight for long sets, and conveniently fold up for travel. These tick all the boxes.
5. V-Moda Crossfade 3 Wireless – Best High-End DJ Headphones
The V-Moda Crossfades are a stylish and high-tech pair of headphones that don’t compromise sound quality in favor of a bunch of flashy features. They have massive 50mm drivers pushing out 5 to 40,000 hertz and a low 32-ohm impedance capable of reaching max volume with any device. Best of all, you can run them wirelessly or wired, so they’re equally usable for DJing or just casual listening around the house or on-the-go.
Conclusion: Finding the Right DJ Headphones for You
There are a ton of headphones out there — it can be a little overwhelming. The good news is that the best DJ headphones generally tend to be some of the best headphones in general and have a lot of crossover in the studio or at home. This list should give you a solid starting point with great choices and a list of features to keep in mind while shopping.