DJ Headphone Specifications Explained
Headphones are one of the most important pieces of gear a DJ can have. Without being able to hear what you’re creating there’s no way to realistically make it sound great. With better headphones you’ll be able to more accurately hear what you’re actually producing and get a real feel for the beat. However when it comes to specs DJ headphones have a lot of confusing and complex stats. So in this guide I hope to give you a quick understanding of how to read the numbers and determine if a set of headphones is right for you.
dB SPL/mW Sensitivity
I figured I might as well get the most technical sounding spec out of the way first. dB SPL/mW sensitivity is a specification that deals in how much sound pressure the DJ headphones can put out for the power supplied. Basically it tells how loud the speakers are. The higher the number, the louder the music is for the same volume level from your player. Misleadingly simple isn’t it?
Max Input Power
Next up is a pretty self explanatory specification. The max input power value is the maximum amount of power the headphones can handle before you edge into the danger zone. If you get a pair of headphones that are too low in this value you might end up blowing the speaker or ruining the frequency response. As a DJ you’re going to want to get headphones with around 3W Max Input Power. Most pieces of DJ equipment with headphone monitoring are in this range and you want to be able to match it. Otherwise your gear is at stake.
This specification for DJ headphones is all about what sounds the headphone can make. Just like singers have a limit to their vocal range, headphones have limits to the sounds they can make. For the most part this is an unimportant stat. The majority of headphones all cover the same ranges. 18Hz-20kHz is what you’re looking for. Human hearing is 20Hz-20kHz so it makes sense, no point blasting your ears with sounds you can’t hear. The only thing you want to watch out for is headphones that only go up to 18kHz. They cut out some of the really high end. While you don’t specifically use pitches above 18kHz very often you’ll find that lower frequencies create these tones as harmonics. Harmonics make your sound fuller and warmer. You want to know what your sound is doing and you won’t get the whole picture if you get less than 20kHz at the top end.
Frequency Response Charts
I mentioned it briefly earlier and now it’s time to explain it. Frequency response is like a headphone’s preference in sound. If it has a high bass response it will put more power into the bass. So the low end sounds louder than the high end. If it has a lower frequency response in a range it will not express those pitches. This is where it gets real sciency. Heavy deep explanations aside, when you look at the frequency response chart, the higher the line is at a certain frequency the louder that frequency will be, the lower that line, the quieter.
Our ears themselves don’t hear all frequencies equally either. Human ears have a frequency response as well. We tend to hear bass and high pitches louder than they are. For a comfortable sounding set of DJ headphones you’re going to want ones that have charts that drop off under 100Hz and over 10kHz, In the middle you want a nice even line so all those frequencies get represented equally, with a slight boost around 7-8kHz.
Finally we get to the last major specification for DJ headphones. This spec is a physics value that determines how easy it is to drive the headphones. A device needs less power to drive headphones with lower impedance values. Phones and tablets work best with low impedance headsets (20-40 ohms). DJ controllers, audio interfaces and other monitoring amps work better with higher impedance headphones (50-80 ohms). The important thing to note is the lower the impedance, the lower the max power input. Additionally equipment can’t run speakers that have too high impedance. So if you go for high impedance spec headphones you definitely want to take some time to see what your gear outputs. So see what kind of output levels your equipment can handle once you go north of 175 ohm headphones.