This article is meant to be a full buying guide on which headphones are the best for live DJing. Not only will it review and compare some top contenders on the market, but there’s also an informative guide that will outline everything you need to know. With this information you can make an informed decision to get the best headphones for your specific needs. Whether you’re just an at home hobbyist or you’re looking for professional headphones to improve your next gig.
Finding a top pair of headphones as a DJ is like finding the right pair of shoes. They need to be comfortable, have high quality sound, have the correct connections for your set-up, and have the proper cable length. When you have the right pair it changes everything.
Even if you had the best dj speaker setup in the world pointing at your crowd, the most important pair of speakers in the gig are on your head.
On a Budget – Sony MDR-7506
DJ Headphone Product Reviews
Sennheiser HD25 – Overall best headphones for DJing
Ah yes, the Sennheiser HD25 headphones. A long standing king in the industry. I’ve chosen this pair of headphones as the best for multiple reasons. Price, quality, reliability, adaptability, customizing, maturity and reputation. Its an amazingly well rounded pair of headphones, perfect for general use.
They are a pair of over ear headphones, which usually means that their comfort and useability long term suffers. But this pair combats through being lightweight and having a splittable headband. You can use this to spread the pressure and it really helps. You get multiple pads with them to change things up. Unless you are doing a very long set over 2 hours you’ll probably be fine.
The sound quality is superb. Everything is well covered and pristine, whether it’s the mids, highs or lows. Again for an over-ear headphone these are just amazing. Whether you’re mixing or beat making these will go far. All in all they have great sound isolation.
They also work very well if you’re using a DAC or just plugging in a laptop/phone. They are a very adaptable pair and one of the reasons I marked them as my top pick in this article is because they can be used in every context.
The only issues I’ve had with them relate to portability. The product is very sturdy but doesn’t fold up. If you’re running short on space and very mobile, this might cause issues.
The Sennheiser HD25 are my all around best pick, you can’t go wrong with them. There’s a reason these beasts have been around since the 80s.
V-MODA Crossfade M-100 Master – The Most Comfortable
Comfort and customization is the name of the game with this pair of headphones. The Crossfade M100 Master is my favorite pair in this list due to the sheer adaptability of the design. Do you need to mix multiple sources? There’s a cable for that. Want to use this set for gaming and need a mic, there’s an excellent mic mod for that.
With thick ear pads and a design that spreads to prevent causing pressure points, the comfort of this pair of headphones can not be overstated. You can easily wear these for a 4 hour set or mixing session.
The customization of the color of your headphones allows for a bit of self expression, allowing you to build a style for a show as well. This isn’t something thought about often. But giving yourself a look is definitely a plus for these headphones.
For live shows and transportation. These headphones are extremely durable and can bend and contort without any risk. They are also extremely portable with proprietary mechanisms that allow for ease of storage. When folded they stay folded unless you purposely open them up. The product comes with it’s own carrying case as well that will allow for storage of cables. Speaking of cables, they are aramid weave (the fabric used in bullet proof vests) meaning it’s extremely hard to fray or damage the cables without actively trying to.
There are some niche benefits as well. You can daisy-chain headphones for shared mixing, and they have an upgrade program where you can send in your old headphones and buy a newer model for 20% off.
Audio Technica ATH-M50x Professional – The Gig Go To
Don’t let the bandwagon hype fool you, these headphones are definitely worth the respect. They gained notoriety online as a favorite of influencers. These headphones are inexpensive and have a lot of features that make them outstanding for live gigs. Portable, durable, great sound and a little flashy are the best words to describe the Audio Technica ATH-M50x Professionals.
These headphones are lightweight, using plastics over metal for the frame, but it does seem to be durable enough. They can fold up into a portable profile allowing for ease of transport. They’re quite comfortable for long use.
Finally they come with a lot of stuff in the bag, specifically different types of cables with a cable locking mechanism meaning no unnecessary disconnects are going to be happening. The cables that come with the headphones let you chose between a coiled or straight cable depending on your needs in the moment.
All in all a great entry into headphones you can use in DJ gigs. They don’t require an amplifier, their sound is overall consistent as they were built to be monitor headphones, they’re portable and lightweight, and versatile and they’re great value.
An Audio Engineer’s Headphone Buying Guide
Picking the right pair of headphones is underrated. On the surface it looks like you can just pick up any pair and move on. But after working in recording studios, radio stations and live show settings a new picture quickly emerges. The wrong gear choice can have massive negative consequences to your music sessions. This guide will go through all the things that can go wrong, and how to prevent them by picking the perfect pair through being informed.
What’s the situation
The best isn’t always the best. Depending on your situation you may need a different pair of headphones. So you need to take into account all the scenarios you plan to use the headphones in. Is it just a pair for your static in home studio? Are you playing 5 gigs a month and constantly tossing these into a waterproof hard case? Do you bring your own set-up or are you connecting to in-house gear? Are you going to be wearing them for a couple minutes or a couple hours?
Thinking about all your requirements is the first step in making a great choice. I’ll be outlining the main considerations you should be making and how paying attention (or not) has impacted artists I’ve worked with in the past. This guide will go through the most important factors when deciding on a pair to explanations of the more technical specifications.
Comfort and Fit
I’ve worked with many audio professionals over the years and comfort makes or breaks the headphones. You’re at your most creative when you’re comfortable. If you’re constantly having to readjust a loose pair of headphones, or you have to take breaks because they begin to hurt, your headphones are holding you back. So here’s a quick rundown of things to pay attention to.
Different pairs clamp harder than other pairs. The clamping force is difficult to assess, unless you have a demo pair available you won’t be able to tell from pictures on the box or online. Online reviews are the best way to see what people think of them. Get the general consensus and compare yourself to the average. If you do have access to trying them on, you want to look for a comfortable even pressure. You should barely notice it when you first put it on, because as time goes on fatigue will worsen. A long recording session will magnify everything.
The cups of the headphone should extend past your ears, if they’re too small they will push your ears against your head. This will cause discomfort very quickly. When the headphone cushions fully cover your ears it creates a seal that will improve sound quality as well. Ensure the cup size is big enough for you.
Cushion shape and depth is another aspect. Circular is the best, and causes the least problems. Try to pay attention to how deep the cushions are as well, if they’re too shallow they may cause rubbing. The larger the cushion the more comfortable they are is a general rule.
For the most part you will run into two types of connectors when talking about headphones when it comes to DJing. The 3.55mm jack which is the size you plug into phones and laptops. And the 1/4″ jacks which is for higher end audio equipment. Understanding which jack you’ll need will be important for picking the perfect pair.
You can get adaptors to ensure that your headphones work with the equipment you’re using. This is completely fine, but it does have a very small drawback of extra cost. Also each time you add a new piece of equipment to the system you reduce sound quality very slightly. Depending on the headphones, you may need to buy a 3rd party adaptor.
Cable Length, material and Style
Regardless of what you’re doing, you don’t want to feel restricted. If your headphone’s cable is too short you’re going to feel like you’re on a leash. This is a question of mobility and how far away from your controller or audio interface you want to be.
If you’re playing a live gig I would aim for a minimum of 2m (6ft) but would definitely suggest 3m (10ft). Any longer and you risk excess cables getting tangled up. Nothing is worse than snagging an oversized cable and pulling your controller off the table. Longer cables also degrade sound signals. Anything too long will lose volume and fidelity.
If you’re just working in a mixing studio or desk setting 1-2m (3-6ft) is perfect. You get the clearest sound while being able to lean back from your work. Anything longer than 2m(6ft) will start to get tangled at the floor, and caught in your chair.
Some headphones actually have different cables that allow you to swap between short and long cables. These are most useful if you’re a hobbyist and swapping between live gigs and home sessions. Or want a sick pair of headphones to listen to your music. But I wouldn’t suggest a professional use these types as the more connections, the more the signal degrades. Plus nothing stops a show like accidentally yanking the cord out of the headphone and having to search the ground and reconnect it.
Now for the style of cord. There’s two types of styles, coiled or straight. Straight is pretty straight-forward. So I’ll talk about the pros and cons of a coiled cord.
A coiled cord length is it’s resting length. This means that it will allow for you to go beyond that length while only really having to deal with the resting length regularly. So a 10ft cord could stretch to 18ft if needed. It behaves like a spring and will want to return to it’s resting length. This is both useful and problematic.
It’s good because if you need 18ft of length for whatever reason you have it. But you only have to deal with 10ft of resting cable. Meaning less tangles and mess. Coiled tend to not get tangled during a live show, but can be a mess when coming out of a travel case.
It’s problematic because there’s a tension on the line, the further you stretch it, the more it will pull on the thing at the end of the line. You or the gear. It will drag equipment of the table if you stretch too much, even if you could have gone further. From a physics perspective it’s also a longer cable with high capacitance. Meaning signal will degrade more and treble will decrease compared to a straight cable of equal length. Depending on your style this may or may not be an issue.
I would aim for a 2m(6ft) coiled if you are interested in the benefits. Unless you really want a stage presence and need that extra length.
Now for the material of the cables. This is going to be short. Copper, silver and gold are all almost equal in terms of electrical transference. A gold cable just looks fancy to potential buyers, but electrically a copper cable is better. You use less energy and the signal arrives faster than on a gold cable. Now when I say “arrives faster” we’re talking percentages of light speed. This is imperceptible to humans. The short of it is copper is technically better but more importantly cheaper, which is actually relevant.
Lastly wireless or wired. Wired. With wireless you have lag, lag that’s high enough to impact a live show or studio mixing. Do not go wireless, save that for the gym.
Frequency response is just a fancy term for what range of sound can these speakers correctly replicate. Humans can only hear 20 Hz-20 kHz. Some speakers claim 18 Hz-22 kHz to look fancy to buyers, that’s unnecessary. The piano scale is 27.5 Hz to 4186 Hz. Well within the range of every traditional speaker.
Harmonics start coming into play at doubles of the sound adding a richness and fullness. For example a 2500Hz note has harmonics at 5kHz, 10kHz, and 20kHz. Aim for 20Hz-20kHz speakers to fully comprehend the sound you’re outputting to your listeners. If the first number is 18 just be aware it’s equal to a 20.
Headphone impedance is important to be aware of. It is a specification that states how much stress the speakers will put on the device powering the audio through them. The higher the ohm rating, the more power the outputting device needs to output. When a speaker’s impedance is too high for the outputting device, the sound will be very quiet. If it’s too low, there will be clipping and audio degradation.
If you are using a tablet, laptop or phone to mix, a lower impedance is better. Aim for around 25-33 ohms. If you are using a DJ controller or an external powered audio interface then speakers near the 50 ohms range are much better.
The sensitivity of a pair of headphones is a value related to the impedance. Sensitivity tells how loud the headphones will play at a certain power. If two pairs of headphones have the same impedance, the one with the higher sensitivity will output louder music. 86dB is considered the quiet end, where anything at or above 110dB is louder.
You may see a +- symbol with a smaller dB next to it. This merely shows the range in the mass production. 110db +-3dB means an individual headphone could be anywhere from 107-113dB. Ranges tell a bit about the volume but I use them as a measurement of the company’s manufacturing procedures. The more precise the gear is, the higher the quality. Most high end headphones do not have a range or if they do, it is very small.
This specification tells how large the driver is for the speaker. The larger the driver the more precise and clear the sound will be. Bigger is better in this case. A quick trade secret is excellent sound comes when the driver mm is close to the impedance ohms.