Headphones are essential tools not only for hi-fi or studio use, but also for a DJ. However, different rules apply to DJ headphones than to studio headphones.
They are often used for pre-listening the next track, in order to make it fit to the current one and to create a transition. It’s not always easy to focus on the headphones, due to the loud and bass heavy club sound. Therefore it’s essential that the headphones isolate the sound. Closed back headphones offer a great advantage, but also ear cushions made of PU leather help to attenuate the sound of the PA.
Circumaural headphones attenuate the sound even more, while not applying a lot of pressure to the ear. On the other hand, the size of the ear cushions is quite bulky and might be uncomfortable to wear in the summer. The more the headphones isolate the sound, the quieter the volume level can be, which protects the ears.
The frequency response is certainly very interesting. While we need a linear and balanced sound in the studio and we prefer a punchy and brilliant sound for hi-fi use, the sound quality is not necessarily that important for a DJ. It’s important that the headphones can drown out the club sound. It’s very useful if the headphones have emphasised mids and highs, because the ear cushions will attenuate these frequencies the most. The isolation often starts at about 150-200 Hz. This means, that the sub bass range is not very important for DJ headphones in the club. It’s crucial that the headphones have good punch and transient response, especially for the bass drum. Therefore, it’s important that the lower mids are very defined.
Every DJ that ever played a set for several hours knows that it’s important that the headphones are comfortable. While it’s important that the headphones sit on your head tightly, it’s equally important that they don’t apply too much pressure on your head and ears. The weight plays a significant role here.
Since DJs are often the center of attention at an event, the headphone design is often quite important.
The build quality is essential. Static hinges or fixed cables can be seen as a weakness. The accessibility of replacement parts is also an important factor. It’s a great advantage if you can easily swap out the ear cushions, cables or other parts.
In summary, this is a very special and complex area of application, which is why testing should ideally be done in the club.
For our HOFA DJ headphones test, we compared popular headphone models and focused on the differences and the resulting strengths of the products. It’s crucial to know, that the evaluation of a DJ headphone always depends on the use. You might have different requirements depending on whether you DJ at a wedding or a techno club, for instance.
Let’s start with the Sennheiser HD25. This is an absolute classic, which is available in different, but quite similar versions and has been a standard for about 25 years. Many people say that the HD 25 does not have enough bass, but we think that the sound is quite balanced, compared to its competitors. Especially in the club, low bass is not an advantage for headphones, which is why we don’t see this as a weakness. Quite the contrary: the emphasised mids and highs make it very comfortable to choose the next track, since these frequency ranges are well isolated by the headphones. The low weight and high wearing comfort are very positive. Unfortunately, the HD 25 lacks circumaural ear cushions.
In addition to the HD 25, Sennheiser offers a luxury model with the HD8 DJ. For a rather significant price difference of about 100 Dollars, you get additional ear cushions, a second, straight cable and a case - not bad. We don’t think comparing these models makes a lot of sense, because the differences are very large. Generally, the HD8 DJ is very solid, but also much heavier. The circumaural ear cushions offer great isolation.
This isolation leads to a negative abnormality. The measurement of the isolation shows that the frequency range around 150 Hz of the PA sound is “boosted” by about 10 dB, because some components of the headphones resonate.
Since this model already sounds very bass heavy, we don’t think it’s a great choice for the club. Although we think the included content is great, the higher price relativises this.
The headphone manufacturer AIAIAI made a name for itself in the last few years. The modular system is quite impressive, because this way, you can choose between speakers, headbands, ear cushions and cables. The assembly is very easy. It’s a great advantage that you can reorder individual parts at any time. The price, however, is rather high. We’ve focused on the DJ Preset for our test, which contains “version 2” parts. On first glance, these headphones look quite plain, similar to the HD 25, but the modern design seems sophisticated. The headphones handled the endurance test in the club very well, due to the “Punch” speakers. The bass drum is very audible, despite the high volume of the PA. Unfortunately, this punch and bass emphasis means that the mids and highs aren’t very pronounced in the club. Pre-listening is therefore not that easy. Of course, we could simply use a different speaker, but the information that the manufacturer provides aren’t very precise and the additional cost is a disadvantage as well. However, the concept itself is great.
You’ll find this name in almost every club out there: Pioneer has been famous for its DJ equipment since the beginning of time. It’s no surprise that Pioneer offers headphones, in addition to their famous CD players and mixers. The HDJ-2000 is definitely worth a try and it’s the last pair of headphones in our test. We will focus on the “mk1” version here. Although the sound is quite bass heavy, compared to studio headphones, it’s still much more balanced than the sound of the Sennheiser HD8 DJ. It’s interesting that Pioneer decided to attenuate the sub bass a little, which we find very positive. However, the advantage to the mids and highs is quite limited, since the isolation starts at 1 kHz. The other models featured an attenuation of about -20 dB at 1 kHz.
Choosing the right DJ headphones can be quite hard. You will most likely have to make a compromise. We could not find a clear winner in our test. We would prefer an emphasised mid and high frequency range over a loud bass range. Good isolation is as important as a sturdy and comfortable fit. It’s a great advantage if the manufacturer offers replacement parts or an extended package content. At the same time, we can conclude that DJ headphones are not suitable for mixing and recording, while studio headphones are not suitable for clubs.