While many people like headphones because they enjoy listening to music, some people need headphones to do their job. We already took a look at what some of the best studio headphones are, so now we’re going to look at another group of audio professionals: DJs. Whether you’re gearing up for your first gig or for your next tour, the best DJ headphones won’t make you a better DJ but they will help you make it easier to do your job.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on April 7, 2020 to add information about the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT.
What to look for in a good pair of DJ headphones
Why is isolation important with DJ headphones?
Arguably the most important feature to look for is isolation. While open-back headphones have a well-earned reputation for having great sound quality and “soundstage,” they’re not going to be of much use in a loud club or at a backyard party. What you need is a pair of closed-back headphones that can keep the outside sound out, so you can focus on the music in your headphones with little interference. A good DJ isn’t just a part of the party, they’re choreographing it. They need to be able to hear what’s going on around them and then disappear into their headphones to set up the next track. That’s not possible unless you have a pair of headphones that can block outside noise when you need them to.
You want a frequency response with an emphasized low end
If you take a look at our full explainer piece on isolation, you’ll see that the first thing to go when there are loud noises around is the low end. Those frequencies just get masked out by our brains when there are other, louder noises around us. How are you supposed to line-up the next song if you can’t be sure that the bass is lined up nicely? That’s why the best DJ headphones give a bit of emphasis to the low end of the frequency response. The better to help you hear the thumping bass kicks when you’re right next to loudspeakers. Of course, there is software that can beatmatch for you, but we’re talking about real DJs skills here (shade thrown).
Look for tough build quality
You don’t want a pair of headphones that you need to baby. If you’re going to be moving from place to place and throwing you headphones into a bag or case, you want them to still be in one piece when you get to your destination. That’s why a tough build quality is key when it comes to DJ headphones. That’s made all the harder to find by the fact that DJ headphones usually have swiveling earcups and hinges for folding more compactly, in other words, they have more moving parts that you have to worry about. So a well-made pair of cans that won’t break at the slightest provocation is essential.
Most people should just go with the classic Sennheiser HD 25
Sennheiser is one of those legacy companies that has a great pair of headphones for basically any use case. DJing is no exception. The HD 25 headphones are basically the default when it comes to getting a solid pair of all-around DJ cans. They have a super lightweight frame that still manages to have a decent amount of padding at the crown of the head for comfort. The earcups also don’t rotate and instead have swiveling hinges so you can angle them however is most comfortable for you.
Sennheiser HD 25
The ear pads are fine and comfortable enough for long use, but it’s the isolation that makes them a workhorse. The padding combined with the closed-back design means you can really focus in on what you’re doing. They also can push sound up to 120 dB which is important when you’re in a loud. One thing to be aware of is that they come with a 10-foot straight cable, so if you plan on using these in your everyday life you might also need a rubber band to keep it under control.
For great design pick up the Pioneer HDJ-2000MK2-K
Pioneer makes some of the most reliable turntables around, but they also have a solid line of headphones. The HDJ-2000MK2-K is one such example. These were designed from start to finish to hit all the major points that someone looks for when going for a pair of DJ headphones. Whether you want good isolation, build quality, comfort, or design, these check all the boxes. The ear cups can swivel up to 90-degrees for single-ear listening and are angled outwards for a better clamping force when you’re using them.
That clamping force comes in handy because it helps to keep outside sound from entering the ear cups, especially since these only get up to about 107 dB. That plenty loud for most situations but when your surroundings are loud as well, it’s good to have that closed-back isolation. These have 50mm drivers and come with two different cables so you can choose between a 1.2m coiled cord or a 1.6m straight cord. Thankfully, they also come with a nice hardshell carrying case so you can transport them safely between gigs.
Want the option to go wireless? Pick up the V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless
Most DJ headphones come with cables that are usually pretty long so you have room to move around in the booth without getting caught on anything. Pretty convenient right? Until you decide to use those same headphones on your morning commute and need to wrap up the cable five times and stuff it in your pocket. My point is it can get annoying. So if you also want to use your headphones for daily use then it’s worth looking into the V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless.
These still have most of the features of what makes a good pair of DJ headphones, like great isolation, build quality, and a sound signature emphasized for the low end to help with beatmatching. But then when you’re done with the show, it also has Bluetooth with a 14-hour battery life so you don’t have to be tethered down with wires. While they are expensive, they sound great and the build quality is top notch. The metal frame means these won’t break easily and the leather earpads feel great and are comfortable as well.
One of the better values is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are a classic pair of cans and for good reason. While they may not be the best in any one category when you take a step back and look at everything they offer, you can’t help but be impressed with what you get for the price. These are made of a really tough plastic that makes them both lightweight and durable enough for the DJ booth. Not to mention the rotating earcups and folding hinges make them portable and easy to use.
The plush padding on the ear cups also provides decent isolation in loud environments. The sound signature on these also has slightly more emphasis on lower notes than something like the ATH-M40x which can help you hear the low end better in loud environments. Along with the headphones, you’ll get a hardshell carrying case for transport and two detachable cables: a 1.2m coiled cable for when you’re DJing and a 1.2m straight cable for everyday life.
If you want the ability to swap between wired and wireless listening, we suggest taking a look at the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT instead. It’s virtually the same headset, just with internal wireless capabilities. It comes with a detachable cable too. Normally this model would take the spot on this list, but we figured any aspiring DJ would appreciate saving a few bucks.
The best bang for your buck is the Behringer HPX6000
If you’re not looking to spend too much on a pair of headphones but still want something that hits all the core pillars of what you should look for, then go with the Behringer HPX6000. It should be mentioned up front that you’re going to be sacrificing some toughness and build quality at this price point, but considering how inexpensive they are you can get about three of these for the price of one pair of ATH-M50x.
Padding is fairly basic here and while you won’t get amazing comfort, they do have decent isolation which, if you have to pick one thing, would probably be the most important factor in a good pair of DJ headphones. They’re rocking 50mm drivers with a clear focus on bass which, again, is very important in loud environments like clubs or parties. The cable is also removable which means you can easily replace it should it fray or breakdown at some point in the future.
Prevent hearing loss
Of course, we have to issue a hard warning here to be mindful of how much stress you put on your ears. Once you barrage your ears with loud sound and damage the tiny cilia in your ears responsible for helping you hear, there’s no going back. That’s a permanent state of affairs. Hearing loss happens naturally as we age, but there’s no need to help the process along by listening to music at unsafe volume.
Why you should trust us
It’s true that none of us here at SoundGuys are DJs, we keep close company with many people who are. We also all have our own knowledge of the science behind how sound and music works as well as a fascination with the gear that helps us enjoy it. Chris Thomas has been testing everything he can about headphones and speakers for years, Lily has put in her time working at radio stations and performing live, and Rob even has a degree in audio engineering. Between us, we’ve got all the bases covered.