The 10 Best DJ Headphones
10. Pioneer Pro HDJ-2000
9. Tascam TH-02
8. Sony MDR7506
7. Ultrasone HFI-580
6. Ortofon TMA-2
5. BeyerDynamic DT 770 Pro
4. Sennheiser HD 8
3. Sennheiser HD25
2. V-Moda LP2
1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
Are DJ Headphones Really Any Different Than Standard Headphones?
Many people often wonder if there is any true difference between a regular pair of headphones one might purchase to listen to tunes on their phone and the kinds that are worn by DJs when performing on stage. Is it just marketing hype or are there really significant differences under the hood, or perhaps we should say under the cans? Well, it is a little bit of both, actually. DJ headphones do function just like any old pair of headphones, or earbuds for that matter, but they do also have additional features that make them perfectly suited to live performances in loud club and concert environments.
Inside every pair of headphones you will find a small loudspeaker that looks much like a woofer found in a standard set of home or car speakers. Inside of the loudspeaker there is a clear diaphragm or cone, usually with minuscule holes to allow sound and air to move through it, a voice coil, and a permanent magnet. An alternating current is passed through a cable and into the voice coil, which then generates a magnetic field. This magnetic field is repelled by and attracted to the permanent magnet causing anywhere from 20 to 20,000 small movements a second based on the amount of current the voice coil is being exposed to. These small movements change the air pressure around the diaphragm creating audible sound waves. This is the process by which every pair of headphones, from the cheapest $5 pair of knock off earbuds up to a $2,000 pair crafted specifically for the most diehard audiophiles, creates music.
Headphones purposely built for DJing will usually have a closed-back design. This improves their noise isolation capabilities, making them better suited to use in loud club settings. If a DJ were to use open-backed headphones, more of the external sound would bleed in and make it harder to hear the music being cued. A high level of noise isolation also allows a DJ to listen to music in their headphones at a lower volume level while mixing tunes, since they won't have to compete as heavily with external sounds. This can reduce the chances of experiencing hearing loss later in life.
Swiveling cans are another feature commonly found in DJ headphones. This permits a DJ to remove the earcup from one ear while leaving the other earcup firmly sealed against their head. This is known as single-sided monitoring. DJs do it when they need to monitor the sound coming out of the live speakers while also cuing up their next track. Some DJ headphones have cups that swivel a full 180 degrees, allowing them to lie flat against the chest when the band is resting on the neck. This can be especially convenient for DJs who often spend time speaking through a microphone as there is less chance of the cans muffling their voice or knocking against the mic. Models can be found with either one or two swiveling earcups.
Finding The Right Pair Of DJ Headphones
Now that we have a firm understanding of what makes a pair of headphones DJ headphones, what should one look for when choosing the best pair for their needs? In attempt at brevity, we will skip past the most obvious requirement, good sound, and move on to often overlooked features, comfort and style.
The average DJ set runs anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes, and resident club DJs can often be found playing 4 to 5 hour sets, or longer. That is just on performance nights. There are countless hours spent practicing and tweaking a set for the live gig. Considering the amount of time that DJ headphones will be affixed to your head, it is important to get a pair that offers the utmost comfort. This will often be determined by the weight, bulkiness of the cans, band style and padding, as well as how plush the earmuffs are and the material they are made from. The lighter a pair of headphones are, the less strain they will place on your neck, but you can't just buy the lightest model possible without regard to other factors, such as build quality and material. Ideally one should look for a pair of headphones that are made from either an aluminum or magnesium alloy. These alloys are both lightweight and sturdy enough to withstand regular use, as well as being tossed into a bag for travel to and from gigs.
Earmuffs made out of a natural material, such as leather, will often be cooler and more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. They will also be on the higher end of the price spectrum, though. If you cannot afford a model with natural leather, at least look for one with very plush earmuffs made out of some type of breathable material. The amount of padding on the headband can also make a big difference in comfort, as well as how adjustable it is. The more adjustment a band allows, the better you will be able to fit it to your head size.
Style might not be the first thing people consider when picking out their next pair of DJ headphones, and if all you do is practice in your house, it shouldn't be. On the other hand, if you will be performing live on stage with hundreds or thousands of people watching you, you might want to look good while you are up there. Models can be found in a range of colors, with cool logos or graphics, and in some very unique designs to help you stand apart from the crowd.
A DJ In The Navy?
The first patent given for headphones was awarded to Ernest Mercadier, a French Engineer, in 1891. They had an in-ear design and were created for telephone operators. Impressively, they even had basic noise isolation properties to block out the voices of other operators in the room.
The next stage in the evolution of headphones happened in 1910, when Nathaniel Baldwin began producing sets by hand in his home and selling them to the American military, specifically the Navy. This follows a common theme in history where great strides in innovation were made with the military in mind. Unfortunately, both the sets invented in the 1890s and those intended for the navy had minimal padding, were uncomfortable to wear for long periods, and some even shocked the users when they tried to adjust them.
The first headphones developed for stereo use came about in 1958, when jazz musician John. C. Koss collaborated with engineer Martin Lange Jr. to create a portable phonograph that had attached speakers and a privacy switch to allow for single-person listening. Along with the phonograph, they released the SP/3, the world's first stereophone. The invention of the Walkman in the late 1970s and its explosion in popularity throughout the '80s and '90s is what truly helped make headphones a common household item.
Since that time, the development of headphones has gone through various stages, at times with a focus on becoming smaller, lighter, and more portable, while at other times with a focus on enhanced sound quality and higher volume capabilities. There is now a pair of headphones on the market to meet every consumer demand, from compact sports earbuds perfect for running on the treadmill or even waterproof models that can be used while swimming, to high end pairs designed for audiophiles and DJs.