The Best Headphones for DJs and Producers
The Best Headphones for DJs and Producers
In recent times the headphone market has expanded massively! The market is now flooded with fast-fashion brands alongside established audiophile manufacturers. There is an endless choice of headphones and accessories so we created this blog to help you find out what are the best headphones for DJs and producers. We'll teach you about what features are important to consider when buying and what brands are recognised as industry-standard.
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Headphones are basically just small speakers designed to work at low levels of amplitude close to your ears. The majority of DJs and producers will work using over head headphones opposed to in ear buds, some DJs may use IEM (In Ear Monitors) specially moulded to their inner ears. These style of headphones are normally made up of 4 main components. As an example we have used the popular Sennheiser HD25 Headphone. Once of the reasons this particular brand of headphone is used by many in the industry is because it's easy to buy spare parts and maintain yourself.
The strip that holds the headphones on your head, usually lined with pads for comfort. Some company’s producing modular headphones will sell replacement pads as a cheap fix if they wear out over time.
Driver & Enclosure
The component that makes the sound and the casing to mount it to the headband.
fitted around the driver to position them well on your ears and provide a soft surface to make them comfortable to wear.
Cables are often 1.5m long, you will sometimes have options for different lengths, and they often have options of straight or coiled cable.
What You Need To Think About When Buying DJ Headphones
Any DJ or Producer looking to purchase a pair of headphones will be making their choice based on four main things.
1. Audio Quality
The first being the quality of the audio delivered by the headphones, both producers and DJs want to hear a balanced sound from their equipment. Having headphones that add colour to the sound, especially in the low end, can sound pleasing when you’re listening for pleasure but they will be hard to work with and can easily distort. This is bad for DJ’s when playing in a nightclub and working at high sound levels, as the drivers are working harder to compete with the volume in the club the boosts in EQ will easily lead to distortion. This is also no good for producers as the sound of the headphones will be misleading making it harder to achieve a balanced mix that translates across various platforms.
When you’re working regularly and often for long periods of time you need to be completely comfortable to keep concentration. Even if I had the best sounding headphones in the world they would be no good to me if they hurt my ears, felt too heavy or became uncomfortable after wearing them for half an hour. You need equipment that you can work with for long periods of time that aren’t going to start to become noticeable and annoy you. Most DJ’s will be looking for a pair that are a firm fit and lightweight so they stay on your head while dancing and aren’t too uncomfortable hanging round your neck when you’re not using them.
Especially when talking about DJ’s, but the same will apply to a lot of producers as they will be purchasing headphones as a means to work on the move and in mobile locations, your headphones will be put through the works travelling around with you and being used in plenty of unsavoury locations. You rely heavily on your headphones so you need them to withstand heavy use and last you a long time. Any quality product will be built to last, but it’s a good idea to purchase modular headsets where possible so you can easily purchase and replace a component if it breaks or wears out at a fraction of the cost of buying a full new set.
As with any purchase the ultimate deciding factor is your budget. Most of us can’t just go for the most expensive products on the market (The most expensive products aren’t always the right fit for you anyway!) so once you have looked into the prior three factors and found a few options you will consider which ones provide the best value for your money.
Other Headphone Options To Consider
Closed or Open-back?
I’m often asked about why some headphones are open backed while others are closed and which you should be looking to buy. Open backed headphones are designed so that the outer shell of the driver enclosure is perforated in some way, usually with lots of holes or horizontal cut outs, while closed back headphones have a solid enclosure completely encompassing the driver. The variation in design has an impact on the sound of the headphones. Having an open backed enclosure allows air and in turn sound waves to travel freely in and out of the headphone. The benefit of this design is that you receive a more ‘open’ sound, for lack of a better term, as you will hear sounds from the environment you are in giving you a greater sense of space in the audio, this is great for at home or in your studio where there isn’t a lot of background noise. Engineers often say they prefer working with open back headphones at home or in the studio to reference mixes as the design gives you a greater sense of stereo field and depth to the sound. Closed back headphones create a complete container for the driver so far less sound is able to escape from the enclosure or bleed in to the audio you are listening to. Closed back headphones often said to be much tighter as you lose the sense of space that comes with the open backed enclosure. Typically speaking, closed back headphones will isolate the audio you are playing by 8-10dB making them far better for using in remote spaces like on the train or in a coffee shop. You will hear a lot less noise from the environment around which helps to block out distractions and you will able to monitor at a decent volume without irritating people close by with bleed. Closed back headphones are best for recording or broadcast studio’s to prevent sound bleed from the headphones back into the microphone. Audiophiles compare the difference in closed to open backed headphones saying that closed back headphones sound comparable to hearing the sound in a contained studio booth or from an ‘engineers perspective’ to open backed headphones sound closer to having the musicians sat in the room around you and playing for you inside your environment.
Impedance or Ohm Rating
As an extremely simplified explanation here, the ohm rating of the headphones determines how much power is required to power your headphones. Higher ohm ratings are designed for use with powerful equipment such as big studio sound desks and headphone amplifiers, where lower rated equipment is designed to be used with computer sound cards, USB powered audio interfaces or your phone’s headphone output. Higher impedances combined with the more powerful equipment driving the headphones will give you a better quality of sound, but a common misconception is that a higher ohm rating means better quality full stop. This is not the case as the difference ratings are designed to perform well with different equipment. If you were to use a pair of headphones rated at 250 Ohms with your phone or laptop’s headphone output they would sound dull and quiet as they aren’t receiving enough power for them to work efficiently. Headphones for consumer use will have a low resistance. If you will be using your headphones with a variety of equipment or don’t have a decent headphone amplifier you should purchase headphones rated 80 Ohms and below.
Our Recommendations for DJ Headphones
All DJ headphone’s should be closed back. You don’t want to be competing harder with loud sound levels in clubs and bars. The ones I have suggested here are in my opinion some of the best options on the market for DJs!
Sennheiser HD-25 - RRP £129
Viewed as the industry standard, you will see the infamous Sennheiser HD-25's on the heads of many DJs, sound engineers, broadcasters, producers and more! These headphones provide a really clean response with a well balanced but deep low end sound. They maintain clarity and don’t distort easily when working at high levels. They incredibly durable, I’ve had my pair for over 10 years and they are still going strong which is a miracle in my books, as well as being modular so you can replace any component if needed. The main downside I find with HD-25’s is that they can become uncomfortable after long periods of use, but I do mean long periods such as 3-4 hours. They are lightweight and plenty comfortable enough to DJ for long periods as you tend to take them on and off a lot when mixing and great for using to reference mixes in the studio. The only practice they don’t suit well is if you need a pair of headphones to wear for extended periods of time.
Aiaiai TMA-2 DJ RRP £180
These have seen huge love from the DJ community over the past 5 years. The sleek design of the Aiaiai TMA-2 DJ headphones makes them look very cool to wear on stage, they provide fantastic sound with deep low end, maintain quality at loud levels and are very comfortable to wear. Very similarly to the HD25’s they are very durable and modular, but they are also an on ear design so can become uncomfortable when using for an extended period. They are a bit heavier than the HD-25’s as well which some will prefer but others may find off putting. They have a variety in of options in the series that vary in price between £130-£310. The edition for DJ’s has been developed by working with a number of professional working DJ’s to tailor their product to be a perfect fit for the job!
Pioneer HDJ-S7 RRP £159
These headphones from Pioneer are a favourite for DJs who love to stay true to their brand! They are great all round DJ headphones with good response, clean bass and they’re plenty comfortable to wear for DJ purposes. These have a detachable cable so it’s easy to replace and you can purchase replacement ear pads, but they aren’t fully modular. A classic cool club design that you would expect from any Pioneer kit!
Headphone Recommendations for Producers
Headphones for producers vary between open and closed back. Think about whether you are likely to just be using them at home/in the studio or whether you need a pair that will work well for you in any environment. If you need headphones to wear while travelling, on location or while recording using microphones you should purchase closed headphones. Open headphones tend to provide greater spacial awareness, higher clarity and a more balanced sound but are only really suited to referencing in a quiet working environment.
Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro RRP £105
A staple in professional recording studio’s, home studios, broadcast stations and audio engineers who have to work in various locations. The DT-770 Pro sound fantastic, are incredibly comfortable so you can wear them for hours and cheap for the quality of product you receive. The closed back design make them ideal for working with on the move or in public spaces or in a studio environment to reduce sound bleed from the headphones back into the microphone. They are an over ear design, completely encompassing your ear rather than sitting on it, with big soft ear pads in combination with being a lightweight build meaning you can wear them for hours on end! The impedance rating ranges from 16-250 ohms, there’s a great article on the Beyerdynamic website you can check out to figure out which ones will be the best suited to you.
Beyerdynamic DT-990 RRP £109
Similarly to the DT-770’s, these headphones have the same attributes in terms of high quality and comfort but very in that they have an open back design. These are more suited to producers who need to work at home or to have a pair of quality headphones for referencing with in their studio, they aren’t as good for using on the move or in public spaces and aren’t ideal to use for recording using microphones. The open back means that in comparison to the DT-770’s you receive a greater sense of spacial awareness and more definition in the stereo field. You regularly find these in studio’s of mixing and mastering engineers. Click here for the DT-990 headphones.
Sennheiser HD650 RRP £399
These are getting towards the pricier end of what most people would consider spending on headphones at around £399 for a pair, but they boast legendary status being reviewed as ‘the best headphones under £1000’ blowing competitors asking over twice their price out of the water. The HD650’s are a favourite among producers, engineers and audiophiles alike. Sennheiser boast ‘The audiophile HD 650 is the ultimate in open, dynamic headphone design’ and it seems the vast bulk of the industry will agree with that statement. The rave reviews and quotations from legendary engineers and major audio companies that use these headphones for daily work speak volumes. In fact the only criticism I have ever heard of them is that they are not the most durable of headphones out there, but with them being open backed you’re unlikely to be using them on the move a lot and they will likely be kept between home and the studio if they do leave the workplace at all.
AKG K Professional Headphones Range £39+
The AKG K Headphones receive incredible reviews for their price point with high acclaim from both the professional audio world and audiophile consumers. Renowned for their comfortable design and neutral sound these are another studio standard, you will often see them alongside other headphones to have a variety of options to reference with. Large over ear cups with soft pads and a very lightweight design make these headphones easy to work for long periods of time. The series has a number of options including open or closed back designs so you're certain to be able to find a pair that are an ideal fit for you and your budget.
AKG K182 RRP £1499
At top end of the AKG K series range of professional headphones, renowned for their precision and optimisation for neutral listening with a fully open back design, their sound is said to be completely true and detailed so it’s no wonder they have been favoured by mixing and mastering engineers.
Audio Technica ATH-M50x RRP £119
A very popular choice among travelling producers as they are a closed back design and very robust whilst providing a full but balanced sound. These boast critically acclaimed sonic performance praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers with exceptional clarity across the frequency range with deep bass response.
Highly revered and reviewed, top of the range studio and audiophile grade headphones, this was the first model released on the market by Audeze who truly set the standard with their product. Built from luxury components to be extremely comfortable, they are quite a bit heavier than other headphones but they didn’t make exceptions for the weight that could compromise the sound. As they are an open back design (and in combination with the price!) you’re unlikely to be taking them out of the studio often, if at all. You regularly see these headphones in instagram posts of elite studio’s and on the heads of top level engineer’s. These are an elite product designed to be used alongside top end equipment! There’s not much point in having these to listen to Spotify from your iPhone on the train, but it would be a hell of a flex.
Augment Your Headphones for a Better Experience!
To get the most out of your headphones you should consider the elements in your signal chain that will impact the sound. For higher quality listening and to further improve the sound of your headphones you can use a headphone amplifier instead of just using the built in sound card on your laptop. Working with a USB audio interface, even the cheaper sound cards such as the Focusrite 2i2, will make an improvement on the quality you are receiving. Dedicated headphone amplifiers can vary from as cheap as £50 to £3000++! Check out this great article from What HiFi on modern headphone amplifiers. Click here to find out more about headphone amplifiers.
Most people can’t make loud noise late into the night as they will either annoy others in their household or their neighbours so having headphones is essential if they need to keep working! The biggest issue most producers encounter with working on headphones is lack of bass, especially dance music producers who tend to be working on bass heavy music. An amazing tool you can consider purchasing alongside your headphones is the Subpac.
“SUBPAC is a tactile audio system that provides a new high-resolution immersive experience to all media- feel it. SUBPAC quietly and accurately transfers deep bass frequencies to create an immersive, physical, full-body experience.”
Essentially the Subpac works by replicating sub bass frequencies through a vibration driver which you feel vibrating through your body, similarly to how you would feel the same frequencies vibrating through you when stood in front of a large sound system. Using a Subpac in combination with your headphones to reference deep bass frequencies will give you a much greater depth of sound and a better idea of how your music will translate when played on a club sound system.
Subpacs have been used in a variety of applications, drummers often wear them on stage in combination with IEMs to feel their kick and the bassist, serious gamers and virtual reality enthusiasts have been using them to augment their experiences and deaf DJs have been able to use them to mix. We have a student at LSA who is totally deaf and uses the Subpac to beat-match and feel the music.
Types of Headphone To Avoid
These types of headphones are not suitable for DJing or producing and should be avoided, not only to save money but to save your reputation!
Avoid cheap fast-fashion headphones, like Skull Candy. The parts are low quality and will break quickly and cost you more money in the long-term. You'll also get zero respect from other DJs and producers with those around your neck! Basically, avoid any headphones you would see in Primark!
Well, this is a personal choice! It was fun when they first came out but now the telephone-headphone gimmick has worn thin! Avoid at all costs!
Headphones Brands That Do Not Offer Spare Parts
Headphones do wear out and break eventually, but some brands like Sennheiser offer spare parts. Try and see if your chosen brand offers spare parts because it will save you a fortune over your DJ career!
Bluetooth or Wireless Headphones
As a final point, I don’t suggest using bluetooth or wireless headphones for any purpose other than listening to music on the move or from your phone. Cables are still used in all operations of high end audio for a number of very good reasons, the main ones being to prevent any degradation to the audio signal and remove any latency. Any wireless component compromises the quality for convenience so to get the best from any headphones use a cable!
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