Whether you’re a seasoned DJ or just getting into the scene, you’ll know that headphones are an essential part of getting music out to the crowd. We have talked about a lot of headphones already in our other articles, but we wanted to outline some of the headphones that are geared toward the gigging DJ in the feature set they bring to the table.
Keeping in mind that DJ headphone needs will differ from person to person based on preferences and play style, we’ve made picks for a range of styles and we’re confident that something in this list will work for you.
The Veteran: SENNHEISER HD-25
The Sennheiser HD25 is one of, if not the most common DJ headphone you will see on stage. They have been around since 1988 and they’re still being used in the DJ booth today.
Longevity: The HD-25 has been around for so long because it’s built to last and built to be maintained for the long run. If any piece of the headphone goes out on you, you can order parts directly from Sennheiser. Whether it’s one ear cup, the headband, earpads or the cable, you can quite easily fix them yourself. On top of these being modular, every piece is made from a hard plastic, making them durable but also incredibly light.
Comfort: The HD-25 is quite tight and will clamp to your head… this might sound unpleasant but hear us out. What makes these headphones uncomfortable in day to day listening makes them an amazing pair of headphones for the booth. When you’re in a dark, sweaty club and you need to constantly monitor what’s happening with the track you’re queuing up — but also get them out of the way so you can hear what’s happening in the room — these headphones will stay wherever they land on top of your head, ready at any time for the next reference.
Compact Size: In being an on-ear headphone, the HD-25s are quite small compared to something like the ATH-M50x. While these don’t fold up like some of the other headphones on this list, the fact that they’re so light means that they’re easy to maneuver and they won’t add a ton of weight to your bag if you’re traveling with them.
Options: These come in 3 models for different budgets and feature needs, while giving you the same sound quality across the board. The HD25 Light comes in at a lower price with the most simple headband and a straight cable. The Standard HD25 offers a “Butterfly” or splayed style headband for more stability on the head, also with a straight cable. The HD25 Plus comes with both the Straight and Coiled cables, as well as an extra set of ear pads and a carrying pouch for a couple more bucks. You can’t go wrong with any of these.
Modular In Style: AIAIAI TMA-2 DJ
While they haven’t been around for as long as the HD25s, the AIAIAI TMA-2 takes a similar approach and they do it with a sleek, minimal style. Every piece on this set of headphones can be replaced or modified to suit your style of DJing and production allowing for different sound signatures, headband options and cable options.
Customizability: At Moog Audio, we carry 3 options for the TMA-2. If there is a part that you want to replace, earpads, headbands and cables can be ordered from AIAIAI to suit your style. You can even turn a wired pair into Bluetooth headphones, or get the Apple lightning cable for use with your iPhone to make them more versatile for day-to-day use.
Sound and Build Quality: For DJing, we would recommend the TMA-2 DJ as they come equipped with a punchy, bass driven driver which will keep your ears from reaching treble fatigue early on in your set. They also come with the most durable headband that AIAIAI makes to ensure longevity on the road.
For DJing and Production: AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-M50X
If you’re both a producer and a DJ and you want one set of headphones to do it all, we can’t recommend the ATH-M50x enough. The sound quality and versatility of these headphones is hard to beat for the price which is why we keep coming back to them.
Sound Quality: What you get in these headphones that you won’t in some of the others is the fairly flat frequency response with an extended range into the sub-bass frequencies. This makes them the most well suited for use outside of the DJ booth than anything else on this list. You’ll be making some trade-offs over a more DJ focused set, like weight and maneuverability, which can be a big deal when you’re in the middle of a mix. That being said, these are still pretty flexible and do fold up nicely for traveling.
Versatility: On top of their versatility in sound, the three detachable cables that these headphones come with are very useful for different situations. These come with a coiled cable, a short straight cable and a long straight cable. The short or coiled cable would be most useful in the DJ booth, but the long cable is great for moving around in a studio, especially when recording far away from your audio interface. These replaceable cables and earpads also add to their longevity, which is important for heavy use in a club or bar setting.
Isolation: The ATHM50x really do a good job at blocking out sound, which can be a blessing in the DJ booth. Bar and club speakers aren’t always the most accurate, especially when they are distorting in being pushed to their limit. It’s important to get your sound dialed in on headphones before pushing the volume fader up and the M50s really help you get there by cupping the ear very well to focus your sound.
Fun and Affordable Over Ears: PIONEER HDJ-X5
Sound Quality: The HDJ X5 is a very “fun” sounding headphone. We definitely wouldn’t recommend these for production or mixing/mastering because they aren’t very accurate, but they aren’t meant to be. These were made to JAM on, and for that they are amazing. The isolation is great, blocking any outside sound and the hyped mid-range really helps for aligning transients in a hi hat or snare sound when beatmatching. These are super comfortable as well in being pretty light with large, soft earpads for long mix sessions.
Price To Performance: For the price, it’s hard to argue with these headphones, especially for use as a DJ or even for fun listening sessions. Like most of the others in this list, these come with a detachable cable and fold up nicely for portability. The materials aren’t quite as premium as some of Pioneer’s higher end headphones but the hard plastic still feels very solid and should last you quite a while. If you’re looking for something that you can also use out and about, the HDJ-X5BT is the Bluetooth model for a couple more bucks.
Compact and Affordable: PIONEER HDJ-CUE1
It’s hard not to recommend multiple sets of Pioneer headphones for DJing since they’ve been making DJ specific gear for so long. We won’t go too deep into this one because it’s very similar to the HDJ-X5 but we’ll note some key differences. They have the same driver inside which will give you a pretty similar, fun sound and they come in even cheaper.
On-Ear: The main difference between the Cue1 and the HDJ-X5 is that these are on ear rather than over ear, similar to the Sennheiser HD-25 or the AIAIAI TMA-2 DJ. This makes them even lighter, and also allows Pioneer to include a swivel mechanism to the ear cups so they can more easily get out of your way in the middle of a mix.
Customizable Colours: The cabled version of these headphones only come in Black but Pioneer has made a cable and ear pad set (HC-CP08) available in 5 different colours. Like the HDJ-X5 you can also get these as a Bluetooth model which come in White, Black or Red.
Premium Features: V-MODA CROSSFADE M-100 MASTER
Bold or subdued, it’s up to you: V-Moda is well known in the realm of DJ headphones for their unique styling with their “shield” shaped headphones, they have been a top pick for those who want something a bit flashier on stage and for live streaming.
That being said, these matte black metal headphones maintain that unique shape while being a bit more subtle for the professional DJ. As with all of the V-Moda headphones, you can order laser engraved or colour printed plates to really customize the look of these headphones if you’re into that, but we appreciate the toned-down design on the M-100 Master.
Well-protected: The M-100 Master is made of a very sturdy metal, which does add a little bit of weight but we think it’s worth it here, these headphones feel incredibly strong. They also come with a hard carrying case, which is quite small, something we love to see for traveling DJs.
Varied use case: Like many of the others on this list, the M-100 Master comes with a few cables, one for everyday listening and calls with a built-in mic, and the other which V-Moda calls the “SharePlay” cable, which is used to pass audio through to another set of headphones so that two DJs can easily hear what’s coming up in the mix simultaneously.
V-Moda also sells a host of other cables which unlock these headphones even further for use in gaming, recording, and iPhone use as well. Being an over-ear headphone like the M50x, these headphones isolate sound very well but are even more compact. The design is really where the M-100 Master headphones shine.
In-Ears for DJing: SHURE SE215-CL
While it’s still pretty rare to see, DJs are starting to use in-ear monitors over traditional headphones for their mixes. This approach definitely isn’t for everyone, but for those who come from a background playing in bands or doing on stage live performances, you may be familiar with in-ear monitors already... and yes, you can DJ with them too.
Focused Sound: The benefit to playing with in-ears over headphones is that they isolate sound even better than on-ear or over-ear headphones, the drawback is that you will likely have to keep them in for the whole performance, which can take away from your experience in the sound around you. You will have to be very careful when queuing tracks to make sure that you aren’t bringing in something by accident, but this trade off will allow you to hear even subtle details in your mix before you bring it in for everyone else.
Once again, they’re modular: If you couldn’t tell by now, we really like modular headphones and the modular methodology. It’s really important that you don’t need to constantly be buying an entire new set of headphones just because a cable gets torn, or a driver on them dies. Especially with how much electronic waste is made these days, the more often we can repair something faulty, the better, and the less of a hassle they will be for you in the long run.
Tried and True: The SE215 has been used in live performance for years, they’re the go-to in ears for most performing musicians which is why we had to include them here, even though DJing with them is a bit less common. If you want to step up to some of Shure’s nicer in-ear monitors in the future you can, but we think that the price on these makes them a great place to start, especially if you aren’t sure about DJing with an in-ear.
Shure’s warranty on these is also great, they’ll replace the entire pair or a broken part (including the cable) within two years of purchase, giving some more peace of mind to the gigging musician.