Modern DJ setups come in all shapes and sizes, but a set of headphones is one element they all have in common. Whether you’re beat-matching on vinyl, rocking a controller or triggering loops in Ableton Live, you’ll need a quality set of cans to cue tracks and monitor your mixes.
In this guide, we’ll highlight some of the best DJ headphones on the market, with options for all styles and budgets to help you deliver killer sets, whether practising at home, playing out in the booth or streaming online.
From top-end models to more affordable options, we’ve collected a selection of top-quality headphones which will suit DJs at any level. If you’re not sure what you need from your headphones, we’ve added some useful buying advice at the bottom of the page.
Best DJ headphones: MusicRadar’s Choice
When it comes to the best DJ headphones, Sennheiser HD25 are close to being an ‘industry standard’ - and not without reason. These are brilliant all-rounder headphones at a reasonable price. They boast solid sound that can cut through a busy club environment with a flexible, lightweight design that’s perfect for monitoring in the booth and should hold up to a heavy touring schedule. Most elements of the HD25s are replaceable too, so a lost ear pad or cracked headband needn’t warrant a whole new set of headphones.
That said, HD25s are far from being ‘top of the range’ when it comes to their sonic specs. Neither are they the cheapest DJ headphones going. If you’re willing to spend more, the likes of Pioneer’s HDJ-X10s or AIAIAI’s TMA-2s offer more features that span into the studio realm too. At the affordable end, Pioneer’s HDJ Cue1’s offer the best balance of quality for a low price.
Best DJ headphones: Product guide
While everyone will have their own personal preferences and tastes, the Sennheiser HD 25 is as close as you’ll find to a universally well-loved set of cans. The HD 25s are designed specifically for monitoring, providing high levels of attenuation over external noise and the ability to cope with extreme volumes with ease.
They feature a rotatable capsule for single-ear listening, and while the leatherette pads aren’t the most comfortable in the world, they certainly perform better than others in the same price bracket.
Read the full Sennheiser HD 25 review
Pioneer DJ’s budget headphones take many of the winning design choices from the brand’s more expensive HDJs – feature elsewhere in this guide – and bring them down to a price point to suit beginners and cash-strapped DJs.
While the sonic specs, such as impedance and frequency response, don’t quite match Pioneer’s top-end cans, they’re still very impressive for a set of entry level DJ headphones. Sonically, these outstip many of the more expensive pairs on the market.
The thing we like most about the Cue1s though is their styling. Many budget sets of DJ headphones tend to look cheap and toy-like – HF125s we’re looking at you – but the Cue1s have a stylish and pro-feeling design, which can be customised by purchasing replacement coloured ear pads and cables. The sharp look is matched by some DJ-friendly design touches, such as the lightweight, foldable body and detachable cables.
If you want to go fully wireless, Pioneer also produces a Cue1 BT model offering Bluetooth functionality for around £30/$30 more.
Given their look, it doesn’t take an expert to work out that the HDJ-CXs (£120) are Pioneer’s answer to Sennheiser’s industry-leading HD25s. Much like that widely-used set of DJ cans, the HDJ-CXs are designed to be lightweight but robust, making them ideal for DJs regularly shifting them on and off the ear.
They also feature easily replaceable cables and accessories, which should extend their lifespan, especially for regularly gigging DJs. That said, they’re not quite as ‘rebuildable’ as the HD25s.
Where Pioneer believes its cans have the edge over the competition is in the sound, as well as the level of comfort over long periods of use. Whether that’s enough to topple the champs in this sector remains to be seen!
While they might look like something from the last century, the Technics RPDJ1210 favour robust design and strong build quality over fancy aesthetic touches. And it’s in the trenches where they excel, with a number of features designed specifically for professional DJ use, as you’d expect from one of the biggest brands in the DJ world.
We like the coiled cable, which means you have more room to roam around the booth, while making them resistant to perspiration – or, sweat proof – means they’re ideal for work in hot, busy venues.
Danish brand AIAIAI delivers a bit of Scandi design flair with its TMA-2 range. The real hook with this range comes in your ability to design your own dream setup. From the types of drivers employed to the headband and cable – everything is up for customising here, depending on your requirements.
There are, however, a selection of models available as ‘presets’ if you’re not interested in the process of choosing your own. One such design is this DJ-centric setup, which is spec’d for powerful, bass-heavy sound and includes a robust, reinforced headband.
Higher up the price range, AIAIAI has also recently released the new TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones, which are created in collaboration with Richie Hawtin. These boast ‘ultra-low latency lossless’ Bluetooth audio, although come in at nearly twice the price of the standard DJ configuration – and we’re not convinced it’s worth shelling out on wireless functionality in the DJ booth.
Audio-Technica is well-respected in the DJ world, and the ATH-M50x’s do a great job of showing why. They’re well-built headphones, for a start, which look like they could survive years of service before they give out. We also liked the over-ear design which, when combined with the closed back, means isolation from external noise is great.
There are a couple of DJ-specific tricks too, like swivelling earcups and interchangeable cables, making for a solid mid-range choice all round.
Read the full Audio Technica ATH-MX50 review
Another big brand in the DJ world, Pioneer has as much heritage as anyone so you’d assume its upper-mid range headphones would be good. You’d be right too! The Pioneer DJ HDJ-X10 are over-ear closed back headphones with what Pioneer claims is the widest frequency range in any DJ-specific headphones. Quite a claim, but we can attest to the great listening experience we had from them. The highs were high, the lows were low, and everything was a balanced and clear as you’d hope.
Pioneer also says the HDJ-X10 were subjected to ‘military grade’ testing while they were being developed, so you’d imagine they’d stand up to small to medium sized venue use pretty well.
The Crossfade headphones, from Milan-based brand V-Moda, provide a ‘best of both worlds’ approach to headphone monitoring. On one hand, the Crossfades can be wired to provide zero latency feedback, and a wide frequency range, meaning they have the reliability needed for tight beat mixing or music production. On the other hand, they boast Bluetooth so can double up as ‘regular’ headphones for the walk to and from the studio. Ideal.
The Crossfade range has recently hit its third iteration. Changes include a variety of new colour options and a slightly punchier sound. The headline feature of Crossfade 3, however, is the improved wireless battery life, quoted as up-to 30 hours from a single charge.
There are specialist headphones on this list which, for a similar price, offer a purer DJ experience, and - as stated in our buying advice below - we’d question how useful Bluetooth connectivity is for purely DJ purposes. However, for the price, Crossfade 3s give you a stylish and high-quality set of cans that can handle duties both in and out of the booth.
Korg’s first entry into the DJ headphone market, the NC-Q1s boast some unique smart features that set them apart from the competition. These are active noise cancelling headphones, and their over-ear cups do an excellent job of blocking out background noise even in a loud environment.
That’s only half the story though; of particular interest is the Smart Monitoring feature, which allows users to de-activate noise cancelling for one or both ears with a quick tap of a button. The idea is to allow DJs to monitor without the need to constantly take off/put on their headphones.
These features work well and the NC-Q1s sound good too. However, they’re inherently more complex in-use than the straightforward passive pairs in this round-up. You could argue that, when you already have a multi-channel mixer and at-least two players to deal with, you probably don’t want to be thinking about your headphones’ noise cancelling too.
The NC-Q1s also require charging to use their active features. While battery life is decent – and they can be used in wired, passive mode when depleted – this does add an extra thing to worry about, particularly for marathon multi-hour sets.
Numark’s cheap-as-chips HF125 headphones have been a classic choice for beginner DJs for decades now, and the recently-released HF175s act as an update of sorts. These cans are a step in the range, boasting improved sound and a more comfortable on-ear design, albeit at a price point that still makes them thoroughly affordable for complete newbies.
With a frequency range of 15Hz-22kHz, you can expect more bass response here than with the HF125s. The response is far from what we’d call natural or balanced - over-egging the low/low-mids somewhat - meaning that, while the HF175s are plenty good enough for DJing, they’re not up to studio monitoring duties. That would be asking a lot for entry-level headphones like these though.
At this price, our only real criticism is the design; the red-and-black styling looks a little naff to our eyes, but this is entirely subjective. That aside, for a super-cheap set of DJ cans, these are hard to knock.
Best DJ headphones: Buying advice
What to look for in the best DJ headphones
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You might think that a ‘good’ pair of headphones is a universal concept, but the qualities we look for in a set for DJing aren’t necessarily the same as those of a top pair for home-listening, gaming or studio use. For example, when it comes to studio headphones, the key quality we’d look for is honesty – the ability to accurately translate your mixes as they’ll sound on a top-quality sound system. For music listening, by contrast, it can be desirable for your headphones to ‘flatter’ your favourite music a little, perhaps by boosting the bass and dulling any harsh high frequencies.
When it comes to DJing, honesty is less important – you’re less likely to be making small adjustments to EQ or compression settings – but power and durability come to the forefront. If you’re DJing in a club or bar, you’ll need a pair of ‘phones that can compete against crowd noise and the backdrop of another track playing over a powerful PA speaker system. When it comes to the sound itself, quality is still important, but the main thing you’ll need when mixing is the ability to pick out key track elements like bassy kicks and snares, claps and hi-hats in the upper-mids.
Design and durability
More so than in the studio, you’re likely to move around while DJing and – depending on your style of mixing – move your headphones on and off your ears as you mix. This is where durability and flexibility comes in. Comfort is important too though; no one needs an awkward set of headphones uncomfortably squeezing their head several hours into a marathon DJ set.
As with most technology, there’s a big difference in price and quality. You’ll know yourself the budget you have to work with but what we would say is that a quality set of headphones is an important investment. You can get away with cheap models to a point, but nobody who invested in a decent set ever regrets it in the long term.
Do I need wired or wireless DJ headphones?
Headphones in general are increasingly going wireless, relying on, or at least incorporating, Bluetooth technology over traditional wired connections. But is this an asset in a set of headphones for DJing? We’d argue that, on the whole, it’s best to avoid wireless headphones for mixing. While latency is becoming less of an issue with modern Bluetooth technology, it does still exist, and timing is incredibly important when beatmatching. What’s more, your DJ setup is likely to require you to stay within arms reach of a mixer, turntables, CDJs or controller anyway. Unless you’re desperate to dance, thrust or climb your way around the stage during your sets, is it really worth the extra cost - and potentially of dead batteries scuppering your set - of going cable-free?
How we test DJ headphones
Our guide to the best headphones for DJs is based on the experiences of our team of writers and reviewers. What we look for in a set of headphones for DJ use isn’t exactly the same as the way we’d test a set of headphones for studio or home use. Of course, it comes down to sound quality in part; we’ll use each set of headphones to play tracks we know well so we can hear the nuances and differences. In the case of DJ headphones we’ll focus particularly on electronic, pop and dance music.
As much as the sound though, the criteria for testing a set of DJ headphones comes down to how they feel in use. A good pair of cans for mixing need to feel comfortable but reliable. How heavy are they when worn around the neck for long periods? How easy is it to get them on and off your ears when beatmatching? Do they feel sturdy enough to stand up to regular gigging and if anything breaks, how easy are parts to replace?
Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.
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