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Why owning good headphones is obviously important to DJs

A good pair of headphones doesn’t necessarily make a DJ better, but it can make their job easier and more fun.

broski noise cancellation headphones
Image: Kevin Raposo / KnowTechie

The electrophone is considered to be the ancestor of modern headphones, as we know them today. Invented in the 1890s, the electrophone was used by telephone operators to connect dialers to audio services, before the radio was invented. Weighing over 10 pounds, the electrophone had a single earpiece that rested on the shoulder due to its weight.

The modern earcup design that is the standard today was invented around the 1910s and was first used by the US Navy for their radio operations. Thanks to the isolation provided by these headphones, sailors were able to hear broadcasts with a much clearer tone, not to mention the extra mobility when compared to hand-held earphones.

The following decades saw a lot of development and innovations thanks to their rising value in many different fields, which later led to the designing of the stereo headphones that are popular to this day.

Headphones and DJs

While headphones are used by all sound engineers to be able to mix and master different types of music, electronic music DJs need it the most. As the electronic dance music (EDM) scene became more mainstream, its performers, the DJs, started having a huge influence on dancefloors across the whole world.

Since it looks cool, some people think DJs wear those headphones for show, but it’s quite integral to their performance. Some old-school DJs may not use them, but the vast majority that performs at big venues would say otherwise. A good pair of headphones can make or break a show. Here’s why it’s important to have a good pair of headphones if you’re a DJ.

Noise

If you’ve seen a big DJ setup, you can easily tell that the noise coming through the speakers and the crowd is sometimes too much to handle. Being exposed to a high level of noise for an extended duration can damage hearing, which is quite problematic to DJs since they rely on their hearing to perform.

Noise cancellation is one of the important factors to consider when choosing a headphone for your mixing session. A good pair of headphones come with noise cancellation to help the DJ not only concentrate on the equalization of tracks, but also avoid listening to high-volume noise for a prolonged duration. Good DJs can read the movement of the crowd to decide on different beats.

Flexibility

Headphones specifically made for DJs, have different properties than the ones used by those who simply listen to music. You’ll notice that a good pair is quite flexible and gives the DJ the ability to swivel and rotate one side at a time. This is quite important since DJs on a mixer usually listens to two different tracks at the same time to be able to cue them together.

DJ headphones can separate the two tracks and play them simultaneously with a track in each ear. Mixing requires hearing more than one track to be able to connect it gracefully to other tracks for your audience. You’ll notice some DJs only has one ear covered, to be able to hear the track the crowd is listening to, while hearing the cued track to be able to mix it.

What’s Involved in Mixing?

It may look like the DJ is only finding the right time to connect a track to the other, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. A DJ has to match the beat of the cue track with the playing track, find the best time to transition, equalizing the mix so it doesn’t sound off, and compression. That’s usually the common mixing routine, but sometimes there are more advanced techniques used.

To be able to execute any of the mixing procedures, a good pair of headphones is a must. This can help DJs who mix tracks that they don’t know much about during a live performance or those who are trying to remember the exact tune.

Quality of Sound

While there are a lot of different earphones and headphones that can provide the perfect quality for the average listener, this doesn’t mean that they’re designed to be used for DJing or mixing. This high level of accuracy that’s almost academic isn’t very useful to DJs playing music to crowds, as you simply won’t hear what they’ll be hearing. These are some of the main elements that can determine whether the headphones are suitable or not:

  • Driver Diameter: The sound and quality of the bass are dependent on the driver size. The bigger the driver, the richer and deeper the bass. Most DJ headphones have drivers bigger than 40mm.
  • Maximum Input: Maximum input controls the clarity of the sound heard. The higher the value, the less distortion—even at very high-volume levels. Most good headphones have a high maximum input.
  • Sensitivity: The more sensitive the headphone is, the easier it is to produce higher power and volume. DJ headphones should have a high level of sensitivity to provide the required volume in a noisy environment.
  • Frequency: The human ear can only hear within a certain range, which is between 20 Hz to 20 kHz. As long as the headphones cover this range, they should be suitable for all sorts of beats.

Design

DJs sometimes wear their headphones for hours, and if they’re not comfortable with them, it will only be a major inconvenience. The best headphones have padded ear pads that can envelop your whole ear without putting too much pressure on it.

We’ve mentioned that DJs swivel their headphones, so it’s important that the headband can provide enough pressure on each side to lock it on the ear. Most DJ headphones are light in weight, unlike heavy audiophile ones. Magnesium, titanium, and other light materials are used to construct their parts for a weight that is suitable for prolonged use.

A good pair of headphones doesn’t necessarily make a DJ better, but it can make their job easier and more fun. It’s very hard to mix tracks under a high level of pressure from the crowd and noise without having dependable headphones on your ears. Every brand may do something differently, so research enough to decide before purchasing one for your purposes.

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