How To Use Headphones To DJ? [Pro Tips & Beginners Guide]

If you’re a DJ, you know how neat having good monitors and gear on your gig is. You can use your equipment and do your magic without much of a problem. But what happens when all you have to work with are your headphones?

DJing with headphones only is a skill many seasoned DJs possess, and they constantly advise young DJs who are just beginning to create their art this to acquire it as soon as possible. When you come into the situation where you won’t be able to count on your monitors or fancy mixing software, they say, headphones could save your gig.

How to use headphones to DJ, you ask? Well, let’s see how that works.

Who Still Uses Headphones In DJ Clubs?

Well, pretty much all DJs today use headphones. Veteran DJs don’t always need them since they’re most like acquired the skill of DJ with only headphones, but there are situations when even they absolutely need them. Having a pre-prepared playlist, or fully prepared playlist with all the mixing done in advance is a good thing, but that means nothing when turntables are involved.

Other cases when mixing with just headphones come in handy is when monitors you have to work with are of very poor quality, or if you have to work with in-ear monitors.

Some DJs learn this sill from the very start. For example, if you’re living in a flat with roommates in a building with poor sound isolation and you work as a DJ, you have to keep your text mixing as quiet as possible. Thus, many DJs who started like had to learn to rely on their headphones alone in order to make a perfect mix.

If you are a DJ and you’re living in such as situation, please use your headphones and practice until you master this skill instead of blasting music from your monitors without any regard to people around you. Don’t be That GuyTM!

How To Use Headphones When Mixing

The main reason why DJs use headphones is that on the headphones they’re playing the next song on their playlist while the main one is being played on the monitors. DJ listens to both the songs, and when he sees the moment when the songs’ beats and rhythms become synchronized, DJ plays them both, slowly decreasing the volume of the first one and increasing the volume of the next one to make the perfect mix.

As we have seen, DJs are able to use their headphones for more than one purpose. Whatever they can do using high-end monitors and other gear, they can mostly do on headphones alone. Here is how they do it.

  • Mixer Controls

In order to successfully use headphones for mixing, you’ll need to pay attention to the following controls on your mixer.

1) Headphone Cue Mix:

    Headphone cue mix can come in a form of a knob or a crossfader. Essentially, you use it for cueing and equalizing (EQ) the songs, and for controlling which channel plays which song.

    If the knob or crossfader is in the central position, you can hear all the channels equally well. If you move it to the left, you’ll predominantly hear left channels; if you move it to the right, the right channels will be the dominant ones.

    You can use this feature to isolate a channel for cueing and for mixing – listen when the songs start to get in sync, then slowly move the knob/crossfader, thus making a seamless mix.

    2) Cue Buttons

      With cue buttons you can select the channels you need for playing, mixing, and cueing your tracks. High-end mixers even have some additional channels meant for special effects, but more often than not, the basic setting is all you need.

      3) Headphone Volume Control

        This feature allows you to control the volume of the song being played in your headphones without affecting the master volume of the main speakers.

        • DJing with Headphones

        Before you cue a song, you must adjust the volume of your headphones. You’ll be working in an environment with excessively high levels of noise, so you’ll need to be able to hear the song you’re cueing perfectly.

        However, try not to make the headphone volume too high, for that way you could damage your hearing and cause some other issues to yourself. In order to prevent that, purchase specialized earplugs, or use some high-quality noise-canceling headsets.

         Once you adjusted the volume, use the mixer controls mentioned above to select the channels for mixing and cueing, and cue the song. Now that you can perfectly hear both the song being played on the master volume and the one being played in your headset, wait for the moment of the sync, and start mixing.

        Bear in mind that sync-related software and gear are not always reliable, so learning how to beatmatch and sync your songs can be a rather useful skill to learn. Practice both mixing and beatmatching at home using your headphones, and with some time and patience, you’ll be prepared for anything.

        • Headphone Mono Split

        Djing with headphones, as we’ve said, is useful when you’re working with poor-quality monitors, or with no monitors at all. That’s when headphone mono split option comes in.

        Headphone mono split is an option you can find on almost all mixers and controllers. When you’re forced to resort to using headphones for mixing, cueing and beatmatching, you can activate this option by pressing a button on your mixer or controller.

        Essentially, this feature splits the channel you hear in your headphones, so on your left ear, for example, you hear the song on the master volume, while on your right you hear the cued song. Then you can use all the rotary knobs at your disposal to mix and sync the songs.

        This option is neat not only in case of the lack of quality monitors (or any monitors at all!) but also when the speakers are too far away from you. This slight sound delay, when mixed with all other noise sources, can confuse some DJs and distort their performance, but with headphones and the mono split option, you can rely solely on your headphones and create a perfect party atmosphere.

        How to Use Headphones as A Mic When Mixing

        If your gig is actually a birthday party or some other special occasion, there may come a moment when you or one of the guest will want to say something, or you yourself may want to give a shout-out to a friend or the owner of the club you’re playing your music at. But what do you do if you forget your microphone, or simply don’t bring one with you because you thought you wouldn’t be needing it?

        The answer’s easy (and maybe a bit silly at first glance)  – use your headphones as a mic.

        It’s really not that hard. Microphones and headsets have some similarities since we use both of them to work with sound, although in different ways. This is what you need to do in order to use your headset as a replacement mic.

        Take your headphones and plug them into the microphone input of your mixer. Be sure to turn the volume all the way down, and then slowly increase it until you’re satisfied with how you sound. Check if your controller or mixer, whichever you’re using, has an equalization (EQ) controls. If it does, use it to decrease the low tones and increase the higher tones of your voice in order to reduce the boom effect.

        Another thing you need to pay attention to is the possible feedback. Feedback is that high-pitched screeching sound you probably had a chance to hear on many parties and concert, and in this case, it may appear due to you using headphones.

        Since headphones a have much larger surface area when compared to that of a microphone, the chances of picking up feedback increase. To prevent this, turn off your booth monitors, and after all announcements, speeches, and shout-outs are done, you may continue with working your magic. 

        FAQ

        Here you will find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this topic.

        1. How Do I Wear My Headphones?

        In this particular situation, it would be best if you wear them on both of your ears. That way you can effectively utilize the mono split option and fully use your headphones to mix, EQ, and beatmatch.

        In most cases, when all is going smoothly and you have all the necessary equipment, you can wear headphones on one ear only. With your free ear you’ll listen to the song on the master volume, and with your covered ear, the cued song.

        For maximum comfort, you can purchase headphones with swiveling sides. You can hold them with your shoulder, but it would be best to simply wear them the way you normally wear headphones, with one joint swiveled back.

        2. What Kind of Headphones do the DJs wear?

        DJs wear high-quality headphones, with emphasis on the clarity of sound, and the wide range of low-high frequency outputs so they could easily hear both high tones and the base.

        Preferably, the headphones should be over-ear headphones, which means that the padding is around the ear, not on the ear. Such headphones are generally more comfortable to wear for prolonged periods of time and provide excellent sound isolation, which is very helpful for eliminating external noise.

        3. Can I Eliminated Sound Feedback?

        As we have mentioned, there is a good chance for feedback occurrence when you use headphones as a microphone.

        The best thing you can do when experiencing a strong feedback is to lower the volume down, then turn it up again, and stabilize the overall volume. If that option is not possible, leave your main system on, and turn down booth monitors.

        If all this doesn’t work and the feedback is still prominent, point your headphones away from the speakers, and after the announcements are done, lower the volume of your headphones and unplug them from the microphone jack.

        4. What Are the Cons of DJing with Headphones?

        There are a few cons regarding the use of headphones while DJing. Firstly, taking headphones on and off can sometimes drastically distort the sound you hear. That happens because headphones, once we take them off, never fit exactly the same way when we put them on again. Lower sound frequencies are fairly stable, but the frequencies above 4 000 Hz can sometimes differ incredibly before and after refitting your headphones.

        Also, when you’re mixing with headphones, they often eliminate all the external noise. That does help you hear the sounds clearer, but when you actually play the mix on the master volume, those unaccounted external sounds, such as reverbs and sound delays, can distort the overall sound of your mix.

        Another important thing to mention is the so-called loss of “the phantom center channel”. You can sort of hear it when mixing without headphones: when you turn the right channels off, you can still hear the left channels with both ears. You cannot do that with headphones – once you shut the right channels down, your right ear will effectively be “deaf”.

        Conclusion

        As we have seen, DJing with headphones is quite a useful skill to master. It will make you a versatile performer, which in turn will bring you more gigs, and consequently, more income. Knowing how to work with all the fancy gear and quality monitors is great, but if any of that should fail for whatever reason, you can use your headphones and save the party.

        It does take a bit of effort to learn, but the benefits are undeniable. You can practice at home, or on a road trip, even at your annoying cousin’s house – all you need is your DJ laptop and your headset. Let your music take you over, and remember – practice makes perfect!


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