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I’m sure you’ve had plenty of opportunities to see a DJ at a party or a rave. Surrounded by colorful lights and roaring speakers, they mix the ultimate dance tune and set the proverbial roof on fire. And if that is the case, then you have most likely asked yourself, at least once: why are DJs wearing headphones?
In the following text, we will try to answer this very question. If you are curious party animals who asked themselves this question, now you’ll finally understand this mystery. If you’re a DJ, you already know, so we’ll suggest some of the best DJ headphones for you to wear.
Here we go.
Eric Zimmerman, a DJ widely known as Deadmau5
Why Do DJs Use Headphones?
There several reasons for DJs wearing headphones. Some are related to their chosen profession, some are health-related, and some are for more practical reasons.
#1 - DJs and Cueing
Cueing is probably the main reason why DJs wear headphones while DJing. DJs play their mixtapes at the parties, gets people in the right mood, and depending on the atmosphere, they play either slow or fast-paced tune. As one mix is being played, DJ simultaneously listens to the next tune in order and try to find the right moment to implement it into the current tune.
As soon as the two songs match in the beat, the DJ lowers the volume of the current mix and increases it on the next one. That way, the tunes seem to naturally flow out of each other with barely any noticeable crossfade.
This is why you always see DJs wearing headphones while they’re plating their mixtapes: they’re actually playing two different tunes at the same time!
Headphones are of great help to the DJ. If they don’t remember the order of the tunes on the mixtape, or if they don’t know the songs they are mixing, headphones enable them to hear the songs clearly so they can control the music and make a darn good party.
#2 - Noise Factor
Another reason for DJs wearing headphones is to shield their ears from exceedingly strong noise coming from the speakers and the crowd itself.
Prolonged exposure to overly high levels of noise can damage a person’s hearing, either temporarily or permanently, so it’s very important for DJs to protect their hearing.
Having a pair of noise-canceling headphones is a great option. That way, DJs don’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to hear the music properly, and since most of the loud noises are negated, their hearing is safe.
And if you were wondering, DJs don’t really need to listen to the crowd to judge whether to play a faster or a slower beat. It’s enough to see the movement of the crowd (however cool it may be when a DJ actually hears your request through all the screaming and loud base of the speakers), so with they can remain focused on their cueing and mixing the songs.
#3 - Mark of the Trade
Headphones have become a crucial part of the DJ image. When we try to imagine a DJ, what we always see is an urban young person with a headset around their neck or on their head. A DJ with headphones gives away this recognizable DJ aura and has a certain atmosphere of professionalism and dedication to their music.
Not all DJs actually need headphones, especially the seasoned veterans of this genre of music, but they all have them nonetheless.
Can You DJ Without Headphones?
Yes, DJs can create their art without actually using headphones.
If you plan ahead, you can prepare your mix at home, and simply play it at the party without worrying whether or not you’ll be able to hear the music properly and correctly cue the songs. Or you can simply prepare the playlist, test how it sounds at home, and do the real mixing at the party.
Using specialized software is another option for you. Such programs do most of the mixing for you. All you need to do is play the tunes, run the program, and the algorithms will track the moment the tunes get in sync and then do the mixing.
However reliable they may seem, some of these mixing programs don’t work that well. They can either mix the songs incorrectly or allow a great amount of crossfade. That’s why veteran DJs always recommend beginners not to use this software. Listen, wait for the songs to match, then do the mixing yourselves. There are no shortcuts to creating a work of art!
DJs who have been the part of this industry for some time can play their music even without headphones, but in case of those who are just starting to do this, the wisest option would be to always have a good pair of headphones on.
The one situation when both the seasoned DJs and the so-called “greenhorns” need headphones is when they need to play the music from the turntables. In this case, DJs must work on the go since pre-prepared lists are impossible to work within this particular context, so wearing headphones is crucial for proper cueing and mixing.
Why Do Radio DJs Wear Headphones?
Radio DJs also wear headphones, although reasons for them wearing them are slightly different than those of the DJs.
Radio personalities’ main tool of the trade is their voice. Correct pronunciation, the strength of voice and clarity, all of this is very important for them. Headphones serve to help them monitor their voices and keep them within the necessary limits. They also help with monitoring the radio DJ’s conversation partner’s voice. That way, radio DJs can hear how both they and their conversation partners sound on-air.
Headphones can serve as a communication device – people from control room can send the DJs messages and news without them being heard on the studio mike. And should they need to respond, radio DJs can always mute the microphone.
Another neat reason for radio DJs using headphones is background music. When we listen to the radio, we often hear the DJ talking over some background music. This music is actually being played in the control room, not in the studio room where the DJ is interviewing their partner.
Playing music within the studio during the conversation would cause some greatly unpleasant interferences and sound delays. Other than that, music helps set the mood – listening a DJ talking without the customary background music may sound dull and boring, however good the radio DJ may be.
A radio DJ
The Main Features For Best DJ Headphones
Now that we know the reasons why DJs wear headphones, let us see which type of headphones is the best type of headphones for DJs.
The most important thing that all the best DJ headphones have in common is the perfect sound quality. You need to be able to hear both the deepest base and the highest tones in order to make a perfect mix. For these purposes, these are the features you’ll need to take into consideration:
- Driver diameter - The bigger drivers your headphones have, the better base quality you’ll be able to hear. It is recommended that your DJ headphones have the minimal driver diameter of 40 mm.
- Sensitivity– sensitivity is measured in decibels (dB) or milliwatts (mW). The higher the number of dB/mW, the stronger the sound. Bear in mind, however, that prolonged exposure to strong sounds may damage your hearing!
- Maximum input – maximum input (measured in mW) is concerned with sound distortion. The higher the maximum input, the lesser will be the sound distortion on higher frequencies. Maximum input of 3000 mW or higher means that there will be practically no distortions, but DJ headphones with high maximum input tend to have high prices.
- Frequency – do not rely on the headphone specs when it comes to frequency. The human ear can hear sounds from 20 to 20 000 Hz, so it doesn’t matter that much whether the headphones can pick up higher/lower frequencies than that or not.
- Closed-back design – when purchasing you DJ headphones, make sure you buy the closed-back design. That means that you would not be needing to deal with ambient noises and just focus on your music without issues.
Usually, the headphones are equipped with a quarter-inch jack so they can be connected to most of the mixers/controllers. Should the mixer/controller input do not match the jack, having a converter at hand is always handy. Also, make sure your cable is long enough, so as to avoid sudden disconnection from the mixer or some other type of damage. Coiled cables are generally recommended.
When it comes to the build of your DJ headphones, the best DJ headphones are recommended to have paddings which cover the space around the ear, and not the ear itself, and to have an adjustable headband for more comfort. Swiveling limbs are more than practical since they make listening to the cued song a lot easier. A rule of thumb regarding paddings is this: “the thicker, the better!”
It is not always necessary, but it would be a big plus of your headphones have replaceable paddings and cables. Paddings and cables are usually the first components to wear out due to excessive use, so being able to easily replace them is always a benefit.
Finally, what you need to consider is the weight of your headphones. Best DJ headphones need to be as light as possible. Wearing relatively heave headphones for long periods of time can cause serious problems, so make sure you purchase headphones made out of light materials. Such materials include aluminum, magnesium, and surprisingly – titanium.
Don’t just pay attention to weight – overall durability and sturdiness are also important for the lifespan of your headphones. You’ll want them to be as durable as possible in order to safely share space with your other gear in your DJ bag without getting damaged after two or three sessions.
1. How to Dj with headphones
Djing with headphones is a well-known technique. To master it, you will need a lot of practice and experience. Therefore, practice only with your headphones on and without putting them off. Once you are ready for your first gig, start putting them off to hear how actually your mix sounds for your audience and if it’s any good.
2. How to wear headphones while you Dj
DJs can either wear headphones on both ears or on one ear. Most of the time, you will see DJs wearing headphones on one ear only. With their “free” ear they are listening to the current tune while using headphones to hear the next one so as to properly mix the two songs.
3. Why do DJs use Macs
Macs are far more grateful when it comes to living performances, over the usage of laptops. There will be no driver updating, no system crashes or outdated Firewire or PowerPC. It’s more likely to see system crashes with laptops rather than with macs, and macs offer lower latency (acting better with midi devices).
4. Why do DJs wear headphones around their neck
Djs wear headphones around their neck since it’s much easier and compact for them to put them back on ears once they need to hear a true sound that they are mixing.
5. Why do DJs constantly put their headphones on and off while live performance?
Good DJs tend to often put their headphones on and off to get an insight on the sound quality that their audience is hearing. Some effects can be only heard through headphones (and the mix often sounds much better on headphones), so putting them off and putting yourself in the shoes of your own audience will help you realize what your mix needs in order to bump the things up.
As we can see, headphones are very important for DJs, whether they’re veterans or beginners. They are a tool, and accessory, a status symbol, and reliable hearing protectors. If you are a beginner, you’ll definitely need them, and if you’re a seasoned veteran skilled enough to work without them, keep a pair with you just in case. You never know.