What’s The Difference Between DJ Headphones And Regular?


I’ve been learning to DJ just on my laptop for some time and only recently did I start to contemplate about getting a pair of DJ headphones for myself. As a total novice, I had a ton of questions and decided to write this post as a helpful resource to all you who are new to this as well.

A natural question that popped up when I started researching DJ headphones is – what’s the difference between DJ headphones and regular headphones?

The difference is that DJ headphones are built flexible such that they can swivel and be worn on one or both ears at a time. They also have the functionality to play two different tracks in each ear. These two features help a DJ listen to the current and cue tracks simultaneously, which is essential for mixing.

Mixing tracks requires a lot of different things to be taken care of that you should be aware of, if you’re on the market for a DJ headphone. Let’s take a look at what all that means in detail.

Why DJ Headphones swivel?

DJ headphones are designed to swivel in order to aid the DJ to mix two songs easily. While mixing, the DJ has a lot of things on his plate. Such as:

  1. Beat-matching the cue track with the current track
  2. Mixing the next track in at the right moment in the current song
  3. EQ’ing parts of the mix
  4. Compression

These are just the basic few things that I could think of off the top of my head. As one gets more advanced, one could easily add more to this list.

In short- there is a lot that a DJ has to accomplish, and that too inside the noisy environment of a club.

All of things I mentioned in the above list require you to be able to listen to the tracks clearly. DJ’s usually operate in gigs in the following ways:

  • Some DJ’s prefer to only mix through their headphones and have both ears covered
  • Others prefer to have only one ear covered

The first category of DJ’s has the current track playing in one ear and the cue track in the other ear. Mind you, this is possible only if your DJ headphone is wired for this AND if your controller or mixer has a ‘split cue’ setting.

This method has it’s own pros

  • You get to hear the tracks exactly as they are and your beatmatching will be quite accurate
  • You block out the noise around you to a large extent and are able to DJ in relative peace

… and cons:

  • You can quickly get ear fatigue by listening to different tracks. This might take some getting used to
  • DJing with headphones requires you to play at high volumes to drown out the club environment. This can lead to hearing disorders in the long run
  • The club speakers may not replicate the tracks as well, and so your mixing may be a slight bit off for the audience.

The second category of DJ’s usually only have one ear covered with their headphone to listen to the cue track. The other, uncovered ear listens to the monitor speakers that play the track on the dance floor.

If you don’t know what monitor speakers are, next time you’re at a club- take a look at a pair of speakers placed next to the stage and facing towards the DJ.

This usually is a good way to do a ‘sense check’ on your mix even if you prefer to mix with your headphones only. Because this way, you’re actually hearing how the track sounds to the audience through the monitor speakers and then adjusting your mix accordingly.

Things to look for in a DJ Headphone

A good DJ headphone will block out the sounds from the dance floor and allow you to concentrate on your mix. If it doesn’t do this simple thing, you’re wasting your money.

Due to the importance of the noise cancellation feature, you’ll find that most DJ headphones are in-ear rather than on-ear.

If you’re not aware of these terms, in-ear design is the one that covers your entire ear and hence, blocks out environmental noise to a large degree.

On-ear headphones only cover a part of your ear, and are designed more for comfort than anything else. Because of their design, in-ear headphones are poor at cancelling outside noise.

Apart from this, your DJ headphones should be:

  • Durable- you’ll generally find them much more sturdy than consumer headphones.
  • Flexible. You’ll need those swivel cups to hear the audience track and cue track
  • Comfortable
  • Should work well at high volumes

Can DJ headphones be used instead of regular ones?

Yes, they can be used instead of the regular headphones you have at home. In fact, you’ll get a much richer sound experience.

The caveat here is that you may not want the ‘richness’ at all times, as it gets exhausting.

Listening to well calibrated music tracks in an isolated environment tends to put a mental strain and many people prefer to use their normal headphones/ earphones for casual music listening.

How to protect your ears from DJ headphones

As I mentioned earlier as well, using DJ headphones heavily can be quite harmful in the long run. I read online that few DJ’s put in earplugs to provide some protection to their eardrums from the high sound pressure.

The best solution I found for this is to get in-ear monitors. They are basically ear pieces that play the audio through radio transmission into your ears. The advantage is that you don’t need to play music at high volumes to hear the cue track clearly and they also block outside sounds very well.

The only drawback is that you can only mix using your earphones if you use in-ear monitors. This could be a complete no-no for some DJ’s if they prefer to get the ‘live’ feel of a gig while mixing.

And well, let’s be honest- who doesn’t?

Can you mix without DJ headphones?

It’s definitely not a good idea to mix music professionally without headphones. While researching, I couldn’t really come across any pro DJ’s that might have pulled this off.

If you’re a bedroom DJ(like me) for now, you can get away with practising mixes without headphones. Even if you use cheap PC speakers, laptop speakers, you can get started mixing at home with them.

But you definitely will need a decent pair if you’re stepping into a professional setting.

My DJ headphone recommendations

This one is a good budget buy and currently has over 1500+ positive reviews on Amazon.

In the $100+ range, I really like this headphone on Amazon, with an overhwelming 90% positive reviews out of the total 5000 reviews, it has amassed.

Related Questions

What are DJ style headphones?

DJ headphones are usually suited for a loud club-like environment and produce good quality audio at high volumes as well. DJ style headphones look like DJ headphones but are meant to be used commercially, like any other headphone. They won’t have the sound quality, nor the noise cancellation features of DJ headphones.

Can DJ headphones be used for gaming?

Yes and no. Gaming headphones don’t usually have the same level of sound quality and aren’t flexible like DJ headphones. They are usually wireless and come with mics, which is something you won’t find in DJ headphones. If that’s something you can work around, then sure- DJ headphones could be used for gaming.

DJ headphones vs studio headphones- is there a difference?

Yes. Studio headphones are designed to provide a flat frequency response. This means that a track sounds exactly as it is, with no compensations that a headphone or speaker normally makes that cover up issues in the track. This makes listening to music an academic experience, and not necessarily an enjoyable one.

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