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Audio Technica has a bit of a hold on the DJ headphone market, and more specifically their ATH-M50s are the ‘phones you’ll see draped around just about every famous EDM DJ’s neck. The 44 mm large-aperture drivers on these contain what AT claims are rare earth magnets and they’re powered and connected by copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils. What that gives you is a flat, crisp, clear response with a surprisingly bolstered low-end for headphones. The key point there is the flat response. Consumer ‘phones give you the best experience by molding the sound – offering added oomph on the bass or extra sparkle on the top end. But a good set of DJ headphones won’t do much to shape the sound.
These headphones will give you a frequency response of 15 Hz to 28 kHz, which is more than you’ll need for the average mix, and they operate at an optimal 38W impedance. Beyond sound, the headphones are also put together really well, offering 90-degree swiveling cups, a perfectly contoured earpad on each side, as well as ultra-sturdy construction. That last point is really what puts these at the top of the list. Sure, they sound great, but they’ll also feel good on your head and they won’t break down super easily after weeks bringing these with you on the road.
The Tascam TH-2 headphones are seriously wallet-friendly. For starters, they offer a frequency response ranging from 18 Hz through 22 kHz, which technically covers the full spectrum, but only barely. Their nominal sound handling is actually pretty good at 98 dB, but at 32 ohms, they’re on the lowest end of impedance for this list. The 50 mm drivers are actually pretty refreshing for such a cheap set of headphones, so that’s another benefit despite the price. Where you’re going to see most of the concessions is in the construction. The earpads sport high-quality stitching but aren’t exactly the softest examples we found, and the 9.8-foot cable, while plenty long enough, isn’t the top-notch construction of the higher models.
Overall, you’re getting some of what you pay for, but a lot of the specs make this worth your consideration if you’re on a budget. This is also a good choice for live room headphones (to let your session players use).
For pro headphones, it’s important to try to compare popular models back-to-back, if you have the means. A set of headphones we had access to first-hand were the CB-1s by Status Audio. These headphones sound shockingly good, really for any price. But when you factor in that they come in well under $100, then it’s even better. The CB-1s, by looks alone, seem to be trying to compete directly with the Audio Technica ATH-M50s, only for about half the price. But when we ran some quick studio tests with these, they passed every one with flying colors.
The drivers on these are 50mm, so that’ll give you enough bass, but they handle the full spectrum well with a crisp, clear sound perfect for studio reference monitors. They cover 15 Hz all the way through 30 kHz on the frequency spectrum, so they go toe-to-toe with all the biggest names on this list. They operate at 32 ohms and push out right around 97 dB at peak.
Most reviews out there will give these the headphones a bit of a ding for the feel of them in your hands (the plastic seems a bit cheap). And while that’s fair, they feel great on your head. The ear pads are super thick and super soft, and the plastic construction actually works to their advantage because the headphones weigh only 13 ounces.
Finally, they come standard with two separate detachable cables (one straight and one coiled), which offers a good deal more versatility than many of the other headphones on this list.
The HD 700s from Sennheiser have an open and circumaural design, which means they combine the directional clarity of a closed-backed headphones' shape with the added oomph of the open-backs. The specially tuned drivers are very efficient, so the dB levels they do push out will reach the right bands in your ears for a clear sound. They do offer flat, studio response, which is important for pro headphones, and they cover a frequency range of 15 Hz through 40,000 Hz, so there's plenty of coverage. The HD 700s provide an impressive nominal pressure level at a whopping 105 dB.
Sennheiser has built in a highly ventilated magnet system that will clean up some of the artifacts you get with cheaper ‘phones, meaning still more clarity for your sound. The construction is about as premium as you’d expect for the price, with super-cushy velour, a silicon-treated headband, as well as oxygen-free, silver-plated wiring in the cord.
Sennheiser’s in-studio response earns our “best for studio” spot because they are comfortable, reliable and long-lasting. Their frequency response covers just about the lowest end as any of the headphones on our list, spanning from 8 Hz to 25,000 kHz, which will give you optimal coverage for reference. They give you a nice, flat response, and it’s pretty full as well, but what Sennheiser has really spent their sound time on is making sure that these headphones isolate noise.
They aren’t noise-canceling (which is important for professional reference monitors), but Sennheiser claims that just the tight-fitting earcups alone will naturally attenuate 32 dB of sound. The ear cups are super soft, and the headphones are super light at 285g, which is great for long, extended hours mixing and mastering. They don’t have a detachable cable though, which could cause problems trying to pack it in your bag, but the cord is almost 10 feet long, so you won’t have tethered restrictions. Overall, these aren’t the flashiest headphones on the list, but what they do (isolated, clean studio sound), they do really well.
When it comes to full lines of DJ gear, Pioneer DJ (a segment of the consumer audio giant) is not short on offerings. Their digital turntables are some of the most tried and true in the biz, having graced the stages of the biggest names in EDM. The headphones give you 5 to 30,000 Hz, so there’s plenty of response on the low end for catching that bass drop in a live setting. The 50 mm drivers pump out sound at about 108 dB peak, so there’s plenty of headroom, which is important in a live setting, too, so you can hear your mix over the room sound. But, where these headphones really shine for a live performance is the look and construction. You can get these headphones in a striking, shimmering gold, or a stark metallic black, so they will fit with your aesthetic during a live show. The foldable, substantial (albeit a bit heavy at 10 ounces) construction means they’re sturdy enough to pack into your road gear and take on tour. The ear pads are also really comfortable, form-fitting and noise-isolating.
Out of most of the headphones on this list, there are few that can say that their latest model has remained a high seller on Amazon for years. Indeed, the Sony MDR line hasn’t gotten an update in a few years, because it hasn’t needed an update. One of the top pairs of headphones for studio use, MDRs are a great choice for the production DJ because they give you a classic, flat-response sound in a surprisingly comfortable package.
Let’s talk specs: Their drivers sit on the smaller end of the spectrum, offering only 40mm, but the depth produced by these is actually pretty great, so you won’t notice. Plus, the size might actually work to their advantage as they’ll fit in your bag a little more easily. They produce 10 to 20,000 Hz on the frequency spectrum, so it covers the full range of human hearing (though doesn’t go significantly above it like many of the other headphones seem to). These headphones operate at 63 ohms. In general, higher ohms will tend to give you a clearer, more nuanced sound but will require more power to push that sound. This means 63 ohms sits just above many of the other headphones out there, but not as high as the ultra high-end models.
The construction is probably the most dated feature of these headphones. They look a bit like old-school radio operator headsets with sliding metal headbands and detachable earcups. They do hold up surprisingly well in the long term, considering they seem a bit thin, but that’s probably due in part to their foldability. The 9.8-foot cord is high quality and plenty long enough but lacks some versatility in the fact that it isn’t detachable. The headphones come nestled in a soft leather pouch, so any portability lost in construction is helped partially by the inclusion of a carrying case.
For mastering and some mixing applications, it can actually improve the response of the headphones by using an open-back construction. The resulting benefit is a louder, bassier mix that will sound a heck of a lot closer to speakers than to headphones.
These Beyerdynamic DT 990 headphones are a beautiful example of open-back studio monitors. They operate at 250 ohms and give you full coverage of the frequency range at 5 to 35,000 Hz. On top of that, they’ll give you 96 dB of nominal sound level. The construction is also super impressive, with a soft, cushy velvet set of earpads (sort of the calling card for these), a substantial headband that’s fully adjustable and a 9.8-foot cord. The spatialization and stereo image inside these headphones is accentuated thanks to the unblocked, uncontained, open-back design. If you’re looking for a good set of mastering headphones and aren’t worried about bleed, then these are your best choice.
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