You may be used to seeing DJs at events or on TV wearing headphones. Those without any experience as DJs typically assume that they’re wearing the headphones to cancel out the noise. They have a much more functional use.
Why Do DJs Wear Headphones?
Headphones act as a sort of “preview” for the DJ. They can make changes to the mix, or prepare to ix two tracks together, without the listener hearing what they are doing. It’s their equivalent of working “behind the scenes”.
DJs wear headphones for cueing and beatmatching the music, making sound adjustments, blocking out sound, switching between turntables, and more. A lot of people want to know why DJs wear one headphone. This is so that they can listen to the upcoming track in one ear, and hear the same as their listeners through the other. There is a real skill to it.
Below, we delve into some of the specifics, and the techniques DJs use.
One of the main reasons why DJs wear headphones is to better equip them for cueing.
Cueing is when a DJ uses a marker in a piece of music to switch between tracks, providing one continuous blend of audio. Headphones allow them to hear the music and “cue” the next audio that is coming in so that they can better blend songs. Seamless!
This is especially important if the DJ doesn’t know the next song being played. If a song is requested or if the DJ is working alongside another DJ, they may need to quickly listen to the next song to best calculate how to transition between songs.
With new software, a DJ may not need to wear headphones for cueing. However, DJs who are manually cueing the music will need to be able to hear the music they’re mixing to provide a smooth mix.
Beatmatching is a major part of cueing between songs, but deserves its own mention in this list because it is one of the biggest reasons why DJs wear headphones. Beatmatching allows the DJ to manually synchronize the tempos between the songs.
The DJ may use his or her headphones to listen to the next song in order to determine whether they need to increase or decrease the beats of the next song in order to make the end of one song and the beginning of the next blend together.
Because beatmatching requires precise changes during transitions between songs, it is important that the DJ blocks out the sounds from the crowd. With outside noise blocked out, the headphones allow the DJ to better focus on the beats between songs.
3. Sound Adjustments
By listening to the mix on headphones, the DJ is able to determine whether he or she needs to increase or decrease the gain for the next song. Because some songs come through the speakers softer than others, the DJ needs to manually adjust between songs to provide a consistent volume level. This is done with the “gain” control.
Adjusting the volume and making other sound adjustments is an important part of the DJs job. When done well, the movement from one song to another should be nearly unnoticeable.
4. DJs Need Selective Hearing
The headphones worn by DJs are designed to let the DJ choose to hear what they want as they create their mix. The DJ can have one ear covered and another uncovered, allowing them to hear what is coming through the speakers while listening to the music for the next song in another ear.
When cueing, they may listen to one song in one ear and the next song in another. Headphones for DJs allow the DJ to choose what music they are hearing in what ear, allowing them greater control over how they’ll mix the music. DJs might even experiment with different effects and see what might sound good before triggering it in the overall output.
5. Blocking Sounds
In order to hear the music they’re playing, DJs need to block out the sounds of the crowd. Their headphones work to block out the noise of the crowd so the DJ can better focus on the music being played.
A DJ doesn’t need to hear the crowd to know how he or she is doing. They can usually tell how a crowd is reacting to the mix by how they are moving on the dance floor.
Headphones also act to block the noise from loudspeakers, protecting the DJs hearing over time. Tinnitus is a major problem among DJs. It causes a constant ringing in their ears and is a result of too much exposure to loud noises.
Headphones can help minimize the risk of tinnitus among DJs. Some DJs will even choose to use noise-canceling or noise isolating headphones. This lets them hear the audio more clearly, but also stops the noise from loudspeakers to some degree.
None of these are the main reasons for headphones for DJs, but they come into the equation.
6. Switching Between Audio Sources
DJs need to cleverly transition between audio sources.
A more experienced DJ may get away with not using headphones for cueing and beatmatching, especially if he or she has equipment that helps make these transitions. However, no matter how gifted a DJ is, he or she will need headphones when using the turntables.
If you are switching two vinyl records or audio inputs, headphones allow you to listen to one before you bring it into the overall output.
Headphones allow the DJ to more precisely hear what is happening in the music, allowing them to add their embellishments and add effects to a live mix.
7. They’re a Fashion Accessory (No, This Isn’t The Main Reason)
Okay, so this is far from one of the main reasons. There are plenty of technical reasons for wearing headphones, but lets face it, a cool pair of headphones can add to the “look”.
To some extent, DJs wear headphones as a fashion accessory. Headphones are part of a “dress code” for the job. Even if the DJ can mix without the headphones, they’re often expected to wear them as part of their DJ look.
Whether or not the DJ actually needs them, the headphones often give listeners the feeling that the DJ knows what they’re doing. Nice headphones can become an iconic part of a particular DJ’s look.
Do DJs Need Specific DJ Headphones?
A DJ can choose to use whatever headphones they see fit, but there are definitely some models that are far better than others.
The Sennheiser Pro Audio Sennheiser HD 25 Professional DJ Headphone is a great example. They are good for a few reasons:
- The rotating design means you can easily hold one cup over one ear.
- They isolate sound very well, allowing you to hear the audio source even in a loud venue.
- They have a high “SPL” or sound pressure level. They can cope with loud volumes, and we all know DJs love loud volumes!
Headphones play an important role for DJs. With headphones, a DJ can better cue and beat match the music. He or she can also block out extra noise and focus in on the sounds of their custom mix because of their headphones.
Some DJs, however, choose to work without headphones. Since much of what a DJ does can be done by their equipment, they don’t necessarily need headphones. However, some may choose to work without headphones because they have a pre-recorded set. Although they have done the work to create the set, they are there live to provide the vibe of a live mix.
Many DJs, whether they need to or not, still choose to wear headphones. Because headphones are part of the iconic look of a DJ, wearing headphones is one easy way for a DJ to look the part.