How to Choose Headphones for Recording or DJing

The key considerations when buying headphones. Noise cancelling, comfort and build quality.

How to Choose Headphones for Recording or DJing

Choosing the perfect headphones really doesn’t have to be a complicated process whatsoever, but given the huge amount of choice out there, it can seem like a daunting task. To simplify the process and give you an idea of what might be best suited to your needs, we’ve put together a list of headphone options to demystify the process.
When it comes to actually choosing headphones, you need to boil it down to three key points, which are quality of build, quality of sound and above all – comfort. Here’s why…

Build Quality

If you’re going to be recording or dropping a DJ set frequently, you need a pair of headphones that will withstand constant use. The build quality needs to be able to stand up to a serious amount of wear. Let’s be honest, you’re going to be dropping them, leaving them on the console/desk/bar, taking them off and putting them on for years, pulling at the cord, wrapping the cord and subject them to all sorts of mistreatment – so build quality is something you’ll need to look out for.

Quality of Sound

Quality of sound is extremely important too. Whether you’re recording guitars, vocals or crocodiles at the zoo (who knows?), you need to hear an accurate representation of what’s going on. You’ll also need the headphones to provide good isolation as bleed when recording is terribly distracting and can ruin the recording experience.

Comfort

Fairly self-explanatory, but if you’re going to be wearing a pair of headphones for hours on end, you’ll want them to be so comfortable that you can ignore them. You don’t want to be conscious that you’re wearing headphones as it’s distracting, but it can also make the recording experience extremely uncomfortable. Earache whilst you’re trying to nail your 15th drum take for your new EP is definitely not what you need at 3am in the morning. So with this in mind we’d recommend headphones that sit over your ear rather than on them – this way you get better isolation and won’t suffer from a sore ear.

Here’s our top picks of headphones suitable for recording as well as DJ use.

Sennheiser HD 201 DJ – Studio Headphones

Sennheiser HD 201 DJ - Studio Headphones

A great entry level pair of headphones that ticks all three boxes for us is the Sennheiser HD 201 DJ studio headphones. Sennheiser have been at the top of their game for decades and are well respected brand. Even their “budget” headphones are studio quality. Ideally these headphones would suit the home studio enthusiast or even those who want a great pair of headphones to listen to their iPod with rather than DJ’s on the touring circuit. They remove any ambient noise and isolate very well and their built to last the commute as well as the late night recording sessions. They’re extremely comfortable too. Although they don’t completely surround the ear, the soft ear cups do a great job of blocking out the outside world whilst the frequency response of 21 to 18000 Hz allows low bass frequencies and high singing frequencies to cut through clearly. High quality with a small price tag. When you’re ready to upgrade the Sennheiser HD 205 headphones are your next step up with improved ear pads and rotatable ear cup for DJ use.

Essentials Studio Monitoring Headphones

Essentials Studio Monitoring Headphones

Designed for comfort and isolation, the Essentials Studio Monitoring headphones offer a very flat frequency response ideal for those who need to hear an accurate representation of what’s being fed into their “cans”. They’re super simple, and do everything they say on the box, offering comfort, isolation and an unedited sound perfect for DJ’s, home recording artists and those in the studio. The 3m detachable AUX cable gives you the space you need whilst the super soft ear cups ensure wearing them is easily ignored.

KRK KNS 6400 Headphones

KRK KNS 6400 Headphones

When you’re ready to hit the big leagues and want a piece of kit that’s going to stand the test of time, the KRK series of headphones are your next logical step up. The KRK KNS 6400 & 8400 headphones deliver superior sound quality and have been a studio mainstay relied upon by professional musicians, DSJ’s and producers for years. A closed back design helps isolate sounds and provides accurate monitoring whilst the memory foam padded ear cups make sure you’re comfortable at all times, which is course a pretty important factor. The self-aligning yoke system shapes itself to your head too, so no headband ache on the top of your head!

Focal Spirit Professional Closed-Back Studio Headphones

Focal Spirit Professional Closed-Back Studio Headphones

Another heavy hitter in the headphones industry comes in the form of the closed back studio headphones from Focal Spirit. The memory foam cups offer superior comfort and provide ideal isolation from outside noise making these perfect for capturing on-location recordings or cutting off external noise whilst you’re on the tube to work. A frequency response of between 5Hz ~ 22kHz ensures the full spectrum of sound is covered, from low bass to searing high guitar solos. Yes, they’re fantastic studio headphones, but they’re also great as everyday options too due to the built-in microphone and remote, so you can make calls on the go. Home use or studio, these have got you covered.

Beyerdynamic DT100 Studio Headphones 400 Ohm

Beyerdynamic DT100 Studio Headphones 400 Ohm

Finally, we arrive at the industry standard for studio monitoring headphones – the Beyerdynamic DT100 Studio Headphones available in 16 Ω, and this version; 400 Ω. World renowned for their clarity as well as their comfort and isolation, the Beyerdynamic DT100’s are actually one of the more low cost options. Considering what you get with these, it boggles the mind as to how affordable they actually are. Designed specifically for studio monitoring, we wouldn’t recommend these as headphones to take to work on the tube. They provide “warts and all” accuracy so you can hear exactly where you went wrong with that last vocal take or hear which drum might need tuning before you hit record. We’re pretty confident in saying that when it comes to studio monitoring headphones – these will be the last you’ll buy as you surely won’t go back to anything else after you’ve tried these comfortable, industry standard headphones.

Whether you’re starting at a the more budget end of the scale, or want to go straight for the professional jugular, choosing a pair of headphones based on build quality, quality of sound and comfort is the best way to go. So try a few out and see which ones work for you.

To view a full range of headphones, visit the Dawsons website.

Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery. Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.