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Headphone heaven: 12 of our favourite cans to bring out the best of your pumping playlists

Our choice selection of favourite DJ, studio, and everyday headphones for dance lovers and audio junkies

  • Patrizio Cavaliere
  • 12 April 2021

The abundance of headphone options on the market today is rather staggering, and as such, it can be extremely difficult to know which product to aim for. While sound quality should always be a priority when choosing a set of headphones, it's equally important that you take full consideration of what purpose the product will be serving. That's to say, a pair of immaculate sounding audiophile headphones may do a fantastic job in a controlled studio or home setting, but if you try using them in the club while rocking out a DJ set, you'll quite probably find that a more robust and insulated option would be better suited to your needs. With that in mind, we've split our list into a few choice favourites that are geared towards DJ, studio, and general everyday use.

Ultimately, if you are happy with the sound of the headphones you choose, that's all that really matters, but here are a few choices to help you find your way through the dizzying array of products available out there.

DJ Headphones

When choosing your DJ headphones, the robustness of design is one of the key factors to take into consideration. In the middle of a sweaty club set, the headphones are likely to take quite a battering while the wearer is busy throwing shapes and crafting the mix. At the end of the set, the cans tend to get unceremoniously stuffed back into the bag – where they remain until they next see action – so it certainly helps if they're built to last. On top of this, it's vitally important that the volume level they reach is adequately high to be heard over the soaring decibels of the club system, and that the casing is well insulated enough to block out the sound from the speakers and the crowd. A DJ needs to be able to distinguish between the track he or she is cueing and the music that's already playing, so an open-back design, for example, is unlikely to do the job here.

Sennheiser HD 25

Brand: Sennheiser
Model: HD 25
Retail price: $149.95

The trusty Sennheiser HD 25 has long been the industry standard when it comes to DJ headphones, and for very good reason. They're not the most stylish set on the market, but some key factors have rendered them the first choice of countless household names operating on the DJ circuit for decades now. They're extremely light, meaning wearing them for a long set behind the decks won't cause discomfort. Any working DJ knows well that headphones can take quite a lot of punishment on the road, but each and every component on the HD 25 – from the cables to the jack, to the ear cup – is replaceable, meaning you won't need to shell out for a new pair when something breaks. The closed, on-ear cups offer great insulation from outside noise which means you're able to clearly hear the track you're mixing in over the hubbub of the club. Finally, the sound is perfectly adequate for DJ use. They may not offer the most stunning detail – particularly in the higher frequency spectrum – but they are overall very well balanced, and the stereo imaging is also surprisingly good for a closed-back design.

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Model: TMA 2 DJ preset
Retail price: $200

Danish company AIAIAI have made huge in-roads into the DJ market since they arrived on the scene in around 2006. The sleek, Scandinavian design has helped them to win over the hipster set, and their modular design – which offers a near-endless combination of configurations to choose from – further bolsters the appeal. Buyers can choose between drivers, headbands and cables, with the numerous different options designed to affect sonic characteristics as well as the look and feel of each unit. The brand offers preset configurations as starting points, and the DJ preset features boosted bass response and on-ear synthetic leather ear pads which offer excellent isolation while being extremely comfortable to wear. It's not hard to see why these are such a popular choice with Insta-savvy jocks, as they really are a handsome set of headphones. Richie Hawtin, Benji B and Charlotte De Witte are among their legion of users, so they're most definitely up to the job. Finally, AIAIAI make special efforts to ensure their products are built to last and are playing their part to reduce the carbon footprint of their manufacturing process, so they score plenty of extra points for that.

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Pioneer HDJ-X10

Brand: Pioneer
Model: HDJ-X10
Retail price: $350

Pioneer is a name that is intrinsically linked to contemporary DJ culture, thanks in no small part to their ubiquitous range of CDJs, consoles and club mixers which have long been considered the industry standard for the digital DJ. Their flagship HDJ-X10 DJ headphone is a rather stunning piece of equipment, with top-end specifications that match its rather hefty price tag. The casing is both slick to behold and robustly constructed, and the drivers promise high-resolution sound ranging from 5 Hz to 40 kHz, which is far greater than the spectrum of most headphones (and also well beyond the range of what the average human ear can detect). The PU leather padding is specially coated to make it easy to clean and resistant to corrosion from sweat. They're built to incorporate a swivel design for the ear cups – meaning users have the option to make use of one or both of the drivers while working the mix – and they're extraordinarily comfortable to wear for long periods. For those on a tighter budget, Pioneer also offer cheaper X7 and X5 units in the HDJ range, and each product does an exceptionally good job for the respective price point.

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Technics EAH-DJ1200EK

Brand: Technics
Model: EAH-DJ1200EK
Retail price: $240

Just as the Pioneer name is synonymous with digital DJ culture, Technics is a brand that will forever be associated with the world of vinyl DJing. The legendary Technics 1200 and 1210 turntable series is still the industry standard for vinyl-equipped club set-ups, and it's from here that the EAH-DJ1200EK takes its illustrious name. The model is the worthy successor to the now discontinued RPDJ1210, which was a popular choice among dance jocks for many years. The design is super-sturdy – if a little on the heavy side – and the build provides excellent insulation from background noise. The design incorporates individually retractable ear cups, which is always useful when cueing up music. The sound quality offers a wide frequency response and is designed to emphasise the bass-heavy body of dance tracks, meaning there's little danger of DJ's losing the focus of the all-important kick drum while juggling the mix.

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Studio monitoring headphones

When shopping for studio headphones, it's important to be clear about what will be your primary use for the headphones. Generally speaking, in the studio environment, users will either be using headphones for tracking (recording instruments, singers etc), or for mixing the music (balancing the various recorded parts so that they pop from the speakers in the right way). For tracking, a closed-back design is useful for both isolating the external sounds from those you're hearing through the headphones, but also to avoid sound leaking from the headphones into the microphone you're recording into. When mixing, it's important that the headphones offer detailed sound across the frequency spectrum, and in most cases with a relatively flat frequency response (meaning that neither the bass, mids nor treble are overemphasised). For dance producers, it is also important that the very lowest frequency range is detectable for when balancing the all-important bass and kick drum components. Of course, there is always an element of personal preference involved, and some producers will prefer a more hyped response than others, and ultimately – once you're used to your monitoring source and assuming you check your mixes against your favourite releases – it's perfectly possible to get the job done on any reasonably accurate tool. And, while it isn't always ideal to perform a mixdown on headphones alone, they will often do a more accurate job than monitor speakers used in a room that isn't properly acoustically treated.

Beyer Dynamic DT 1990 Pro

Brand: Beyerdynamic
Model: DT 1990 Pro
Retail price: $499

German manufacturer Beyerdynamic has a long and proud association with studio-grade audio appliances, and they offer a solid range of monitoring headphones to suit the various needs and budgets of production enthusiasts. The DT 1990 Pro has been around since around 2017 and is an updated version of the previous DT 990 Pro model which was a popular studio-ready choice for more than 30 years. The build quality is fairly rugged, and the over-ear cups come with soft cushioning which makes them supremely comfortable to wear. The open-back design allows for impressive stereo imaging, and the headphones come complete with two sets of earpads for the cups which each affect the frequency response differently – one for a 'balanced' response, and one for an 'analytical' response. They also come with two sets of cables – one coiled and one straight – with the coiled version a whopping five meters long. The all-important sound quality is very well-balanced, offering enough bass energy to keep dance producers in the groove, while also delivering a detailed and relatively neutral response across the spectrum, with a slightly pushed treble energy.

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Audio Technica ATH M50x

Brand: Audio Technica
Model: ATH M50x
Retail price: $149

Audio Technica is another brand with a long history of manufacturing top quality headphones and studio equipment. The ATH M50x is the updated version of the ATH M50 model, which was a long-serving favourite of many a studio technician. The model is in the lower midrange of the price bracket, and there are also cheaper options in the range, with the M40x, M30x, and M20x versions progressively cheaper. The build quality is extremely solid, and the units come with a detachable cable to help prevent damage. The sound quality is overall fairly neutral, but not entirely flat. The bass is perhaps enhanced just a touch, yet is still detailed enough to hear low-frequency nuances, and the top end is bright, but not too abrasive. The closed-back design offers a fairly good level of isolation and helps make them a decent all-round set of studio headphones which do a solid job for both tracking and mixing.

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Sennheiser HD-206

Brand: Sennheiser
Model: HD-206
Retail price: $30

Sennheiser products consistently score top points among audio enthusiasts, and the company's experience in the field is unparalleled. It's not all high-end audio with the German manufacturer, though, and with their entry-level HD-206, they prove that you don't have to break the bank searching for impressive sound quality. This modestly priced unit sounds very good for the price and is an excellent choice for beginners, those on a tight budget, or as an alternative reference source (note: you can never listen to your production on too many sources when aiming for the perfect mix). The unit is super lightweight and comfortable to use, though obviously with the reduced price you will have to compromise at least a little on the overall build quality. The bass response is warm, and the overall tones are surprisingly balanced, while the closed-back design and hypoallergenic cushioning offer good isolation – making this a good all-rounder for studio use, or even as a pair of everyday headphones.

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Audeze LCD-4

Brand: Audeze
Model: LCD-4
Retail price: $3995

The Audeze LCD-4 is a contender for the 'Rolls Royce of audiophile headphones' prize, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes with a price tag to match. The product utilises 'planar magnetic' technology, which allows for faster and more accurate response than conventional dynamic headphones. Without getting too deep into the highly refined technology, we can say with some certainty that these headphones sound rather incredible. The detail across the frequency spectrum is nothing short of breathtaking, with particularly discernible definition across the bass and low-mid frequencies, which is especially useful for producers of all forms of dance music. The headphones are designed with a gorgeous wooden finish and come complete with a sturdy carry case – and even a pair of white gloves for proper handling of the unit. We realise that the Audeze LCD-4 are well beyond the budget of all but the most cash-rich audiophiles or studio technicians. But, if money was no object, this would be the set of headphones we'd use for referencing our mixdowns... And, it's always nice to have something to aim for, after all.

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Everyday use headphones

When choosing headphones for everyday use, portability, style and build quality are arguably just as important as sound quality (well, maybe just a tiny bit less important). Whether you're looking for in-ear sets for extreme gym workouts, or trendy on-ear models for when riding the subway, the consumer headphone market is literally overflowing with options. Just as with DJ headphones, sound insulation is important if you're likely to be using the product in loud environments, indeed, many models now come with noise-cancelling technology to help counteract the bothersome racket caused by traffic, construction, or chattering passengers. Those who prefer wireless options should pay attention to battery life, and consideration should also go into the size and weight of the product. As for the sound quality, for everyday use, the most important thing is that you enjoy the listening experience – whether it's exaggerated bass and fizzing highs, or neutral, ultra-flat responses that get you going.

AKG Y400

Brand: AKG
Model: Y400
Retail price: $149

Another big player in the world of headphone manufacturing, AKG offer a huge choice of options from across the budget range, and their Y400 is a superb and cost-effective choice for everyday use. The stylish design is well built and rugged enough to withstand daily use, and the Bluetooth connectivity means they're perfect for using when playing music from your phone. The on-ear design is comfortable to wear, and the light and compact design make them super portable. There's a 'wearer-detection' feature that can pause playback when the product is removed from the user's head, and the 'ambient aware' feature allows users to hear more of the real-world noise around them at the touch of a button. The sound quality is lively and fun to listen to, emphasising the energy of the musical source. The Y400 come in a range of colours, are packed with modern features, light, stylish, and a great option for daily use.

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Sony WF-1000XM3

Brand: Sony
Model: WF-1000XM3
Retail price: $229.99

Sony need little in the way of introduction to anyone even the least bit familiar with consumer electronics and gadgets, and the brand is generally considered to be a synonym for high quality. The WF-1000XM3 wireless, in-ear headphones set the bar extremely high when it comes to sound quality and overall design. The product offers excellent noise cancellation, making it a great choice when used in busy, loud environments, and the design is sleek, stylish and lightweight. The headphones come with a choice of earbuds that offer slightly different fits to suit the user's requirements, and they fit neatly in the ear while offering good insulation. They come with their own charging case and the batteries last very well between charges. The sound quality is rather special, featuring ultra-musical performance that lends itself well to any number of genres, and playback over prolonged periods (at sensible levels) doesn't cause listening fatigue. They're not designed for overly exuberant use, so might not be the best option for sporty types, but overall they're a particularly good choice for a pair of everyday headphones.

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JBL Reflect Flow

Brand: JBL
Model: Reflect Flow
Retail price: $149.95

JBL have a long and illustrious audio heritage, and their vintage HiFi speakers are still very much in demand to this day. The company's Reflect Flow wireless, in-ear headphones are a great option for the more athletically-inclined users out there, as they fit very neatly and are ultra-lightweight and ruggedly constructed. The battery life is excellent, lasting 10 hours between charges, meaning even marathon runners should find them adequately juiced for the long runs. The sound quality is rather souped in the bass department, meaning fans of all shades of bass-heavy music will be thrilled with the deep lows that the tiny driver somehow manages to muster. Finally, the price is pretty competitive when compared to the rest of the market, so we think this a great option for anyone wishing to soundtrack their active life with a dose of bass-heavy beats.

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Urbanears Plattan 2

Brand: Urbanears
Model: Plattan 2
Retail price: $49.99

Urbanears is a Swedish brand who've made it their mission to bring to the world a selection of everyday headphones with an exceptionally stylish Scandinavian design aesthetic. The Plattan 2 model comes in both wireless Bluetooth and traditional cabled versions and is available in several eye-catching colours. The units are very solidly constructed, and the insulation is adequate for use on the street, bus, train or subway (or wherever your daily schedule takes you). The sound quality is reasonable for the price point, and while not the most detailed, still offers a good balance across the frequency spectrum, with just enough bass to keep dance lovers bopping. They may not please the most committed audiophile enthusiast, but if it's a dash style you're after and you don't want to break the bank, these are a great option.

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All prices are approximate depending on territory and quoted in US dollars

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