Why do DJs wear headphones?
Most people think it’s to look the part or to create more of a professional image.
Although that’s true to a degree, the majority of DJs wear headphones for more practical reasons.
DJs use headphones for cueing, which is when DJs prepare the next song in their headphones while paying attention to the track playing through speakers. Headphones allow DJs to beat match the incoming track with the track that’s playing live while also previewing the final mix.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the main reasons why DJs use headphones, let’s take a look at some of the other reasons why headphones are important pieces of DJ equipment.
Why Do DJs Wear Headphones?
1. Cueing Tracks
DJs use headphones to listen to tracks they want to bring into the mix.
They use one headphone cup to listen to the “cued” track, i.e., the one they’re bringing in, and use their free ear to listen to the track playing through the speakers.
To make sure they mix correctly, DJs use a separate channel on their mixer to cue up the next song before mixing them.
For example, the mixer’s first channel is typically dedicated to what’s currently playing live through the speakers.
While that’s going on, DJs press the “cue” button on another channel, channel 2, to start beatmatching the next track they want to play.
When the cue button is active/lit, it sends the audio signal (music) in the channel to the DJs headphones, which the DJ can manipulate using other controls on the mixer, like a split cue function and mixing/level knob.
From there, once they’ve matched the tempo, they switch from “cue” to “mix” to preview how the two tracks sound together before eventually moving the crossfader between the two channels.
2. Isolate Sound
Aside from cueing and beat matching, DJs utilize headphones to block unwanted sound.
For example, some venues have distracting external noises and sound coming from backstage, so using a high-quality pair of DJ headphones helps mitigate those sounds and allows DJs to focus on the music.
Also, DJs might want to zone in on a particular track to figure out which one to cue up next, so focusing without distraction helps DJs create a better mix.
3. Ear Protection
DJing in clubs and venues for a living means constant exposure to loud music.
Over time, DJs become more susceptible to hearing damage, especially if they’re performing close to the speakers or the venue’s volume is above the legal limit.
Wearing headphones while DJing can offer some protection against noise damage, especially if they’re noise-canceling headphones.
As long as the headphones’ volume is not too high, the risk of permanent ear damage is far less than not wearing any ear protection at all.
Despite the reasons we’ve mentioned above, most experienced DJs don’t need headphones to mix.
But why do DJs use headphones then? Well, DJs have been using headphones since the days of vinyl, and it almost seems odd to see a DJ without a pair of headphones anymore.
However, some DJs utilize headphones for aesthetic reasons and use them as more of a fashion statement.
Some DJs even go as far as to coordinate their outfits with their headphones and wear top-of-the-line DJ headphones to create a professional persona.
5. No Speakers
If you’re starting as a DJ, then you might not have the cash to spend on DJ speakers, or you may want to hone your craft quietly without annoying the next-door neighbors.
Well, that’s where utilizing headphones to DJ solves all your problems.
Also, practicing just with headphones will help fine-tune your ears until you’re ready to play your mix through speakers.
6. No DJ Software (Turntables Only)
DJs use headphones because back in the day, vinyl DJs didn’t have the luxury of modern DJ software, which now allows DJs to see each track’s audio waveforms on DJ controllers LCDs.
Therefore, DJs that used turntables, or still use turntables, need headphones to beat-match and mix properly, as they’re not able to cue automatically beforehand.
Why Do DJs Wear Headphones On One Ear?
Most people have no idea what DJs actually do, let alone why they wear headphones on one ear.
They use headphones to listen to music played through the speakers while cueing up their next song using their headphones.
By wearing headphones on just one side, it allows the DJ to comfortably listen to two tracks simultaneously to make sure their mix is going to plan.
Also, DJs performing at large venues or stadiums usually wear headphones on one side to hear the active track through on-stage monitors.
This is because speakers at large venues are typically positioned far away from the DJ, causing a delay in the DJs headphones.
For the DJ to properly mix the incoming track, additional monitor speakers are positioned close to the DJ to hear the playing track in one ear and the incoming track in the other.
Can You DJ Without Headphones?
As mentioned earlier, experienced DJs can easily mix without headphones.
But, just because they can doesn’t mean they should, as most DJs would agree that DJing with headphones makes things a lot easier if you’re mixing on the fly, as you’re less likely to make mistakes.
Instead of using headphones, some DJs prefer to mix with in-ear monitors, as they usually offer better noise-canceling abilities and provide additional ear protection.
What If A DJ Isn’t Wearing Headphones?
DJs who don’t use headphones have more than likely already created a mix and arranged the songs before they get to the venue, meaning that headphones aren’t required as the DJ has done the work ahead of time.
Also, DJ software allows DJs to beat match using each track’s visual waveforms displayed on the DJ controller’s LCD.
This allows DJs to follow the tracks’ audio waves and align the beats without using headphones.
Overall, DJs wear headphones to help them perform their job to the best of their ability, even the most experienced DJs.
Some choose to use headphones based on technical aspects like noise cancelation and sound quality, while others choose headphones based on their style and what will work best with their image.
At the end of the day, as long as the audience listening to the DJs mix has a good time, the DJ’s work is done.