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In modern DJ culture, a lot of well-known hardware and software brands such as Pioneer, Schure, Traktor, and Numark have started to come out with their own headphones.
As headphone technology increases so do the potential products on the market. Along with headphones that come with a headband attached to wipe away sweat, noise-cancelling headphones have also found their way into the DJ market.
In 2021 both Korg and JBL debuted pro DJ headphones with active noise cancellation features, along with others such as Bluetooth.
You may be wondering if these are worth investigating at all, as well as if you can even DJ with noise-cancelling headphones, we have answered these questions and more below, read on to find out.
It should be a simple pitch for good DJ headphones: durability, frequency response, sound isolation, and a level of comfort.
Although, to have ONE pair of headphones that means the DJ can Bluetooth calls in their private lives, use the noise-cancelling features on the trains and flights, all while still being able to use this pair of headphones in a professional mixing setting, could be a worthy venture for these audiophiliac companies.
JBL’s option is the CLUB series, the JBL CLUB ONE is a supposedly ‘professional headphone’ and connects to Bluetooth, the JBL app, Google Assistant, and many other features including their noise cancellation.
They claim that the noise cancellation feature can help accommodate for the audio leakage that can be caused by not having full contact with the ear rest and your ear.
For instance, if you are wearing glasses then this could be a good purchase for you.
The JCL CLUB purports to be the ONE headphone that all professional musicians need, even supported by Armand Van Buuren achieving everything from handheld calls to reportedly great sound suited to a studio.
So, let’s be clear about one thing, noise cancellation is not a particularly desirable quality in pro DJ headphones.
When a DJ uses headphones, they use them merely as a tool so that they can hear and mix the next song they are using in their headphones rather than doing it so the crowd can hear.
This means that they can fade the mixed song into the current song without having to equalize on the fly, creating a smooth transition. If the DJ has his headphones on all night there would be a certain imbalance between the DJ and the crowd.
A DJ needs to be reactive to the crowd, they need to know when they are hyped, what songs they dance to, which songs they don’t like, in order to make sure the crowd are having the best time.
Like all good businesses, the customer is always right, and in this setting, the crowd is always right.
So, in practice, the idea of noise-cancelling headphones just doesn’t work with DJing. The DJ needs to be able to hear the sound coming out the front of house, not just in his headphones, and more so needs to be aware of the way the crowd reacts to his mixing.
In fact, it’s not just the sound-cancelling features of these new-age headphones that don’t quite fit into a professional DJing context, but the Bluetooth facilities, too.
Despite the practicalities of wireless audio technology, it brings a lot of baggage in the way of latency.
In other words, there’s a delay between the audio coming through the monitor and what we hear through the headphones, a delay that makes beat-matching impossible.
Another example of these all-in-one headphones are the Korg NC-Q1s. Again, these headphones have noise-cancelling features, as well as loads of Bluetooth features that support both Siri and Google Assistant.
Like the JBL models, these headphones claim to be ‘ideal for use in a DJ booth’. What supports this claim, is that Korg found that the headphones allow DJs to monitor music at a lower volume which in turn protects their ears.
Korg claims that the NC-Q1 will actually deliver cleaner audio in a loud environment like a club, suggesting that other noise-cancelling headphones would distort the sound, while their hybrid system supports both the booth monitor as well as the mixer monitor.
While these features seem pretty cool and desirable in addition to the promise of high-quality sound, it’s really pushing the boat out to claim noise cancellation is perfect specifically for DJing in a club.
When in reality, even the best noise-cancelling headphone wouldn’t really work in a club. The best noise-cancelling headphones are mainly good for getting rid of low-frequency rumbles from engines and passing trains etc.
Whereas in a DJ booth this would simply get rid of the bass and not really do much for the high-frequency sounds that are super close and loud and also vary greatly.
In any situation, noise-cancelling headphones wouldn’t really work in the club, and it certainly wouldn’t make sense to engineer noise-cancelling headphones specifically for DJing live.
If your headphones are good quality anyway, they should be able to block the sound of the club out enough that you can hear the song you want to mix. This sound isolation is all you need, which means sound-cancellation
From our research, it seems evident that noise-cancelling headphones aren’t particularly great for DJing.
As long as you can hear your mix over the in-house sound, you’re on to a winner, and a good pair of standard DJ headphones with quality sound isolation will achieve this, so there’s really no need to fork out for an over-engineered and over-priced pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
In honesty, noise-cancellation technology for DJs seems a little gimmicky, a way for companies to wring more money out of us, for they know that DJs are willing to pay more for their gear, as our livelihood depends on our hardware.
That’s not to say there isn’t a market for an all-in-one headphone for the professional DJ, as many of us are tired of having to carry around multiple pairs, but noise-cancelling features just don’t seem all that suited to performing.