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Headphone Roundup - by ProfessorBX - September 2004

“Eardrums Pop”

Little story - I did a rave about 5 years ago in an old soundstage with a dance floor about 5 times larger than I had ever rocked previous. I was at the time rocking a pair of the old Optimus bass vibration headphone - decent loudness and bass, and they had served me well at the smaller club shows I had been working at the time. Anyway, My time to mix came up and I then realized how bad my headphones were. They had very little, if any, isolation, and with the huge amount of reverb I had to deal with I couldn’t blend to save my life. Long story short, soon after that I ran out and got a better set of headphones. Headphones are pretty much the last thing a scratch DJ spends money on when investing in a setup, but they are one of the most important when planning to do any live work. As such, I emailed pretty much every DJ company I could think of that makes headphones to send me a pair. The result is what you see here.

Behringer HPX2000

The first set I received in the mail were the HPX2000’s, so they will get the first review. Right out of the box they really look like they cost more than their average selling price of $25. As far as I know, these are the only cans in their price bracket with earcups that both swivel and fold in, and it is a very welcome change to the budget conscious among us.

Build - Earcup movement was a little stiff compared to higher priced models, and the headband and earpiece material felt a little bit cheap compared to other headphones I had used, but at the price what can be expected? One gripe is that the cord is not coiled, and the jack is a ¼ inch jack instead of the standard minijack, so you will need to purchase an adapter if you want to use this with your Discman or home stereo.

Sound - Plugging these in I was at first pleasantly surprised by the sound quality. The bass, while not the loudest, was overall not bad for the price, and in the clarity department they were a small improvement over the Sony mdr-150/250. I will not call these monitor phones however, as they have a very mid heavy frequency response which would not lend itself well to mix downs. After a while of cutting though, I noticed something-the phone ringing. More to the point, I noticed that I could hear the phone ringing perfectly - as in NO ISOLATION. The earcups offer no blockage of outside sound, and as such would be pretty poor in a club environment as good isolation is a must for proper mixing. While I could recommend these for basic home use and as a backup pair of headphones, I cannot recommend these for club use at all.

Behringer HPX2000
Appearance
5
Overall
Build
5
5
Sound
5
Isolation
0
Comfort
6

Gemini DJX1/American Audio HPX500

Save for the headband and accessories, these headphones are identical, and as such I will review them together. Right out of the box these headphones impressed me with how solid they felt for their price bracket.

Build - The earpieces have a very nice swivel action to them, the materials used felt very solid, and they both have a very classy look that pictures really don’t do justice to. I will say that the American Audio HPX’s headband felt  a bit more durable (actually reminding me of my old Sony MDR500’s), though the Gemini’s do cost $20 less. Both came with a carry pouch, ¼ inch adapters (both straight and right angle) and extra ear pads. One thing of note is that while the HPX came with standard leatherette ear pad replacements, the Gemini came with soft velour replacement pads, offering more of a customization option than a replacement.

Sound - Audio from both was decent, and better than the Sony mdr350’s by a fair amount. They both got quite loud (probably about as loud as my old mdr500’s), and the sound was clear, if a little lacking in the bass department. Isolation was a pleasant surprise, blocking out sound quite well for a headphone in this price bracket or even the one above it. All in all, I would recommend these as a replacement to your current cheap cans or as a backup for your more expensive set in a heartbeat.

Gemini DJX1/American Audio HPX500
Appearance
8
Overall
Build
8
7
Sound
7
Isolation
7
Comfort
7

(though the Gemini does end up being a better value due to the lower price tag)

Sennheiser HD280 Pro

The hype on these in the last year has been pretty crazy, as they have sort of taken a life of their own as the current “hot” headphone in both the studio and when DJing. Not only have they become a top choice DJing, but in the studio due to their excellent isolation and sound quality. I myself have been using a pair for about 2 years for my own studio monitoring as well in the club, and they have yet to let me down.

Build - Unlike many headphones on the market the ball joints are not “standard” (read-not from the same factory as most OEM companies), and have an interesting look to say the least. The swivel action is nice, and overall they are quite comfortable, albeit a bit tight on the head after long sessions. The earpieces have a more oval shape than any others in the roundup, and cover the sides of your head very well, though when wearing them around your neck they can get a bit in the way of your chin.

Sound - The best way to describe them is “what comes in is what goes out”. Some complain that the balance is a bit off between the bass and treble (leaning more toward the treble side), but really the main issue is that since everything is so balanced, at high volumes the highs become as ear piercing as the bass is thumping. Accuracy is pretty much the best in its price class, and I trust them before almost any headphone that I own for a studio mix down. Loudness is good as well, at least as loud as the Sony mdr700’s. All in all if you are looking for a good multi purpose set of phones in this price class this is it.

Sennheiser HD280 Pro
Appearance
8
Overall
Build
8
8
Sound
9
Isolation
9
Comfort
7

Sennheiser HD25

In Europe these seem to be the standard, but in the USA they don’t seem to be all that popular. Is it because of the almost 50% markup across the pond? Could be. And at first it is easy to look at them and laugh, as they really do not look the part of an almost $200 headphone. That said though, looks can be deceiving.

Build - At first glance, the HD25 looks more like a set of home headphones than a set of DJ/Broadcast headphones. Gone are the standard swivel earpieces, and in their place is a one sided rotating arm(think the original Technics headphones). Not only that though, but they cannot be folded for travel. After a bit though one comes to appreciate the rotating arm, as it actually makes one sided monitoring VERY easy, and is more than an adequate substitute to the normal swivel cups. The lack of folding is also offset by the fact that they compress to a VERY small size.

Sound - I would go as far as to say that these are my favorite of the roundup. First off, you have to try REALLY hard to get them to distort, and even at high volumes everything remains very balanced. The bass is super warm but not boosted, and the highs are pristine. Isolation is surprisingly good, even better than the HD280’s in my experience. All in all a personal favorite of mine, and currently my main pair of listening headphones.

Sennheiser HD25
Appearance
7
Overall
Build
8
9
Sound
10
Isolation
9
Comfort
9

Pioneer SE-DJ5000

Almost as old as the Sony MDR700, the 5000 is a good headphone that is starting to show their age. This is not to say that they are bad (far from it-many OEM headphones copy the ball joints that were first found on these), just that at their current price there are better options.

Build - I have little if anything to complain about. The swivel action on the ball joints is the smoothest of any in the roundup, and the material on the earpiece is rugged to say the least. There is a clip on shoulder pad included on one of the earpieces, and while it is a nice touch I found it really only added to looks and not comfort (these were disposed of on the new Pioneer HDJ-1000’s).

Sound - The 5000’s are decent in this area, and are accurate enough to use for studio monitoring in a pinch, but they are bested quite handily by the Sennheiser hd-280’s (which are the same price). Bass is good, though a little lacking compared to some others in this price range, and the treble never really gets grating. While I would use them for a gig without hesitation, I wouldn’t spend my money on these first with so many options in this price bracket.

Pioneer SE-DJ5000
Appearance
8
Overall
Build
8
7
Sound
7
Isolation
7
Comfort
8

Pioneer HDJ-1000

The current choice of many looking to replace their aging Sony MDR700’s, the HDJ-1000 was billed as a headphone that is impossible to distort. As well, the design is completely unique, much in the same way that the SE-DJ5000’s looked unlike any headphone that had come before (expect to see at least one copy in coming months though). Pioneer has an unstoppable hype machine, and I really was excited to see if these stood up to the test.

Build - There really is almost nothing to complain about. The ear pads are some of the most unlikely that I have seen to crack, and the whole thing weighs less than many far less durable sets of cans. The way they rotate though is sort of strange-they actually slide along a straight edge that sort of feels strange when both earpieces are rotated out and resting on your neck/shoulders. All in all though this is a very minor complaint and one that is easily ignored.

Sound - While one can get them to distort, you have to REALLY try (or have a TTM56). The only other headphones that can be cranked to these levels are the Sennheiser HD25’s and the Technics RP-DH1200’s. Sound wise they remind me a little of the Sennheiser HD25’s, though not quite as balanced in the lower mid range. I would use these as studio monitors with confidence, something one cannot usually say about a set of DJ headphones. While the price tag is a bit steep, they are worth the money and will most likely be the last pair of headphones that you will have to buy for a long time.

Pioneer HDJ-1000
Appearance
8
Overall
Build
8
9
Sound
10
Isolation
9
Comfort
8

Stanton DJ-3000

Coming last in the mail, I almost was not sure if they would make the roundup. Not only did Stanton come through though, but I have the 6th pair made which is good for bragging rights. :> Styled after the Sony MDR700’s, one could be tempted to write these off as an expensive copy. To say that though would be pretty far from the truth, and even though they are not the best headphones in the roundup they have become my favorite for scratch sessions.

Build - The 3000’s are sort of an interesting mix of old and new. The ball joints are a modified version of the ones found on the Sony MDR-700’s, with a bit more solid plastic used to prevent cracking. Unlike the MDR-700’s, the ear pieces are not metal, though they feel more than solid enough, and Stanton was nice enough to make the cable detachable. I have to say that they are also probably the most comfortable of the roundup, resting so comfortably on your head that one never feels cramped unlike many other DJ headphones. One kind of strange inclusion is a pair of blue led’s that flash to the beat of the music. While I found it sort of worthless overall (and usually left it turned off), I was pretty amused walking around in the dark with my Discman and the 3000’s as a flashlight. The Stanton’s also have a detachable cord, which is a godsend in that often times the cord is the first thing that will go bad on any set of headphones.

Sound - While not the most accurate headphones of the roundup, I would say that they are reasonably flat, and have a very pleasent quality to their sound that makes them a pleasure to listen to for non studio monitor situations. The bass has a very warm feeling to it, though the highs are SLIGHTLY rolled off (though if you are switching from the Sony MDR-700’s you should find they are voiced about the same with the Stanton’s having slightly more accurate highs). One AWSOME feature is a set of high and low pass filters. While the high pass filter takes out a bit too much of the mid range to be used most of the time, the low pass roll off is just right, and help with mixing at high volumes to keep the highs from making your ears bleed. Isolation was good, in fact actually better than the Technics RP-DH1200’s (which cost much more). While I not my first choice for studio monitoring, for a DJ/listening set of headphones they are hard to beat.

Stanton DJ-3000
Appearance
9
Overall
Build
8
8
Sound
8
Isolation
8
Comfort
10

Technics RP-DH1200

Technics, like Pioneer, has recently decided to update their headphone line and the result is a mixed bag. Out of the box I must say that they seem to be the most well thought out set of headphones that I have ever seen for DJ use, and I was REALLY excited to see if the hype was deserved.

Build - The Technics are probably the best in the roundup save for one crucial area, which I will get to in a second. The swivel joints are much like the Sony MDR-700’s, though highly reinforced to prevent the cracking that seems to come at the year point for most people’s Sony’s it seems. The earpieces have a very classy metal finish with “strobe dots” lining the outer rim, much like the platter of, well, a 1200. The ear pads actually wrap around tighter than any other headphone in the roundup, and the cord is detachable as well. The padding is comfortable without being too cushy, and the whole thing just feels like a tank. If I had to complain about one thing, it would be the fact that the whole thing weights 4.5lbs!! Keep in mind that the Pioneer HDJ-1000’s weigh in at just under a pound, so the weight really is bordering on ridiculous.

Sound - I have to say that I was sort of let down. At this price one usually can expect reasonable accuracy, but instead I found a frequency curve a bit too high in the low mid range for my taste. While they sound warm as hell because of it, they are not a great choice for studio monitoring. Volume levels can get loud as hell (like the HDJ-1000’s, the power handling is 3,500mV), though the isolation is not as good as the HDJ-1000’s (or even the much lower priced Stanton DJ-3000’s for that matter), though it is still good enough for a club environment. All in all a solid headphone, though lacking in a few crucial areas and hard to justify at this price.

Technics RP DH-1200
Appearance
9
Overall
Build
9
7
Sound
7
Isolation
7
Comfort
8

Wrap Up

I decided that it would be best to split this up based on the needs of the DJ, as everyone is looking for something different. I really can’t pick the best headphone in the roundup, though I will try to pick the best for you.

Value - Gemini DJX1. While the American Audio headphone’s do have a stronger headband, the Gemini’s have a price of $20 lower, AND include a soft set of ear pads as their “backup” set, which provides a level of customization that the American Audio’s do not provide (though sweatier DJ’s will probably not use the soft set, lol). There has never been a set of earphones that have hit this price at this level of quality, and for that Gemini really gets a hats off.

Studio Use - Sennheiser HD25. One of the sweetest sounding pairs of headphones I have ever encountered while remaining accurate, this one was a no brainer. While the price may put you off, they are worth the money. That said, a good second choice would be the Sennheiser HD280’s.

DJing(under $130) - Stanton DJ-3000. For me the big factor was that while not the best in any area (except maybe comfort), they excel in about any area you can name, and have features like the high/lowpass filters which add a large amount of value. One would be stupid to pick a pair of Sony MDR-700’s over these, and all in all were the biggest surprise of the bunch.

DJing(over $130) - Pioneer HDJ-1000. Loud, comfortable, and with a very clear sound surpassed only by the Sennheiser HD-25, this one was an easy choice. While the Technics may be a bit better in the style department (and I must admit I do prefer the joints on the Technics as well), the HDJ-1000’s trumped the Technics handily in every other department.

 



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