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How to Use Headphones when DJing

Your headphones can be of great help when you’re DJing. I remember when I struggled and had a lot of questions about how to use headphones when Djing. I want to help you save some time with this post.

This is how to activate your headphones on your DJ hardware:

  1. Plug your headphones into your DJ hardware
  2. Press the headphones button on the DJ deck of the song you want to hear
  3. Press the play button on the DJ deck of the song you want to hear
  4. The song will now play through your headphones

Your headphones are a very helpful tool when you’re DJing, not just to preview the next song. In this post, I will show you multiple ways to your headphones when you’re DJing.

How to activate your headphones

On most DJ decks there are a lot of buttons and knobs. I remember being kind of overwhelmed by it in the beginning. To save you some time I will show you exactly where you can find the headphones button and how to activate it.

First, let me show you what the button looks like on most DJ controllers. Most of the time you’ll find them right above the volume sliders. Each deck has one headphone button.

In the image below you’ll see an example button on a Hercules DJ controller. It’s easy to recognize by the headphone symbol on the button.

headphones buttons on Hercules DJ controller

On some DJ controllers, there is no headphone symbol but the word “cue”. Like this Pioneer DJ controller. The position of the button is almost identical.

cue button Pioneer DJ
Cue button Pioneer DJ controller

When you press the headphone or cue button, the song of that deck will play through your headphones, if you’ve pressed the play button. The song will now play through your headphones as well as your speakers or master channel.

The volume of the sound that is coming through your headphones is controlled separately from the volume that is coming out of your speakers.

You can control the volume of the sound coming from your speakers or master with the volume sliders. The sound coming through your headphones can be controlled with the cue gain on your DJ controller. Usually this is a turning knob close to the cue button.

In the image below the cue gain knob sits between the two cue buttons.

So to listen to a song though your headphones but not through the speakers, for everyone to hear, you should cut down the volume using the volume sliders on your DJ controller.

When the headphone button is activated, you’ll also hear the song in your headphones even when the crossfader is all the way to the other side. The crossfader does not control the sound in your headphones.

You’ll probably also see the Master Volume knob somewhere on your DJ controller, that one is to adjust the volume of the music coming out of your speakers.

On most DJ controllers you can also choose if you want to hear through your headphones. You can choose the master sound, the cue sound, or both. On some DJ controllers, you can adjust this with a knob that looks like this.

Cue mix knob on Numark DJ Controller

If this knob is turned all the way to the left you’ll only hear the song that is cued. When you turn it all the way to the right, you’ll only hear the master channel through your headphones. When you leave it in the middel you’ll hear both. It’s a great way to hear if two songs will mix well together.

On some DJ controllers you’ll have to press the “master” button, often somewhere above the headphone button, to activate the master channel coming through your headphones.

Master button on Pioneer DJ controller

Why you should use your headphones

When I’m DJing a question I get asked a lot is: what do I actually hear in my headphones? I tell them I listen to the next song in my headphones. Obviously, then they want to know why.

So why should you preview the song on your headphones? Well, why not? You don’t pass on a ride to the hospital, when you need it, because you have the ability to walk, do you?

Headphones are just a helpful tool to make mixing easier and better.

The headphones button on your DJ deck was made specifically to be able to preview the next song on your headphones. The people that added this function to the DJ deck must have known what a DJ actually does, or what the purpose is of a DJ; creating harmony between two songs.

A DJ can’t perform its task well without headphones. An experienced DJ could probably make it work a little bit, but it won’t be nearly as good.

To keep the people dancing, to make great transitions, to mix two songs together, for all these tasks you need to your headphones.

When to use your headphones when DJing

Previewing the next song in your headphones is a tool that helps you find the right song to mix in with the current playing song. It’s also a tool to check if the cue points of the next song are set up correctly.

When you listen to a song in your music library, while the current song is playing through your speakers, you should be able to hear if that song will mix well with the current playing song. Don’t worry if you can’t just yet, it takes some practice and experience.

It’s best to preview the next song in your headphones as soon as possible. You need the time to listen carefully to the next song, and when you’re not pleased, you need time to find a new song.

DJs also use their headphones to make sure the cue points are set in the right place in the song.

For example, when you want to start the next song with the chorus, the cue point should be set at the first beat of the chorus. You can use your headphones for this too, and check if it’s set correctly.

While you’re at it you could also check if the song sounds good to mix in with the current song.

What you should also ways check when you’re previewing the next song is the quality of the song. Sometimes when you download music from DJ pools, quality is not guaranteed.

What headphones to use?

You can use any headphones that you want to use; all modern headphones will fit in modern DJ hardware.

You can choose to use noise-canceling headphones to DJ with, but I think I haven’t found a good reason to use them when you’re DJing.

Noise-canceling headphones have active cancelation of noises and are made to cancel out background noises. When you’re DJing the best headphones will passively isolate the sound in your headphones, not cancel background noise.

You also need to hear the sound coming out of your speakers so, I wouldn’t recommend noise-canceling headphones to DJ with.

When you want to buy new headphones for your DJing gigs or practices, look for the specs and see if it’s noise-isolation headphones.

Below you’ll find recommended headphones for DJing. Click on the name of the headphone to go to the product page.

Sennheiser HD 25 Professional DJ Headphone

Pioneer HDJ-X7-K Profesional DJ Headphone

Tips when using your headphones

  • Don’t forget to turn the headphones or cue button off when you’re going to mix in the next song. If you forget to do this, you won’t hear the next song through your speakers.
  • When you’re done listening to a song on your headphones, don’t forget to stop the song first before you press the headphones button again. Otherwise, the song will continue to play through your speakers.
  • When you’re previewing the next song, listen to it when most sounds or instruments are being used in the song. Often it will be the chorus or the hook of the song.
  • Set your cue point beforehand. It will save you a lot of time searching for the right point in the song to preview.
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