DJ Tips - Choosing Headphones, Needles & Slipmats
HeadphonesJust like any other piece of DJ equipment, DJ headphones need to meet certain requirements that have to do with how and where they are typically used. By the way, DJs are expected to bring their own headphones with them to a club, so keep in mind that your first pair of “cans” may have to graduate from the bedroom together with yourself. Here are the main points to consider when shopping for a pair of DJ headphones:
- Isolation. In a loud environment with bass booming all around, it's extremely important that your headphones let you listen precisely to what you are doing. You want your “cans” to cut out all that background noise as efficiently as possible. This explains why any pair of half-decent DJ headphones is closed-back type, although that alone doesn't guarantee good isolation.
- Comfort. You'll be wearing your headphones for hours, so make sure they're light and don't press on your head too much. Also, go for a thick, long cord that doesn't constrain your movements behind the decks.
- Ruggedness. DJ booth environment may be harsh. Your cans will get twisted, dropped, kicked and stepped on (mostly by yourself). It's better if they don't break instantly, so ruggedness pays.
- Convenience. Two-ear and one-ear monitoring, shoulder-ear vs. one-earcup-on-the-side – DJs use their 'phones in a multitude of ways. That's when you begin to appreciate swivel/rotating cups and a shoulder pad.
- Frequency response and sound quality. The hearing range of a (young) human ear is 20 to 20,000 Hz. The wider your “cans'” frequency range, the better, although manufacturers' claims such as “5 Hz to 30,000 Hz frequency response” are usually an overstatement. Sound quality is more subjective and needs to be assessed by actually listening to the particular pair.
Cartridges and NeedlesIf you decided to go for a pair of vinyl turntables for your setup, you'll also need to buy cartridges and needles for them. Sometimes a turntable will come with a basic cartridge, but that's more of an exception than the rule. A cartridge is a device that holds the needle (also known as the stylus) and transforms its mechanical vibrations into electric signals. Pictured to the left is the Stanton 500.V3 cartridge; the stylus is the white part with the needle tip that goes into the black “cart”. The cartridge is mounted with a pair of screws on the headshell (it comes with the turntable) and connected to it with four colored wires. There are also the cool-looking “integrated” type cartridges that don't use a headshell and are attached to the tonearm directly. Carts normally come with a pre-installed stylus. After it wears out, you simply replace it with a new matching one without having to buy a new cartridge. Here are some points to consider when choosing the cartridges for your vinyl decks:
- Headshell-mounted vs. “integrated” type cartridge. Headshell-mounted carts are normally cheaper. On the other hand, the all-in-one carts look really awesome. Besides, with the “integrated” type, you don't need to worry about mounting the cart on the headshell correctly and attaching those tiny wires.
- Stylus shape. Spherical stylii (or styluses?) are the cheapest to produce and therefore the most common. Elliptical shaped stylii are more expensive but they also sound better. On the other hand, an elliptical stylus will wear out your records faster if you do extensive scratching or back-cueing.
- Frequency response. The wider your cart's frequency response range, the more accurate it is in turning those record grooves into sound and the better the overall sound quality.
- Tracking. This one is a subjective characteristic that tells you how likely the cartridge is to skip when you're manhandling the record. Good tracking is pivotal if you're planning to do any scratching.