How to DJ with Headphones Only
DJs would benefit from learning to mix only in their heads, which is entirely doable.
It will be useful for practicing DJing discreetly, but it will also get you ready for events when you might have to use in-ear monitors since the DJ booth monitors might be bad or nonexistent.
Since I can't DJ too loudly until the kids are asleep, I actually do it that way the majority of the time.
The setups that you can use to practice at home when it's too late to play as loudly as you usually do are described in the paragraphs that follow.
You can use the following configurations to DJ with only headphones:
- DDJ-400 remedy
- master cue answer
- Split cue remedy
- Solution for Traktor
Pick the one that works for you now, and get to work!
Let's look at the Pioneer DDJ-400's capabilities in this regard.
Song A (left side) is playing a tune, so you’re ready to Cue up and bring in Song B (right side).How to DJ using only headphones
The headphone signal knob should be adjusted between "Cue" and "Mix." Make sure Song B and not Song A has the Cue button selected. You won't be able to hear the beat you are cueing up very well if you don't.
You should now be able to use the Cue button or jog wheel to listen to both the live performance of Song A and your own cueing of Song B.
Use the headphone settings mentioned earlier to jump to a beat and start beat matching when you start cueing the next song.
It's time to move on to the live mix if you're satisfied that the beats are in time.
Set the new headphone settings between "Mix" and "Master" before experimenting with the crossfader or any other transition techniques, such as EQing.
By doing so, you'll be able to hear your brand-new Song B blending in with Song A when the crossfader starts doing so.
Cue Master Solution
Make sure the "Master Cue" function is turned on first (the one above the Sampler Volume knob).
Next, switch between the cue and the Master output using the "Headphones mixing" knob located below the button.
Use the following music for this Master output, which is what everyone is hearing, on the channels you have with the cue function enabled.
To quickly listen to your next track, check your levels, and cue up the song's start, turn the knob all the way to the left at first.
Then, turn the knob about halfway. DJs differ on whether you should place the knob closer to the left so you can hear the master more subtly or, additionally, to the master side so it's more obvious when your beatmatching is drifting out of sync.
I prefer to be either directly in the centre or little to the right, but experiment and find the position that makes you the happiest.
Play the song when it should (for example, at the beginning of a phrase), then listen to the cue and the Master to make sure you're matching the rhythms correctly.
The new music can then be added to the mix at this point. The fresh tune will become significantly louder relative to the main output if you keep your knob in the middle between the cue and master because you are now receiving the output of the song from two sources simultaneously.
I prefer to disable the channel's cue so that what I hear is what the audience hears. In order to better hear the next song and ensure that I can grasp my beatmatching drifting before the crowd hears it, I might go back toward the cue if the mixing is a little complicated or the next track is significantly quieter. Still, I like to just have the master output operating in the headphones when both tracks are playing at maximum volume.
After then, mix out the previous song and start pumping your fist to the new one.
Solution for Split Cue
My friend does it like this.
His headphones are constantly plugged in, and his controller is attached to some speakers with a headphone port.
He has a pair of cheap headphones (like these) that he plugs into the cue area on his controller when he wants to mix.
He inserts one of the earbuds into one ear before covering it with his main over-the-ear headphones. He is able to cue up using the earbuds while still listening to the master mix through the bulky headphones.
That is why it might be challenging to release in on the one with the proper timing, hear the appropriate volumes, and, most importantly, check to see if your transitions are smooth.
His Nexus 900 has a function called Split Cue. It's uncommon on controllers, in my experience. How does it work? Your cue is played in one ear while the set is played in the other.
He started using an outdated Rane Xone 68 that had it, and he claims it was amazing since you could play late into the night without worrying about disturbing your family because you didn't have to have your bedroom monitors on at all.
He claims that with his method, learning is 99% likely but mixing is challenging. He currently owns a Pioneer CDJ-900 Nexus, and while he occasionally uses it in the apartment, if he needs to record a mix, he takes it out to the garage so as not to disturb his wife.
This is also a great choice if you live in an apartment building where playing bass after hours is generally frowned upon.
The "leave your cue headphone over one ear at all times, and use the cue button to turn on and off the cue" team, as opposed to the "move the headphone from your ear when not cueing, and leave cue turned on at all times" folks, should be made clear, too.
As long as your soundcard can accommodate a booth, headphone, and master out or the venue's controller has adequate routing, this solution also functions in clubs with subpar booth monitors.
This should function flawlessly if you're using Traktor and have at least a 24-Bit/96kHz soundcard and/or an external mixer configured with T. Scratch.
What you'll need is:
- -A pair of studio monitor or big-cup DJ headphones (I've used the Audio-Technica ATH-M70X, which provide a dependable level of comfort);
- A pair of earbud-style headphones with a low profile (2 x RCA or 2 x 1/4"; male to female stereo converter; your normal headphones should work fine).
- The stereo-female end must be compatible with your DJ/studio monitor connection, and the 2-lead male ends should match the type and size of your soundcard outs.
How to configure it:
- Set your soundcard's master output to one of the 1/4" outputs, and connect your monitor output to the soundcard's headphone output.
- Connect your stereo-to-stereo converter (2 1/4" male to 1/8" female) to the soundcard outs that are set to your master.
- DJ/Studio monitor headphones should be connected to the converter's stereo end.
- Then join the earphones to your soundcard's headphone output.
- Place DJ/Studio monitor headphones over both ears and one earbud in the ear you typically use for headphone cueing prior to mixing (earbud too)
After that, DJing will continue as usual.
It takes some getting accustomed to using this technique, and I've noticed that it works best if the master-out volume in Traktor is slightly shifted toward the ear that is wearing the earphone.
The loss in master volume through the ear with the earphone attached is less significant when your cue button is off in Traktor.
While it differs slightly from mixing with speakers and cue headphones, it is close enough that mixing won't feel overly overwhelming.
Tips for DJing with only headphones
Purchase a pair of cozy headphones.
Please get acceptable headphones that are soft around the ears if you intend to DJ only briefly with a set of them.
Owning a set of cheap headphones that compress and bind your ears after 40 minutes of mixing is almost the worst possible situation.
To prevent ear weakening, take regular pauses.
Hearing loss can result from weakened ears and loud music. You'll discover that if you enjoy loud music, as I do, you can simply set aside some time to DJ in this way.
Consider how loud you want to set your volume. That will pay off because you won't have to take a long break from listening to sets to listen to your mixes afterward.
Record your sets so you can listen to them later in order to advance more quickly. You can do this using Rekordbox and any other DJ software. Making shorter mixes (like 20–25 minutes) allows you to identify your mistakes more quickly and make the necessary corrections in the following mix, which I've found to be the most effective approach.
For live performance, practicing only with headphones can be beneficial.
You can run into a situation in a club where the DJ booth monitors aren't working properly (speakers). This implies that the monitors might not be there, might be too far away, or might possibly not be functional.
This could be a lifesaver if you follow the above-recommended advise and exercise alone with headphones while applying the "cue-mix-master" techniques.
To assist you DJ with only headphones, try beat matching.
The waveform of both tracks in the mix is visibly displayed by Rekordbox and other DJ software. So you may practice using the visual waveform to equal the kick drum and snares when you're only mixing with headphones.
Don't use that for prolonged practice. Instead, become proficient with the jog wheel and pitch shift. The art of beat matching by ear cannot be replaced.
Although mixing exclusively with headphones is conceivable, all you really need to get the next song ready are some speakers that produce sound and your headphones.
Your desire for "reference" displays will increase as your technology level increases. These only make frequency management much easier, acting as a superb photography screen.
Don't allow the minor details prevent you from learning, though, as they do with everything artistic. You'll arrive.
Get to work if you simply want to utilize your headphones for mixing on the fly, learning to match beats, or hearing how songs sound in the correct key (or an alternate minor) or the incorrect key. Even if the circumstances are not ideal, learning will always be beneficial in the future.