Can You DJ Without Headphones? – And How To Do That

DJing without headphones is possible – a bold statement, yet still partially true. In this short article we’ll tell you whether or not it’s possible to perform live without using headphones at all, and if its possible to deliver a quality mix with no in-ear monitors or monitor speakers connected to your DJ controller. We’ll also share some vital tips on how to actually attempt to mix your tracks without using headphones.

  1. DJing without headphones – is it possible at all?
  2. How to DJ without using headphones?
  3. A vital headphone-less mixing tip
  4. Why do some DJs don’t use headphones?
  5. Why do DJs take headphones off and put them on during a live performance?
  6. What are some good and comfortable headphones for DJs?
  7. Mixing without headphones is the same as mixing without monitor speakers

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DJing without headphones – is it possible at all?

Headphones are one of the main pieces of DJ's equipment for a reason - but can you DJ without them?
Headphones are one of the main pieces of DJ’s equipment for a reason – but can you DJ without them? | Photo: Sergey Zigle

Can you DJ if you don’t have any headphones? The answer to this question is not so straightforward. A standard (“classic” if you will) DJ performance can be always dumbed down to two things:

  1. Playing a track live.
  2. Preparing the next track (or tracks) to be played in the meantime.

Once your second track is prepared, you can either attempt beatmatching to match the tempo of your first track for a timely transition, or cue your second track in right after the first track stops playing to supply your audience with uninterrupted music playback.

Most of professional, mid-range and entry-level DJ controllers feature a built-in soundcard connected with a dedicated headphone output that will enable you to listen to your prepared tracks in your headphones, even when your channel fader is down and people can’t hear the music coming from the given mixer channel.

This basic functionality lets you prepare and preview your next track, set your cue point and/or hot-cue points live, prepare your mix-in and mix-out points, all with the mixer channel fader down and the said track being heard only in your headphones.

Another way to get access to the cue playback functionality is to get yourself some monitor speakers for your DJ booth.

How to DJ without using headphones?

Is DJing without headphones possible? - Under some circumstances, it is.
Is DJing without headphones possible? – Under some circumstances, it is. | Photo: Edward Howell

How do DJ without the use of headphones? You might not have any headphones as a choice, because you haven’t found just the right ones yet, or more commonly – because your older/lower-end DJ controller does not have a built-in soundcard and thus does not feature a headphone out.

In this case, you are really limited when it comes to live track preparation and you’ll have to think out most of your mix before your live performance.

Not having a way to silently check on your upcoming tracks, listen to the tracks you don’t yet know, or beatmatch by ear, means that most of your live DJ set without using headphones will have to be prepared in advance.

This means that you’ll need to:

  • Know your track library well (very well) – you won’t have a chance to check or preview any unknown tracks live, unless you’re going to use your phone or other capable audio device for that.
  • Prepare your track transitions carefully – all of your track transitions will have to be more or less prepared beforehand, as you won’t have the ability to search for the mix entry points live (unless the tracks are really simple when it comes to their structure, and you are able to display them in waveform view).
  • Rely on beatmatching by synchronizing the waveforms on your screen – this is quite unfortunate, but you also won’t be able to beatmatch or phrase match your tracks by ear during live transitions. When mixing without headphones, you have to rely solely on the track waveform view in your DJ software while beatmatching. You’ll need to make sure your chosen DJ software supports displaying deck 1 and deck 2 track waveforms right next to each other for this to work.

A vital headphone-less mixing tip

Knowing your music library and having it well organized is one of the most important things when attempting to mix without using headphones or monitor speakers.
Knowing your music library and having it well organized is one of the most important things when attempting to mix without using headphones or monitor speakers. | Photo: blocks

One of the best tips for headphone-less mixing is to set all your hot-cue points before your live performance. Set the hot-cues in the most convenient mix-in and mix-out points on your tracks, so that you’re not at a disadvantage when you’ll have to do a transition between two tracks that you haven’t practiced or thought out before.

How To Organize Your Tracks/Songs – DJ Playlists Guide

Remember that when mixing without any headphones or monitor speakers you lose:

  • The ability to pre-listen to unknown tracks during your live performance.
  • Ability to preview your known tracks to search for new mix-entry / mix-out points in them.
  • Possibility of beatmatching and/or phrase matching your tracks by ear.

These are pretty huge limitations by common DJing standards.

Why do some DJs don’t use headphones?

Some DJs successfully perform without headphones, why is that?
Some DJs successfully perform without headphones, why is that? | Photo: Edward Howell

Some DJs known for their highly technical and complex live performances don’t use headphones during their live mixes at all. Most of the time this is because these kinds of technical performances are prepared in detail long before the live act, and are practiced through and through many times before the actual live performance.

As these kinds of technical live mixes often follow very strict formulas and don’t allow for much improvisation, they are quite easy to do without headphones or monitors in a DJ booth.

Why do DJs take headphones off and put them on during a live performance?

There are various different practices when it comes to using headphones during a live mix. | Photo:
There are various different practices when it comes to using headphones during a live mix. | Photo: Moises Alex

Putting the headphones on and taking them off during a live performance is typically not just to do some flashy yet meaningless moves during a live act as many people suspect.

DJs that don’t make use of in-booth monitor speakers need to rely on their headphones for live track preparation and beatmatching, at the same time they also have to control the actual audio that the audience can hear live. The headphones play a vital part in all these processes.

This is why it’s so common for DJs to take their headphones off and put them on in quick succession, or put them on just on one ear during a live performance.

For this very reason, headphones where one of the headphone speakers is able to be freely adjusted have been invented (such as these ones). This way you can easily and comfortably leave your headphones on during your mix, and you’ll still have one ear free to listen to the sound coming out of your main audio output.

What are some good and comfortable headphones for DJs?

Having great quality comfortable headphones is really important if you're a DJ for a number of reasons.
Having great quality comfortable headphones is really important if you’re a DJ for a number of reasons. | Photo: FPVmat A

If you think seriously about DJing, you’re gonna need a comfortable pair of headphones with good sound quality and loud enough to be used in a live context.

Remember, that as a DJ you’re gonna be using your headphones a lot. This means that your chosen pair has to be as comfortable and ergonomic as possible to let you fully focus on your equipment during your live performance or practice.

We went over quite a few headphone models for you and put together a short list of headphones that we recommend. Check these out and see if they’re a good fit for you!

Here are our chosen tested recommendations:

Other quality headphones for DJs on Ebay:

Mixing without headphones is the same as mixing without monitor speakers

Mixing without headphones or without monitor speakers is possible, but not quite that easy.
Mixing without headphones or without monitor speakers is possible, but not quite that easy. | Photo: Joshua Anand

Both headphones and monitor speakers let you prepare your tracks live and beatmatch by ear. Headphones are more of a private way, as their output is played to you and to you only, while monitor speakers will be playing back the cue audio right inside your DJ booth.

With all this said, the most efficient way to DJ is essentially DJing with the much needed aid of headphones or monitor speakers. We highly recommend you to check out the most popular DJ headphone models we found suitable for DJs of all skill levels for their comfort and convenience. Just look few paragraphs above. Rock on!

Main article photo: Sergey Zigle

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