Pioneer’s latest headphones are aimed at newcomers to DJing. How does the new budget HDJ model compare to its more expensive siblings?
A quick glance at the Pioneer DJ headphone range immediately confirms that the brand offer a little bit of something for everyone. If you’re after the absolute best that money can buy, £300 gets you a pair of the flagship HDJ-X10 model, but the newly released HDJ-CUE1s aim for the opposite end of the market, targeting newcomers to DJing rather than professionals. Coming in at just under £60, the CUE1s are very keenly priced.
Alongside a pair of the next model in the range, the HDJ-X5s (currently £87), there’s absolutely no doubt that the CUE1s are part of the same family. The X5s come in a fancier box, with a couple more accessories and nice touches like a soft carry case, but as far as the most important things go, the CUE1s are very similar: same tried-and-tested DJ-friendly design, with swivelling earpieces and padded headband, same coiled cable.
Most importantly of all, the CUE1s appear to use exactly the same 40mm driver as the X5s, with identical specs in terms of frequency response, from 5 Hz to 30 kHz. Trying the headphones side by side, they sound pretty much identical, which is a good thing seeing as the X5s are solid performers: clear, detailed and punchy, with good bass presentation. The main difference is that the smaller earpieces of the CUE1s make them sit on top of your ears rather than surrounding them and resting against your head and cheeks. While the on-ear design of the CUE1 might theoretically offer slightly less isolation than the over-ear design of the X5s, it doesn’t feel . Perhaps in a loud club environment you may be able to notice a slight difference, but the on-ear design has never been an issue for perennial DJ favourites such as the Sennheiser HD25s.
Its rarely acknowledged publicly by brands, but the truth is that most people considering the CUE1s will want them to be more than just DJ headphones. Manufacturers are quietly aware that more affordable headphones usually need to be multipurpose affairs, so it’s important that they look good and feel comfortable to wear for extended listening periods. In addition to the comfort you’d expect of a DJ headphone, the CUE1s are involving and not fatiguing to listen to for extended periods. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I also find the on-ear design a little more appealing than a big over-ear design for casual listening; the CUE1s are stylish enough that you’d be happy to wear them in public. On that note, the CUE1s also allow you to swap the earpads and headband for a range of colours to customise them to your own taste.
Above all else, the CUE1s feel and sound a fair bit more expensive than they are. Is the more expensive HDJ-X5 a better pair of headphones? The sound and build quality are so similar that I’d say it really comes down to a simple question of whether you prefer an on-ear or over-ear design. My only real complaint is that there’s no headphone adapter included in the box, so you’ll need to buy one separately. Aside from that minor quibble, the CUE1s are easy to recommend to anyone looking for an affordable but high quality pair of headphones.