Review : Pioneer DJ HDJ-C70 on-ear headphones

Clean audio gives consumers a surprise, but durability, part swaps keep them coming back

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Product Manufacturer: Pioneer DJ

Price: $200

The Good

  • Clean, even sound
  • Design considerations for usability, comfort
  • Interchangeable parts

The Bad

  • Alignment issues with headband
  • Exposed MMCX cable connections
  • Uncomfortable after three hours
Headphones for professional musicians and hardcore audio enthusiasts are in a different class than most mainstream options that flood retail space. Many focus on the pure sound signature and comfort needed for long sessions, leading to a focus on over-the-ear designs. To fill the gap in the market for on-ear headphones, Pioneer introduced the HDJ-C70. But does Pioneer's crack at a professional-grade on-ear model pay off, or should musicians and music fans seeking the best audio quality look elsewhere?

With the HDJ-C70 headphones, Pioneer makes a practical choice with design. The ear cups are large enough that wrapping a hand around one is easy, facilitated by the ridged rubber rings that run around the circumference. Rather than making adjustments to the band for fit, each ear cup moves vertically along the slider arms, for a total of 15 different positions. The plastic slider arms go through the body of the ear cups, leaving the unused portion of each arm to stick out of the bottom of the ear cups. The amount that sticks out shouldn't be a problem for most people, since at the shortest configuration the ear cup exposes only around 1.5 inches of the arm.

Other considerations are made for professional DJs and musicians, since the slider arms can rotate 90 degrees from the point they attach to the headband. For those that need to keep one ear open to listen to the surroundings and another focused on the music, the HDJ-C70 headphones can accommodate. Smaller attention to details, like the ribbing on the cables to deter tangling, are welcome as well.

One of the big appealing factors of the HDJ-C70 headphones is the forward-thinking design, which allows the use of interchangeable parts in case something needs replacement. Basically, owners can replace every piece of the headphones, including the headband, ear cushions, cables and ear cup housings. Users can get a feeling of how the headphones come apart, if they want to change from the installed straight cable to the coiled cable included in the box. Pioneer even gives buyers the tiny screwdriver needed to do the swap.

Swapping parts on the HDJ-C70 headphones isn't something owners are likely to do often, as the unit is durable. With the feel and look of how the ear cups slide, and the pressure put on connecting point of the headband, there's a slight concern that too much abuse could snap something. Surprisingly, the plastic the headphones are constructed from is quite durable. This allows owners to drop and beat on the HDJ-C70 headphones without much thought. Obviously they aren't indestructible, but throwing them into a car or dropping them on concrete doesn't faze them. With the MMCX cable connections to the drivers exposed at the top of the ear cups, users should exercise caution when thrashing them about so cables avoid catching them on equipment.

Comfort is a swaying factor for the HDJ-C70 headphones, but it depends on consumer experience with on-ear headphones. Pioneer's headphones become uncomfortable after roughly three hours of sustained use, but that's isn't necessarily a bad thing. With the polyurethane memory foam wrapped in leather on the ear cups, the HDJ-C70 headphones are the most comfortable on-ear headphones that we've worn. Discomfort is something that comes with the design of on-ear headphones, but Pioneer is able to partially correct it without adding so much padding that the music experience suffers. A tight fit also ensure the headphones demonstrate superior noise isolation.

The rotating slider arms help comfort as well, but not just because they can give users a chance to give an ear a rest. The polyamide resin padding on the bottom of the headband is dense, but supportive for long listening sessions. However, it is a little tiresome to wear after a few hours. Because of the articulation and the vertical position of the connecting point, the band can pushed slightly forward or backward without changing how the cups rest on the ears. This offers some temporarily relief, while also giving owners further options on how to wear the HDJ-C70 headphones. There is a slight downside, as it also means it is harder to keep the headphone band perfectly aligned, since each arm rotates independently.

Sound from the Pioneer HDJ-C70 headphones is extremely surprising. With Pioneer marking the headphones to professional DJs, there's a stigma that the sound produced in the unit would be bass-heavy. It's a stigma that doesn't hold up, since the HDJ-C70 headphones produce a wonderfully even, clean sound. Bass doesn't overpower the rest of the sound signature as one would witness in many mass-market headphones, nor are high notes screeching and without balance on the low end. That isn't to say that the mix from the HDJ-C70 is flat, rather that it keeps the sound pure by retaining the dynamic nature. Duran Duran's "Notorious," a song known for its dynamic qualities, sounds as good or better from the Pioneer headphones than any other headphones we've tested in the last year.

The sound emitting from the drivers is virtually distortion-free, leaving guitar notes bright, vocals clean and the subtlety in bass discernable. For those songs that do witness distortion because of the mixed product, the headphones manage to lessen the intensity. Of course, cranking volume to the maximum blasts most of the clean and pure sounds out the window. Even then, the HDJ-C70 still tries to cope, but at the decibel levels it puts out, it isn't recommended to try to gauge the differences.

Maximum levels reach 106dB on Björk's "Hunter," falling short only to the Razer Kraken Pro headset's highest reading of 110.9dB on the same song. As the sound quality from the HDJ-C70 is much, much better, it isn't a fair comparison with the Razer headphones, which sit in a different class. Coheed and Cambria's "Welcome Home" didn't fair too bad either, peaking at 103.8dB. Traditionally, the rock song would be the most telling of distortion in high notes, but it showed little traces throughout testing. In the levels from 100 percent to 25 percent volume, the HDJ-C70 performed consistently, seeing a drop of 26 percent to 28 percent.

Pioneer delivered another rock-solid piece of professional grade equipment in the HDJ-C70 on-ear headphones. The surprisingly clear audio and interchangeable parts will keep users returning to them for years to come. However, there are a few minor issues that keep them from being perfect, including the headband that often needs tweaking, and the exposed MMCX connections at the top of the ear cups. These are only minor inconveniences to deal with, which frankly, some people will never care about. Sound is the star in the HDJ-C70 headphones, with all of the other design considerations icing on the cake. For the $200 asking price, buyers get a pair of headphones truly worth buying, as long as they like and understand the comfort level on-ear headphones offer.