Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones for DJs?
Traditionally professional DJ headphones have one purpose, to monitor the mix even in noisy environments. As such most DJ headphones feature strong noise isolation and a bass-heavy sound profile. Not exactly ideal for using the headphones away from the booth. However, the market appears to be shifting, with more headphones released with consumer-friendly features such as Bluetooth support.
Korg, however, has taken it one step further. Offering a DJ headphone that not only provides wireless connectivity but noise-cancelling and hearing protection. In this review, we take a closer look to see if the Korg NC-Q1 headphones are the jack of all trades but master of none.
Following the trend of DJ headphones blurring the lines between consumer and professional use, the Korg NC-Q1 also include Bluetooth connectivity. Capable of playing advanced codecs (SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-xLLC, APTx-HD), the Bluetooth module also acts as a smart headset. This means the headphone can access Siri, Google Assistant and will even pause your music when removed. The inbuilt Bluetooth chip features beamforming technology to ensure a clear and strong connection in all environments.
The auto play/pause feature is extremely frustrating when paired with a laptop with no music playing. Automatically launching the Music app on our MacBook when put on, it’s a feature that sadly can’t even be disabled. If you have a YouTube video paused whilst Spotify is open, placing the headphones on will automatically play all available sources at once. On top of this, the headphone is very sensitive to pausing the track. Even adjusting the position of the headphones on your head can be enough to pause your playing track. Frustrating, to say the least.
The over-ear design of the Korg NC-Q1 resembles that of headsets used by those working in extreme environments. Visually very similar to a pit crews headset or an aircraft engineer, the similarity is no coincidence. The NC-Q1 design offers the ultimate isolation from external sounds. Even with active noise cancelling disabled, the NC-Q1 drastically reduces the sound of the surrounding environment considerably.
With a staggering 76% of DJ’s suffering from a form of Tinnitus, blocking out loud environments couldn’t be more crucial. However, are DJ’s going to wear headphones for the full night, even when not playing? Probably not, especially in headphones that look as bulky as these.
On top of superb external isolation, the Korg NC-Q1 headphones feature inbuilt active noise cancelling. As anyone who’s dared to try before will already know, noise-cancelling headphones might be fabulous on planes but suffer heavily in loud environments. Most headphones will be damaged if noise cancelling is activated whilst surrounded by extreme volume. So why are Korg promoting consumer-based technology to professional musicians working in the loudest of environments?
Well, unlike any other headphone we’ve used so far, the NC-Q1 has microphones designed and built for high volume pressure. On top of beefy external microphones, Korg has also placed microphones inside the headphone cup. This internal microphone lets the headphone hear what sounds are leaking into the user and adjust accordingly. It’s an ingenious system that works surprisingly well!
If things start to get a bit too loud for the microphones, the handy attenuation button will lower the gain to maximise performance in extreme situations. It is a nice touch that we surprisingly never used that often, which is a credit to the microphones’ ability to deal with high volumes. Keeping external noises out allows the user to use lower volumes, again promoting better hearing health.
Ambient Sound Monitoring
With the headphones excelling at blocking out external sounds, you’d be forgiven for imaging that the user would have to remove the headphones to listen to external sounds. From beat matching to the club’s output to taking requests, there are many times when DJs regularly remove the headphones throughout the night. However, in doing so, they are opening up the risk of hearing damage once again, undoing the very reason Korg sells these headphones.
To combat this, Korg has created an ambient monitoring mode. Using the noise cancelling microphones, this mode allows the user to hear the outside world. A simple tap on the side of the right cup and the mode is activated with one side of the headphones music fading out and external noise replacing it. The user can change which side of the headphone effects by holding the EQ button whilst the mode is activated. A longer press on the side of the right cup forces both sides of the music to cut the music out.
The dedicated sliding volume switch controls the external world’s volume, and the EQ button even shapes the sound! With High Boost/Cut, Low Boost/Cut, Mid Scoop and Flat options available. The DJ can tune the sound of the outside world to suit their preference. Perfect for when using this feature to monitor the sound of a boomy DJ booth!
The Korg NC-Q1 headphones sound superb. Featuring a big sound with strong lower frequencies and crisp highs, they excel when playing modern electronic music. The headphones certainly emphasise the lower frequencies with the tendency to sound boomy at times. The heavy bass sound won’t be of concern to most DJs who favour bold sound over intricate detail.
The 41mm drivers feature five layers of PEEK material in their construction. Providing great dynamics, it’s great to see this driver material at this price point. The headphones offer a frequency response of 10 Hz – 25000 Hz. Overall, they sound ideal for modern music with a big punchy sound that most DJ’s will appreciate.
It’s also worth mentioning the included cable. It looks fantastic. However, it just doesn’t feel robust enough to endure the rigours of a DJ booth. Thankfully it’s easy to replace with a beefed-up coiled unit thanks to the standard 3.5mm input on each cup.
The inbuilt 1,200mA Lithium Polymer battery provides enough juice for 35hours of noise cancelling when used with a wired connection, which is superb. Bluetooth use will lower this to around twelve hours, with sound cancelling enabled and twenty-four hours disabled. Sadly charging through a micro USB-B port, we would have preferred to see a USB-C, but it’s a minor detail in the grand scheme of things.
With superb sound isolation and innovative features, we’re big fans of the Korg NC-Q1 headphones. Hearing protection is something all DJs should be thinking about, and we’re big advocates of products that do what they can to help. Ambient sound monitoring is an excellent solution to having to keep the headphones on. However, we question how many people will use it rather than removing the headphones. The system works well. No doubt, the touch-sensitive activation lacks the accuracy needed in a busy situation.
Likewise, the Bluetooth controls are far too small and confusing, especially when placed close to the other controls. We aren’t bothered by buttons to skip track or activate Siri for a headphone aimed at professional musicians. It’s just not needed.
Overall, we love the Korg NC-Q1. They sound fantastic, perform brilliantly in the club, and the metal construction feels rock solid. Hopefully, we will see more manufacturers put hearing protection at the forefront of headphone design. Korg has certainly impressed with their first offering. A few minor tweaks aside, the NC-Q1 is a fantastic headphone for DJs in and away from the club.