Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT review: Pro features for regular life

The personal audio market is flooding with earphones that offer wireless convenience and promise advanced features including virtual surround. What these super-compact styles can’t replicate is the experience of the best over-ear headphones that make you feel like an old-school disc jockey and offer an actually enveloping listening experience. The Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT headphones provide the best of both worlds, merging the retro-fitted style of closed-back headphones you could take from your desk to the DJ booth with the latest tech you want in a Bluetooth model. 

© Quinn Gawronski These Pioneer headphones take their, well, cues from professional DJ pairs, but with added flair.

Coming from a company with a long history in DJ equipment, the HDJ-CUE1BT headphones have features designed with DJs in mind, but they are also well-suited to be an average user’s daily pick. Compared to Pioneer’s pro models (such as the HDJ-X5), these headphones build on quality benchmarks while adding connectivity and customization features. If you want to feel like you’re working the crowd, whether it’s at the Paradise Garage circa 1977 or it’s from the main stage at Coachella, a detachable short-coiled cable can connect to a DJ mixer, laptop, or other devices with a 3.5mm headphone jack. Or if wired headphones aren’t your thing, connecting to the playlists on your phone with Bluetooth is just a tap away. 

I found the Pioneer headphones to be lightweight considering their size. I’m an over-ear novice used to carrying AirPods, which weigh 4g each, but the Pioneer’s weight of 250 grams (without the 1.8m cord that connects to the left earcup) was easily manageable. The headphones also offer controls on the left earcup, which you can use to power on, pair, skip tracks, answer calls, and toggle the volume of your track. Though this is helpful if you’re looking to be hands-free while listening, finding the buttons and knowing which one coordinates to what control was less streamlined for me than when I’m using the touch functionality on my AirPods to control my iPhone. 

The headphones are built primarily of hard plastic but include metal sliders to adjust the size, faux leather padding on the ear cups and headphone, and swiveling hinges that can adjust to your specific head shape. While the faux leather padding certainly adds a layer of comfort over the plastic, it’s not very dense, which made the headphones slightly uncomfortable for extended use—especially when I was wearing my glasses. And, unlike in-ears, the Pioneer DJ headphones aren’t well-equipped for exercising or intense movement, though that’s not a shortcoming of this particular brand but the over-ear design in general. Over-ear headphones specifically designed with stabilizers and/or extra clamping force might be a better contender when it comes to on-the-go use. 

© Quinn Gawronski The Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT headphones offer the kind of energetic sound that makes you want to mix them into your everyday gear.

The Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT headphones’ battery life is stated to last up to 30 hours, so you won’t need to plug them in every night even if you’re using them frequently. If they do need juice, though, the package includes a USB charging cable that connects to that feature-packed left earcup. It only takes 150 minutes to fully charge these headphones, which is relatively fast considering how long the battery lasts. One thing not included, however, is a handy carrying case for the headphones and/or cable.

In terms of aesthetics, the Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT headphones come in black, red, and silvery-white (the color I tested). And if you want to customize those base colors, Pioneer also offers a range of swappable earcup options in vibrant orange, yellow, green (my choice, shown at the top of the page), blue, and pink. For those that treat headphones like a fashion/lifestyle accessory, the ability to personalize your headphones can keep them updated and fresh. 

Like most Bluetooth headphones on the market, the Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT headphones are fairly simple to set up. Just press the large button on the left ear cup until the LED blinks, and then search for HDJ-CUE1BT in your device’s Bluetooth settings panel. Once paired to a phone, they’ll automatically connect to the device whenever turned on—just press and hold the main button to power up. Alternatively, plug in the supplied cable.

© Quinn Gawronski The combination of wired and wireless features makes these Pioneer headphones as versatile as they are sonically vibrant.

The combination of wired and wireless features makes these Pioneer headphones as versatile as they are sonically vibrant.

The HDJ-CUE1BT headphones supports Bluetooth version 5.0, which allows a theoretical range of up to 800 feet (your mileage may vary depending on devices and/or locations). In terms of connectivity codecs, the Pioneer DJ headphones support plain SBC, assuring they are compatible with all Bluetooth devices, as well as higher-fidelity AAC, which is primarily supported by iOS. There isn’t any support for high-resolution formats such as aptX or LDAC, however. (If you want more information on how Bluetooth works, check out our handy guide.)

The Pioneer DJ headphones use 40mm dome-type dynamic drivers and have a frequency range of 5 – 30,000 Hz, which expands beyond the average audible frequency range of 20 – 20,000 Hz. And when it comes to sound pressure, the Pioneers hit a maximum of 104 dB, though you shouldn’t—experts recommend limiting exposure to music higher than 85 dB to 15 minutes. What this means is that the Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT, with sound tuning inspired by the pro-level HDJ-X5 headphones, delivers deep bass and an immersive listening experience. The drivers are designed to hit low while maintaining clarity throughout the mids and high-end, which came through beautifully during testing. 

Even at a moderate volume, the headphones provided a bass-forward sound, which let me get a full-fledged experience from my favorite tracks without having to crank the volume. While the bass was the first thing I noticed, it’s expertly balanced with vivid highs to create an overall balanced presentation. The tuning, which helps DJs pick out all the details they need to successfully mix, makes for energetic everyday listening. 

On tracks like the R&B-trap hybrid “Black Betty White” by McClenney feat. Erick the Architect, the honeyed vocals and prominent walking bass were balanced with crisp acoustic notes for a rich soundscape that blew my in-ear headphones out of the water. Listening to the atmospheric EDM of “When I Get There” by Big Wild closely rivaled being blanketed by the pulsing sound in a concert venue, which I can only assume is aided by the padded ear cups that block out extraneous noise and reinforce reverberant bass performance. 

As someone who typically enjoys my audio on-the-go through Apple AirPods and the NuraTrue earbuds (which I reviewed here), I’m pretty accustomed to true wireless earphones that fit in the palm of my hand. That said, these smaller designs leave room for improvement—especially when it comes to bass, which is where the Pioneers came out ahead. These headphones packed an impressive punch and are now my favorite pair when I want to be really immersed in my favorite playlists. 

The main caveat to an over-ear headphone model is that they can be less functional when in hurried transit or exercising. I tested the headphones during a workout and though the Pioneers stayed in place while lifting weights or performing moderate exercise, more strenuous activities like running, jumping, or floor workouts could cause them to slip off. And when I’m heading out in the evening with only a small purse, the size of the Pioneers (or really, any full-sized headphones) makes them less convenient to pack in a bag. They also don’t include any kind of backup battery case (a common feature for earbuds but not headphones), so if you run out of battery away from home there’s no quick solution to charging up—and that cable is only useful if you happen to have a phone with a headphone jack, which excludes all iPhones. That said, when working in a coffee shop or walking outdoors, these headphones brought out a fidelity in my music that I typically miss when using an in-ear option. They also effectively muffled outside noise, so I could be semi-alert to my surroundings while still achieving a full-fledged listening experience.

© Quinn Gawronski Pioneer’s headphones brought comfort and clarity that won this AirPods user.

Pioneer’s headphones brought convenience and clarity that won over this AirPods user.

If you want to amp up your music without spending a fortune, the Pioneer DJ headphones are a high-quality option to check out. With a rich, but still balanced sound profile that lets the beat hit hard without disrupting the rest of the frequency range, plus colorful customization options, these wireless headphones will make an impression on you and anyone that sees you wearing them. That said, if you use Bluetooth headphones exclusively for your daily commute or workout, these might not be the sole pair you rely on, as earphones are hard to beat if you’re traveling light. As an additional pair for music lovers, however, the Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT headphones’ wireless mode offers modern convenience while the classic over-ear look, especially with the cable, is like a high-tech blast from the past—the only thing missing was a Walkman and CD.

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