Pioneer HDJ-X10c Carbon Fiber Edition DJ Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 1, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone XsMax with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red/DAC-amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the Pioneer HDJ-X10c headphone (HDJ-X10c hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design ("DJ", full-size closed-back), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the HDJ-X10c (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    Disclaimer: The basic tonality of this headphone is somewhat masked (for audiophile purposes) by a moderate recess in the "presence" region around 3.5 to 7 khz. This judgement is based not on hearing per se, nor on personal taste, but on direct comparison to many other premium headphones and the sound of live acoustic music. With just the right EQ (for those who might be skeptical about my impressions), the clarity, impact, and tonality of the HDJ-X10c is very impressive. At this point, after some burn-in and 50 hours or so of listening, the only adjustment I've made with an equalizer is in the presence area I just noted. This kind of tuning isn't unusual these days - audiophile headphones like the AudioQuest NightHawk, NightOwl, and the Focal Elear are similarly tuned. The old "standards" like the high-end Sennheiser and Beyer series may eventually fade away, but how that works out for audiophiles will depend of course on the body of available recordings.

    Before writing this, I read many online reviews and watched many video reviews of the HDJ-X10c, and one of the complaints there was a criticism of excessive spaciousness or overly-large soundstage. Maybe for DJ's, but definitely not for audiophiles. The soundstage is really good (again, bear in mind a proper EQ) - unusually so for a closed-back headphone. That, coupled with excellent accuracy and tonality make the HDJ-X10c a good value, even at the limited edition price. In fact, it may be that the clarity and tonality of this headphone are positively influenced by the carbon fiber and other premium treatments. Lastly, the bass response is more like classic audiophile headphones (high-end Sennheiser and Beyer models as noted above) in that DJ's and bass lovers may think it insufficient. I find it quite good for at-home listening where it's quiet, but for use in outdoor environments or clubs - especially where there's a lot of low-frequency noise - I see the point of having a stronger low end to compensate.

    The HDJ-X10c came with pleather earpads installed, which are my favorite because they don't tend to accumulate sweat and oils that can change the sound over time. The downside for some users is that the earcups can get very warm, and sweat may accumulate in the earcups. In such a case - especially in warm environments - I'd recommend taking the headphone off every so often and wiping off the sweat, so it doesn't get into the drivers. The HDJ-X10c's earcups are round rather than ear-shaped, so some ears might not fit into the openings as well as mine do. The HDJ-X10c's isolation is moderate - good enough for most home use and outdoor use where it's not extremely noisy, but probably not good enough for public transport. Leakage is very low, so playing music loudly in a quiet office might work, unless someone sitting very close by hears the sound faintly and objects.

    The HDJ-X10c comes with two cables - straight (~5 ft) and coiled. The coiled cable was made for DJ's, but note that the mini-XLR earcup plug goes into the left earcup, so if you need to plug into a jack on your right side, you'll have to stretch it across from left to right. The headband is very well padded, and the headband's range of adjustment is generous - at least 1/2 inch smaller and larger on each side than where I set it for my head. The HDJ-X10c can be worn around the neck all day if need be, by pulling the earcups all the way down and rotating them flat against the chest. The leatherette zippered carry case supplied with the headphone is just large enough to accomodate the headphone with the earcups folded flat, so it may be an OK fit in carry-on luggage, but it's probably too big for most backpacks.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the HDJ-X10c compares with each individual track. These tracks were evaluated using EQ settings as I noted above. Note that this EQ is not to "personal taste", but rather to approximate the headphone sound to the sound of live acoustic music.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The HDJ-X10c plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the HDJ-X10c.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel the weight they carry with the HDJ-X10c.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The HDJ-X10c plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the HDJ-X10c.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The HDJ-X10c plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are bright, crisp, and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The HDJ-X10c reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the HDJ-X10c renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The HDJ-X10c plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sounds very realistic - much better than what I hear with most headphones.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The HDJ-X10c reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The HDJ-X10c plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have enough of the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates an acceptable deep-bass response. Overall, the HDJ-X10c plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The HDJ-X10c plays this track extremely well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce fairly well with the HDJ-X10c. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The HDJ-X10c provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the HDJ-X10c plays those extremely well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The HDJ-X10c plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the HDJ-X10c is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle with the HDJ-X10c.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the HDJ-X10c renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The HDJ-X10c's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is almost perfect.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The HDJ-X10c provides some of that experience, but the leaner low bass lessens the drama. The tympani have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the HDJ-X10c renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The HDJ-X10c's reproduction is excellent, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The HDJ-X10c delivers the impacts with decent weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Continuing with the music samples aspect of my Pioneer HDJ-X10c review, the following are a few of the "odds and ends" I've picked up in the process of reviewing headphones. The sound of most of these tracks is sufficiently good to complement any decent headphone, but they show off the HDJ-X10c's sonic qualities as well as anything I've heard. Some of these may be hard to find, particularly in the exact mix/remix.

    Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Soundtrack to a hand-painted color movie. A terrific variety of sounds that show off the excellent audio qualities of the HDJ-X10c.

    Muse - Madness: Strong bass line with mass vocals. Clearly delineated by the HDJ-X10c.

    Mylene Farmer - Desenchantee: French vocal over a driving bass beat. Very enjoyable with the HDJ-X10c.

    Robyn Hitchcock - Autumn Is Your Last Chance: Acoustic/electric guitar with compelling vocal. Pure class as reproduced by the HDJ-X10c.

    Samantha James - Amber Sky: Reverberant instrumentation and ethereal vocal. Dreamy stuff that sounds amazing on the HDJ-X10c.

    Satchmode - Best Intentions: Atmospheric vocals over a very decent bass line. Exquisite reproduction by the HDJ-X10c.

    Sneaker Pimps - Underground (Nellee Hooper Mix): Slow-paced club music with female vocal and subtle but very effective bass impacts. The bass in this track will be appreciated only in a quiet listening spot.

    Soliquid - Shibuya (Paul Keeley Remix): Eight minutes and 50 seconds of heavenly beats and awesome musical synth effects as heard with the HDJ-X10c.

    Stones and Bones - Love Lockdown: Ibiza 2014 track with a very spacious atmosphere and a bit of contrapuntal vocal. Outstanding on the HDJ-X10c.

    Susanne Sundfor - Accelerate: High-ambiance noise with decent bass impacts and reverberant vocals. The HDJ-X10c makes this track come alive.

    Third Sex - Monster Snack: One of the best of the Goth/RiotGrrrl genre, available on the Free To Fight CD. Somewhat primitive sound with aggressive vocal, but there ya go - as good as it gets with this headphone.

    Three-11 Porter - Surround Me With Your Love: Pleasant male-female vocal mix against a big-ambiance backdrop. Lush presentation by the HDJ-X10c.

    Visage - Fade To Grey: Atmospheric and reverberant recording supported by a luscious synth line. The HDJ-X10c plays this perfectly.

    When Saints Go Machine - Love And Respect: Super-energetic music with reverberant vocal counterpoint. Strong bass impacts delivered cleanly by the HDJ-X10c.

    Yaz - Situation: Bright pop-EDM music from the past. Played exquisitely by the HDJ-X10c.

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