“With a snug fit and multiple color options to make a style statement, Pioneer gets these mostly right for $100.”
- Good audio reproduction
- Multiple color options and customizations
- Wired and Bluetooth operation
- Comfortable, snug fit
- Cheap-feeling build
- Customizations are expensive
It’s hard to say what expectations should be for a $100 pair of Bluetooth on-ear headphones. Top-tier features or even Active Noise Canceling (ANC) are not options due to expense, but the price should mean that higher-quality build and strong audio performance are a given. If those are my parameters, then the Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT-R headphones — let’s just call them the CUE1 for the sake of ease — seem to fit the bill.
Designed for what Pioneer DJ says are “beginner DJs and music enthusiasts alike,” the CUE1 try to balance style with performance at a very approachable price point. Let’s talk about whether or not they succeed.
What’s in the box?
The CUE1 are simply packaged, with the headphones and included optional 3.5mm coiled cable tucked into an extruded plastic tub insert. Behind the tub is a plastic bag that contains associated paperwork and instructions.
There is a lot of plastic in this packaging. Aside from the tub, which should be recyclable in most locations, there are a lot of soft plastics on and around the headphones. If you have the ability to recycle soft plastics via your local grocery store, great! However, that’s not the norm in most places, so a lot of this packaging is going to end up in a landfill. That’s not something we like to see.
We will get to the build quality of the CUE1 headphones shortly, but as a bit of a spoiler on that, I think they need a carrying case and, unfortunately, Pioneer doesn’t include one.
Design and build quality
I really like the color options for the CUE1. For this review, I opted for red because it is my favorite color, but they are also available in black or white. I was kind of torn when it came to picking the color because another selling point of the CUE1 is that Pioneer DJ offers a set of customized earcups and a coiled cable that come in five additional colors — orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet — and none of them go particularly well with red.
I’m not particularly impressed with the materials.
The customization kits, product name HC-CP08, are an additional $30, which feels a bit high. The cups don’t attach in any special way, instead relying on the tension of the material to hold them to the plastic cans. If the cups were, say, magnetic or had a bayonet locking mechanism, then maybe I could see the value. Unfortunately, this style of cup is tedious to put on or take off and feels like something that I would pass on as a buyer. I wish Pioneer had put a bit more consideration into this feature that I otherwise like.
When worn, the CUE1 do look pretty good. They have a matte color finish that goes with pretty much everything, and the red especially will turn heads.
I mentioned earlier that the build quality really dictates using a case, and that’s because I’m not particularly impressed with the materials. This actually mirrors our opinion of the high-end Pioneer DJ HDJ-X5 headphones, so to see it here is not terribly surprising. Though there is metal in the adjustment strap, which is held together by screws, the remainder of the product is made out of a hard plastic that feels like it would crack pretty easily if dropped, or if it came into rough contact with another object in my backpack.
I know that Pioneer had to reduce costs somewhere, and clearly that came into play with the materials used here, so I’ll cut them a bit of slack considering the drivers in the cups are the exact ones you’ll find in those aforementioned Pioneer DJ HDJ-X5 headphones. More on what those bring to the table in a bit.
Controls, comfort, and connections
The left earcup houses all the controls, ports, and a single microphone. There are a set of buttons that control the volume and, below that, a single button that handles power, pause/play/skip, answering and ending calls, and Bluetooth connect functionality. It seems like a lot to put into one button, but it works well enough. Below that button is the port for the included coiled cable, and below that, you will find the microphone.
I will say, that included 3.5mm jack cable included gets it right. Not only does it stick in place to the headset via a twisting bayonet-style lock, but the other side of the cable is also an L shape, which keeps its profile slim against either a computer or mixing board and reduces the chances of knocking it out or damaging the cable. The cable is of great quality and the design is spot-on for the intended use.
The earcups will both rotate sideways independently for use with one ear in true DJ style, though they don’t rotate in a way that allows them to comfortably rest on your collarbones when not in use. The cups only rotate away from you and not also toward you for some reason, which is disappointing. As a result, they aren’t the most comfortable when you’re not wearing them.
The CUE1 should stay firmly attached to you even when doing workouts, if that’s your jam.
When you are wearing them, however, they are sufficiently comfortable. On-ear headphones tend to exert a lot of pressure onto my ears to stay affixed to my head, and these are no exception. Though that pressure does lead to some wearing fatigue over time, it also assures they do not fall off during activities and that they also have pretty good noise isolation. This is in contrast to the Jabra Elite 45H, which sound great but have issues staying attached to the listener’s head during activities. The CUE1 are definitely better at this and should stay firmly attached to you even when doing workouts, if that’s your jam.
The Bluetooth connectivity on these is solid, allowing me to travel to the far reaches of my yard while leaving my phone on my kitchen counter.
The CUE1 offer 30 hours of battery life, which is pretty par for the course when it comes to headphones that don’t offer ANC. They can’t touch the 50-hour runtime of the Jabra Elite 45H, but no one yet can.
I mentioned earlier that the Pioneer DJ CUE1 use the same drivers as the company’s HDJ-X5 headphones, which we praised for their quality, and I’m happy to say that the CUE1 do indeed sound great.
The highs, mids, and lows are all well-represented and well-balanced.
The highs, mids, and lows are all well-represented and well-balanced. For a set of headphones that do not have any app support to adjust the EQ, it’s important that they sound fantastic out of the box, especially for the bass-heavy beats that DJs are going to want to hear clearly. The bass isn’t overwhelming, but in pop and EDM songs, you definitely won’t miss it.
I will say that though the sound out of the CUE1 is warm and approachable, it’s not particularly shining in its clarity, most notably in the higher registers. They do a great job of not muddying any of the tones together, which makes them very good for monitoring music as a DJ would, but in addition to the lack of clarity, they certainly push the warmth up beyond what I would say qualifies them as true studio monitors. We had similar notes on the HDJ-X5 in our review, and therefore I think Pioneer did a good job migrating those drivers into these headphones at a $50 discount.
How do they compare to another $100 set? It’s close. The Jabra 45H actually can have a bit more punch behind their bass output if you adjust their EQ in the app. Overall, the audio representation between the two is really close, but I’ll give the nod to the Jabra 45H for slightly better clarity.
Though the Pioneer DJ CUE1 will suffice for phone calls, they don’t do a great job with them. My voice was described to me as sounding as though I was inside a closed pantry and not particularly clear. On my end, voice quality was great, and even though I wasn’t as clear as my listener wanted me to be, we had an uninterrupted 20-minute conversation while I watered my garden.
The Pioneer DJ HDJ-CUE1BT-R are good headphones for $100 that offer a stylistic angle few other headphones match, especially at that price point. The execution of the swappable color options could have been better, but we like to see it nonetheless. They sound as good as their more expensive brother, the HDJ-X5, but also bring the same issues with durability and lack of a carrying case. But for $100, they do enough right.
Is there a better alternative?
The Jabra Elite 45H headphones offer very similar audio quality, along with much better battery life and Bluetooth multi-point capability. The thing is, you get those features at the cost of the better noise isolation, secure fit, and attachable cable on the Pioneer DJ CUE1. You should also consider the Status Audio BT-1 or, thanks to the stronger bass you get, the Sony WH-XB700.
How long will they last?
Pioneer DJ offers a one-year warranty, and we expect that if you treat these well, they will last longer than that. The thing is, you should buy a case if you pick these headphones up in order to assure they don’t take on excess wear and tear during travel.
Should you buy them?
Yes. The option to mix personalized color into your headphones and also get solid sound performance for $100 is a combination of options that pretty much leaves the Pioneer DJ CUE1 standing alone. They are definitely worth a listen.
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