When DJing, as we know it today, first shimmered into life in the discos of the late 70s, stick headphones were very much standard issue for all spinners. They’ve lost out in popularity to regular over-ear cans for many years now, but some stalwarts are still gripping tightly on to their sticks today. Why do they do so? And should you be following their lead?
If you are young (say, under 25), and your taste is based solely around a genre like big-room house, or drum & bass, it’s quite possible that you’ve never even seen a stick headphone being used.
DJs of the more ‘vintage’ variety, and those with a love for deep house or disco, will most likely be very familiar with them, of course. But exposure to lollipops, in this day and age, is far from guaranteed.
So, the first question to ask is:
What Is A Stick Headphone?
Well, cue sticks (also known as lollipops, for obvious reasons) have their roots in the converted telephone handsets beloved of many DJs in the 1960s and 1970s due to their extreme hardiness, in a time when purpose-built DJ headphones simply didn’t exist. Terence Parker still uses one today, and it’s earned him the moniker of ‘Telephone Man’.
When we talk about lollipops today, we’re talking about either custom builds, or about the few mass-produced models on the market, all of which are largely the same in principle, based on the original Sennheiser 412 design used by Larry Levan and the disco greats:
- A single cup
- wired in mono (so you hear both left and right signals)
- attached to a stick
- The cable is usually attached via an XLR connector (which is great for longevity!)
Sounds simple, of course, but there are infinite variations on that theme. The cup and driver could be pulled from a huge variety of existing headphones – Sony MDRV-700s are popular, partly because of their very ‘forward’ sound, and also because their unfortunate design flaws mean there are always broken pairs around to salvage cups from.
Likewise, the size and shape of the stick itself can vary wildly according to the users taste. Even the Zomo & Numark ‘stock’ models here have completely different shapes. Danny Tenaglia uses a kind of hybrid between a lollipop, and a regular headphone, with a single cup and a stick which goes around to his other shoulder, like a travel pillow. Guys like Acou-Sticks in the UK, and Mario G in the US, will knock up pretty much anything your heart (and neck) desires.
We’ll take a closer look at some of those options later, but before that, the second question:
Why Should You Use A Stick Headphone?
Aside from the nostalgia aspect, and a desire to look like an O.G House jock, there are some definite advantages to using a cue stick. The main one, is that using a lollipop encourages you to not use it. That might sound odd, but all too often, DJs can find themselves locked away in their own little audio zone; headphones on one or both ears all night, with scant regard for the sound which is actually coming out of the PA.
Using a lollipop makes you far more likely to get into a workflow where you’ll pick up the headphone, quickly use it to get the beats matched, then put it down and perform the mix itself using the monitors and the house system. It means you’re more in touch with the dynamics of the track as heard by the crowd; the way the bass rumbles through the room, the way the hats sneak into the mix; it’s hard to describe, but mixing in that way gives you a different feeling. Not definitively better, or worse, but different, even from using regular headphones in a minimal way.
Despite being a creaky old DJ myself, I only started experimenting with lollipops recently, after using regular cans for my whole career. So I asked someone who has been using a lollipop since the days of disco, house music legend David Morales, what his perspective is on why lollipops are still the way to go:
“I’ve been using a lollipop since 1977. I started with the original Sennheiser 412 mono single headphone. It was dubbed “the lollipop”. What I like about using a lollipop is that I can hear what’s going on on the dance floor as well. I could never play with normal headphones. It doesn’t feel natural. I feel like a pilot…
I like to take my ear away from the headphone while I’m mixing so that I can make sure that I’m in the right place.”
Interestingly, David Morales is one of the ‘old-guard’ of NYC house jocks who has fully embraced modern technology, playing off Traktor, using a Maschine as his controller. Yet one thing remains consistent in his setup – that lollipop.
Any long-term reader of this site will know, DJ Techtools has zero problem with people using sync. Backed with the right skills, using sync is an incredibly powerful tool. But if you use it, ask yourself this: Why do you still need to wear regular headphones all night? There quickly comes a point, for many people, as they adapt themselves to a sync workflow, where pre-cueing a track becomes far less important than actually monitoring the output, when you’ve got two tracks and a loop already running, for example.
So why not try a lollipop? Pick it up, cue, put it down. Then mix… It seems like a perfect complement to a controllerist setup, and I think it’s well worth experimenting with.
Why Shouldn’t You Use A Stick Headphone?
Lollipops are categorically not for everyone. Play hip-hop? Mix every 90 seconds? Lifting and then putting down that stick will get very tiresome, very quickly. Or you’ll leave it wedged on your shoulder all night, and completely ruin your neck for a week (I’m speaking from experience there). Lollipops are most suitable when you’ve got time; performing long mixes, letting tracks play out that bit longer.
If you can’t rely on having a decent monitor setup at a gig – a lollipop is not for you (not that night, anyway).
If you have major concerns about hearing damage, and have decided to go the in-ear route, instead of even dealing with monitors (like our esteemed editor), then more power to you. But a lollipop is not for you either.
One final reason you might want to avoid a lollipop is if you’re attached to the look of regular DJ cans. I’ve spoken to a few people who would feel positively naked without their big headphones attached to their head throughout a gig; it’s pretty much the only thing that identifies them to the crowd as ‘the DJ’; their uniform. But in an age where people walk the streets in big Beats, Sony, and V-Moda headphones all day long, is that really something that sets us apart anymore? Something to think about, anyway.
How To Try Them – Mass-Produced
I wouldn’t say there has been a massive resurgence in lollipop manufacturing, as there are still very few pre-built models around, and that’s not really any more than the early 2000s, when, as far as I know, Vestax and Stanton were the only company mass-producing a model at all.
If you want to go the pre-built route, then these are your two main options today:
The first lollipop I bought, when I decided to try out the concept. At around just $70 street price, it’s the perfect way to try out stick headphones without breaking the bank, especially if you aren’t confident in making your own DIY version. It’s lightweight plastic construction has proved surprisingly durable, especially considering that, for months, I’ve carried around in the bottom of my bag as my back-up headphone. It’s still going strong now – one of the beauties of a lollipop is that there’s very little to go wrong with them, no fiddly little cables and the like.
If you want to try out a lollipop with the absolute minimum investment, the Redphone is ideal.
Check them out in the DJTT webstore here – and for $5 off, just enter “DJTTlollipop” as a coupon when you’re checking out.
There was a point a few years ago, when German company Zomo were actually the only mass-market manufacturer of lollipops, with the HD-120. So they definitely deserve credit for that.
This was my favourite of all the sticks I’ve tried; and that’s as much down to the comfort factor as anything else. I found the length and size of the straight tube, combined with the size of the cup, to be a perfect fit for me. If I decide to have a custom lollipop made, I’ll have it match the dimensions of the Zomo exactly.
Construction is good, it feels solid, and the sound is loud and punchy. Pricing varies wildly, depending on where you are in the world, and what colour you want (they do many), but it can be easily had for under $100.
Reloop do also have a new model on the market, the Mono Stick. I haven’t had one in the lab, but I did get a hands-on at the BPM show. It’s very, very, similar to the Zomo (suspiciously so), except so light, it feels like the cup has been emptied out… I can’t make a recommendation either way, but it’s another option to look at.
How To Try Them – Custom-Built
There are a number of one-man-band type producers of lollipops, all around the world. I was surprised to find as many as I did, when researching this feature.
Here in the UK, there is a company called Acou-Sticks. Based out of Leeds, they fashion beautifully made custom lollipops of all varieties, usually with Sony drivers, but with sticks of any shape, size and material you can imagine. They sent me a couple of examples to try, including a truly boutique model with a wooden cup, and hand-stitched leather grip. Not really to my personal taste, that one, but it serves as a perfect example of what can be achieved when you let your creativity go wild with a custom lollipop. Find them here and quote DJTT15 for 15% off any order, exclusively for DJ Techtools readers.
I was already aware of the work of Mario G, who also refurbishes vintage kit like Urei and Bozak mixers. He’s rather cagey about prices and stuff, but he’s a well-respected name in the industry, so worth checking out if you’re Stateside.
Check eBay and keep your eye on forums for other custom builders in your part of the world, and if you have any recommendations of people you’ve tried, please let us know in the comments below.
How To Try Them – DIY
If you have a modicum of skills when it comes to soldering and the like (I don’t), then building a lollipop of your own is really quite straightforward. Indeed, it’s an ideal way to recycle a pair of damaged or irreparable headphones you already own, into something cool and unique.
This is the ‘classic’ guide, posted by Scotty Mac to the Deep House Page forum back in 2009 and there’s lots of useful information over on the Wave Music forum too.
As with the custom builders, we’d love to see any DIY builds that you’ve done, so please show them off in the comments below, and if you have used any lollipop, or this feature inspires you to do so, let us know your thoughts. We think it’s a fairly inexpensive way to possibly bring new life to your mixing.
I just picked up the Numark off the back of this article and I have to say that I am sold – you really have no choice but to engage in the mix. Now to think about sonic improvements…
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My old CueStick (lollipop, stick, monophone, etc.) was worn out, so I just got done making a couple of new ones. Thought some of you who use this type of conversion might dig the final results.
Cup: Sony MDR-V700
Driver: 50mm, 5,000mW, 24Ohm
Grip: 160mm long x 35mm diameter steel with 22.5º bend, MDCC foam
Switch: Switchcraft 3-position
Socket: Switchcraft XLR
Jacks: Neutrik 90º XLR and 90º TRS
Cable: Canare Star Quad 21AWG
LED: 5mm SuperBright
Resistors: 24Ohm x 2
DIY instructions for those who may want to tackle project themselves:
Cup: Sony MDR-V700 or whatever make/model you desire. The MDR-V700 is one of the best headphones for this type of modification because it is a uni-directional design.
Grip: .875″-1″ diameter steel or aluminum pipe cut to whatever length you desire. If you want a curve you will need to have the pipe properly bent to whatever angle(s) you desire.
Grip Covering: Medium-density closed-cell foam cut approximately .5″ longer than whatever total length the pipe is and in whatever color you desire. For a professional cosmetic touch you may wish to have the ends of the foam re-shaped with a nice rounded contour along outside edge.
Micro-switch: Switchcraft 56313L2. NOTE: A switch isn’t required, but I added one so I can toggle between left, right, and left+right modes. This is so I can verify both left and right channels independently when setting up at a gig in case the venue’s mixer doesn’t happen to have a balance control or separate left/right level indicators.
Male XLR Socket: Switchcraft B3M (nickel finish), or B3MB (black finish)
Female XLR Plug: Neutrik NC3FXX (nickel finish), or NC3FXX-B (black finish), or NC3FRX (90º nickel finish), or NC3FRX-B (90º black finish)
Male .25″ 3-pole TRS Plug: Neutrik NP3X (nickel finish), or NP3X-B (black finish), or NP3RX (90º nickel finish), or NP3RX-B (90º black finish)
Cable: Canare Star Quad Microphone 21AWG cut to whatever length you desire and in whatever color you desire (black, white, grey, red, blue, orange, green, yellow, purple, or brown)
LED: 5mm SuperBright with mounting bezel in whatever color you desire (white, blue, green, aqua, red, yellow, orange, or violet). NOTE: A LED isn’t required, but I added one so I can have a quick visual reference that both left and right channels are being fed into headphone.
Resistors: 24Ohm, .5W (X2). This specification is for the MDR-V700. If you choose another headphone you will need to verify the impedance and wattage of that particular driver and use the appropriate resistors.
Carefully disassemble standard headphone (or in the case of the MDR-V700 it will most likely conveniently already be disassembled for you – lol). Carefully cut factory leads as long as possible and detach the earcups from the headband.
If you are going to add the optional LED then mount it to the back opening the cup and drilling .25″ hole where you want it on the back of the cup and securing it with the snap-in mounting bezel. Carefully solder the LED’s +lead to the driver’s +terminal and the -lead to the -terminal. Be sure to insulate both leads from each other and any other conductive areas inside cup.
Extend the two leads about 3″ longer than the total length of the pipe grip by carefully soldering extensions. Be sure to apply heat shrink at solder joints and wrap leads in protective casing such as TechFlex.
Depending on make/model of headphone, you will need to fabricate a mounting method for securing the cup’s bracket to the pipe. How to do this should become apparent once you have the two pieces in front of you, but with the MDR-V700 I simply used a drill press to bore a hole directly through the center of pipe where it aligns with the cup bracket when inserted and attached it with a flush mounted machine bolt/nut.
Feed leads down through center of pipe so they exit at bottom.
Sum the +left and +right leads by connecting and soldering them together with the two resistors at one end only.
Connect the ground lead to the XLR socket’s pin #1.
Connect the +left lead to the XLR socket’s pin #2.
Connect the +right lead to the XLR socket’s pin #3.
At this point test everything by using multimeter and a test audio source. If all checks good, move on.
Be sure to apply heat shrink at all solder joints and wrap leads in protective casing such as TechFlex.
Slide excess length of leads up into pipe and mount XLR socket to end of pipe by drilling a hole in the center of pipe where it meets the center of socket case and secure with a flush mounted set screw.
Apply a few drops of dishwashing liquid to outside of pipe and cover entire surface by smearing it around. Quickly apply small amount of water to inside of foam grip carefully slide all the way onto pipe until bottom end meets flush along edge of XLR socket’s mounting flange. Wipe off excess dish washing liquid and water and let air dry.
Make the connecting cable by soldering and attaching the chosen XLR and TRS plugs to desired length of microphone cable.
Plug in, go to work, and enjoy. Mac 🙂
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Dr. Lectroluv has been using his phone for a very long time
I`m looking at IMG stageline MDH6300 model , they are cheap , but i`m not familiar with company , does anybody have any experience on their products , but anyway to try the mono style for first model it seems like more than fair price.
I hadn’t come across that one, but looking at pictures, it appears to be identical in construction to the Zomo (and therefore the Reloop). So I’m pretty sure the build will be decent, but can’t speculate about the sound.
For the price though, it’s probably worth a punt!
[…] Lollipop DJ Headphones: Why You Should Try One – Stick headphones were the norm for DJs back then, but why would you want to use them today? Our friends from DJ Techtools tells us why Read more […]
Didn’t Fatboy use a single cup for the longest time (maybe still does)?
Whilst in concept, I think it might be good, just the practical nature of having to put the lollipop down somewhere and picking it up all the time would become a pain.
With regular headphones, you can have them around your neck and that makes it easy to pull them up onto your single ear and then drop them back down on your neck when you don’t.
easier to break as well 🙂
I got one of the zomo sticks a few months ago. I loved it. And then for whatever reason the speaker blew and now all I get is static. Other than the obvious problem I had with the one I bought, I highly recommend giving a monophone a try.
When I first started spinning, I lived in my headphones to keep the sound down around the house. I got into some bad habits, like forgetting to bring channel faders up because I wasn’t paying attention to the monitor.
Might not be for everyone, but I’ll probably order one from a different company and give that a shot.
ooooooo… new project! just dug up my old pair of MDR-700DJ.
My love Ariel makes the best lollipop on the market today used by Louie Vega, Ron Trent Joe Claussell and many more…also designed and built Danny Tenaglias
She’s right…..I use headphones but many other DJ’s prefer Ariel’s designs over the traditional cans.
if you want to try it out for yourself, instead of tearing apart some old headphones, if the earcups on your current headphones turn to be flat when you wear them around your neck (the current pioneer models do this) you can just keep both earcups flat and pick one of them up and hold it to your ear when you need to listen. It’s not exactly the same but it gives you an idea, plus you can combine this with regular headphone use to get a bit of both styles. I’ve found that if you have long hair (like me) cueing like this can often be a bit easier as your hair doesn’t get in the way so much.
To be fair, many of us that have been around for a few years have a busted up pair of MDR-700DJ’s. They used to to the dj mainstay, but due to a fatal design flaw and brittle polymer they tended to last between 2-5 years before the swivels would start to disintegrate. Alot of “lollipops” in the 90’s were just reclaimed… might as well do something with a dead pair of headphones that ran you over $200 at the time.
That “hand-stitched leather grip” is actually a widely-produced bicycle grip:
Indeed it is… A widely-produced bicycle grip, made of hand-stitched leather.
That “hand-stitched leather grip” is actually a widely-produced bicycle grip:
Larry Levan! See the Doc!
I’ve used a slightly different version of this for YEARS. It was popular in the late ’80s then suddenly vanished. In some circles it would be called a “parrot” (due to the fact that the headphone is supported upright by a shoulder pad that straps onto your jeans). It offers me the best of both worlds, and it’s WAY easier to use than a lollipop. Lean into it when you need to cue, then move your head slightly forward to hear the monitors…. then back again if you have an emerging train wreck. Best of all, you strap in only once in the beginning of your set, and never have to touch it till the end. BTW, Numark sold a really bad version of this…. it didn’t have shoulder straps, and you had to tilt your head all night to hear it. I wouldn’t recommend ever buying that version.
Thanks for sharing that knowledge, Trent, that is news to me about the ‘parrot’!
I guess that’s what Tenaglia has based his current one on, then.
my boyfriend made that for him
I remember seeing them all over San Francisco around 86′-90′. “Record Rack” in SF used to sell them for around $100. They had 2 versions, one used bean bags and the other had straps. I never really had enough money to buy them (after spending all my money on records) so I ended up making my own. The one in this photo is the 3rd version that I made.
What are you using for the shoulder holster? Would love to know the specs!
very cool but then you start looking like a cyborg from star trek lol
Yeah, the lazer in the club happened to line up perfectly in this shot 🙂
I remember seeing one back in ’90. I’m DYING to find one. What is the official term / name for it (not parrot I guess)?
I’m seriously considering trying this out. I haven’t ever heard of these types of headphones but the concept behind it is very interesting
[…] for many old school DJs – today we explore some of the options available. Read more here: http://www.djtechtools.com/2014/09/30/lollipop-dj-headphones-why-you-should-try-one/ Get a Numark Redphone for $5 off w/code “DJTTlollipop” here: […]