Pioneer DJ HRM-5 Headphone Review: The Best Surprise!

I was wandering through my local Fry’s Electronics the other day, far away from the area where they let people open and coat new headphones in dandruff. For you see, in a dark dusty corner near the speakers and mics, they carry a collection of studio headphones I’ve never heard of.

Budget Audio-Technica models. Strange off-brand pairs from China. The Samson Z45.

And a new entrant: the Pioneer DJ HRM-5.

“Huh. I’ve never heard of these!” I exclaimed aloud.

I picked up the box and turned it around. “This looks an awful lot like the Audio-Technica M40X.” A quick google on my phone confirmed that last June, Pioneer launched the $100 HRM-5 as a direct competitor for the M40X.

The HRM-5 is quite good, and one of the best random impulse audio buys I’ve ever made. It doesn’t just compete well with the M40X, it betters it in many key ways.

The HRM-5 is surprisingly non-chunky for being a studio headphone.

Overview

The Pioneer DJ HRM-5 is a $100 studio-style isolating pair of headphones. It comes with two detachable cables and a bag. It folds flat and collapses. The box, styling, and many of the features closely mimick the popular Audio-Technica M40X. But Pioneer has done more than just clone a popular pick. They’ve added memory foam cushions. They’ve thickened up the build quality. And they’ve gone with a flat tuning that’ll probably please more people than the Audio-Technica house sound.

Sound

These have maybe the flattest sound I’ve heard in a $100 pair of headphones?

It’s a sound kind of like the M40X, but with a bit less treble emphasis. Audio-Technica sure likes brightness in their headphones, and that’s not for everyone. It’s also reminiscent of the 598Cs, but less forward in the upper mids and a little more pleasant in the bass notes.

The HRM-5 offers a wonderful balanced mix of sharp bass, forward articulate mids, and crisp detailed highs. You’ll be able to hear all the flaws in what you’re listening to, but without any of the long-term treble fatigue of specialized audio tools like the Sony MDR-V6. This does mean it’s not as good for field monitoring as that classic Sony pair, but it’s also a much more pleasant listen for everyday use. There’s some light grain in the treble, and the bass is not as thumpy as most consumer pairs but also thankfully doesn’t bleed into the other ranges at all. The sound acquits itself well across a wide variety of genres, bringing the sizzle needed for jazz, and the thump needed for modern pop.

Lots of headphones have tried to split the difference between professional tool and general headphone. But I’m not sure if any have come this close to achieving a good balance, in my experience. I’m truly impressed by the listening experience here. The HRM-5 is just as easy to recommend for its sound quality as other stalwart classics in this price range/style of headphone. And I think I like it more.

Soundstage is better than I expected. Normally, studio headphones have a very close, restrained soundstage so that you can hear all the little details at any cost. The HRM-5 still images nicely, but the sense of space is a couple notches above what you’d get from other studio pairs. The DT770 is more spacious…but that’s not surprising because that thing is crazy. It also costs more.

These get very loud even from a phone. You should have no trouble powering them. They have plenty of power handling if you want to use a dedicated amp. Just be careful with the volume.

So that’s the sound checkbox firmly ticked! Fortunately, they’re really good at the other stuff too.

Comfort

My big problem with the $100 studio headphone range has always been comfort. Aside from the V6/7506, models tend to be a little clampy and un-padded compared to more expensive pairs. The SRH440 was particularly bad in this area.

Not so with the HRM-5! Thank goodness.

The key here is in the padding. The clamping force is about on-par with popular Audio-Technica models…that is to say it’s on the firm side of average. That’s good for both isolation and bass response. And for rocking out to tunes. The HRM-5 counters that clamp with some excellent and ample memory foam padding on both the ear pads and headband. The padding is much softer and more comfy than any other pads in this price range/style. These are wearable for hours without any issue!

It’s popular to recommend the M40X and then immediately tell people to change out the pads. That’s kind of silly in my book. With this pair, you won’t need to do that. (You still could because the pads use a standard mounting mechanism, but the included pads are great).

They seal quite well around my glasses, and I’ve got 4 extra clicks of adjustment even with my head’s natural girth. Yay!

Isolation

Isolation is great for this style of headphone/price range. Not as good as an active pair of course, but more than adequate for public coffee shop-style use. The bass ports on the top don’t seem to have a bad impact on isolation or leaking. You’d have to really crank these to have them leak badly, and then you’d be injured by the sound.

Build/Design

The headband is reinforced with stainless steel. The adjustment and folding mechanisms are very sturdy. The adjustment arms don’t have lines or numbers printed on them, which is a bummer. On the whole, it’s a solid-feeling headphone. It has a bit more heft to it than the M40X, which I always thought felt a touch thin and cheap compared to the M50X.

The ear cups use a strange rectangular yoke mount, to accomodate the backs of the capsules which are also rectangles. This was a little off-putting at first, because a small rubber nub sits at the top of each cup to keep them from bumping into things. This wouldn’t be a problem with a ciruclar ear cup. Once I got used to it, I liked it.

These aren’t nearly as chunky as the average studio pair. You can wear them in public without looking silly…except for the DJ branding on the side. I have zero idea why Pioneer put these in their DJ line. Nothing about these seems like it’s targeted specifically towards DJs. Could DJ’s use them? Certainly! But they’re just as good for home/studio use. So I don’t know.

Another plus the HRM-5 has over the M40X is that the ear cups rotate a full 180 degrees, a la the M50X and other more spendy models. Audio-Technica saves full 180 degree rotation for their more expensive model for no reason at all. Here you just get that extra. That’s great! And it makes the M40X’s lack of full rotation seem all the more stupid. This rotation should help you to achieve a great fit, and also makes it easy to set the headphones down on a desk, or around your neck.

Pioneer does sell an upgraded version of this headphone, pointed squarely at the M50X instead of the M40. It’s the $169 HRM-6. The main difference in the design is the use of aluminum in the cups, forks, and headband. They also include a 3rd short cable, and slightly different driver tuning.

I like the subtle, basic look of the HRM-5. It’s sleek and simple and good, without any clunkiness. It feels solid in spite of using plastic. If you want this headphone but a little more flashy and more metal, the HRM-6 might serve you better.

Features/Extras

Pioneer includes a really soft bag in the box. It’s nicer than Audio-Technica’s standard bag. The headphones fold down, which is good. You get two detachable cables: a coiled one, and a stupidly springy and long 10 foot straight cable. I think the 10-footer would probably calm down and stretch out over time, but at first you’ll probably find it annoying.

I sure did. It lives in my closet now.

The cable locking system is proprietary. I think it’s the same one used on the Shure SRH440. You’ll need special replacement cables for these, as the jack is deeply recessed. Kind of a bummer… but not uncommon for this style of headphone. The cables both end with 3.5mm plugs, and a 6.3mm adapter is included.

Instructions and documentation are sparse. It’s just kind of “here are the headphones now go.” This is not a headphone for people that want features, just those that want comfort and sound. Those are the two most important things in a pair of headphones, by the way. ;)

Final Thoughts

I’m quite impressed by the HRM-5! It seems like Pioneer studied the M40X in great detail, said “We could make that but better,” and then they did it.

Unless you need the slight brightness of Audio-Technica’s house sound, the comfort alone makes this a better buy. Heck, I think these are probably a better buy than the legendary M50X if you can stomach the coiled cable.

Aside from lumping the HRM-5 and 6 into the DJ brand for reasons that I’ll never know, Pioneer has done a great job of cloning and improving some classic studio headphones here. The sound is better. The comfort is better. The build is a bit more solid.

If you need a good studio/home headphone, this is a wonderful pick. It’s not flashy, it’s not full of features, but it does comfort and sound at a level just a touch better than the competition in this range. I couldn’t ask for any more from a headphone I found in a dusty corner of an iffy store, and these now have a permanent spot in my small collection.

Want to read about how I almost returned these without trying them? Click here!

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These look surprisingly normal for studio headphones!