Headphones can help you record and edit your podcast better. Picking the right headphones is a highly subjective process, but here are nine things you should consider before buying headphones for your podcast.
1. Accuracy (frequency response)
How your headphones reproduce sound is the most important issue. You need to ensure that what you recorded is exactly what you hear. (WYHIWYG—what you hear is what you got?)
Most consumer headphones are designed with music- and other entertainment-listening in mind. These headphones will enhance certain frequencies. While this will sound great for entertainment, you need a more accurate reproduction of your audio.
This is called flat frequency response. Professional headphones labeled as “studio” or “monitor” headphones will try to maintain this flat frequency response, but some will still “color” your sound a little.
You may wear your headphones only while you record your podcast, or maybe only while editing, or maybe both and then throughout the day for other uses.
Make sure the headphones you get are comfortable on your ears and on your head (for over-the-head headphones).
3. Sound leak
When sound leaks outside your headphones, this can present problems for recording, or simple annoyances for nearby people.
If you record solo, then sounds leak would only be a concern when you play sounds while you’re recording. Otherwise, the minor leak from any professional headphones will be so quiet that it wouldn’t risk a feedback loop.
The leak will be a major concern if you record with cohosts either in-studio or remotely, especially if you produce a double-ender. You may end up with small leak from the other person’s voice into your audio track. If the real audio isn’t aligned perfectly, this will sound like a subtle echo or something more mystic.
A noise gate can help a lot with this, or just turn down your headphone volume.
4. Sound isolation
The opposite of sound leaking out of your headphones is how well the headphones block noise from coming into your ears.
The ideal situation is to close your door and prevent outside sounds while you’re recording and editing. But this may not be practical (especially if you have a noisy computer). This is where good sound isolation is helpful so you can know whether the noise you hear (such as fan noise) is actually in your recording or if it’s in the room.
For podcasting, I recommend avoiding active noise cancellation. This is where the headphones will capture sound outside of themselves, invert the sound, and thus cancel the sound out. This will do weird things with your cohosts’ audio.
5. Bone conduction
An unfortunate consequence with headphones that have great leak protection and isolation is that they will also prevent you from hearing your own voice. The result is that your own voice comes back to your hears through only bone conduction, and it can literally give you headaches.
Hearing yourself like this will sound very bassy, or like “the voice of God.” You can work around this by raising your headphone volume, but then you’ll find all other volume (cohosts or sounds) is way too loud.
If you want to wear the same headphones for recording and editing, then you’ll have to compromise on the leak and isolation. The better the leak and isolation, the more bone conduction; or the worse the leak and isolation, the less bone conduction.
It’s a balance you’ll have to decide. The only way you’ll really know is to try it yourself with a microphone connected directly to the headphones.
Of course, price is a consideration! We’re not filthy rich!
I recommend a budget of $75–$100 per pair, which is typical for great studio headphones. All of the pairs I tried were in this price range.
7. Cord style
Whether the headphone cable is straight or coiled is a small detail you may not notice until you use your headphones.
Coiled is nice for keeping the slack cord out of the way and giving you some flexible room. But it can also be annoying if you have constant tension on the cord and it floats in front of your face.
Ear buds will, of course, be the most portable. But some of the professional headphones will still fold into compact sizes.
If you plan to podcast remotely, then consider a pair of headphones that are easy to transport and don’t take a lot of space.
9. Visibility (for video)
If you host a video podcast, then a giant pair of headphones will be distracting and seem unprofessional. If you truly need to wear headphones while you record, the smaller the better. You may even want to stick with ear buds so they would be almost invisible.
Even with ear buds, all the previous considerations will still apply.
Some thoughts on the popular headphones
I visited my local Guitar Center and tried many pairs of studio monitor headphones. Here are some of my findings.
What I found is that the AKG pair was the most comfortable, but among the most open with the most leakage. The HD 280 Pro had the least leak in and out, but made audio sound a little more airy and distant. The ATH-M30 added a little bass, as did the M45. Both had sound leak, too. I think the Shure pair sounded too tinny.
I quickly realized that the more closed the headphones are, the more bone conduction I heard on my own voice, which makes me sound too bassy while recording. The HD 280 Pro was the worst at this.
I had my wife with me and played a podcast episode through each pair of headphones and she said the MDR-7506 seemed the most accurate of my actual voice. But I since realized that while my mixer’s channel EQ isn’t set, the mixer-wide EQ is slightly adjusted and I recorded into a Heil PR40 (known for bass enhancements), so this may not have been a fair test.
With what tests I could do in the store, and also my experience with the MDR-7506 at my studio, I do think the MDR-7506 is the best overall pair that was about in the middle for everything except sound production. It wasn’t as comfortable as the k240, not as uncomfortable as the Shure. The noise leak was not as much as the k240 and ATH-M30/M45, but not as little as the HD 280 Pro.
The price for the MDR-7506 was also in the middle. $78 from Amazon, whereas the others were $99 (except for the M30, which was around $60).
I also like the compactness of the MDR-7506. They fold up to a tiny size, compared to the HD 280 Pro. And the k240 didn’t even fold!
On a side note. The higher I raise my headphone volume, the less bone conduction I get. But this also creates more stress on my ears and increases noise leak.
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