Why do podcasters wear headphones?
If we’re being honest, everyone on your podcast should be wearing headphones, here’s why:
In COVID-19 times you don’t really have a choice. With remote podcast guests speaking via Zoom or Riverside, if you don’t have headphones, the audio emitted by your speakers will cause terrible feedback in your microphone.
Headphones prevent audio echo and bleed. More generally, wearing headphones prevents audio echo and bleed, preserving the integrity of your recording.
- Echo is when your microphone picks up on the audio coming from your speakers. This can lead to feedback, cause delays in the audio, and mean it’s harder for your guests to hear you.
- Audio bleed is the same as echo but more subtle. This happens when you’re wearing the wrong type of headphones. For example, closed-back headphones will ‘leak’ less audio and prevent audio bleed. We’ll go into this in more detail later.
Hear your own voice. As disconcerting as it can be, wearing headphones means you can hear your voice as others do. This actually means you have more control because you can adjust your levels as you’re recording.
Improved Mic Technique. Wearing headphones infinitely improves your mic technique because you can hear the minute audio fluctuations.
- Self Review. You and your guests can self-review if you sound muffled or distant, adjusting your position or angle accordingly. This also means you don’t have to pester your guests during your recording.
- Pick up on ‘popping’. This is the sound created by hard consonants like p and k, something that is difficult to detect without headphones.
Monitor external audio. Wearing headphones also allow you to monitor if external audio is negatively impacting your recording, protecting you against any nasty surprises in post-production or having to awkwardly request a re-record with your guests.
Improved editing capacity and accuracy.
- Listening to your recording on computer speakers will mean you’re relying on sub-par audio quality.
- Sometimes when editing using speakers, it can be hard to discern whether noises are part of the track or in your recording environment.
- Headphones give you an accurate and high-fidelity representation of your recording allowing you to pick up on micro-details and subtleties in the audio.
All in all, it’s pretty clear that wearing headphones is key to producing a professional-grade podcast recording. With all of this in mind, you might be feeling a lot of pressure to pick the perfect set of headphones. Let’s take a look at how to make an informed decision.
What factors to consider when choosing podcast headphones
One thing to note before we jump in: opinions on equipment are highly subjective. Different people swear by different things, and it can be hard to navigate whose preferences align with your own. Go with what works for you and what feels right.
Not everyone has the same budget, but it’s a good idea to think about how much you’re willing to spend before you start browsing. Luckily, with the wide variety of headphones available, price is not necessarily correlated to better quality.
You’ll be wearing these headphones for long periods, so your comfort should be your top priority.
- Look for lightweight headphones, heavier styles can be uncomfortable if worn for a long time.
- Padded cushions and big headphone earpads are key to comfort.
- Adjustability can make a big difference because you can fit your headphones exactly.
Storage & Transportation
Is portability important to you? If you’re always on the move, you’ll want to think about the portability of your headphones.
- How heavy and bulky are they?
- Are they flexible? Can you fold them?
Different Models/Types: Open-Back versus Closed-Back Headphones?
Open-back headphones allow air to pass through the ear cups to the speaker element.
- Better audio. These can sound ‘better’, more natural, and clearer because this means pressure doesn’t build up and adversely impact your audio. However, this ‘better’ audio quality is only true in completely soundproofed environments.
- More ambient sound. Some people would say that because open-back headphones take in more ambient sound, the audio quality is closer to what your listener will hear.
- Less sound isolation. Open-back headphones don’t afford you the same level of sound isolation as closed-back headphones.
- Vulnerable to sound bleed and leakage. This is when your mic picks up the sound ‘leaked’ from your headphones, meaning it hears both your recorded voice and your live voice.
- Less durable. Open-back headphones tend to be less durable because their open nature makes them less resistant to moisture.
Closed-back headphones are completely sealed or ‘closed’.
- Limited sound leakage or bleed. The closed structure means that the only audio emitted goes straight into your ear.
- Limited sound leakage means you’re able to listen to yourself during your recording without fear that your mic will pick up both your recorded and live voice.
- Less natural audio. Unlike open-back headphones, closed-back headphones are far more effective at blocking out external sounds, this can result in less ‘natural’ sounding audio.
- Generally speaking, closed-back headphones are preferable for podcasting. Enhanced sound isolation and decreased risk of sound leakage are invaluable both during recording and post-production.
Wired v Wireless Headphones?
This decision is completely up to your personal preference and habits. If you tend to wander around a lot, chances are going wireless is going to save you from tripping up on your cable!
Battery life. One thing to consider is that wireless headphones need to be charged every so often, which can be quite disruptive mid-flow.
- Luckily, most wireless headphones also have the option to be wired.
Higher latency. Wireless headphones tend to have more latency.
- Latency refers to the time it takes between hitting play and the sound reaching your ears.
- Latency is affected by a few different factors such as wireless technology and environmental factors, but generally speaking, wired headphones have lower latency than their wireless counterparts.
In-Ear, On-Ear, or Over-Ear?
- Portable. In-ear headphones are extremely portable because of their small size.
- Uncomfortable. They can be uncomfortable if worn for long periods - not ideal for long recording or editing sessions.
- Worse Audio Quality. Due to the small driver size, in-ear headphones deliver inaccurate frequency representation (i.e. sub-optimal audio quality) meaning they are not well-suited to podcasting
- Over-priced. Finally, in-ear headphones can often be expensive and still offer worse quality than a lot of other options on the market.
- Portable and lightweight. On-ear headphones, also known as ‘supra-aural’ headphones, are extremely popular because they are portable and lightweight.
- Open sound. On-ear headphones give a more ‘open’ sound because you are still able to hear what’s going on around you.
- Over-ear headphones, also known as ‘circumaural headphones’, are the top pick for podcasters and sound engineers alike.
- Comfortable with great audio quality. An over-the-ear fit is extremely comfortable and the audio quality is superb.
- Not portable. Over-ear headphones aren’t always very portable, which is something to consider if you’re on the move a lot.
With or without a mic?
An inbuilt mic is an attractive option - less hassle, easy to use, and affordable because you don’t have to invest in a separate microphone.
Low audio standard. Headset microphones are designed to pick up close audio, so their frequency is intentionally limited.
- A standalone microphone has the capacity for a wider frequency response, which means it can pick up the nuances and subtleties of your audio.
As we probably all know, a good microphone will trump an inbuilt microphone every time, but again, this is down to personal preference and there are definitely some good options out there.
Podcast Headphone Specifications
Noise-canceling versus Sound Isolation
- Sound isolation means headphones that block out external noise such as traffic, fans, or other low-level noise - ideal for podcast recording.
- Avoid noise-canceling headphones. These capture and then invert outside noise to cancel out, leaving you with weird compressed audio.
Frequency response is related to how your headphones sound, which obviously makes a huge difference when you’re listening to your recording.
You are looking for a flat frequency response because this means your audio will be accurate and unfiltered - ideally between 20Hz to 20,000Hz
Impedance is about the quality and amplitude of the audio your headphones emit.
You’re looking for low impedance, between 32 and 80 Ohms, this means your headphones use a small amount of power to deliver high audio levels.
Sensitivity indicates how well a pair of headphones can convert an electrical signal into an acoustical one, and how loud they can get.
- Headphones with high sensitivity ratings will produce louder sounds than those with low sensitivity.
You’re looking for sensitivity between 80 to 125 dB