The Great Headphone Debate

by | Studio Equipment, Voiceover


When I worked in radio for so many years, (so many years ago now) , like everyone, I used headphones…all the time. As a newbie back in the ’70’s, from a practical standpoint, I needed them in order to hear my queues during or coming out of a spot break. After a while, and plenty of experience on-air, I was able to listen to the headphones during such circumstances without wearing them on my head. I’d have the volume up in the headset and lay the headset on the console close by, and hear everything I needed and could operate with none of the dreaded “dead air”, faulty timing , signal leakage or feedback. The only possible exception was for live do-nuts and tags.

It felt more natural, and unencumbering NOT to wear the ‘phones, and today I’ll use them fully on during ISDN , phone patch sessions, and of course while editing and punching in pickups. Even while recording at an off-site studio, where I’ll need to hear talkback, I’ll wear  headphones, positioned with one “ear” off and one on.  For me, I consider this the best of both worlds, and work this way a lot. On longer narrations,  or audiobooks, I’ll set the headphones aside altogether.

There are many voiceover coaches who’ll admonish that, especially  for those who come from radio can bring some habits that are not all that wonderful , in light of current trends sitting at the voiceover table, so to speak. One of those habits is the incorrect use of headphones, and the tendency  for the voice actor to listen to the sound of and falling in love with  one’s own voice, which is a distraction, which trumps and obscures a true “read”.

I’ve spoken with a number of successful pros who are all over the map on this issue.

I found a facinating article recently in The “Vocal Chords” feature EQ Magazine Banishing Headphones, by brilliant writer and editor at Guitar Player , Michael Molenda who aptly argues the point. Granted,  a lot of the article addresses singer’s vocals during studio recording, but much applies to the voiceover world.

If you’ve read the article, and now that we know what would bring out the inner-Frank, (as in Sinatra), what do you do?

1 Comment

  1. If you’re just one person in your own home studio, then no no no! There is NO reason to wear headphones during recording unless there’s someone else on the other end talking to you.

    VO is supposed to be conversational. So ask yourself, do you wear headphones when having a normal conversation with someone? Of course you don’t.

    If you do, then you REALLY need to get the radio out of your blood!

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