Headphones or Studio Monitors — Part 1

Question: Should I use headphones or studio monitors while editing audio?

Answer: Both. There! Shortest article ever! OK, just kidding…

Headphones and studio monitors each provide a unique perspective of the sound of your voice—Headphones give a very “clinical” impression of what’s recorded. By that I mean you are getting a direct feed of the record sound into both ears without the added acoustics of your listening room. Studio monitors give a more “natural” impression because they mix the acoustics of the listening room, as well as change the way your ears receive the sound waves. No longer does the left ear hear only the left “channel” of sound, but a combination of left and right.headphones

The benefits of headphone monitoring—Headphones are the obvious choice for most when working in a home studio. They can be found inexpensively, are portable, and the most versatile since they can be used while recording as well as editing. Headphones are indispensable if you are using a “phone patch” to listen to direction during your session, as they allow you to hear the caller without issues of “feedback” or noise from their side of the line ruining a perfect take. When recording long-form book narration in a booth, headphones allow you to “punch and roll”, a technique where you pickup a recording right in time with the passage at the place of your last mistake.

Another major benefit to headphones is the ability to hear your voice “under a microscope”—Because the speaker elements inside the headphones are so close to your eardrums, and as often are the case with studio headphones are sealed to stop outside noise from leaking in, what you hear is what is recorded. Every tiny detail, flaw, mouth click, distant bird chirp, or rustle of clothing will be more easily audible in headphones in most cases. When monitoring through studio speakers, unless your listening room is completely sound proof, it’s very difficult to differentiate between a noise in the recording and in your environment. To quote an old advertising phrase, “Is it live or is it Memorex?”

In my own home I listen on headphones very often because my job is to closely analyze the recorded audio of my voiceover clients. I need to trust that what I hear is truly in the recording. I use relatively expensive Beyerdynamic DT770pro headphones consistently so that I am intimately familiar with the way they sound.

I’ve been using the same model of headphones for over 10 years, so I really “know them.” They are not necessarily the most accurate headphones in existence, but they are extremely comfortable to wear for long periods, and they seal out the outside noise very effectively. To my ears they have a very pleasant tonal balance, not too bright, not too boomy. I’ll recommend some other headphone models in a future post.

About George Whittam

George Whittam, owner of ElDorado Recording Services, frequently tackles a new tech topic or FAQ relevant to voiceover recording for the VoiceOver Insider. He also co-hosts the East-West Audio Body Shop with cohort Dan Lenard each Sunday evening. You can reach George through ElDorado Recording Services, or email him at his address below.

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