Good quality headphones cannot be a sacrifice when recording a podcast. They are one of the biggest requirements to ensure high quality, professional audio. Whether you’re looking to update your current pair or have suddenly realized you were missing something from your setup, this article will tell you why a good pair of headphones are so important and help you find the right ones for your podcast.
We’ll also cover some basic headphone terminology and give you an overview of the features you should be looking for.
However, you may already know all of this and just want our recommendations. If that’s the case, the table below gives an overview of our top picks from this roundup. If you want to know more detail about why we chose these and other alternatives on the market, keep reading.
Table of Contents
Why we need Headphones for Podcasting
Headphones are required to monitor your recording and avoid echo caused by spill from speakers.
Imagine this, a once in a lifetime opportunity to interview your idol for the podcast presents its self. The day goes incredibly with the conversation flowing and important questions answered. You sit down to begin the edit and annoying background noise fills your room – you didn’t turn a noisy fan off, there’s a creaky chair you hadn’t even noticed and a breeze from the window somehow sounds like a hurricane on the recording.
Yes, a good editor will tirelessly work until the unwanted noises are removed but prevention will avoid this entirely. Using headphones allows you to constantly and continuously monitor the sound you’re recording, from listening for unwanted noise or static to keeping a constant distance from the microphone and loudness of your voice.
Unlike recording a track, you only have one chance to get a podcast recording right so it’s especially important to get it right first time.
Through monitoring your recording using headphones, you can ensure a consistency your audience will subconsciously appreciate. Both you and your guest will pick up on your voices, giving you the control to adjust how loud you’re speaking, your enunciation of words, or your position around the microphone.
Even with no previous recording experience, your guest will pick up changes in their voice without the need to be constantly reminded to move closer to the mic or speak louder – ruining the conversation flow.
Plosives are impactful noises caused by the blasts of air created when we say certain consonants i.e. p’s or b’s – they can be avoided by speaking slightly off-axis of the mic. Headphones will help you pick up on where plosives are created so you can change your position quickly without too many of these problems arising.
In a remote interview, using speakers to listen to your guest may cause the sound to spill into your microphone causing echo and feedback. Headphones avoid this situation whilst allowing you to hear your guest more clearly.
In a face to face interview, both you and your guest(s) would need a pair to hear yourself and each other. Hearing exactly what your audience would hear can help to keep the conversation clear and uncomplicated with no overlapped voices.
If you’re using a USB microphone with a headphone output, you may need a headphone splitter to plug in multiple headphones. You could also use an audio interface for a zero-latency response.
Using headphones and learning to continuously monitor your audio may be distracting at first and you could find yourself unable to focus on the actual podcast content. However, it is worth getting used to, this strange sensation won’t last forever but good quality audio will.
Do you Need to Invest in Headphones?
Headphones are mostly designed for listening to music tracks. Whilst a good frequency range is still important for maintaining quality, podcasts generally won’t come close to matching the frequency content of even a small 3-piece band.
This can make finding a pair suited to podcasting difficult as the price will only increase with respect to the headphones’ ability to reproduce a piece of music. Ultimately investing in the right pair of headphones is more important than just investing in the most expensive or luxurious brands out there.
This is good news! You will find lots of the extras that increase the price of headphones are just not needed or even beneficial in podcasting.
What Factors Should You Consider?
Closed Back vs Open Back
You may have never even noticed whether headphones were closed or open before, but this difference will have a huge impact on your decision.
Open-backed headphones use grills over the headphone cups leaving the drivers exposed and allowing air to flow through. The impact of this is that the audio usually sounds fuller with a wider stereo image however sound isolation is compromised. During recording, spill from headphones will cause echo and lower your recording quality.
Closed-back headphones have solid headphone cups stopping the movement in air and remove the possibility for spill. Whilst open-backed headphones may be good for mixing, closed-back should always be used for recording and can also be used for mixing without any major issues if you’re on a budget.
Whilst closed-back headphones can’t provide the largest frequency ranges, in a podcast you’ll mostly need to rely on quality mids, around 4k, as this is where the ‘presence’ of speech lies. They’ll also help to reduce environmental noise when mixing – ideal if you don’t have a professional mixing studio.
One counterargument here may arise if you prioritize comfort. Open-backed headphones generally feel lighter so tend to be wearable for longer. However, is the risk of spill and possibly extra hours of editing worth it?
Wired vs Wireless
The answer here is definitely to choose a wired pair of headphones. Wireless headphones not only cost more but just aren’t as reliable. Wired headphones provide signal stability with no chance of interferences and no latency. Latency is the time taken for the signal to reach your headphones, a delay will be distracting and can make you talk a bit strange.
Whilst latency and interference are often removed in high-end headphones, this is a large extra expense for issues that can be avoided. You don’t move around during a podcast, so the convenience of wireless headphones isn’t beneficial in a podcast situation.
In-Ear, On-Ear, or Over-Ear?
Everyone has a pair of earphones lying around but high quality or low, I beg of you to leave them in the drawer. Earphones have a smaller driver size leaving you with much lower audio quality and small frequency range. It is hard to reduce background noise using earphones and will leave you with a very muddy mix and hours of editing.
Despite this, it is still possible to find earphones at prices similar to high-quality headphones. Earphones can be great for sports and listening to music on the go but aren’t suited to podcasting.
The difference between on or over-ear headphones is less dramatic however over-ear headphones will ensure less sound leakage than on-ear making them superior for recording. They’re also easier to position right. Putting headphones on sounds easy but minor errors in the positioning can cause huge differences in what you’ll hear. Over-ear headphones will keep the position constant.
Noise-canceling technology tends to be worshipped by headphone fanatics but their use for podcasting is often debated. Once again, this may be another extra that increases costs but isn’t necessary or helpful to podcasters. The extra audio processing used to remove outside noise may even change how you hear your recording and effect your monitoring.
Headphones without noise-canceling technology can still help with sound isolation and cut out some environmental noise without affecting the audio content.
Comfort is often underestimated but when you’re recording for 2+ hours and mixing afterward, comfort is vital. Whilst headphones might feel comfortable at first, they can quickly leave you desperate to get them off if comfort hasn’t been considered carefully.
Both the headband and ear cups need plenty of soft padding to keep you comfortable.
Whilst a large frequency range will allow all frequencies to be represented equally in your mix, you’ll want to focus mainly on the mids to ensure high quality, clear vocals with a lot of presence.
Impedance will determine the amount of power your headphones require to produce high levels of sound. High impedance (Above 50ohms) may require a headphone amplifier to achieve higher decibels whilst low impedance are fine on their own. A range between 23-80ohms is usually ideal.
The sensitivity indicates how loud headphones can get at a given power level by how effectively energy is converted from electric to acoustic. A range between 80-125 dB SPL/mW is ideal.
Best Overall: Sennheiser HD280 Pro
With both incredible value and quality, Sennheiser’s HD 280 Pro headphones take the top spot. Nothing has been compromised with their performance exceeding those double, even triple the price. 2020 podcasters, including podcast pioneer Joe Rogan and our very own editor Will Osburn, swear by these.
With a 64ohm impedance, these headphones can get loud. The closed-back design ensures loud, high-quality audio with no leakage. The sound stage is still astonishingly broad and comprehensive.
Sound isolation without using the classic noise reduction technology ensures environmental noise stays out whilst mixing without compromising the audio content.
Sennheiser prides itself on the entirely neutral sound created with the HD280s from a solid, extensive bass to incredibly pure, transparent mids.
Generous padding lines the headband and earcups allowing hours of comfort with the plastic frame keeping them lightweight and unnoticeable. The frame looks sturdy to give a durable, reliable set of headphones.
Best Budget: Audio Technica ATH-M20x
Made popular with their affordable gear, Audio Technica deserves an honorable mention in this category. They offer incredible value for money.
Let’s start with some facts, the M20x’s push a 15hz-20khz frequency response. Their 40mm drivers get pretty loud with a 47ohm impedance but with extra sound isolation you could wear these on a train without any funny looks, I’ve tried! The sound is flat and incredibly natural; this quality audio reproduction is perfect for monitoring without bias.
The vinyl used on the main build of the headphones makes them incredibly light whilst maintaining robustness. Plenty of padding has been fitted around the headband and earcups, it’s a little hard but this may be the only downfall and when compared to their price competitors, the M20x’s still come out on top.
If you were worried about having reduced mobility with wired headphones, the 10ft straight wire should give you peace of mind. The headphones also come with a 1/8” jack and 1/4” adapter to plug into pretty much anywhere.
Best Runner Up: LyxPro HAS-10
LyxPro created a fair amount of buzz amongst podcasters over the last couple of years, and rightly so! Another incredible value for money once again proving you don’t need to make a huge investment when it comes to headphones.
The HAS-10s give a rich and deep sound providing an extensive frequency range from 10Hz-26kHz. Podcasters say these give a natural, flat response – great for monitoring and mixing. Some suggest the isolation leaves a little to be desired making external voices still audible however when it comes to podcasting, this might be ideal for those distracted by complete isolation.
LyxPro has prioritized comfort. The thick leather earpads and padded headband allow you to wear the HAS-10s for hours on end almost unaware you’re even wearing them. The light build might be the perfect choice for the podcaster who usually hates wearing headphones!
The LyxPro lost its space in the best budget due to a few reviews suggesting the durability may not be up to scratch whilst others suggested they’d had the same pair for up to 3 years. These might need a little more looking after than usual studio headphones to keep them up to scratch but it may be worth it at the price.
The Has-10s come with a detachable, long wire for easy replacement.
Best Under $20
We understand that often when starting out, a quality microphone might be higher on your list of priorities. Whilst headphones under $20 won’t be the highest quality, these are a great starting point and perfect if you need to bulk-buy. They will get the job done no matter your budget.
The sound has been prioritized by Behringer using the semi-open back design to give a wide stereo image. The HPX2000’s have a surprisingly nice sound reproduction, especially in the mids making them a good choice for monitoring speech. There’s also none of the distortion, hum, or rattle you might find in other budget headsets.
The thick padding around the ear cups provides a little isolation from outside noise to help focus on the playback.
The semi-open back will have some sound leakage at higher audio levels, but this should be fixed by keeping to low levels and sitting further back from your mic. Doing tests before recording will help avoid any issues with echo.
Unlike lots of budget headphones, these look comfortable, the fit isn’t too tight and there’s plenty of soft padding around the headband and earcups.
They are made with plastic which will make them less robust but for a budget pair, they look to be built well.
Again, the frequency response is surprisingly OK in these budget headphones. Some report the mids to be slightly muffled however the response is flat and provides fairly accurate reproduction.
YouTube Channel Z Reviews has provided a nice sound demo linked below to try before you buy.
This lightweight set is closed-back which is perfect for recording without sound leakage. Comfort seems to be the downfall as the earpads are harder and thinner than the HPX2000’s, users report a 1-3-hour wear before finding them uncomfortable however the earpads are replaceable so this issue could be resolved.
Panasonic Headphones RP-HT161-K
With an impressive 10hz-27kHz frequency range, Panasonic has rivaled high-end headsets at a much lowe price point. Driven by 30mm drivers, the RP-HT161-K’s give a balanced sound across the spectrum and ensure clear vocals.
Unfortunately, you have to invest in quality. Whilst these headphones won’t provide the highest quality, they’re a stable, incredibly cheap choice entirely suitable for monitoring.
Comfort probably wasn’t the highest priority in creating the RP-HT161-Ks but surprisingly, this isn’t largely complained about. The loose-fit of the headset counteracts the lack of padding around the headband whilst soft padded earcups help to make these surprisingly comfortable, even over long durations.
Best Under $50
With a 10hz-30khz frequency range, the large 50mm drivers in these studio reference headphones will give you an accurate, smooth sound. The flat response makes them great for monitoring meaning your judgment won’t be made on bias whilst the semi-open design gives a wide, transparent sound stage. Podcasters report getting crystal clear vocals due to the highly accurate and characterful mid response.
Despite a lack of padding on the headband, the hammock design and loose fit along with velour earpads provide a comfortable long period listening experience. The build looks a little flimsy, but reports suggest long durability.
Again, despite a higher quality sound, the issue with semi-open designs is the leak. Though this is less in semi-open back designs, you should still be wary and do necessary testing before recording.
The Edifier H840s 40mm drivers provide a professional sound with a flat, unequalised frequency response in the range 20hz-20khz. The bass frequencies are highly accurate whilst some have found a dip at 1-2.5kHz which may dull some vocals slightly – this can be fixed using a little EQ.
With the 40mm drivers and 32ohm sensitivity, I would describe this headset as perfectly average, but for the price point, these closed-back headphones are perfect for podcasting.
The headphones utilize a straightforward, simplistic design. They’re over-ear and closed-back so even high volumes shouldn’t leak into your recording and whilst there seems to be a lack of padding, the lightweight, flexible design keeps them fairly comfortable over long durations.
Mpow H10 Wireless
The Mpow H10s provide a great price to performance ratio, they’re incredibly dynamic and have excellent mid-range accuracy.
If your preference is wireless headphones, these might be the perfect choice for your podcast. One charge lasts 30 hours making them reliable for a whole day of work, maybe even 2, just remember to charge!
The over-ear, closed-back design ensures little sound leak especially as the earcups are fairly large allowing your ear to be encapsulated fully within the headset. The larger build also makes these headphones much comfier as the padding won’t squash your ears.
Best under $100
The Shure SRH440s are able to reproduce an accurate, balanced sound across the frequency spectrum. Their vocal reproduction is well defined with a flat mid response. Sound isolation isn’t the best when compared to other over-ear designs but for podcasting in a quiet environment, the ability to hear your own voice might be less distracting than fully isolating sets for some. Sound leakage is still low with the closed-ear build.
The closed-back, over-ear tick can be checked making the SRH440s ideal for recording.
However, the build quality of the SRH440s may let the product down. The headset looks sturdy and offers some durability, but Shure has received a few comfort complaints. Padding on the headband is very limited and might make this set uncomfortable over time. If your heart is set on these headphones, extra head padding and replacement earcups might be a good idea.
The MDR7506s are incredibly popular with podcasters thanks to their clear reproduction of middle frequencies and impressive overall flat sound. Your recording will stay free of echo as the closed-back, over-ear design means no sound leak.
Sony has given these headphones a classic studio headphone look – loose-fitting, large ear cups, and little padding – meaning they may become uncomfortable over time. On the upside, replacing the ear cups would ultimately create the perfect podcasting headphone for both recording and editing.
Best Under $250
The ATH-M50x’s have an overall, impressive sound. They’re marketed as studio headphones despite being a little bass-heavy, but this is mostly unnoticeable, especially in vocals.
Audio-Technica specializes in producing versatile headsets perfect for recording, mixing, or listening on public transport for a great value. At this price point, the M50x’s cannot be missed. Whilst the build is mainly plastic, Audio Technica can be relied on for durability – my pair have lasted 4 years and despite being used daily, they’re still going strong!
The headband and earcups come with a nice amount of padding and the whole build is incredibly lightweight for long sessions.
Jabra Elite 85h Over-Ear Headphones
Jabra Elite ensures great audio reproduction, unlike the ATH-M50x’s the bass is more drawn back leaving clearer, less muddy vocals. Sound leak is kept minimal with the thick, over-ear ear pads.
Despite being wireless, the Jabra Elite 85hs comes with a very competitive battery life at 36 hours. The headphones are incredibly comfortable due to the premium padding on both the earcups and headband.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series 2 (QC35)
At a higher price point than what we’ve covered so far, the QuietComfort 35 series 2 present a consistent frequency response with excellent tonal balance – especially in the mids. The active noise canceling can take away from the stereo image a bit however you will hear exactly what your audience hears for more accuracy.
When compared against the Sony wh-1000xm3s, the QuietComfort 35 series 2’s lightweight design and long-lasting comfort meant they came out on top.
Beyerdynamic DT 1770
The Beyerdynamic DT1770s are another popular choice amongst podcasters and editors. Their precision in sound is immaculate using 45mm drivers to push an incredible 5hz-40khz frequency range. Their 250ohm impedance means you will need a headphone amp to achieve the highest SPL’s (102dB) but you can be assured there will be no sound leak.
Beyerdynamic hasn’t forgotten about comfort. With Velvet-like extensive padding on both the ears and headband, you’ll never get tired of recording or editing.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
Whilst these headphones might be an example of paying for added features, if you’re looking for high-quality wireless, noise-canceling technology these are the ones for you. The sound has perfect mid accuracy with well-extended bass and bright treble. The closed-back design ensures a low leak.
Leather, soft padding lines the earcups and headband for an incredibly premium feel whilst the retro design makes them interesting and quite professional looking. They’re incredibly well built and ensure durability over time whilst the headband distributes the weight of the sturdy frame well.
Finding the right pair of headphones can be a chore. Hopefully, this guide has helped with some of the research processes and you have a pair of headphones in mind.
Investing in quality headphones will help boost your podcast’s audio quality whilst knowing your specific requirements will ensure you don’t spend a fortune on extra, unnecessary features. After all, not all headphones are suited for podcasting, no matter the brand or cost.