Most images you see of a podcast setup will involve at least one person wearing a set of headphones. This is actually a crucial part of achieving good audio in the final production but why, what advantages do headphones offer? It turns out there are multiple reasons why it’s necessary, read on to learn more.
Podcasters wear headphones to achieve the best audio quality in the final production. They’re needed to monitor the audio whilst the show is being recorded and also when editing to pick up any audio flaws that might not be obvious when not wearing headphones.
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Monitoring audio at the time of recording
It’s absolutely essential that you try to achieve the best possible audio quality you can when recording your podcast. Not only will it be much more pleasing for your audience to listen to, but it could save you hours and hours of time in post-production.
Many things need to be considered and optimised to get good audio but the only way you’re going to be able to identify any issues with it is to monitor it, ideally throughout the whole recording. The way to monitor it is through a good set of headphones. If possible, a high quality pair of closed back, studio monitoring headphones (recommended models will be covered later in the article).
There are times when batteries run low, cables become faulty, wireless signals drop out or something in your system is causing excessive noise. Avoid at all costs only discovering these issues when you sit down to edit your podcast. The more attention you pay at the recording stage, the less headaches you’ll have at the editing stage.
Remove the worry of mic placement
Wondering why you might see podcasters sometimes wearing broadcast style headsets with an in-built microphone?
Managing mic placement is simple when there’s one or two people involved. Try to manage a situation with multiple guests and hosts though and it’s a whole new ball game.
One way to avoid having to think too much about this is to use broadcast style headsets which feature an in-built microphone. Not only are they great for this purpose but the ones we recommend (Audio-Technica PBHS1 from Amazon) feature a dynamic mic so for recording in noisier environments, they’re very effective hence the reason you see sports commentators wearing them.
Echo and bleed when recording remote interviews
It’s really important for podcasters to wear headphones when recording interviews using software such as Skype because audio echo and bleed can be a real issue if they’re not worn (or they are worn but they’re not the correct type).
Using your PC speakers to hear your guest can result in echo because your microphone picks up what’s coming out of your speakers and sends it back through Skype. This is bad for your recording but also bad for your guest as it will be harder for them to hear you and it can cause delays in the audio.
Sound bleed is more subtle than echo. It’s the same thing but on a smaller scale and occurs when headphones are being worn but they’re not the correct type. Earbud type earphones along with a sensitive microphone is a recipe for disaster when it comes to bleed. Instead, you want to be using closed back headphones which will ‘leak’ less audio and set the volume at a level that allows you to hear your guest but isn’t too loud which would risk the audio bleeding into your microphone.
Editing in post-production
Once podcasters invest in a quality pair of headphones for editing purposes, it’s like an epiphany moment – all of a sudden they realise how many improvements they can make to their recording setup! Poor quality or unsuitable headphones can mask flaws in microphones, room setups and preamps whereas a good set of studio monitoring headphones will expose those weaker links in the chain.
The reassuring thing is that the vast majority of podcast listeners won’t be doing so using headphones made for audio production so if you’re happy with the quality of the final audio in your set, the likelihood is that it will sound even better to your listeners who will be playing it through the speakers in their cars or consumer grade headphones. These things are really made for listening to music through and the point is for the audio to sound great so your podcast will be no exception.
Times when you may not want to wear headphones
If you do a lot of editing, headphones can be fatiguing. It is possible to edit without them but it can only be recommended where the room in which the editing is taking place is appropriately sound treated and a good set of studio monitor speakers are being used. This means that acoustic panels are placed in the correct place to deflect and/or absorb the sound waves coming from the speakers and the setup is optimal from the point of view of where the speakers are in relation to where the editor is sitting. This is a whole other topic which we’ll definitely cover in more depth at some point!
Most rooms though aren’t setup like this so the easiest option is to wear a set of headphones which negates the need for any sort of room treatment.
Another scenario where a podcaster may choose not to wear headphones is when conducting an interview and they think that the natural flow of it will be disrupted by the host or the host and guest wearing a set of headphones.
In this scenario, it’s hugely important not to forget about audio monitoring. Still spend time with headphones on during the setup process and check on the audio at regular intervals to ensure no issues are present in the audio. Even better, take an assistant with you and have them monitor the audio throughout the interview.
Our top picks for podcasting headphones
Now that you know the importance of wearing headphones for podcasting, which ones should you get? First of all, let’s look at some of the features which are important to the podcaster.
There are different schools of thought on this. Some might argue that open back headphones take in more ambient sounds and are closer to how a listener would consume your audio.
Whilst that might be true, the downsides of open back headphones are that you don’t get the same level of isolation you get with closed back headphones. With the isolation comes a deeper focus which allows you to find and fix those flaws in your audio.
Also, remember the sound bleed issue we mentioned earlier? Open back headphones bleed sound much more than closed back headphones do. All in all, we think that closed back are the way to go hence all three options below are closed back.
Flat frequency response
Unlike consumer grade headphones built for making music sound good, studio headphones are made with a flat frequency response to give you the true sound of what was recorded. This is really important in helping you identify issues in your audio.
OK, they may not be the best for listening to music but that’s not their intended purpose.
Some podcasts can run into hours in length which means long periods of time at the editing desk when putting the show together. An uncomfortable pair of headphones in this scenario would not only hurt productivity but could also disrupt the flow of the show if you need to take regular breaks or are adjusting your headphones because they’re hurting your head.
We look for soft padding and plenty of adjustment when it comes to sizing up headphones from a comfort perspective.
The links to each model below are to Amazon and are affiliate links which means that we may earn a commission on qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
Budget choice – Audio-Technica ATH-M20x
For somebody who doesn’t want to spend a lot, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is a great choice. Great sound insulation, great comfort, great value.
Mid-range choice – Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
For the price, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro’s tick a lot of boxes. Being comfortable, accurate and robust, they’ve become a firm favourite of many people who produce audio.
Premium choice – Shure SRH1540
If money is no object, the Shure SRH1540 is all a podcaster could want. The build quality is fantastic as is the sound that comes out of them. This set can be worn comfortably for hours on end.