Should I Wear a Headphone While Recording Voiceover?

When you ask voice over talents what would be the best headphone to use during recordings, expect that aside from getting a short list of headphone brands, you may also get a total disapproval from using headphones.

Why?

Some professional voice actors and coaches would say that to get an honest-to-goodness performance or read; to hear your genuine voice, you must forgo using headphones completely as it can pull you out from a truthful, immersed performance. Without a headphone, you would be able to hear your natural voice and resonance. You avoid falling into a trap of over-listening to your voice which results to a drawn out delivery.

Though using a headphone can help build your confidence as the amplified sound makes you “love” the sound of your voice, it will also make you over-critical of every stray noise, every sound you make, thus your attention is divided. You put yourself in a position of judging and producing your performance as you record. Don’t play two roles at one time – allow yourself to be a performer first then an engineer after.

As a beginner you can use a headphone to observe pronunciation or enunciation better, understand all noise or dirty noise, or finding where the sweet spot of your microphone. You may also record a script with the headphones and then without, as you do not want to be uncomfortable when you are required to use one during sessions that you need to take directions live.

But it all comes down to personal preference, what works best for you and what you are recording.

So if you need to make a choice, there are two kinds of over-the-ear headphones: Open-Back and Closed-Back, each offer benefits and drawbacks.

Here are three of the most recommended headphones by voice over talents:

Sony MDRV6
Sony MDRV6

Sony MDRV6

Priced at $109.99

A headset system designed for audio professionals. 40 mm drivers deliver accurate sound throughout the frequency range. Circum-aural design keeps ears comfortable. Reduces noise from the outside world. Copper-Clad Aluminum Wire (CCAW) Voice Coil enhances movement of PET diaphragm.

 

AKG K240MKII
AKG K240MKII

AKG K240MKII

Priced at $118 – 199

The K240 MKII professional over-ear, semi-open headphones are a long-time standard in studios, in orchestras and on stages around the world. Its advanced Varimotion 30 mm XXL transducers deliver solid low end, accurate mids and crystal-clear highs. The semi-open design provides the airiness of open headphones with the powerful bass response of closed designs. For more than three decades, professional engineers and musicians have made the K240 the most widely used headphones in studios and at live consoles around the world.

Sennheiser HD 25-1
Sennheiser HD 25-1

Sennheiser HD25-1 II

Priced at $231.64 – $249.95

The closed-back HD 25-1 II purpose-designed, professional monitoring headphones offer high attenuation of background noise. Capable of handling very high sound pressure levels and of extremely robust construction, these headphones perform exceptionally well in high-noise environments, such as sound reinforcement, studio monitoring, and audio equipment testing. The capsule is rotatable for one-ear listening. The Sennheiser HD-25 II make ideal monitoring headphones for cameramen and DJs.

It is still reasonable to get a decent set of headphones to learn your way around using your microphone, to master your levels, and to connect and understand your voice and resonance.  Learn to use your headphones in a way that you are less aware of it so that your voice will come out more natural. If you are willing to go outside the “security” of wearing a headphone, be confident to free yourself from self-monitoring and trust in your set-up.

Whether you decide to use an open-back or closed-back headphone, or forgo it completely, remember to do what is most comfortable for you.


What do you prefer, headphone or no headphone? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below.

Rana King

Rana King has presented marketing, sales, and writing seminars around the globe. She is also experienced in business-to-business copywriting and technical writing. She is also an accomplished voice actor with regular clients from around the globe.

  • Facepalm

    “. Without a headphone, you would be able to hear your natural voice and resonance.”

    Yes, because you don’t hear your voice differently this way… than what everyone else does…

  • While very similar in design to the Sony MDRV6, The Sony MDR7506 has been around for years and would be a better choice (IMHO) for a budget set of cans ..er..Headphones. Currently they’re priced at $79 on Amazon and a steal!
    I have 3 pairs of these workhorse headsets in my studio dating back about 20 years – and they get daily use! These things just won’t die. Best of all, you can replace the padded ear covers for $4.95 a pair (which I just did for 2 pair.)

    Headphones for recording should have a closed ear design, fit firm, feel good and make zero noise under movement. They’ll see a lot of use and not a lot of respect from talent with …uhm, big heads… so, if you purchase and budget with recurring replacement in mind, the MDR7506’s will pay for themselves over time.

  • There should be no question that you use headphones, as you are stuck listening back for stray problems anyway, doubling your time spent recording (at least). Hearing a popped P or overdriven hard vowel as it happens means you can do a pickup right then and there, not a more involved pickup after the fact.

    The idea that you experience some better or more authentic version of what you sound like without isolating out the additional convective (and slightly delayed) version of your voice is not optimal. In fact, you’ll hear a less authentic version of your voice, a version mixed with not only what the microphone picks up and your ears might not, but the reverse as well – what your ears hear when you’re not wearing headphones is hardly what is recorded. And being able to “play” the mic is almost impossible to monitor accurately if you’re not wearing headphones.

    Now, you might be uncomfortable and self-conscious, as we all are, when you first use headphones, you may as a result dislike the sound of your voice, and that may cause you to prematurely decide to reject headphone use. But once you understand why you don’t like the sound of your voice when wearing headphones, it all seems to fall into place. Like any technical skill, it requires some getting used to, and pays great dividends when you get used to it.

    I couldn’t disagree more with people that not only recommend going commando when recording, but I really have a problem with coaches and talent that demonize those who do use headphones as egotistical or engaging in “aural masturbation” (I’ve actually heard a well-known coach use those words.) That’s completely the opposite of reality. And the example that’s often used, “They don’t have you watch yourself on a monitor if you act on camera, do they?” is hardly a parallel. You will not walk into any radio on-air or production studio, or a commercial or narration studio and not see the talent wearing headphones. Use them. Being proficient at doing so is the mark of a professional (despite some professionals that insist on not wearing them).

  • Dennis Miller

    I’ve recorded with and without headphones over the years. I like recording with headphones for the reasons you stated. It is also a disadvantage for the the reason you stated. Part of your mind is listening to your voice, loving it and critiquing it. It’s distracting. So, I record without headphones, giving my total attention to the words, the character or message, the pacing, inflection, emotion and body movement with no distractions. The headphones come later with the editing.There, I can give full attention to the sound of my voice and how I used it.
    Your voice is your voice. You use it to its fullest. Then you edit/critique it. They are two different steps and processes.
    That, at least, is what I’m comfortable with. Great post, Rana. Thanks!