Headphones can be useful while recording or editing a podcast and the right headphones can be invaluable. No matter if you are guesting on your first podcast or if you are a seasoned podcasting veteran, audio separation between the microphone and the rest of the sounds from your podcast such as co-hosts, incoming Skype calls, Blab discussions, fellow Google Hangouts on Air presenters or a soundboard are key to a clean listenable finished podcast. Monitoring your recording live also prevents many issues later including potential distorted recordings. And of course if you are editing in even a slightly noisy environment the right headphones can make a difference between total aggravation and getting the podcast produced as accurately as possible in a timely and frustration free fashion.
Aside from assembling the right engaging, entertaining, educational and informative content to prime your latest exciting podcast episode with, clean listenable raw audio recording files are key to a published podcast that can rival the best experienced broadcasters. One of the simplest ways to start producing those raw audio recordings are to separate the incoming sound from the recording microphone. If you wear headphones and silence any monitors or speakers that are a part of your recording system the chances are greatly reduced of incoming sound leaking back into the microphone resulting in unwanted feedback into the recording. While the type of microphone used and microphone positioning can also help isolate your voice recording, wearing headphones almost eliminates incoming audio feedback entirely for most recording situations. So for that reason alone I always advise wearing headphones while podcasting.
There are many choices for headphones on the market these days. So which headphones are best for podcasting? To a certain extent it depends on how you like your audio to sound. But most broadcasters and sound engineers will steer you to a type of headphone known as a Studio Monitoring Headphone. This type of headphone has a relatively flat frequency response so the listener can discern sounds across all frequencies, not just the ones that have been heightened by the manufacturer such as low bass frequencies. The right Studio Monitoring Headphones are also designed to be worn comfortably for long periods of time and with ear pads that are designed to prevent external environmental sounds from contaminating your listening experience, a capability known as sound isolation.
Taking into account wearability, sound quality, sound isolation and reliability I have researched, purchased and tested several pairs of Studio Monitoring Headphones over the course of the past year. I did this because over the holidays last year I was attempting to edit a podcast with a very full house and simply could not hear with the headphones I had been using since I started to podcast. Then the engineer and rocket scientist in me took over to get to the bottom of this for podcasting. I thought to myself, “There HAS to be a better solution.” What I found astounded me in terms of the sound quality I was listening to and the fact that I could focus on the audio and not the dog barking, the kids in the neighborhood playing outside, the monster trucks next door, the clothes washing machine and dryer, the family watching the television in the room next door, or aircraft flying overhead. In most cases I waited for each headphone set to go on sale since this is a hobby and I do not have an unlimited budget. In doing so I was pleased to discover that the Studio Monitoring Headphone models I was interested in were affordable for the hobby podcaster. So without further ado the following are my recommended podcasting headphones.
My number 1 and number 2 headphone picks are pretty close to each other and both come highly recommended by many audio professionals. However, I do have a definitive preference between the two top picks. My number 1 recommended podcasting headphones are the Audio Technica ATH-m40x. The ATH-m40x have a flat frequency response using 40 mm speaker drivers so the entire 15-24,000 Hz audio spectrum is heard without being overpowered by a particular band such as treble, mids or bass while attempting to isolate a particular sound during editing or troubleshooting. I’ve been using the ATH-m40x’s for months and wear them during nearly all of my recording sessions. They are light, comfortable and some of the best temperature controlled headphone sets I own so they do not over heat my ears. Although my set of ATH-m40x headphones are comfortable the one negative I have against this pair is that the headband could have been a little bit more padded. I also own the less expensive ATH-m30x headphones and that headphone model has a little bit more padding in it than the ATH-m40x. Also, the more expensive ATH-m50x definitely have more headband padding so it is a little confusing to me why the ATH-m40x has less padding than either of the other Audio Technica headphone models. Regardless, there is enough padding that I can wear and have worn them for hours without discomfort. I have not had any issues with external sound pollution either. The ATH-m40x do not completely block out the environment but everything is significantly reduced to the point that nothing around me distracts me while I listen to them. The headphone set is very sturdy and feels well-made despite a light weight. I also greatly enjoy the fact that I can remove the headset cord and decide between using a coiled or straight cord. In general I use the coiled cord since it doesn’t end up laying in loops on my floor under my chair but the straight cord is also provided in case you need the distance without the accordion spring effect of the coiled cord. The ATH-m40x comes in the box with a 9.8 foot coiled cord and a 9.8 foot straight cord as well as a decent carry pouch for mobile purposes. I do not tend to use the option for the earpieces to swivel outward 90 degrees on the ATH-m40x very much but it is an option if you need to use the headphones around your neck and still hear the speaker drivers. The Audio Technica ATH-m40x normally can be found for $99 however I was able to find them on a rare sale for $80 and in this past holiday season I’ve seen them on sale for as little as $65. All in all I haven’t found a better headset with these features for the price for podcasting. The Audio Technica ATH-m40x are firmly my #1 recommended Studio Monitoring Headphones for podcasting.
As I mentioned above, my number 2 podcasting headphone recommendation is not all that far behind the first. In fact, my #1 and #2 recommendations are an order magnitude higher than the remainder of all of the rest of my recommendations. While the ATH-m40x are my #1 recommended Studio Monitoring Headphones, the Sony MDR-7506 have been audio engineer’s top choice for decades. The Sony’s were the first higher quality podcast headphones that I purchased and the difference between the Sony MDR-7506 and absolutely everything else that I had used up to that point made me speechless. I had no idea this level of monitoring was even possible. I was amazed the first time that my family was vacuuming the floor literally right next to me and I could continue editing without pausing. Like the ATH-m40x headphones the Sony MDR-7506 have a nice flat frequency response from 10-20,000 Hz using similar sized 40mm speaker drivers. They are extremely comfortable and solidly made but since the technology is literally decades old they are a bit heavier than the ATH-m40x. Also, the Sony MDR-7506 run a bit warmer than the ATH-m40x headphones and while I still can wear them for a few hours without taking them off I do need to remove them after 2-3 hours of wear due to heat buildup around my ears. Also, unlike the ATH-m40x the Sony MDR-7506 do not have a detachable cord. However, for the majority of my uses the better of the two cord options is the coiled cord and fortunately the MDR-7506 cord is coiled. The cord length of the Sony MDR-7506 is 9.8 feet. The Sony MDR-7506 headphones were my go to headphones until I was able to purchase the ATH-m40x. I still use the Sony MDR-7506 nearly every day as I plug them into my mixer or monitors for editing purposes when using my M-Audio AV-40 monitors isn’t feasible. The Sony MDR-7506 are packaged with a nice black pouch for storage and transportability purposes. As I type this article the Sony MDR-7506 can be found for around $80 and you can occasionally get them on sale for the $65 range. You simply cannot go wrong with these headphones. If you can afford the extra jump to the ATH-m40x I’d go with the Audio Technica ATH-m40x. But if the Sony MDR-7506 are more affordable for you I’d definitely choose the Sony pair over all the other recommended headphone models. Finally, Sony does have another “digital” headphone set, the Sony MDR-V6 which are very similar to the MDR-7506. However, the headphone driver element in the MDR-V6 is not as robust or as full sounding as the Sony MDR-7506. So while the MDR-V6 headphones are still very good headphones the Sony MDR-7506 are still the better choice for podcasters in my opinion.
There are a couple of reasons why my next recommendation, the Audio Technica ATH-m50x headphones, is placed as my number 3 recommendation. First of all the ATH-m50x comes in with a significantly higher regularly listed price at $169. I was able to buy mine on sale for $129 which is still a significant jump from my first two recommendations. Secondly, while having the broadest frequency range of any of my Audio Technica podcast headphone recommendations from 15-28,000 Hz the ATH-m50x do not have a flat frequency response. In this particular headphone model Audio Technica has inserted a larger 45 mm speaker driver and because of the bigger drivers Audio Technica decided to increase the lower end or bass frequency response. The increased bass lift is why these headphones are my favorite headphones to listen to podcasts or music for pleasure but are out performed for editing and live recording monitoring by the ATH-m40x and the Sony MDR-7506 with flat frequency responses. Nevertheless the audio in the ATH-m50x remains discernable and other than noticing a heavier boom I have not ever had difficulty hearing clear and distinct sounds in all frequency bands. Of note is that the sound isolation of the ATH-m50x, while not perfect, is the best of all of the headphones that I have tested. I use these headphones nearly every day at work to listen to podcasts and music in a somewhat dynamic and noisy environment and I’m able to zone out everything around me and focus on my work and what I’m listening to without distractions. The ATH-m50x are some of the most comfortable headphones I have used for long periods of time. The ear cups are comfortable around my ear, they are tight around my head but not excessively so, the padding along the headband makes it virtually unnoticeable to me that I’m wearing a band on the top of my head, they are light enough that I’ve never noticed any additional weight on my head, and I have seldom had trouble with the cups getting too hot around my ears even after wearing these all day long. The ATH-m50x comes standard with three removable cords. There is a shorter 3 foot straight length which is perfect to use with a personal audio player such as your mobile phone or mp3 player of your choice. Just like the ATH-m40x there are also two longer 9.8 foot long cords. One 9.8 foot long cord is coiled and the other is straight. I have used all three cords and greatly appreciate the option to use any of the three cords depending on my particular use case for the day. The earpieces on the ATH-m50x swivel 180 degrees so if I take the headphones and place them around my neck I can place the ear cups towards me to protect the drivers or I can turn them to face outward and continue to listen (although definitely not as well) without the headphones on my ears. This capability has proved very useful in a workplace environment and I’m glad I have the option available. However, this might be an option seldom used by the average podcaster and thus a little excessive for home studio use but I will leave that determination up to the individual podcaster. The ATH-m50x also come packaged with the same pouch as the ATH-m40x for storage and transportability. Finally, if style is your thing you can find a completely white style as well as a blue and brown version that is my personal favorite.
My #4 headphone recommendation is the Audio Technica ATH-m30x. The ATH-m30x have the same general fit and form as the ATH-m40x and ATH-m50x. However, there are differences between the pairs enough for a clear separation to a lower recommendation. For starters the ATH-m30x have the narrowest frequency range of the three Audio Technica headphones. The ATH-m30x 40mm drivers are responsive from 15-22,000 Hz. Also, the frequency response of the ATH-m30x is not as flat across all bands at the ATH-m40x or the MDR-7506. Additionally, the ATH-m30x do not come with a detachable cord and unlike the Sony MDR-7506 the 9.8 foot cord that the ATH-m30x does have is straight and not coiled. Another loss of feature with the ATH-m30x is that the headphone cups only swivel 15 degrees in either direction which make them for all intents and purposes fixed like the Sony MDR-7506. On the positive side the ATH-m30x are the lightest of the top 4 recommendations and are very comfortable to wear. The sound isolation, while not as good as my top 3 recommended headphones is pretty decent. I do use these headphones as I mow the lawn in the summer and have found them very suited to that task with a clear sound. The ATH-m30x do come with the same carry pouch as the other two Audio Technica pairs. The ATH-m30x are the most affordable of the top 4 recommendations as they are regularly priced at $69.00 but I have purchased mine on sale for $49.99.
My fifth podcast headphone recommendation, the Audio Technica ATH-m20x I do not own and I based my recommendation on their price point and the quality of the other Audio Technica headphones in my recommendations. Regularly priced at $49.99, the ATH-m20x deliver a 15-20,000 Hz frequency response using 40 mm drivers. The ear cups only swivel 15 degrees in either direction just like the ATH-m30x and the cord is the same straight permanent 9.8 foot long cord as the ATH-m30x. If you are on a budget and cannot wait for a sale for the ATH-m30x, the ATH-m20x should serve you well.
Finally, the sixth headphone recommendation is the Sennheiser HD-201. Several GonnaGeek podcasters use this headphone set and I own two of them. Regularly found for around $20 these tried and true headphone workhorses are a decent find for the price. I’ve also tried several other studio monitoring headphone pairs in the price range such as the Monoprice Hi-Fi DJ Style Acoustic Pro Studio Headphones and the Behringer HPS3000 Studio Headphones and have found the Sennheiser HD-201 the most preferred pair. None of the headphones in this range have as clear or full of sound as the higher priced models in my recommendation list nor do they have as good of sound isolation. In fact the poor sound isolation of the HD-201 is what sparked my quest into finding a good set of affordable studio monitoring headphones. However, the Sennheiser HD-201 do function in a quiet environment and are comfortable to wear. The HD-201 are very lightweight and the ear cups do not mash my ears like the Monoprice and the Behringer headphone sets so. The HD-201 40 mm drivers have the narrowest frequency range of any of my recommended headphones at only 21-18,000 Hz. Even in the $20 price range the Behringer and the Monoprice headphones state a 20-20,000 Hz range. But the Behringer HPS3000 have an extremely tight fit over my head and small ear cups that squish my ears. Also, the Monoprice set I received has a very poor build quality as the headband pad was peeling off straight out of the box. So if your podcasting budget keeps you in the $20 range the Sennheiser HD-201 would be my firm recommendation.
Also of note for my comparisons I did consider the Shure SRH440 Studio Headphones and the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones. After doing some research into online reviews I choose not to explore either pair for further investigation. The Shure SRH440 had noted deficiencies in ear cup and headband comfort that could be mitigated by purchasing replacement pads. My Better Podcasting co-host Stephen Jondrew confirmed these reviews when he purchased his SRH440 headphones and I dropped them from consideration since the ATH-m40x beat out the performance for the price. Also, I read some reviews on the Sennheiser HD 280 that stated the headphones were uncomfortable and the treble range was enhanced too much to really call it a flat frequency response and since I did not have an unlimited budget for testing the Sennheiser HD 280 fell lower on the priority to purchase and review.
Overall this was a fun process to go through and I’m very happy with the end results that I am using today. So if you are in the market to buy your first studio monitoring headphones or if you are interested in upgrading to a better pair for noise isolation or sound clarity I hope these recommendations help you in your decision.
Until next time….