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July 1, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Headphone Alternatives for Voice Actors

If an actor is self recording an audition, the choice to use headphones is pretty simple: use them or don’t. But if there are other people involved — voice director, client, engineer, etc. — headphones may be useful for hearing those folks. As previously discussed, headphones may be causing some problems, but they might also help an actor hear collaborators. The decision to completely ditch headphones may not be simple. Some additional options would be helpful.

If the headphones let one hear the actor’s mic, the director’s talkback mic, and the engineer’s talkback mic, then one simple solution would be to lower or mute the signal from the actor’s mic. Most of the distractions from hearing oneself go away if the signal from the actor’s mic doesn’t feed the actor’s headphones. A professional recording engineer can configure it if you simply ask.

Sometimes the headphones just need to go away. A speaker in the room with the actor can be used to replace the headphones. BUT — and this is important — the audio from the actor’s mic should NOT feed the speaker or feedback may occur. Again, the recording engineer is responsible to set this up correctly.

On some big sound stages I’ve seen a table for the director, script supervisor, and others. The actor doesn’t need headphones to hear these people because they’re all in the same room. The engineer (in another room) may use a talkback speaker and/or headphones may still be helpful, but much of the critical communication over headphones goes away with lots of folks together in the same room. And you don’t need a major film studio budget. You can ditch the actor’s headphones in small scale recording setups if you just put everyone in the same room.

One Ear Off Technique for Voice ActorsONE EAR OFF
Another compromise is to work with one ear off, or use a single eared headphone. This may be enough of a change to minimize the distraction while still being able to hear collaborators. Just taking a side off is a quick fix that a voice actor can make without help from others and without taking time away from the session. Studio singers, musicians, and radio announcers have been doing this effectively for years.

When someone takes an ear off from stereo headphones and there is sound coming out, this makes feedback more likely. If the actor “wears” that open headphone speaker on the head behind the ear, it covers it up as if it were being worn on the ear. Placing the open speaker behind the ear helps the actor and engineer by keeping feedback to a minimum.

An engineer may proactively mute the signal to the open ear using a pan, mute, dead patch, etc. No output from the unused headphone means the actor doesn’t have to cover it to help prevent feedback.

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