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May 19, 2020 / Randy Coppinger

Headphones for Voice Acting

Wondering what kind of headphones you should use to record as a voice actor? Check out my conversation with headphone expert and voice actor Lauren Dragan. I learned so much from her! We talk about the things that help an actor act, sound leaking into your mic, reliable sonic presentation, the relationship between acting for animation and cable length, comfort, the ability to work for several hours, and so much more.

Headphones mentioned in this conversation by name: Sony MDR-7506, AKG K371, Shure SRH840, PSB M4U 2, and Audio Technica ATH-M50x.

01:42 Sony MDR-7506 headphones worn by Lauren, and why she likes them.

03:51 AKG K371 headphones are designed to present as sonically neutral at a relatively affordable price.

04:18 The Harman curve describes a frequency response for headphones that most listeners perceive as neutral. Headphone sound that measures flat in frequency response is not perceived by listeners as neutral sounding.

06:56 Shure SRH840 headphones worn by me, and how I came to choose them.

08:36 What does a voice actor need from headphones? Good isolation, reliable sonic presentation, and a long enough cable.

11:14 Detachable cables make is easier to replace them when they break.

12:46 Detachable cables for higher-end headphones often allow the wearer to choose between a coiled cable, and a flat cable. And because there is a connection point, friction from unplugging and plugging detachable cables can also be a failure point.

16:28 Does it matter how headphones look for voice acting? It might, especially if you’re recoding from home on a video call with your client.

16:51 Pro tip from Lauren… get better isolation from ordinary earbuds using Comply tips.

21:50 Open back and semi-open back headphones are probably not a good choice for voice acting.

23:08 The technique of removing one side of the headphones to hear yourself acoustically, or hear other sounds outside of your headphones.

32:34 Some of our biggest laughs happened in this part of the discussion. Clean headphones to help them last longer. Lauren shares what she learned from a microbiologist about the causes of ear pad deterioration. She also tells us how to clean your headphones, and how to clean common use headphones, such as those found in a recording studio.

36:07 Headphone fit is incredibly important. Firstly, Lauren points out, poor fit can diminish bass response. This could prevent an actor from hearing everything they are recording and misjudge. Secondly, sound leaking out can get on mic, which could be a problem for recording.

38:44 When headphones are too strident or bright, they can make your ears and brain feel tired quickly. This is a major cause of fatigue, making it difficult to work for long periods of time, such as a four hour recording session.

43:54 Like speakers, some headphones cause fatigue more rapidly than others, even if the sound seems balanced and pleasant. Unlike speakers, headphones can trap heat against the listener’s head, contributing to fatigue.

46:42 Consider the clamping force of headphones — how much they squeeze your head to stay in place a province a decent seal. Every aspect of comfort is important for working in headphones for a significant period of time. Keep the packaging and return a new pair of headphones if they do not work for you in terms of fit, fatigue, heat, clamping force, and overall comfort.

48:42 What about noise cancelling headphones, such as the PSB M4U 2? Headphones with noise cancellation are not ideal for voice actors. The tone changes when noise cancellation is activated. A less live reproduction can confuse what the actor is actually hearing. Noise cancellation might also obscure a problem, such as background noise, that is getting on mic, but the actor is less able to notice. Ironically, the best way to use a pair of noise cancelling headphones is with the noise cancellation turned off.

50:26 Wireless headphones, often using Bluetooth, can get delayed by the computer transmitting the audio. The delay is often long enough to confuse the listener. Until our computers are quick enough to minimize that delay, wireless headphones are not a good choice to record voice acting.

51:34 What are some misguided ideas people may have about headphones? Some people assume expensive headphones are always better, which is not necessarily true. High vs low impedance with headphones are not as big an issue as it used to be. There are some suspicious products on the market, but don’t let people sell you snake oil. Big, huge headphones are not always the best, and might keep an actor from moving around the way they need to for a take. “But in the booth you want something simple,” so headphones with a lot of features can actually make the actor’s job unnecessarily complicated.

55:40 When Audiophiles talk about “burn-in” time, Lauren suggests that is much more about getting used to the sound profile of the headphones than any physical change that happens. So spend significant time listening to new headphones to get used to how they sound. This will improve your level of comfort with them. “When you know you’re equipment well, you can record better.”

57:09 “Everyone’s got preferences.” Find some headphones that are right for you. Lauren explains how the Shure SRH840 and Audio Technica ATH M50x headphones sound to her, but notes other people prefer them. The key is to make the connection between what you hear in the headphones and how that sounds in the recording of your voice.

59:03 Contact Lauren Dragan for voice acting, and for her headphone expertise, on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Read her reviews via Wirecutter.com, The New York Times. She is represented by VOX and Go Voices.

Read more about Recording Voice Acting Remotely.

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