Dear Alesa: Headphone Horrors

Posted on 05.05.2016

Dear Alesa:
I know that using headphones for transcribing and editing is very important but I’m at a loss on which type and brand of headphones to choose. Do you have any suggestions? It feels like I’m swimming in headphone choices and I’m about to drown.
Horrified By All the Headphone Choices

Dear Horrified,
With so many headphone types and brands on the market, making a decision can be overwhelming. The first thing to keep in mind is comfort. You’ll be wearing these things for long periods of time, so it’s important to choose a headphone style that you know will be comfortable for you. For me personally, finding circumaural (over-ear) headphones that don’t press my glasses into my temples can be frustrating. Because of this, I tend to prefer earbuds over most other types of headphones. Others find on-ear or over-ear headphones exceedingly comfortable. You will want to try out some different styles of headphones to find the ones that you are most comfortable with. Chances are, throughout your life, you’ve already chosen which type you enjoy the most and find the most comfortable.

The second thing to consider is sound quality. From student recommendations, studio monitor headphones are a very popular choice because of the accuracy of the sound they produce. They don’t lean toward heavy base or treble, so they provide more accurate representation of what is actually being played through them. Common studio monitor headphone brands students and graduates recommend are:

Audio Technica ATH-M50
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

The other handy thing about studio monitor headphones is that they are more commercial grade so they can stand up to constant use and abuse better than other types.
A note of caution: Headphones that are geared more towards specific music sound signatures like Bose and Beats by Dre are not necessarily always the best for transcription because they are often tuned for enjoyment of specific kinds of music and can distort the audio you’re trying to listen to. Some students love them, though, so it really is a matter of personal preference, I feel.
Last, there is a sweet spot when it comes to price and performance. You want to buy the best headphones you can for the money you can comfortably spend. You don’t need to buy the most expensive headphones in order to get a good price-to-performance ratio—in fact, most super expensive, fancy-schmancy headphones are not beneficial for this kind of work. The studio monitor brands I listed above typically sit in the range of $90 – $200 (the Beyerdynamic ones often go on sale on Amazon for below $200, though they typically sit around $300). While that may be a touch pricy for some, the performance and durability of them tend to make them worth it in the end. They may not be comfortable for everyone, though, or they may be out of your price range. That’s okay too!
In a lower price bracket, I personally use Klipsch S4 (II) In-Ear Headphones for transcribing and they work great for me. They typically are in the $50 range and I find their price-to-performance ratio excellent. I’ve had these in-ear headphones for 3 years and they’ve performed without issue, so I can’t complain. They’ve been wound up and unwrapped thousands of times and have no signs of wear on the cord or earphones. For the price, I’ve been very pleased with the sound quality.

In a much lower price bracket, I would be remiss in not mentioning one final headphone type common among transcriptionists: Spectra. Spectra USB Transcription Headset is favored by many transcriptionists including one of our instructors here at CareerStep. They are a stethoscope style architecture so they sit just inside your ears and go under your chin instead of over your head. They usually run around $20-30 in price so most find them well within their price range. Some people love them. I did not find them comfortable, but I know many medical transcriptionists who use them and swear by them.

I hope this information helps.

Alesa Little, MTE
CareerStep Instructor