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Choosing Best Headphones for Capturing Audio

Jennifer covers many considerations when choosing and using headphones while shooting video.

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Video Transcript

You wouldn’t consider capturing video without using a viewfinder, so why would you consider capturing audio without using headphones? I’m Jennifer O’Rourke. In today’s tips and tricks we’ll tell you the best headphones to get and how best to use them for your video and audio project.

When considering your purchase for headphones there are three different types of earpieces to research. There’s circumaural, super aural, and in-the-ear buds. Most audio professionals prefer the circumaural headphones. They usually are large, thick, padded cushions that completely surround your ears. These are good if you’re the solo shooter and you don’t have to have any contact with noise on the outside. They’re gonna mask your noise the best.

Super headphones are typically more lightweight and you use them with portable CD or MP3 players. Their earpads are made of replaceable cloth or foam if they have some and it will deteriorate over time. They’re usually very cheap. Many people prefer the sound of the super aural headphones due to their open and transparent nature. Sound will come from the outside which is good if you’re working with a crew and you need to hear what’s going on around you.

In-the-ear headphones or earbuds aren’t ideal for video production but they do offer an inexpensive and compact option for audio monitoring. They’re infinitely better than no monitoring at all. The trade-off here is sound quality. With few exceptions earbuds offer comparatively poor sound quality lacking deep bass and high clear frequencies but they are better than nothing.

Audio professionals tend to use higher-end headphones that usually have a quarter-inch phone jack. Most headphones that you get in consumer stores though have an eighth-inch phone jack. If you have quarter-inch and you’re using a mixer you have a space right for it but if you’re using eighth-inch you have to use an adapter.

The problem with using an adapter is you could have some concerns with reliability issues. When using a field mixer your instinct may be to plug the headphones into the mixer itself but don’t. You really should plug it into the camera because you want to listen to that very last sound that’s going out to tape.

Now let’s look at some of the reasons that you would use headphones. A simple one is just to know what the sound is that’s going into your microphone. You might not hear an airplane going overhead or the distant hum of a lawnmower but you will hear them in your headphones.

A second reason to use headphones is just for monitoring mic placement. You may need to bring the microphone up or down lower on your talent. You can’t see that when you’re using the meters and if your talent moves their head they may be talking into the mic, the audio will change. You won’t see it also on the meter but you will hear it in the headphones.

Another reason for monitoring mic placement is if you’re using a boom mic. If the boom operator has the mic up too high or too low, or if he even tips the mic into a different direction you’re going to hear the sound change in the headphones but you won’t see it happen on the meters.

When using headphones of course you’re gonna be listening to what you’re capturing but also listen to the silence. Take a couple of moments and just listen to what’s not there and you may be surprised at what you capture. Try to break the habit of watching just the meters in your camera, use headphones to prevent clipping, popping, grumble and distortion, be cautious of high volume levels.

Headphones allow you to catch bad audio connections, dead batteries, clothing and wind noises you might otherwise miss. Headphones can find the perfect microphone placement. During editing headphones will eliminate all the background clutter on location.

Another feature to consider when you’re doing your research is the length of the cable. For instance, this one is very, very short, which doesn’t give me much tether between my camera and myself if I need to move around but this one, however, is very long; really, really long; really, really, really, really long which gives me lots of space to wander around the studio.

A new type of headphone that’s available is something that’s called noise cancelling technology. This technology essentially is two small microphones on the outside of each earpiece to pick up ambient noise then electronically invert the wave form, making the outside noise 180 degrees out of phase with the signal, thus cancelling out any ambient noise that you would hear around the cups or the headphone.

It makes it easier to hear exactly what’s coming out of the camera and not get it mixed up with the sounds that you’re hearing off-camera, and one final tip about headphones; they don’t work unless you take them with you always.

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