Are noise cancelling headphones good or bad for monitoring?

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    • #43636

      I want my family to buy me video related goodies for Christmas this year. Are noise cancelling headphones good or bad for monitoring when taping?

    • #182944

      Hello, I can definately help you with this. I just finished our Sound for Film class, so you can trust me. And sound cancelling headphones are pretty much the worst type of headphones you can use for monitoring. They work by monitoring all sound that comes into either ear of the headphone, and then cancel the sounds by playing the soundwave opposite of how it is hearing them. When you are monitoring during production, everything will sound fantastic, but then when you play your audio back on speakers that do not cancel the sound, you will hear every single detail that was cancelled out. The good part is that you really realize how good the cancelling works, just not for sound monitoring. You will want some dymanic headphones. You can find these at any music store. Here is a link to the headphones we use at our school.

    • #182945

      Agreed. As a sound professional, let me second that you should
      pretty much never use noise cancelling headphones. If you’re looking
      for a sturdy, quality set of monitoring headphones, I’d also recommend
      the Sony MDR 7506. It sounds good, it’s compact, and has a nice coiled
      cable to stay out of the way. It’s pretty much an industry standard,
      and typically you can find it for around $99 retail, so it won’t break
      your bank.

      Schwartz Sound

    • #182946

      Peachydingo asks:

      I want my family to buy me video related goodies for Christmas this year. Are noise cancelling headphones good or bad for monitoring when taping? “

      Do you really mean ” noise cancelling ” headphones as advertised by Bose on TV? Or are you refering to ” closed-back ” headphones which reduce extraneous sounds by sealing off the ear from one’s surroundings?

      Rick Campton

    • #182947

      Good point of clarification gldnears. Closed-back headphones ARE preferable for monitoring situations, helping isolate your ears so you’re only hearing what the camera/recorder is hearing. Open-back headphones tend to be nicer in a controlled, studio environment such as when you’re doing post. Noise cancelling (as in with active electronic cancelling circuitry) are to be avoided.

      Schwartz Sound

    • #182948

      Look at that. I learned something. I thought closed-back and noise canceling were synonyms. I’m glad the M-Audio headphones I just bought are closed-back πŸ˜€

    • #182949

      Indeed. A good rule of thumb for others out there looking for a new set of cans, if you are supposed to put a battery in your headphones, it’s “noise cancelling”. Noise cancelling headphones are in fact usually of a closed back design, so you could still get away with them, just don’t put any batteries in it or disable the noise cancelling. But then of course why waste the extra money on them in the first place. They are usually marketed toward the consumer sound market, and again not fro pro sound use. Basically, the kind you want (closed or open back) don’t need batteries.

    • #182950
    • #182951

       While I agree that a good pair of dynamic headphones may be the best choice, there are times when noise cancelling (electronic) headphones can be helpful. By the way, good noise cancelling headphones, BOSE and the likes, do not do anything nasty to the programme material, they only attempt to cancel the ambient noise, especially the lower frequencies, surrounding the position of the headphones.
      If headphones are connected to a camera which has a fairly omni-directional microphone attached, then what you hear through the phones will be similar to what your uncovered ears will hear, in terms of extraneous noise etc. But many videographers do not use this “local” audio. I use radio mics on many occasions or a shotgun type mic. These usually hear much cleaner sound without the reverberation etc that can often be present at the camera position. By using noise cancelling headphones I get a better perspective of what will be on the sound tracks, with out having to turn the headphone level up to drown the local extraneous noise.

    • #182952

      I would have to disagree on this.

      “good noise cancelling headphones, BOSE and the likes, do not do anything nasty to the programme material, they only attempt to cancel the ambient noise”

      The process of active noise cancelling is an attempt to reproduce the ambient soundwaves, only in opposite polarity. These noise-cancelling waves are reproduced by the same transducer that is trying to reproduce your program material, and the noise-cancelling system is not perfect. That can certainly color the program sound. While it may not necessarily be audibly “nasty”, and I would hope the premium noise cancelling phones do it better then others, it certainly can have an adverse effect on what you are hearing through your headphones compared to the actual captured sound.

      Noise cancelling circuitry works best for steady-state ambient noise, such as an airplane engine, which is one of the main reasons they were invented in the first place. That’s great for consumers listening to their iPods on a long plane ride. If you’re trying to shoot in a location with that much ambient noise, you’re likely going to scrap and redo the audio anyway. Cancelling reverberations or sporadic external sounds is not what the technology was designed to do.

      Consider also that even more directional microphones will still pick up some ambient sounds (lights buzzing, fridge humming, etc). If you’re using noise cancelling headphones, what your ear gets is some mix of the ambient noise that the mic hears, the ambient noise that bleeds through your headphones, and some level of the ambient noise with reversed polarity that your noise cancelling phones are mixing into the headphone output. There’s no way to clearly determine what portion of the ambient noise you’re hearing (or not hearing) is actually being recorded.

      Good circum-aural, closed back headphones, that physically isolate your ears from outside sound are the best choice for monitoring. Using omni, shotgun, or lapel mics doesn’t change this fact. If you’ve used noise cancelling headphones and had okay results, that’s fine, but I would argue that is likely the exception rather than the norm, and certainly not worth the extra hundreds of dollars for a premium noise cancelling set.

      Schwartz Sound

    • #182953

      I personally do not like the Sony MDR7506, As a past mastering engineer they were heavy, not comfortable and the coil cord will restrict any movement..I use a wide variety in the, akg..but in the field I have found the bose non cancelling that are sold at BJ’s, sams club for about 99.00 the best and most comfortable so far.


    • #182954
      Luis Maymi LopezLuis Maymi Lopez

      Ihonestlytough noisecancellingheadphones work a lot better for monitor audio because it gives you a clear sound. What I didn’t knew (or never consider) was that in order to cancel such noise the headphone is cancelling some parts of the actual audio that is being recorded, which could cause some problems later in post. I have the Sony MDR-NC60, which are excellent headphones andluckily noise cancelling is optional (1 AAA battery).

      One question, when editing a video (or audio), are noise cancelling better? In my case I edit in a somewhat noisy place (cars, dogs, birds, water, among others) and most times I turn on noise cancelling.

    • #182955

      “What I didn’t knew (or never consider) was that in order to cancel such
      noise the headphone is cancelling some parts of the actual audio that is
      being recorded”

      Just to clarify, it is not cancelling out the audio that is physically being captured to your disk/media, but it can affect what you’re hearing be recorded. In other words, if you’re not able to accurately hear what is being recorded you may make misinformed decisions on mic placement, mix levels, etc. What you thought you were hearing during the recording may not be what you actually captured and therefore how it sounds when you play it back later in post.

      I would say the same goes for post. If you are editing/manipulating the sound based on listening conditions that are not very transparent (you can’t know exactly what your noise cancelling circuit is doing), that will likely result in some unintended mix results when listening back later over other sound systems. The ideal monitoring headphone/loudspeaker situation is one that does not effect or color the sound, or as little as possible. Ultimately you don’t know where your sound will be played back (a user’s TV, earbuds, car, or hi-fi home theater), but the theory is the more accurate and transparent your monitoring situation the better the mix will translate across all possible sound systems. Ideally, that’s why a mix location should be quiet as well. There’s not really a great solution to mixing in a noisy environment, other than make it quieter or mix when there’s a minimum amount of external noise. Many people use open-back headphones when mixing (not tracking) because they tend to have more natural/transparent sound, so if it was really noisy I would again switch to close backed phones to give better isolation. I wouldn’t trust noise cancelling headphones to mix on, and they certainly aren’t a replacement for a good quiet room.

      I also agree that comfort plays a big part in headphone selection. People just have different shaped heads and ears. Sometimes the coiled cord is great if you’re tied at the waist to a recorder and don’t want long dangling cords to get caught, and sometimes they’re restricting. For every single pair of headphones there are those that love em and those that absolutely hate them. Definitely check out reviews and try out different pairs to see what is comfortable for your own ears and everyday use.

      Schwartz Sound

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