Do you need fancy or expensive headphones to listen to podcasts? Definitely not. That doesn’t mean that any old pair will do, though. A good set of earbuds or over-ears can make a huge difference to your listening experience.
If you’re fed up with the 3.99 buds you get in TKMaxx that disintengrate after 2 hours in your pocket, then this article’s for you. I’ll explain why we recommend something a bit better than those paper-mache efforts, and what benefits they bring. Then we’ll go on to our own recommendations for the best headphones for podcast listening.
Sound good? Of course they do – that’s the point 🙂 Let’s begin!
When Good Headphones are Worth It
There are two main reasons why you might want to think about your choice of earbuds or headphones when in the market for a new pair.
- You often listen in noisy or distracting environments
- You listen to highly produced shows and want a fuller audio experience
There’s a good chance you’ll also use the same headphones for listening to music on your device too. So even if you wouldn’t class yourself as an “audiophile”, it’s natural that you’ll want the audio you’re consuming to sound as good as it can.
Types of Podcast
Firstly, we should clarify here that a “podcast” is ultimately a delivery method, and there’s really no rule to say that one show will sound anything like the next.
There are generally accepted standards such as “average loudness” which an increasing number of producers adhere to.
But there are many different types of podcast. Perhaps the three most common types we see are
- Interview show, co-hosted or solo monologue
- Audio Drama
By looking at an audio file’s waveform – its visual representation – we can see the differences between these styles.
Interviews, co-hosted shows and monologues are typically produced in mono, meaning the sound you hear is exactly the same in both ears.
This audio is generally less complex, which makes it easier for the producer to set a consistent volume level.
Many podcast interviews take place over tools such as Skype, meaning the audio quality often isn’t the same standard as it would be if both people were in a studio together.
Having a mono show that’s 99% spoken word content means the producer can set a much lower bitrate. This means the audio quality is lower, but the file is also smaller, making it easier for listeners to download.
Documentary or audio drama-style shows tend to be a bit more complex. They mix speech with music, ambience, and sound effects.
These shows will usually be produced in stereo, meaning there will be (usually subtle) differences between what you hear in each ear.
An overall consistent volume is harder to achieve, but a good producer will work hard to achieve this in the mastering stage.
They don’t want you to be reaching for the volume dial every few minutes, yet they might have two people whispering in one scene, and a huge explosion in the next.
They’ll want these sounds to keep their integrity and realism, but still provide a consistent listening experience that doesn’t pull the listener out of the story because they need to stop to adjust their settings.
We’ve touched on some of the big variations between different styles of podcast.
The bottom line is that great headphones won’t make bad audio sound good. On the other hand, low quality headphones won’t make good audio sound bad, as such. Instead, you’ll just be missing out on much of the experience.
Ultimately, you’re in the hands of your favourite podcaster (or their producer).
So, assuming they’ve done a good job on the production side of things, what headphones should we use to best enjoy the fruits of their labour?
There’s an almost infinite number of makes and models available out there, so we’ve narrowed it down to a few choices that we’re keen on ourselves.
1. Budget Earbuds – Panasonic Ergo Fit
If you want the cheapest possible pair but don’t want the cheapest possible sound, then the Panasonic Ergo Fit earbuds fall nicely into that bracket.
2. High-End Earbuds – Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear
Prepared to invest in a high-end set? The Sennheiser Momentum earbuds will give you a premium quality sound for your podcasts, audio dramas, and music.
3. Budget Over-Ear Headphones – AKG K92
If you don’t mind carrying a pair of actual headphones around with you, then the AKG K92‘s are great value for money and provide an excellent listening experience.
4. High-End Over-Ear Headphones – GRADO SR325E
If you want to splash out on an expensive pair of quality headphones then take a peek at the retro-looking Grado SR325e headphones.
5. Noise Cancellation – Bose QuietComfort 20
If external noise spoils your podcast listening more than anything, then noise cancelling headphones might be for you. These have little mics built in to them designed to pick up the sounds around you and neutralise them. For earbuds, take a look at the Bose QuietComfort 20‘s, and for headphones, check out the Bose QuietComfort 25‘s.
What do you use?
As I’ve said, there’s an almost infinite number of options out there for headphones, but if you’re in the market for a new set then this will hopefully help point you in the right direction.
Or maybe you already own a great pair that aren’t mentioned here? If so, let me know in the comments section below.