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Audio Monitoring for Podcasting: Headsets vs Speakers & How to Choose | Podcraft S2EP4

podcast audio monitoringIn this episode I'm talking about Audio monitoring. That means everything around how you listen to yourself when recording, and how you monitor your editing efforts.

There are two broad ways to do this:

  1. Monitor Through Headphones
  2. Monitor Through Speakers

Whichever way you go, you're always looking for equipment which is labelled ‘monitor' or ‘studio' – eg. studio headphones or audio monitors (speakers). The difference is that these types of headphones and speakers have a flat frequency response – ie. they don't ‘colour' the sound. They give you exactly what you should.

In the podcast I go over the various pros and cons of using headphones and speakers, and what you should be looking for in either.

Listen to the Episode Below (00:27:07)
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The headphones I mention in this Podcast include:

I also talk through the following audio monitors which I was recommended by Caled Wojcik in an article he wrote on monitoring for video editing.

What do You Use for Monitoring?

I'd love to know your audio monitoring approach. Do you use headphones or speakers? What kit are you using? Tell me in the comments below.  


 

View the Transcription for the Show

My name’s Colin Gray and this is Podcraft, where we’re honing the art of podcasting.  Today, we’re talking audio monitoring: whether you should be using studio monitors or monitor headsets to edit your podcast.

Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of Podcraft.  As I mentioned, this time around we’re looking at the world of audio monitoring.  So it’s all about how you’re editing your podcast.  There’s quite a lot of questions come in around this area, people confused about whether they should be using headsets as opposed to speakers, in particular.  That’s the main worry, so we’re going to have a quick look at that, what reasons you might use either of them.

First off, just to mention, we’ve got a wee sponsor for the show now.  It’s Fiona Frame, from Outsource-Typing and she’s providing some transcription for our podcast.  Now, transcription is a big benefit to any podcaster.  Obviously you get some good written content for your website, as well as the fact that people can consume your content in a different way.  So that’s always good.  So if you’re interested in getting your podcasts transcribed then, by all means, get in touch with Fiona at outsource-typing.com.

Before we get into the main content, just a couple of quick updates.  Just to let you know, I did a podcasting workshop just last week at the Content Marketing Academy with Chris Marr.  Really great workshop, actually.  Some great people there, it was really nice to meet everyone.  So if you’re listening to this podcast, following the Content Marketing Academy then, yeah, appreciate you paying attention and not heckling me too much when I was doing my talk there and I hope you got a lot out of the workshop.  But it was just to reiterate the fact that I think that events are just so good for getting out there and meeting people.  If you can get out there and speak at something like this it’s really great.  Really a great way to make more contacts, to get your content out to the world, but even if you just go along as a participant, really, really encourage that.  So I’ll be looking forward to the Content Marketing Academy next year.  Chris has already got that in planning, I think.  So hopefully it can get bigger and better every single time.

But let’s get on to the content.  Now we’re going to be looking at audio monitoring.  The big question here, really, that always comes up is headphones versus speakers.  Now, there’s a few things, a few factors to this.  First off, though, let’s explain what we mean by audio monitors as opposed to standard speakers, and this applies to both actually standing-on-your-desktop speakers as well as headphones.  Now, you can listen on a standard pair of speakers, you can listen on a standard pair of headphones, but those types of equipment generally tend to be built to make standard music sound better.  So they tend to amplify certain frequencies, possibly bass or possibly mids, that type of stuff; they’ll colour the audio in certain ways.  Essentially that means a frequency response, which is the technical way of saying it isn’t flat across the range, so it doesn’t give a completely accurate view or a completely accurate representation of your audio.

What I mean by that is, if you’re speaking, your normal voice is recorded.  If you listen to it through a normal set of headphones or a normal set of speakers, they might add what might be the equivalent to a bit of EQ to them.  So your bass might be a bit higher, your mids might be a bit higher, your highs might be a bit higher, that type of thing; it might not give you a complete and utter accurate picture of what your audio is like.  So when you’re audio producing anything – a podcast, anything at all, music, whatever it is – you obviously want to be able to hear what your voice actually sounds like so that you can apply your own EQ, you can apply your own compression, that type of stuff, so that you’re making sure that the audio that is coming out is the best you can possibly make it.  You’re making sure that the stuff you’re applying to your audio in terms of the effects is exactly what you need to apply to make your voice sound better.  And you want to make sure that what you hear is the same as what your audience hears so that you’re giving them the best possible experience.

So studio monitors, or monitor headsets.  Well, the whole point is that they give you a completely flat frequency response.  They give you just a total, basic, unaltered version of your audio.  So, technically, listening through a set of studio monitors you should hear exactly what the sound sounds like and, hopefully, the best representation of what your listeners are then going to hear.  I mean, that’s not to say it’s exactly what your listeners are going to hear because obviously they’re going to be listening through probably pretty standard headphones or standard speakers, so their speakers will then alter it.  But at least you’re putting forward the best edit you can create of your audio, which their kit then represents in whatever way it will.

I suppose the most basic example of that is, in fact, something that I did recently, which is get myself a new pair of studio monitors.  And that was because I had, up until then, been editing mostly using a pair of headphones.  I’ll talk about the types of headphones later on; I’ll talk about the ones that I use.  But I had been on my PC editing using just a set of standard PC speakers and I’d come to realise through listening on the speakers and my headphones – my good quality monitor headphones – that the speakers really didn’t represent it very well at all.  They were very thin, actually.  They didn’t put a lot of bass in and there were lots of highs in there.  Essentially, I was overcompensating and trying to up my bass a little bit using the EQ when I was listening to my own edits, using these computer speakers and then realising that every time that I listened when I was out and about using my headphones my bass was too high.  So, basically, I was putting out what was not a great sound because I was editing it; I was altering it in a bad way to compensate for how bad my speakers were!  And I'm not saying my speakers were even that bad, actually, they were a pretty good set of computer speakers, but they still weren’t as good quality as a decent pair of studio monitors.  And, actually, it’s quite low cost to get yourself a decent pair of monitors, certainly an entry level one anyway, or even the headphones, too.  So we’ll get into that just in a little while.

But let’s start off with headphones in the first place.  So, when you’re recording, you’re going to be using headphones in any case.  Why would you be using headphones?  Because, obviously, when you’re recording you don’t want anything else going into your microphone except for your voice, or except for your co-host’s voice.  And, therefore, you won’t be monitoring your own audio using speakers.  That is probably more relevant if you’re with a co-host.  So if you are on Skype and you’re recording a two-way Skype call as your podcast then, obviously, you need to be able to hear the person on the other end of the Skype and you want to be using headphones for that, as opposed to speakers, because the speakers will play at the sound of them speaking and it will possibly go back into the microphone and set up a feedback loop.

Now, some software is actually pretty good at filtering out that kind of stuff.  It is possible to do a Skype call using your laptop, the internal mic and speakers and it doesn’t feedback too much, but it still does reduce the quality a great deal.  So what you want to be doing is using headphones to cut that out; always record when you’re using headphones so that you can monitor your sound, hear the other people, hear the music, that kind of stuff, without the sound leaking out and getting back into the mic, creating that feedback loop.  So that’s why you want to be using headphones always for recording in the first place.  Even if you have a good set of studio monitors, you won’t be using them when you’re recording.

Now, why do you want to be using headphones at all?  If you’re recording just by yourself, just like I am just now, no co-host, why wouldn’t you just not use a set of headphones?  Well, there’s a few benefits that headphones bring.  First of all, they let you monitor your own voice.  So you can monitor your own levels much more effectively using a set of headphones, because you can hear what you’re saying.  You actually speak into the microphone and that then goes through your recording system, whether it’s a mixer, whatever, and comes out through your monitoring headphones into your ear.  So you can hear how you sound.  Now, some people actually find that quite off-putting in the early days; they can’t really get used to the sound of their own voice in their ears, because it changes the way you sound to yourself, obviously.  But it is really worth persisting with.  There’s things like once you get better at your mic technique… well, it helps you improve your mic technique, I should say.  Because the problem with speaking into a mic is often your direction, often the way you use your mouth, that type of stuff.  So, for example, turning your head; I'm speaking away, I'm trying to speak straight into the microphone the whole time so that my voice is always the same level, it’s always directed into the microphone.  But, in your early days, before you get used to it, you’ll turn your head quite often, you’ll make it sound like it’s going away – just like I'm doing just now.  So I'm facing away from the mic, I'm coming back onto the mic and those levels go up and down.  Now, I could hear that difference in volume through my headphones as I turned my head away there.  So it makes it more obvious to you when your mic technique is not so good.

Next, you’ve got mouth noises.  So you’ve got things like your tongue moving around, or slurping, all that kind of stuff, the standard mouth noises that come out when you are speaking!  The one that I'm always prone to and I'm aware of, but I still do it sometimes, is just before I start speaking I’ll do a [mouth click] and then start speaking.  So there’s that little, kind of, click as you open your mouth.  And wearing headphones, it makes me more aware of that because it amplifies that.  It echoes it back into my head so I hear it, and that helps me cut out those type of noises.  So, yeah, monitoring your own voice is one of the biggest benefits of using a set of headphones in the first place.

So what do we want to look at in a set of headphones?  What are we looking for in a good set for your podcast editing?  Well, first off is that flat frequency response.  So pretty much any set of headphones that you see that’s labelled either studio headphones or monitor headphones, they will have that flat frequency response.  You obviously get a huge range of quality.  So you have some that are really good quality, some that are not so good quality.  Generally, on average, same as anything else, you get what you pay for.  So the lower cost ones won’t be as good quality, but that’s not to say you can’t get a decent quality set of headphones at a decent price.  But anyway, yeah, that’s the first thing we’re looking for, that studio or monitor label that’ll say that a headphone does do a flat frequency response.

Next off, you want comfort.  The thing with editing is that it takes a while and it’s a bit annoying; takes a wee while to do.  And recording as well, if you’re recording a session that’s maybe an hour, two hours long – some of my podcasts, when we’re doing it as a group, can take up to two hours.  You don’t want to be wearing these pair of things on your head that actually just start to cut into your scalp, start to hurt your ears, so you want comfort.  I find that the cheaper headphones, that’s where they fall down.  They quite often have harder, more sharp plastic around the ears, they crinkle into your ears, or the headband across the top isn’t quite well padded or just not to well fitted, so it starts to dig into your skull a little bit and just give you a wee bit of a headache.  I’ve even heard of some people recording podcasts that talk about getting headaches off headsets just recording for half an hour or so.  So that’s obviously just a badly fitting set of headphones.

The ones I'm wearing just now, which I’ll mention in a little while, are really comfortable, both around the ear and across the top of the head.  And I’ve used quite a lot of headphones in the past that are nice and comfortable.  But if you have the chance, it’s always good to try them out.  So if you can go into a music shop or something similar where they have some demo headphones then do try them out, put them on your head, listen to a couple of songs with each one, make sure you’re happy with the fit.

Next on the list is isolation.  So, there’s a few things to this.  Isolation essentially means cutting out sound from both sides.  It cuts out sound from the outside, and so if you’re listening to something it cuts out external noise; you won’t hear the cars going by outside so much, you won’t hear computer noise through your headphones, that type of thing.  Obviously, all you’ll hear is what’s playing into your headphones directly, so it isolates the sound on the inside.

Similarly, though, it also isolates the sound from the inside to the outside, so if you are listening quite loudly, if you like quite high volumes to monitor with, then if you play your intro music, for example, it’s going to keep that sound inside your headphones and not let it leak out into the outside world and possibly get caught by your microphone.  So in my case, for example, right now, I played my theme music at the start through the iPad, so that was playing into my headphones.  I’ve talked about my recording set-up in the past in the previous episode on mixers.

So if you want to go back and see how I record – just to explain this, and by all means go back to the previous episode which is on using mixers for podcasting, but my set-up essentially means that my music is playing in my ears as I start to record.  And if my headphones weren’t very isolated, if they let that music sound, or my co-host speaking, for example, leak out of the headphones and into the outside world then my microphone might well pick that up and that could create a feedback loop as well.  It’s unlikely, because the volume is quite low, but if definitely could alter the sound a little bit and you want to try and cut down on that.

So, essentially, a pair of headphones with high isolation will cut out a lot of sound from the outside.  You’ll be able to put them on and, basically, it will cut out all of the sound that you hear around you; it will make things sound really quiet.  The other side to that, though, is that some people don’t like that isolation.  Some people like to be able to hear their own voice while they’re speaking, and I don’t mean in a monitoring way that way.  I don’t mean so that you can hear it through the recording system, I mean actually hear it from the outside, which means, essentially, that you don’t want a closed set of headphones.  They shouldn’t isolate so much that you can hear your voice through the headphones, not through the recording system, and this means that you hear your voice more as you know it.  So it’s more as you’re used to hearing it when you’re just speaking to other people, rather than that weird recorded voice that doesn’t sound anything like what you think you normally sound like.

I have to admit, I don’t really have a problem with that.  I don’t tend to need to hear myself.  I'm quite happy speaking away, just hearing myself through the system and wearing a really isolated set of headphones so I don’t really hear myself in the outside world.  But some people, and I know a lot of podcasters that don’t really like that.  They like to be able to speak normally and hear the outside sounds, hear themselves speaking a normal way.  So it’s up to you to try that out.  Try yourself speaking in both ways, try covering your ears and speaking into a microphone for five minutes and see if you like that, or whether it’s not very good for you.  But that’s quite a personal taste, I would say.

So let’s get to the nitty-gritty, let’s look at the headphones I use, I recommend, I have heard good things about in the past.  I’ll go straight to the ones that I use, I mentioned a couple of times.  I have a set of Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros.  Sorry about all the numbers there, but that’s just what they’re called: DT770 Pro by Beyerdynamic.  They’re a pretty professional set of headphones.  They’ll cost about £120, but they are well known for being accurate monitor headphones.  So they really accurately represent the sound that you’re editing.  And they’re the ones I always used to use for editing purposes when I wasn’t using the speakers.  If I wanted to get the sound exactly right, that’s what I would put on.  So they’re expensive, but they’re very good and they’re really comfy.  That’s what I like the most about them, because I wear them a lot.  The headband, as I said, it’s really well padded.  The earphones as well are very large, so you might look a bit silly wearing them if you’re on a video feed, for example, if you’re recording live on Skype Video or Google Hangouts or something similar, but they fit just about any head.  They’ll fit just about any size of ears and are great quality.  So if you do have the money, they can be worth it, but I certainly wouldn’t say that you need a set of these by any means.

A step down from that, always well recommended – I’ve not used them myself, but they’re well recommended by quite a lot of other podcasters out there – are the Sony MDR7506.  Now, remember, I’ll always put links in the Show Notes for these.  So if you want to go and find these products afterwards, you don’t have to remember just now.  Just pop on to The Podcast Host and you’ll find everything that I mention in this episode on that page, so you can always get back to find what I’m talking about.

But, anyway, the Sony MDR7506 are a great set of studio headphones, always recommended as I said, and they come in about the £80 mark on Amazon these days.  When I saw on Amazon.com they were about the same in Dollars, which is annoying for us people in the UK because that means they are much cheaper over there, but you’ll get them for about $80-$90 in the US as well.

Now, the last one on the list for a more budget area, so about £40 mark, are the Audio Technica ATH-M20X headphones.  They’ve got really good reviews.  They always get really good reviews.  Again, another one I haven’t used myself, but excellent reviews and Audio Technica, barely ever have any problem recommending an AT bit of kit because they always make good quality stuff.  But, yeah, so the ATH-M20X at £40 will probably do you very well if you’re entry level, you’re not too worried.  I'm sure they’re very good quality in any case.

There are a few studio headphones mentioned on Amazon and the like around the £20-£30 mark.  So you do get cheaper from some good brands as well.  Sennheiser do a good set.  But I would say just having looked at the reviews and having looked at the recommendations, talked to people about it, I think the first one that I found that had a good set of recommendations were those Audio Technica ones, so it might be worth plumbing an extra £20 or so just to get those ones.

Now, just the last point on headphones, just on the technicalities of using them.  Obviously right now, I'm recording just myself, just one set of headphones.  So just plugged into my mixer, no worries at all.  But sometimes you’ll be recording with a co-host in the room and, actually, that can cause a bit of trouble with both of you being able to monitor your voice.  The easiest way is obviously just to plug a standard headphone splitter into the headphone jack, so that will turn your one socket into two sockets and you can both listen that way.  The only problem that comes in then is if one of you likes the audio a little bit louder than the other, maybe the headphones are a little bit different, somebody needs to turn it up a wee bit, and that’s not ideal.  So the next step up is actually just to go for a nice little Behringer splitter.  There’s a Behringer splitter for about £20, I believe – last time I looked.  It’s the Behringer HA400 Microamp and it takes four sets of headphones, lets you monitor the overall sound and turn it into four outputs and you can actually adjust the levels on each one as well.  So you can actually let everyone choose their own volume and split it out to plenty of people.  So if you’ve got a group together, one of those little things is really handy and it only costs about £20 as well.

Okay, so that’s it on headphones.  Next section is on studio monitors.  So, really, a lot of the same stuff applies.  I’ve already talked about the reason to get the flat response, all that kind of stuff; that still applies to monitors.  The big difference between using monitors and headphones I find is just that it’s just more convenience and comfort than anything else.  I’ve just got myself a new pair of monitors about two months ago, and the last couple of months of editing have just been so much more pleasant, I suppose!  No other way to describe it.  It’s just so much easier when I’ve got these really good quality monitors putting out what I know is accurate audio, not having to pull out my headphones, put my headphones on my head, isolate all the other noises.  Even though these ones are comfortable, still I’ve got something on my head and it gets a little bit irritating after a while.  Being able to do it just with my speakers is just so easy, convenient, so nice.  Plus the volume just helps as well.  You just feel the music, the sound a little bit more through a set of monitors.  It’s just got a bit more weight to it for some reason.  Well, I’m very glad that I upgraded, even though I’ve got a good set of studio monitor headphones.  I'm really pleased with the monitors that I’ve now got sitting on my desk, well-mounted on the corners of my desk, giving me some great stereo sound there.  And I use it for everything else as well, so I can now listen to all my standard audio, my other podcasts, YouTube videos, whatever it is I'm watching, my training videos, using these monitors.  And it’s so much better quality than the old computer speakers that I had that I think it’s worth it for almost just that on its own, never mind the benefits of being able to edit with them as well.

So I won’t talk too much more about the monitors, really.  There’s not much to choose to look for in the monitors that I haven’t already mentioned for headphones.  So, really, I’ll just pop onto what ones I recommend.  Now, I got these recommendations originally from Caleb Wojcik from Fizzle, although, actually, I think he’s just doing the DIY Video Guy now.  I get a lot of great technical advice from Caleb just through his website.  He was talking about studio monitors a while back for his video editing and that was what prompted me into getting them, actually, eventually.  Just prompted me away from my headphones up to the monitors.  And the ones he recommended were three levels: M-Audio AV40s.  They come in at around £80-£90 or $150 per pair.  There’s a range of the M-Audio ones.  You get the AV30s and you get AV50s as well, it’s to do with the size of the speaker.  So, basically, the power output they can provide.  So there are cheaper ones.  So the AV30s will be just as good quality sound, just possibly a bit less powerful and they were only about £60 or so.  So, I mean, that’s a pretty decent price for a good quality set of speakers.  And I love them.  I love my AV40s.  The quality of the sound out of them is great.  They’ve got a volume control on the speaker itself.  They’ve also got a headphone output, so if I need to do headphones for some reason, I can just fire my headphones into the output on the front of that speaker and it just makes things so much easier, because it means you don’t have to adjust the default output on your PC to make it go from your speakers to your headset.  So I would say even though these were the entry level of the lower level monitors that Caleb mentioned, they’re absolutely fine for me, great quality, so I’d recommend just jumping in there.

If you do want to go higher quality, though, the Mackie MR5 Mk3s are a little bit more.  They come about $240.  I think I found them for about £150.  Now, Mackie, obviously I recommend some of their mixers.  Mackie do great mixers and a lot of great audio equipment.  So it might be that the Mackie is better build quality.  They tend to just make stuff to last a long time.  So if you buy a pair of Mackie monitors I'm sure they would last you for a lifetime, so it could be worth the investment for longevity.  Maybe that’s where the cheaper components like the M-Audio would fall down, although I’ve got nothing to base that on, just guessing what the difference in price will buy you.  That’s usually why you pay a little bit more for Mackie kit, because it will just last you ages and the quality is just great.

Above that, there’s the Rokit 5G3s.  They’re the top-level ones that Caleb recommends.  So that’s Rokit 5G3s and they are $300 and I haven’t found them in Pounds, so I would imagine you’ll be able to get them for around £200 or so, going by the current exchange rate.

So there’s the three that I would recommend.  Well, the one that I would recommend, the AV40s, which is what I'm using, and the other two that I’ve been recommended by an expert in the area, Caleb.

So that’s it for audio monitoring.  All I would say just to sum up is that I have noticed a big difference when using my studio monitors.  I really would encourage you to maybe jump in and get yourselves a pair.  If not that then, by all means, get yourself one of the Audio Technica headsets, the ADH-M20X, or if you can afford it jump up to the one of the other two I mentioned, either that Sony or the Beyerdynamic.  You can make sure then that you’re putting out the best quality audio that you can provide, make sure that your EQ’s all good, your bass, all that kind of stuff, and you’re creating great quality podcasts that people can enjoy.

So just to tie the podcast, as always, I’d love to get your feedback.  You know that we’re on series two of audio equipment right now.  So if there’s any more audio equipment questions you want to ask I would love to put together a Q&A episode at the end of this series, so please do send in your questions and I’ll put them all into that episode.  I’ll do a Q&A on audio kit, standard frequently asked questions.

Pop onto the Show Notes page, which is www.thepodcasthost.com/podcraft/4 and you can add a comment there, or you can send me a voicemail.  Please do send me in a recorded message and I can put your voice on the podcast.  Just record yourself an MP3 and send it through to colin@thepodcasthost.com.

Great, so thanks very much for listening and I hope you found that useful and, next time along, we’ll be going through some more podcasting equipment.  We’re getting near the end of series two now.  We’re only going to have another couple of episodes or so but getting through it and I hope I'm helping you to increase your audio equipment quality.

So thanks again for listening, coming along, and we will speak to you soon.