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Headphones: Should You Wear 'Em
When Voicing - Or 'Go Naked'?

April 28, 2014

(VOXtra) - Will you voice better if you wear a headphone to hear yourself as you speak? Or is hearing yourself a distraction?

Many voice over pros are passionate about this, one way or the other. But the universal goal is to sound your natural best. Decide for yourself how best to do that ...

YES: Learn To Read
Naturally With Cans On

By Hugh Klitzke

Voice Casting Director & Coach

We do not speak in the real world the way we do on mic. Therefore there is a learning curve for anyone who wants to develop VO skill.

And when I talk to actors who want to learn voice over I stress that time and attention must be paid to wearing the headphone to learn technique (technique includes being on mic, knowing what your mic position does to the recording color, eliminating plosives and other things).  

I also understand the need to analyze and understand what you as an individual bring to the read of commercial copy.


So - should you wear the headphone when recording and auditioning copy? I say, absolutely. 

And you also must learn to deliver the most natural, most personal read you can while wearing the headphone. 

To learn how to create that personal, natural read - you may have to practice without the headphone and then add the headphone later. The headphone can be off to develop the personal read. The headphone is on to do the work of recording. 

And the goal is to do the two together seamlessly.

NO: Take 'Em Off ...
You Sound Better Naked

By Gary Terzza
Voice Talent & Coach

When we wear them, headphones make us look and feel like proper professional voice over artists - but are they doing our performance more harm than good? 

A few years ago I was doing a voice over at an audio post company in Soho (the ├╝ber cool capital of the creative media world in London) when the director startled me with a radical suggestion. He advised me to take off my headphones.

What? I was shocked. Why on earth would a VO talent want to do that? Ever since my days in hospital radio I had worn 'cans'; they helped me connect with the words on the page and made me feel an intrinsic part of the production.

If there was dialogue or music on the soundtrack, I could hear it clearly and immerse myself in the atmosphere of the piece. 

Headphones allowed me to enter a different world, and to remove them was like disconnecting me from the job I was being paid to do.


But unbeknown to me at the time, this was one of those rare defining moments in a career that make you question everything you know ... or thought you knew. 

Why did the director make this counter-intuitive recommendation? He explained to me that I was concentrating too much on my voice.

Like many voice over folks, I assumed what we did was all about the voice. We provided a voice over for a project, whether that was narration, a commercial, business piece or whatever.

Yet as the director explained, clients want their scripts brought to life; they know we have the voice (that is why we are booked in the first place), but it is what you do once you get behind the mic that is the critical factor.


Having your voice amplified and fed back directly into your ears takes you away from the words on the page and distracts you from the job in hand. There is a tendency, the director said, for voice actors to become overly concerned with the sound of their voices at the expense of meaning.

The listener might like a nice voice, but not want it to be so overwhelming that it eclipses the substance of the script.

So I cut the umbilical cord and gained a new freedom. When I removed the 'phones I discovered something about myself: I had been using them as a prop. I felt safe cocooned in my own voice over world.

I could hear my voice loud and clear and I could work on the nuances of intonation, energy and cadence, but I had fallen into the trap of putting my vocal performance first and relegating the words to second place.

It dawned on me that my vocal cords were merely an instrument to be used to create an image in the listener's head.


So - should you go naked?

Sometimes you have to wear headphones. If you are using ISDN or you are at a studio and the director needs to speak to you over talkback, then your cans will be essential.

Likewise when I am doing my live TV continuity announcing, I need to be able to hear the program sound for dipping so that my voice is not drowned out by the music.

However, if you are recording from home on your own, then there is no requirement to wear them.

You will discover not wearing headphones will prove a very liberating experience. You won't become obsessed with the sound of your own voice; the imperfections in your voice (such as breathiness or lip smacks and dry mouth) will not be amplified in your ears, allowing you to concentrate on the script reading.

Ah, but you are probably thinking you need to hear blips and mistakes on the recording. That is true, but checking for these during playback is preferable so it won't throw you off track during your voice over performance.

Hugh P. Klitzke is studio manager and voice casting director for a leading bi-coastal talent agency, who has directed more than 85,000 auditions for all voice over genres. Based in New York City, he is also a coach specializing in teaching voice over for actors, and writes VO4TA, a twice-weekly blog with helpful voice acting tips.


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Gary Terzza is a UK voice over coach based in London. He is also a long established voice over artist with a client list that includes Channel 4, BBC, ITV, Pepsi-Cola, Symantec, BAE Systems and Hitachi.


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Comments (4)
Elizabeth Holmes
4/29/2014 at 11:15 AM
Thank you for this fun collaboration, Guys! Your perspectives are both informative and helpful.

Cans may be essential under some circumstances, but there's NO question they're distracting. Last year, VoiceOverXtra ran my Sounds Odd article on a 'gun' developed by researchers in Japan that fed speakers voices back with a very slight delay. The object was to completely disrupt their flow, and it worked! Here's the link:

Speaking under the influence (of headphones) is a skill that requires practice and finesse. Thanks for giving us these well-reasoned pros & cons about using them.
Scott Medvetz
4/29/2014 at 8:47 AM
I am firmly in the wear 'em camp. After all, if I need to wear them sometimes (e.g. for an ISDN/SoundStreak/Studio session), why not get used to wearing them all the time? The more accustomed you are, the less distracting it'll be when you have no choice but to can up. In addition, it helps me notice flaws I might not hear without them, like mouth clicks. I'd much rather pick that up during recording and be able to do another take immediately than to find a flaw during post.
Thierry Laflamme
4/29/2014 at 8:33 AM
I agree totally with you, Gary. By removing his headphones, a voice talent enters a whole new world and will likely sound more natural during his read. The essence of a script really benefits from that.

Thierry Laflamme
French Canadian Voiceover Artist
Dan Deslaurier
4/29/2014 at 5:10 AM
I'll confess to being a fence-sitter on this one: I go both ways. I'll wear my headphones to warm up and be sure that my read sounds good from an aural/technical perspective, but then take 'em off when recording. Mostly, tho, I "go naked!" Thank you John, Gary and Hugh--always good for me to "hear" another's advice!
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