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Home Studio Monitors Are Better
Than Headphones To
Catch Noise

By Dan Lenard
Voice Talent & Home Studio Master

Have a question for the Home Studio Master? Write: HomeStudioMaster@verizon.net. Part 2 of his webinar series on Home Studio Basics features everything to know about Acoustics, this Thursday night, Nov. 17.

From what I HEAR in your recordings, I think many of you aren't monitoring your playbacks properly.

What makes me say that? I'm hearing things that just shouldn't be there. Background noise and bad room acoustics:
  • Background noise is everything going into your microphone that's not you.  The washing machine, the furnace, the dog, dishwasher (human or mechanical), and the refrigerator. And,
  • Bad room acoustics can't be solved until you hear what's wrong with it and recognize that it is wrong.
HEADPHONES ARE LIMITED

Why can't you hear it? You're probably listening to your playback on headphones.

Headphones are great for listening to music on the bus (just don't miss your stop), and if you're in a professional studio, much of the time you'll be taking direction from the producer or director on the other side of the glass.

Other than that, that's all I can see as a use for headphones for a voice actor.  

THE PROBLEM IS ...

As a monitor and playback system, the Home Studio Master believes headphones are just an inexpensive way to hear that you've recorded something, but not how you recorded something.

Headphones lack the proper power to accurately reproduce what you've recorded.

I realize that many have the practice of listening to themselves on headphones to hear if they've made some mouth clicks, so they can stop and go back and re-record something.

If it's a style you're comfortable with, don't let me stop you. You're just not hearing yourself as you really are. 

MONITORS ARE BEST

In a HOME voice over studio, good studio monitors are essential! 

They are self amplified to much higher wattage. Not to make them louder, but to more accurately reproduce the sound you are creating. 

Think about it. You want to have your mic pick up everything in your voice, and a good studio monitor will deliver the exact same thing back.

YOU'LL HEAR IT ALL

They aren't loudspeakers for your home stereo.

Studio monitors are what we call "Near Field" monitors. They're designed to be just a couple of feet from your ears.

With that quantum leap in clarity on playback, you'll hear the room echo, the refrigerator and the aquarium in the other room.

And if you do, you now know you have to physically eliminate or attenuate those noises.

WHAT TO BUY?

Any professional grade studio monitors will suffice.

Just don't skimp. Plan on spending at least $200.

Everybody is different. Brand name monitors have loyal followings, but it has to do more with how your ears work. What sounds good to you, is what's best for you. 

Picking up a pair, or even just one, will allow you to clearly hear that which your headphones don't. 

WHAT I USE ...

I personally use two KRK ROKIT 5 studio monitors and gladly paid $300 US for them ($149 US each).

It's worth every penny!

They're so popular, you can now get them at places like Best Buy. There must be a reason for that. Just read the instructions on how to set them up.

As with acoustics for your voice, every room requires you to tune the monitors. Good monitors have those adjustments on them. 

No one ever regrets getting studio monitors. Hear what you're missing!

 ABOUT DAN ...  

Dan Lenard is a veteran radio personality, educator and voice talent - accredited by Society of Accredited Voice Over Artists (SaVoa), and serves on the SaVoa Advisory Board. As the Home Studio Master, he is a sought-after consultant - often solving problems by phone and email correspondence, and teaching in VoiceOverXtra webinars. His three-part webinar series on Home Studio Basics details how to build, equip, record and edit - the right way.  

Email: homestudiomaster@verizon.net
Web: www.homestudiomaster.com

Home Studio Basics Webinars:
http://conta.cc/VoiceOverAcousticsNov17

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Comments (13)
Cliff Zellman
11/14/2011 at 11:30 PM
This is an excellent topic with some excellent comments. This subject has been on-going for as long as I can remember being an engineer (35+ years).

I totally agree with Dan in trusting a good pair of near-field monitors. I use KRK V6s with Auralex cradles in a tuned room in my home. I totally trust them. BUT, spending decades in front of Urei 838s, TADs, 4311s, NS10M (ouch) and others, mixing L.A. punk bands in the 80s and hip hop & techno in the 90s can take its toll.

Quality engineers know what 14k & 30hz feels like. We are trained. Well into my 50s, I am grateful I can still hear 10k and above, but so many GREAT male VO artists are well past their 50s and 60s and we all know that men in general start losing it after 45. The proximity of headphones can help those hearing impaired and make our job a bit more pleasant if they are more able to detect clicks, pops and mouth noises (as well as unwanted surrounding ambience) and eliminate them before we get their delivered audio.

Headphones & good monitors sound totally different and psychoacoustics can play a part in audio perception as well. There is a "cool down" period needed when switching from headphones to monitors during the same session.

Dan... do you agree that headphones in general are harder on the ears than monitors set at a reasonable level? A few audiologist friends of mine say headphones are a major factor in causing tinnitus. Cheap headphones are very dangerous, not only ear buds but cupped pieces, as well.

I do, however, believe that one should use what works best for them. Your clients will tell you as well. Best case scenario, A/B between the two. And ALWAYS protect your precious gift of hearing at ALL cost. I just check with my wife... she has X-ray hearing, being a pro Mom and all.

Great topic Dan! Keep it up, we need you!
JAY LLOYD
11/14/2011 at 7:58 PM
Voiceover...or any audible art will always have its critics and differences of opinion. And I think we MUST give credence to guys like Dan with a lifetime of experience. For me, a guy with 35+ yrs of voiceover experience, but only a year in "home studio-ing" (and a certain amount of hearing-loss!) I can see the logic of a "big box" reproducing sound better than a couple of "pancakes" over your ears. I use Sony MDR-7506 cans and Behringer MS-20 monitors (which maybe Dan will comment on) and both present good sound. I record with cans-on and edit with my monitors. Ultimately, my client will tell me what they hear and whether it's acceptable or not. I can't remember my last rejection. But then my seriously deadened space may have much to do with that. GREAT DISCUSSION, guys!
Dan Lenard/The Home Studio Master
11/14/2011 at 5:53 PM
So I guess in summation, one may not be better than the other or visa versa. But you have to try both in order to see the difference, and based on your set-up and the room your in, you should have access to both.

As far as loudness goes, yes, it's not ideal if you live in a building with paper thin walls and cranky neighbors. Just remember, they're called "Near-Field" monitors, and aren't particularly loud, but darned clear!
Dan Lenard / The Home Studio Master
11/14/2011 at 5:09 PM
All excellent observations.

I don't doubt that a great pair of headphones are sensitive and can probably do the trick. AND, I also THEORIZE that while headphones may be sensitive, they SOUND different from monitors. Why are they different? Because they may not separate certain frequencies and reproduce them with the clarity that a good pair of monitors can. But hey, I could be wrong....to one person and right to a bunch of other people... because, like our voices, we are all different and perceive things differently.

As with most discussions about audio, personal preference is king. So there may be no right answer.

So why would I make these statements? Because.... based on my experience, and guys and gals, I listen to a ton of audio day after day after day. I do a lot of long format stuff and listen to other people's stuff. I have found that I can be much more precise with my monitors.

But take this into account. I'm almost 55 years old (cough, wheeze...) I've been subjected to feedback loops and hard rock music probably 10-20 years longer than a lot of you. Add a blown eardrum (real bad) from getting hit in the head with a hockey puck when I was playing goalie some 25 years ago, and, indeed my hearing may be less than perfect. But, I hear things that many people miss, because I know what to listen for. I get audio where I can't believe people didn't hear a toilet flushing or a plane or truck going by.
Usually, their monitoring was done with headphones. What they missed, I heard clear as day on my monitors.

But look, I say we put it to the test. And the results will be... mixed. There are factors to take into account:

Frank rightly points out that a room needs to be tuned for monitors. There's a way to do that. (George Whittam can explain how.)

Whoa!!! My house almost just got struck by lightning! And I heard it as a crackle on my monitors! (Talk about timing!) (Very subtle, though.)

I certainly invite your comments. I Love my KRK's. They're so sensitive that they respond to almost inaudible low frequencies. How do I know? I feel them move the air! (I thought someone was blowing on me.)

Unless you've tried both, you can't really make a comparison. You only know that which you've experienced. Anyway, let's be scientific about it. Clearly, I'm stating my opinion, but based on my knowledge and experience.
Maxine Dunn
11/14/2011 at 3:58 PM
Hi Dan,

Thanks very much for such an informative and helpful article! I love how generous you are with great tips and advice.

I've been relying on headphones but I KNOW I need a rockin' set of monitors. I've put my order in with Santa for a new pair of studio monitors and I really appreciate your recommendations.

Very much looking forward to seeing you at VOICE2012.

Maxine
Mike Harrison
11/14/2011 at 1:38 PM
*If* one lives in an environment that will allow having loudspeakers at a level high enough to hear a mouth click at 8kHz or a truck idling at 40Hz - without disturbing neighbors - all well and good.

But the idea of using headphones should not be entirely discounted. They're not all iPod-type ear buds. $99 or so will get a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones, which have excellent frequency response - and the response is fairly flat, too.

What's most important - when monitoring with speakers or headphones - is whether a person's eardrums have been battered (and perhaps damaged) by listening to loud music for long periods, and if they're able to detect the lower and higher frequencies in the otherwise audible spectrum.
Frank
11/14/2011 at 1:21 PM
Dan,

Paul, Armin and Dan have not contradicted each other. Properly hearing what you record is an important step in recording properly. You won't know what needs fixing until you hear it and evaluate it.

Thanks for the tip. When using monitors is it best to treat the control room the same way the booth is treated? i.e. eliminate echoes with products such as Auralex panels.
Jay Webb
11/14/2011 at 11:08 AM
Dan,

I've always have a hard time hearing pops and clicks when using monitors...unless I crank 'em up pretty loud, and that's why I use headphones.

You've convinced me, though. I didn't realize there was much of a difference. I thought that high-quality headphones would be just as good. I've been wanting a pair of monitors for while, so basically, you've pushed me over the edge. Thank you.
Jim Conlan
11/14/2011 at 10:36 AM
Thanks for this tip, Dan. I have relied on studio monitors for years as a producer and director, but didn't make the distinction in my own voice-over work. I wonder, though, if the more expensive headphones might also work? I use a $175 pair of Bose headphones and they seem to be pretty sensitive. What do you think?
Cheyne Stilwell
11/14/2011 at 9:19 AM
Dan - Thanks for posting this article. I opened the link and looked at the specs - these appear great for a home studio. Do you also have recommendations for a mobile rig for when you're "remote" and away from the studio?
Dan Lenard
11/14/2011 at 7:35 AM
Paul,

Amin is entitled to his opinion. Headphones are preferable to computer speakers. Studio monitors are far superior to headphones. I think it's how the question is posed.

:-3)
Paul Strikwerda
11/14/2011 at 7:16 AM
I once asked Armin Hierstetter, the boss at online voicebank Bodalgo, the following question:

Quality equipment is essential, but owning a state of the art camera does not make one a top-notch photographer.

Here's part of his response:

"LEARN HOW TO RECORD PROPERLY!!! Itís really, really, really (I mean it) horrible to hear how bad, bad, bad many of the auditions are recorded (hiss, bad miking, bad levelling, bad everything). Use proper headphones to proof-listen your recordings and be super critical about the work you deliver."

Now the home studio master tells me to drop the headphones and listen to my monitors. I'm confused!
Darla Middlebrook
11/14/2011 at 5:13 AM
I would love to have studio monitors. The biggest problem for me, however, is that the cost is often twice or triple for purchase in Canada. For example the KRK Rokit5 is priced at $300-$350 each.
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