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Microphones and Headphones
February 28th, 2014
Microphones and headphones are the topic of the day, as Gabe and Erik talk about the ones they like and the ones they don't really like, but own anyway. Along the way, they try out a bunch of different microphones, so listen in and decide for yourself.
A good pair of headphones is indispensable for recording, editing and enjoying audio. Here is a short list of the headphones we use, and why.
I generally prefer closed-cup headphones and do not enjoy noise-cancellation. Closed-cup headphones reduce outside noise and prevent audio bleed-through to the external world. Unfortunately, it seems hard to get closed-cups that work well. I imagine it is difficult to isolate the internal diaphragm but still allow for air movement. I’ve tried some in the past that actually made my eyes water because of internal pressure changes with deeper bass.
I’m also not a big fan of earbuds for long term use. Unless I spend a small fortune (which I have) on custom-modeled performer-grade earbuds, they hurt over time. While some brands are more comfortable than others, after 4-6 hours of use, I always end up with ear pain, which can lead to tinnitus.
Audio Technica ATH-M50
I was lucky enough to have a knowledgeable friend talk my wife into buying me these headphones for Christmas, and they’ve been great. I use them for recording and editing, and their collapsability makes them seem much smaller than they actually are when not in use.
- Exceptional sound
- Collapsible, so they’re easy to store
- None that I’ve experienced
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50
- Designed especially for professional monitoring and mixing, these studiophones feature an efficient collapsible design for space-saving portability and storage.
- MSRP: $199.00
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
Beyerdynamic is a solid company. They’re small but produce excellent headphones that are dependable and well made. I’m using the 250 ohm version of the DT770 Pro. This means they are effectively driven by a laptop but in theory struggle with an iPod. Beyerdynamic also makes a 32 and 600 Ohm model. The higher the impedence, the better the coil response but a lower impedence requires more power to achieve the same volume. In reality, I think the 250 Ohm model works fine with an iPhone or laptop.
I can’t stress enough how comfortable these headphones are. I can easily wear them all day without a problem. There’s enough flex in the headband that there’s little pressure. Since the cups do not rest on the ears, they also do not bother me while wearing glasses. Oh, and they sound amazing.
- Extremely comfortable, even with all-day use
- High quality audio with a good response range
- Replaceable felt lined cup pads
- Adjustable headband for gigantic heads
- Ludicrously long cord with 1/8” plug
- The cord is not coiled, which means tangles aren’t really a problem
- A bit large
- Sound isolation isn’t perfect
- The cord is so long that it can be problematic if you want to walk around with these headphones
- They are fairly bulky which means I love them for airplanes, but I hate traveling with them
- Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
- The DT 770 PRO is a closed dynamic headphone of exceptional quality suitable for the most demanding professional and audiophile applications.
- MSRP: $299.00
The Sony MDR7509HD are almost as comfortable as the Beyerdynamic DT 770. I grew up with Sony studio headphones in the 80’s. Back then they were considered top of the line for consumers. I’d say they are still very good today. I like the sound from the Sony’s better than the Beyerdynamic, but comfort is a big part of the experience for me.
The MDR7509HD headband is slightly tighter and the cups are smaller than the Beyerdynamic. They are just small enough that there is some pressure applied to my ears that I find irritating after 4-6 hours.
Overall, if I want to enjoy a new album, I choose the MDR7509HDs because they sound great for less than a couple of hours. If I’m working all day with headphones (which is most days) I prefer the Beyerdynamic DT770s.
- Durable, since they are more metal than plastic
- They are more compact than the Beyerdynamic DT 770
- Truly excellent sound quality
- Not as comfortable as the Beyerdynamic DT 770
- Coiled cords are awful. They tangle and stretch, and I loathe them
- Sony MDR7509HD
- Designed for critical listening applications, the MDR7509HD headphone features newly developed HD Driver units that deliver ultra-wide dynamic range and incredible power handling capabilities.
- MSRP: $499.99
|“Something to consider is being cordial to your neighbors.”|
The Microphones We Use to Record
The first thing you need if you’re going to start recording a podcast is a good microphone. Unless you want to set up a mixing board and really geek out on the audio, you’ll want a USB mic. There are two major contenders in this space: the RØDE Podcaster and the Blue Yeti.
Gabe’s Recording Microphone
The RØDE Podcaster is one of the most common microphones in use by amateur podcasters. It connects by a single USB cable which makes it simple to get up and running but it has a great sound to it. It’s shaped like an actual microphone which means it’s compatible with common mounts and can actually be held in the hand if necessary.
- Headphone plug and dedicated volume control
- Dead simple connection over USB
- Great isolation from background environment
- No mute switch on the Mic
- No gain control on the Mic
- RØde Podcaster USB Dynamic Microphone
- The RØDE Podcaster is a dynamic, end-address USB microphone that combines broadcast-quality audio with the simplicity of USB connectivity, allowing recording direct to a computer without the need for an additional digital interface.
- MSRP: $369.00
Erik’s Recording Microphone
The Yeti is a great USB mic with some pretty neat extra features. In addition to the headphone plug with master volume, it also has a mute button, dedicated gain control, and a nifty selector that changes the microphone’s polar pattern between, stereo, cardioid, omni, and bidirectional layouts. The Yeti is a side-address microphone, which means you talk into its side, not the end.
- Headphone plug and dedicated volume control
- Polar pattern selector offers a lot of options for position and sensitivity. Blue has some suggestions for how to use this feature on their website.
- Dedicated gain control
- Excellent sound quality
- Side-address and weight means it can be tough to keep upright on a boom
- Minimal shock isolation out of the box – you’ll want a boom and shock mount at the very least
- Blue Microphones Yeti
- The Yeti is one of the most advanced and versatile multi-pattern USB microphones available anywhere. Combining three capsules and four different pattern settings, the Yeti is an ultimate tool for creating amazing recordings, directly to your computer.
- MSRP: $149.99
While the microphones mentioned above both have simple mounting solutions out of the box, you’ll probably want to add a boom and shock mount, and maybe even a pop filter.
The first two help you reposition the mic and isolate it from vibrations (like typing and bumping your chair into your desk). The Podcaster and Yeti are surprisingly large, and it can be really helpful to get them off your desk. A pop filter helps keep the recording from clipping on words and… well… “popping”.
- RØDE PSA1 Swivel Mount Studio Microphone Boom Arm
- The PSA1 is a studio boom arm for radio, broadcast, studio and home use.
- MSRP: $109.99
- RØDE PSM 1 Shockmount For Podcaster
- The perfect suspension shock mount for the Procaster or Podcaster, the PSM1 provides isolation from external vibrations which can translate as low frequency noise or manipulate the microphone position.
- MSRP: $49.99
Isolating the Desk
The combination of the RØDE Swivel mount and the shockmount mean that almost no vibrations from my desk interfere with the audio recording. The Shock mount is a metal cage suspended by elastic bands. There are no solid connections between the Mic and the swivel arm.
The swivel arm is also convenient, with 5 points of rotational freedom. However, there are only locks on the two points closest to the Mic. This means the arm can be moved out of position very easily. This is both a pro and con.
- Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom
- The Heil Sound PL2T Topless Boom mount is a unique and versatile boom that utilizes a system of perfectly balanced internal springs to provide perfect balance and silent, effortless adjustment of its position.
- MSRP: $141.70
- Blue Microphones Radius Microphone Shock Mount
- The custom shockmount for the Yeti and Yeti Pro USB microphones. Combining cool vintage styling with rugged durability, the Radius isolates the microphone from ambient vibration.
- MSRP: $69.99
- Nady MPF-6 6-Inch Clamp On Microphone Pop Filter
- Designed for studio use and other professional vocal recording environments, the MPF-6 eliminates popping sounds caused by the impact of fast moving air on the microphone during recorded speech and singing.
- MSRP: $24.99
|“I haven’t noticed anything exceptional from you because you don’t have one”|
Sometimes a big boom-mounted studio microphone isn’t what you’re looking for. Mobile and lecture-hall recording requires something a little more portable and discreet. These smaller microphones may work well where the others don’t.
We’ve taken several different microphones and swapped them out during our recording session, so you can hear how they sound. We’ve tried to leave the levels and other sound settings the same so you can hear the differences between each microphone as accurately as possible.
A Few Words on the Meteor
The Meteor Mic is very stylish. It looks futuristic with a full-chrome body and folding legs. But the sound isn’t very good. Not to mention that the legs have no shock isolation (other than cheap rubber pads) so all vibrations on the desk are amplified in the recording.
- Fold out tripod legs
- Mute button
- Volume control
- Not expensive
- Indicator lights for mute and clipping
- Can be powered from the iPhone with USB connector kit
- Noisy when desk-mounted
- Inferior audio quality when compared to other options.
- Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone
- Meteor Mic is the universal solution for recording music on your computer. Perfect for your home studio, Meteor Mic is also ideal for Skype, iChat or voice recognition software.
- MSRP: $149.99
Gabe and I both use a great little Mac app called “Shush” for temporarily muting our microphones while recording the show. Shush lets you specify a hotkey (mine is the “fn” key) that can be used in push-to-talk or push-to-silence modes.
Push-to-talk is really helpful for long conference calls where you know you’ll be doing more listening than talking anyway, especially if you’ve got a noisy background. Push-to-silence is great if you need to cough during a recording, and it’s both easier to use and more responsive than the hardware mute button on my Yeti.
- Shush - Microphone Manager
- Voice chat is awesome, but sooner or later you’ll send something you wish others hadn’t heard. Shush solves this problem by providing simple hotkey microphone management.
- Price: $2.99
Samson Go Mic
A Few Words on the Go Mic
Samson has a real knack for making interesting-looking microphones. The Go Mic looks like they shrunk a Mic from the 50s down to an impossible scale and attached it to a clip. It looks like it would be the perfect travel Mic until you realize that it needs a Micro USB connection. This makes the entire package pretty bulky.
This is a good recommendation for someone that wants to record auditorium lectures or meetings with a laptop or iPhone. It can be placed in the center of the table and has several different directional recording modes. I wouldn’t recommend it for basic dictation with an iPhone but it could be a good option for an external (and superior) dictation microphone for a Mac or Windows PC.
- Built in Screen Clip
- USB connection can be powered by iPhone
- Desk stand can be placed further away from the recording device which is better for recording lectures
- Multiple directional modes
- Requires USB connection
- Not the best audio
- Samson Go Mic Compact USB Microphone
- Further expanding on its diverse line of USB microphones, Samson introduces Go Mic, a portable recording microphone that clips to your laptop. Go Mic is perfect for recording music, podcasts or field recording, but it also makes a great solution for use with voice recognition software, iChat, web casting and even Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
- MSRP: $89.99
Dayton Audio iMM-6
A Few Words on the IMM-6
Wow. This thing is tiny. It plugs directly into the headphone jack of an iPhone or Mac and has a pass-through for monitor headphones. The audio quality is certainly good enough for recording a lecture or doing dictation.
Did I mention this thing is tiny? Pop it in your pocket, or lose it in a backpack. It’s basically a microphone that can always be with you and provides a huge improvement over the built-in mic of most electronics.
- Uses the 1/8” microphone jack.
- Surprisingly good quality
- Very Inexpensive
- Sticks straight out with no directional control
- Dayton Audio iMM-6 Calibrated Measurement Microphone
- The Dayton Audio IMM-6 is a professional-quality measurement and recording microphone that is designed to work with the entire suite of Apple “iDevices” – iPad, iPhone, and iPod. The rugged construction and compact size make it the perfect companion for audio professionals who must work on-location performing acoustic analysis, monitoring audio levels, or recording.
- MSRP: $39.99
Here are a few desktop-use microphones that we had lying around for comparison. One (the Logitech G35) is a gaming headset, and the others are built-in headsets on a MacBook Pro and Apple 27” Thunderbolt Display.
Unsurprisingly, none of these options are optimal for high-quality recording.
A Mutable Gaming Headset
The G35 is a USB headset targeted at online gamers which offers a few buttons on the left ear cup and a swing-down mic boom.
On a PC the buttons are programmable, but on Macs they’re locked to next-track, play/pause, and previous-track. There’s a dedicated mute button, but the headset will also mute when you swing the boom mic up, which can be really helpful on a long phone conference.
The headphones sound great, but (as you’ll hear in the recording) the microphone is unremarkable. As it runs without supporting software on the Mac, the general consensus is that it sounds better on PCs. At this time I haven’t been able confirm that myself.
- Convenient all-in-one package
- Boom mic raises for mute
- Sound quality
- Weak Mac support
- Average microphone quality
- No discernable sidetone.
- Logitech G35 7.1-Channel Surround Sound Headset
- Powered by Dolby Headphone, G35 delivers immersive 7.1-channel sound and a winning mix of play-all-night comfort and power-at-your-fingertips customization.
- MSRP: $129.99
Apple MacBook Pro
- Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch)
- With fourth-generation Intel Core processors, the latest graphics, and faster flash storage, the incredibly advanced 15.4-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display moves even further ahead in performance and battery life.
- MSRP: $2599.00
Apple Thunderbolt Display
- Apple Thunderbolt Display (27-inch)
- With built-in Thunderbolt technology–the fastest, most flexible I/O ever–the 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display can do things other displays simply can’t.
- MSRP: $999.00
On the Move
Our final category takes us into the mobile world, with a few earbuds and one Bluetooth headset. Listen in and you’ll hear some striking differences.
The Klipsch Image S4i is an attractive-looking pair of earbuds, with sound-isolating ear inserts that work a bit like earplugs. If that’s comfortable for you (and if you can keep them in) the sound quality is quite good.
The microphone is another matter, and is as average as you’d expect at this price point and size. It’s fine for talking on the phone, but don’t expect much more out of it.
- Looks cool
- In-ear design isolates you from noises
- Good audio quality
- Tends to pop out of your ears
- Microphone quality is nothing spectacular
- Klipsch Image S4i Noise-Isolating Headset
- The Image S4i employs a moving coil micro-speaker with controlled damping for smooth, full-bodied sound that’s similar to a more expensive design.
- MSRP: $99.99
An easy upgrade
I think Comply foam earphone tips are a great upgrade to any set of in-ear headphones. They have different versions which will fit nearly every conceivable model out there. Your mileage may vary, but I won’t ever willingly go without them again.
- Comply Tx-400 Isolation PLUS Earphone Tips (3-pack)
- Delivering maximum isolation for a superior audio experience, Comply Isolation Plus Tx-Series provide amazing comfort and stay-in-ear fit — so you hear music the way it was meant to be heard.
- MSRP: $19.95
Sennheiser px 200-II i
These are my all-around headphones. I wear them on walks and when doing casual work requiring some mobility. I think the audio quality of the microphone is much better than most other iPhone headphones. While I have no problems talking with them on, some users may tend to yell a bit more since there is no pass-through from the mic to the headphones (sidetone).
The PX 200 are comfortable but do rest directly on the ears. Wearing them with glasses on all day is very painful for me.
The sound is pretty good for this level of headphone. While I wouldn’t say they provide “sound isolation” there’s not a lot of audio bleed-through to the outside world. They do reduce outside noise but are in no way closed headphones.
- Great mic
- Uncomfortable with glasses
- Imperfect sound isolation
- Sennheiser PX 200-II i Lightweight Supra-Aural Headphones
- The closed, dynamic, supraaural PX 200-II mini headphones immerses you in great Sennheiser sound. The speakers provide excellent isolation from outside noises, so you can enjoy a superb listening experience without being disturbed – or disturbing others.
- MSRP: $109.95
You Already Have Them
Apple definitely improved their earbud design with the latest iteration. The new shape is comfortable for some and downright painful for others. Personally, I like them but I think they are too expensive. The audio quality is good enough for listening to podcasts but is pretty rubbish for music.
The microphone in the Apple earbuds does a pretty good job of isolating outside noise on a call or when doing dictation. However, the audio fidelity is terrible.
- Comes with your iPhone
- Pretty good for dictation and phone calls
- Not the greatest quality
- May survive the washing machine several times
- Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic
- Unlike traditional, circular earbuds, the design of the new Apple EarPods is defined by the geometry of the ear. Which makes them more comfortable for more people than any other earbud-style headphone.
- MSRP: $29.00
Cheap but Passable Buds
- Super Cheap
- Amazon Prime means you can have replacement headphones in a day
- Comes in several colors if that’s your thing
- Not terribly uncomfortable
- Serial number naming is hard to remember
- They feel cheap
- You get what you pay for
- Panasonic RP-TCM125-K In-Ear Headphones with Mic
- ErgoFit design for ultimate comfort and fit. Compatible with iPhone, Palm, and Blackberry.
- MSRP: $19.99
|“That’s my favorite number”|
Great for Podcast Listening
Bluetooth headsets have near-universally terrible sound quality. That being said, with a surprisingly excellent mono Bluetooth audio profile, it’s a great option for listening to podcasts when you’re doing chores around the house. This is my primary podcast listening headset, and for that, it’s worth a mention.
- Flip arm makes turning it on or off very easy.
- Mono audio quality is excellent for podcasts.
- Terrible microphone
- Typically unfathomable one-button UI
|“Are you inside of a car trunk?”|
- Motorola HX550 Universal Bluetooth Headset
- Comfortable Bluetooth headset with multiple wearing styles–on-ear; in-ear without hook; and in-ear with earhook.
- MSRP: $59.99
They don’t all suck
I love Bluetooth headphones, but not Bluetooth headsets. My clear favorite is the LG Tone HBS700 (I bought the older version based on the Amazon reviews). They have great sound, to my ears, and you can also use them to place and receive phone calls, but this leads to the only potential negative mark against them. The Tones vibrate if your phone rings, and the part of them that vibrates sits against your collarbone. I was so startled the first time I received a call that I peed myself and fell out of the chair I was sitting in.
I’m kidding. I kept my seat.
- The LG Tone Wireless Stereo Headset
- The LG Tone Wireless Stereo Headset brings you the high quality audio experience of stereo sound with the convenience of Bluetooth technology.
- MSRP: $69.99
Until next week
Well, that’s it for this week. If you have anything that you’d like to add to or correct in the show notes you can find me on Twitter @potatowire, or feel free to send an email to me at potatowire dot com.