Transcribing Audio and Video? Your Headphones Could Be Holding You Back

Transcriptionists often ask, what type of headphones do I need for transcribing? Simply put, you can use virtually any headphones or earbuds you can find. Even the simplest, cheapest headphones or earbuds will work. 

That said, if you start transcribing on a regular basis, you may find that just any headphones or earbuds are not ideal. Why is this so? 

Well, there are a number of reasons. Namely:

1) Transcribing can be long, arduous and tedious. After transcribing for hours on end, you may find yourself doing everything possible to increase your comfort level. Transcription can become very uncomfortable over time: your wrists may hurt, your eyes may hurt, your head might even start hurting -- but for the most part, these pains are not easily adjustable. The one discomfort you can immediately adjust is that which lies in your ears. That said, different transcriptionists may find that different headphones or earbuds work better for them. 

2) Lower-quality headphones may mean lower-quality sound. While you may not need the most expensive headphones to transcribe accurately, you're always going to wonder whether the sound quality is impaired in a pair of cheap headphones. When it comes to transcribing, accuracy can make or break your reputation, so it's better to be safe than sorry. You may not need a $100+ pair of headphones, but be smart and invest in a pair in the $25 to $50 range.

3) Noise canceling can be priceless. To minimize distractions and interference from environmental noise, choose noise-canceling headphones. Noise-canceling headphones block out noise in loud environments, such as coffee shops and airplanes. As your time as a transcriptionist expands, you may find yourself on the road, and investing in noise-canceling headphones ensures you can take advantage of the freedom that a remote position like transcribing provides.

4) Don't forget about your neighbor. Beyond noise-canceling headphones, you should also consider closed-back headphones, which prevent noise from leaking from your headphones. This is often overlooked when considering your confidentiality agreement with your transcription company. You should never transcribe with open-back headphones in public places or with computer speakers in front of roommates, family or friends. Moreover, using computer speakers instead of headphones will lower your accuracy level. There are many details that you'll pick up far better with headphones than with computer speakers. If headphones are too uncomfortable and you are home alone, we recommend transcribing with your computer speakers and then proofreading word for word against the audio with headphones. 

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So if just any pair of headphones won't work, just what are the best headphones for transcribing?

We are big proponents of the AKG brand. While we have absolutely no affiliation with AKG, we've consistently found that AKG sound quality far exceeds that of better-known brands. Whether you choose earbuds or headphones from AKG, you're pretty much guaranteed a high-quality listening experience. Some of the AKG models have more bass than others, but this usually boils down to the headphone shape and whether the headphones are closed back or open back. Of course, another big plus of AKG is they kill two birds with one stone: they ensure you transcribe accurately, and they provide a blissful experience for listening to music. When you're tired of listening to that noisy focus group you're transcribing, take a break with the same pair of headphones and listen to some of your favorite tunes. You'll be surprised when you hear different textures and sounds with high-quality headphones like those from AKG.

Two AKG headphone models to consider:

1) AKG Pro Audio K167 TIESTO DJ Headphones - If you've reviewed our transcription jobs pages, you'll know this pair is our number one recommendation. The K167 headphones are simply awesome in so many ways: stellar sound quality (especially for the price point), a medium price point ($85.99 as of this writing) and a closed back (which is increasingly hard to find) that provides privacy, confidentiality and noise blocking all in one. Many companies argue that they don't produce many closed-back headphones because an open back allows for better sound quality, but the closed back on these babies doesn't hamper the sound quality at all; if anything, it improves it. The only downside to these headphones is they do break. After having a pair for over a year, one of the sides snapped off when we were a little rough with them. But for just $85.99, you won't find another pair of headphones with comparable sound quality. If you use these to listen to music in addition to transcription recordings, you may find yourself noticing how much better some of your favorite songs sound. And most importantly you may capture speech that transcriptionists with lesser headphones cannot. 

2) AKG K450 Premium Foldable Headphones - We no longer use these headphones, but we did at one point. The big perk to using these headphones for transcription is their comfort level. The cushions on these are so soft, light and easy to wear for hours. So why don't we use them anymore? Foremost, we were disappointed in the lack of bass and overall sound quality of these for listening to music. If you're buying headphones exclusively for transcribing, then these work very well, but if you're looking for your headphones to do double duty, give this pricey pair a pass. While these are very comfortable headphones, the price point of these headphones ($98.99 as of this writing) seems too high for the lack of bass they offer when listening to music. That said, too much bass can often make recordings too muddy for transcription, so in a way the lack of bass and the extreme comfort level make these an ideal pair of headphones for transcribing, which is why we believe they're worth a highlight here.


Not looking to break the bank? All hope isn't lost. Over the years our favorite low-cost headphones has been the Sony MDRZX110AP ZX Series Extra Bass Smartphone Headset with Mic (White). For only $25.99 as of this writing, these headphones provide good sound quality, and they even include an in-line microphone for hands-free phone calling. We also love that they are white, which makes them stand out from the crowd. Moreover, because they are white, they are much easier to find in your backpack or purse. 


Of course you might also prefer earbuds or wireless headphones. Wireless headphones are really convenient for a transcriptionist, as they don't chain you to your computer, and you can walk around with ease while wearing them. However, we're really health conscious here at 1-888-TYPE-IT-UP, and we don't recommend wireless headphones due to concerns about radiation.

Earbuds might be your cup of tea too, but we've never quite enjoyed the way they feel in your ears, and they never seem to live up to the sound quality potential of standard headphones, at least at comparable price points. 


What do you think? Do you have a favorite pair of earbuds or headphones on which you rely for transcribing? Sound off in the comments, and share your favorite ones with your fellow transcriptionists.