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Best Headphones for Transcription

A few months ago, my trusted set of transcription headphones disintegrated.  After 5 years of service, the plastic headband that held them together broke. I tried to get another pair, but the manufacturer had discontinued the model. So I set out to find another pair of transcription headsets.

Best Headphones for Medical Transcription

After trying out several models from different manufactures, I’ve finally found a winner that is perfect for transcription. Senal SMH-1000 are the best headphones for transcription that I’ve used. Period. Mind you, I’ve been transcribing for over 10 years and I’ve tried and used over 20 different models.

Summary: Here’re the best headphones for transcription:

  1. Behringer HPM1000; get this headphone if you are on a tight budget.
  2. Senal SMH-1000; best headset I’ve used for transcription.
  3. Sony MDR7506; equally good as the Senals though they don’t have a detachable cord.

A couple of weeks agon, I got an email asking me which headphone I’d recommend for transcription. And rather than give a single recommendation, I thought it best to write a post about my process of finding a new pair of headsets for transcription and share it with you.

3 Best Headphones for Transcription

Headphone ModelComfortDurabilityDialogue IntelligibilityCost
1. Behringer HPM10006/108/108/10Check Price on Amazon
2. Senal SMH-100010/1010/1010/10Check Price on Amazon
3. Sony MDR750610/109/109/10Check Price on Amazon

Understanding Headphones

USB vs 3.5mm jack headphones

Headphones jacks are used to connect to your desktop computer or laptop. You have 2 choices, a USB or 3.5mm (1/8 inch) jack.

3.5mm Headphones
3.5mm Headphone Jack
USB Heaphones Sound Card
USB Headphone Jack and Sound Card

All USB headphones come with a sound card, and the quality of the sound card greatly determines the quality of the sound. If you plan to buy a USB transcription headphone make sure you get a high end one (and be prepared to pay quite a bit for them). And the sound card is usually attached, which mean that it can easily break or become detached.  Personally, I prefer 3.5mm jack headphones. They are more durable, less breaking points, and though USB jack tend to get you better sound, 3.5mm jacks are pretty good.

Earbuds vs over ear vs on-ear headphonesEarbud Headphones

This is the most important component of a good set of transcription headsets. Comfort and noise rejection are two critical factors when making the choice of what works for you. With earbuds, earphones or in the ear headphones, the “drivers” (the part of the headphones that converts electric signal to sound, think speakers) are inserted into the ear canal. This will give you very good noise rejection, but can be very uncomfortable – especially if you are using them for a long time. I tried a pair and my ears were aching after 3-4 hours of use. Wouldn’t recommend getting earbuds for transcription.

On ear headphones (also known as Supra-aural headphones) rest on top of your earlobe. They offer pretty good noise rejection, are more comfortable than earbuds. If you sweat a lot, these are better than over the ear headphones, but less comfortable. And if they are too tight, they’ll hurt your earlobes.

Over-ear (circumaural)/closed-ear headphones have earcups that go over the ear and surround it with padding which makes them very comfortable. They don’t have very good noise rejection, so if you intend to transcribe in a noisy environment (for example near a loud fan), quite a bit of sound will come through. This can be distracting when transcribing. I transcribe in a relatively quiet room, so I find them to be perfect for transcription.

Corded vs bluetooth headphones

On Ear Wireless Headphones
On Ear Wireless Headphones

Corded headphones transmit the sound via a cord. Simply plug them into a computer and you’re good to go (some USB models will require you install drivers). Bluetooth or wireless headphones connect to the phone using Bluetooth. If your computer does not have Bluetooth capabilities, and most desktops don’t, make sure that you get a set with a USB dongle that will enable the Bluetooth headphones to communicate with the computer. And they need to be powered with a battery.

Noise cancelling vs openback

Openback headphones are usually over the ear or on the ear headphones with perforated back that allows more “noise” to filter through. So they have very little noise isolation and wouldn’t recommend them for transcription. Noise cancellation headphones provide active noise cancellation. It sounds like a good idea, but in practice they are terrible. I bought a pair a few years back and the audio quality was horrible. And this was because they distort the sound, primarily because of how they work to cancel noise out.  Wouldn’t recommend noise cancellation headphones for transcription.

Now that you have a good grasp of the key features of transcription headsets, what do I look for when choosing headphones for transcription?

What to Look for in a Transcription Headset

  1. Comfort

This is a no brainer. Getting a comfortable pair of transcription headphones is very very very important. I have mine on for at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Transcription takes a lot of time, so it’s important that your ears don’t hurt after a couple of hours of transcribing. So, you want to get a pair of headset that reduces ear fatigue. I’ve found the most important feature when buying a pair of headphone is that they are what are known as over-ear headphones.

With over the ear headphones, you have to stuff your ear into the earcup (encasing it). That gives you noise isolation, but more importantly they are very comfortable. After a few hours of wearing a pair of good over-ear headphones, you don’t even notice you have them on!

I’ve found the most uncomfortable transcription headsets you can get are in-ear headphones (the ones that come with most mobile devices). On-ear headphones rest on the earlobe, and so are less comfortable that over-ear headphones.

  1. Durability

Unless you want to replace your pair of headsets every 6 months, you want to get a headphones that are rugged and well-constructed.  My last pair were made of a plastic mold for the headband, and that’s what finally broke! I do take very good care of my transcription headphones, I treat them like a baby. But I still had to replace the cord of my old set a few years ago after it “accidentally” tore it off – I quickly stood up while the headsets were still wrapped around my ears! Luckily for me, I got a replacement cord.

Ideally, you want to get a pair of headphones with a detachable cord and replaceable earpads.

  1. Midrange

The most fundamental human voice frequencies lie between 250 Hz and 2000 Hz. That’s known as the midrange of sound. And since transcription requires listening to human voice, it is important that you get a set of headphones have a pronounced yet smooth midrange. Meaning you can clearly hear what people are saying in the recording = high dialogue intelligibility. And this is why headphones that are great for listening to music are not necessarily that great when you are transcribing.

When I set out to buy a new pair of transcription headphones, I did my research and bought 3 different models. Price was an important factor, so I went for a range of prices from low to high. Here’s a review of each of the 3 transcription headsets that I bought.

Best Headphones for Transcription

  1. Best headset for medical transcriptionBehringer HPM1000

I was attracted to these Behringers because they were really cheap. I am a cheapskate.  The earcups are a little too large for me. They didn’t fit perfectly – the headband is wide and flat and so they fit awkwardly. The earpads are also a little hard, but I’m sure they get softer with use.  They do look durable. The headband is made from a plastic mold. And the cord is not detachable. If you take good care of them, I’m sure they’d last at least a couple of years.

For the price, I was surprised how good they sounded. But compared to the Senal SMH-1000, they sound like crap. They are very bass heavy and lack mid and high ranges. Out of five, I’d rate them a 2 for comfort, 3 for durability and 2 for dialogue intelligibility.  Good if you are on a very tight budget – but you get what you pay for. Check price on Amazon.

  1. Senal SMH-1000

Best Hesadset for Medical Transcription

To reiterate, the Senal SMH-1000 is the best headphone for transcription that I’ve ever used. The earcups were small enough to snugly fit over my ears. If you have large ears you can get the Senal SMH-1000 with extra deep ear cushions. The rounded headband, soft cushions, and the swivel mechanism makes for a very comfortable, snug fit. Very durable build and look, with stainless steel hinges and metal earpiece backs. But what sets them apart is the detachable cord, what a godsend! They come with 2 cords, a 10 feet coiled cord and 3 feet straight cord. My only wish was the straight cord was longer. And I got feedback that they are uncomfortable with glasses on. However, the sound is simply superb. Simply perfect for transcription. Check price on Amazon.

  1. Best Headphones for Medical TranscriptionSony MDR7506

The Sony MDR7506 are as good as the Senal SMH-1000. Very comfortable. Durable, but they cord is not detachable! I fear this is the Achilles Heel of this pair of headphones. I foresee the cord breaking in the future, when I stand up too quickly, and I won’t be able to replace it.  Which is sad, because these are a really good pair of headphones. Compared to the Senals, I’d say they are better for listening to music. But the Senals have a higher dialogue intelligibility – the audio sounds cleaner, I prefer the Senals for transcription. Check price on Amazon.

That’s it for this post on headphones for transcription. Hope you like my recommendations. Keep an eye out for new posts on mac transcription software and foot pedals. I’d love to hear from you – any feedback/comments are appreciated. What transcription headsets do you use? What are the main factors that influenced your buying decision? Let me know in the comments below.

By Kongo

Kongo enjoys sharing great and easy to implement tips on popular software and web technologies.

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Mary
Mary
3 years ago

Thanks, I’m a medical transcriber and I was looking for a new pair of headphones. This sure helped.

ninja
ninja
3 years ago

Glad i found this page, i’m looking for a good set of headphones as i keep stepping on and cracking the $20 ones.

Reina
Reina
3 years ago

This is a great post! Thank you!
I’m a scopist and I’ve tried so many brands – even other recommended brands from other bloggers; so I’m going to try the Senal SMH-1000 this time. When people are speaking in court and in depositions, the audio quality needs to be excellent. Usually the videographer’s audio file is better than any CAT system audio. I hope these solve the issues! I have surround sound hooked up to my PC (Logitech Z906). I plug directly into the sound control, which allows me to increase the volume more than the PC itself. That helps, but it still doesn’t always allow me to hear the deponents/witnesses as clear as the videographer’s audio (I don’t always do videotaped proceedings, though). I learned something new about noise cancelling. I didn’t realize they weren’t good for transcription! I’ve been doing this sooooooo long, I can’t believe I didn’t even know that, but I’ve never really looked for noise cancelling headphones anyway. 🙂 I’ll try to remember to let you know what I think or I’ll post it in my own blog I’m trying to get going. 🙂

Reina Crowe
Reina Crowe
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Hi Kongo,
Well, I love the Senal headphones. I bought them based on your post. 🙂 I even bought my daughter a pair. The only thing is they’re too big and I can’t tighten them anymore. lol. And I do have my blog finally, but I haven’t launched it yet. I need to write more pieces for it!

I’ve bookmarked your page so I’ll stay in touch. 🙂
Reina

Debbie
Debbie
3 years ago

Wow thanks Kongo! I am retired from law enforcement clerical and now doing at-home law enforcement transcription. The audio I have now is horrible in comparison to what I used to have at work. I also use my laptop compared to work where I used a desktop that had a much better sound card in it. I have ordered the external Sound Blaster Omni to overcome the crappy laptop one. I justified the cost as I don’t own a stereo system so now I will make my laptop one. 🙂 The company I worked for insisted we have noise-cancelling headphones. I had a Sony version I ended up taking back and now am using Jam I found on clearance at Walmart as I thought I may as well get Bluetooth ones as I’m up and down so much. I’m still not happy so found your post. I’ll wait for my external sound card to get here before I run take these headphones back, but if I still have hearing issues I was glad to find someone finally recommend something. Thank you! I will definitely get the Senal SMH-1000 if I am still having issues hearing every word. I am glad you have investigated what will do that! Thanks again!

Michelle
Michelle
3 years ago

Agghhh! This info has been very helpful for a newbie.
Unfortunately these headphones are limited on Amazon right now – all from third party sellers and over $100 except for one used pair from a brand new seller….
Do you still recommend the Sony as a good second choice? Your description of the Senal SMH-1000 really makes them seem superior for good sound quality and I am seeking that!
Thanks!

Stefanie
Stefanie
3 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Would you recommend using BH? I know you’ve never used them before, but are they trusted?

Michelle
Michelle
3 years ago

Thanks! I am waiting on the very good condition pair from Amzn.

Michelle
Michelle
3 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

I got them, they do seem to be really good. I’ll be evaluating over the next couple of weeks.
Thanks for the informative post.

Sandy
Sandy
3 years ago

I’m looking for SoundTech over the head headset with leather like soft ear cushions.

Tamara
Tamara
3 years ago

I just got the Senal headphones based on your recommendation. They’re great! I had been using my music headphones, which are very nice Shure earbuds. However, as you said in your post they get uncomfortable after a few hours, and also it takes a couple of minutes to get them re-settled in your ears after an interruption, which cuts into work time. The Senal headset is very comfortable, and the sound quality is equal to the Shure earbuds. The Senals let more outside sound through than the Shures do, but I actually like that because I work from home and would prefer to be able to hear any noises (knock on the door, ringing phone, pet noises) that happen around me while I’m working.

So, although they were a bit expensive, I’m glad I got them. Thank you very much for your recommendation, it was very useful for me!

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
3 years ago

I am an online transcriber and bought a new pair of the headphones I already had because you can’t replace the ear cushions (I have been using them for years). They are not as good as my originals and I am thinking of going to another brand. I notice that the Senal SMH-1000
is only 58 ohms and wonder if that will make a difference. And will they fit over my glasses without distortion? Sorry, stupid questions but any help appreciated.

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Thanks very much. I am going to try these for sure. And getting from Amazon is great because of the returns policy. Watch this space regarding the glasses issue!

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Oh and, being a techoidiot, can I plug a volume control on the cord?

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

It was just a thought. I’ll let you know how I get on with the headphones but thank you for the advice. It’s lovely to turn to someone who tells it like it is!

Karen
Karen
2 years ago

I have had two sets of Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones for transcription over the last 10 years. My latest set just died. I was shocked to see they are now $300! I appreciate your great reviews of these headphones and it gives me a good starting place for my research.

Pauline
Pauline
2 years ago

How would the Senal compare to the Bose QC 35?
Is it similar in terms of Dialogue Intelligibility? Price would be a huge difference for sure, but with the Bose clarity, I wonder if it would be effective or not for dialogue.

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago

So anyway…at last they arrived and I was so excited. The sound quality was all you said and more but so uncomfortable and actually bent the arms on my glasses. Then the right hand side stopped working. Boo hoo. I am returning them as I got them from Amazon (at least I am hoping to but awaiting ‘permission’ from the suppliers). I will either have to revert to the Koss ones or try in-ear ones. So disappointed. Can’t wear contacts either which would solve that problem at least! Thanks for all your help though – know of any in-ear with volume control?!!

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Just posted them back to Amazon and the US company is going to refund my postage. Can’t ask fairer than that. It would be great if you could ask around. I am also shopping and will let you know if I find anything for sure. I do like the volume control as my audio files vary from client to client and it’s a fiddle to go into Express Scribe and try to get each one right! The Koss ones have been good for me for quite a few years but the last pair – which I am still using – has reverted to mono. Luckily I have a little plug that converts to stereo again. Cheapo, cheapo so what can I expect? Koss did say they would replace them if I sent them back – yes, and lose work – no!

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago

Hi Kongo

Did you get the NRG 3.0 earbuds? Would appreciate feedback if you did.

Mac

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Thanks Kongo. Not been on the site for a while! I have a new pair of glasses and the Koss headphones are now distorting the frames! Never rains but it pours. Perhaps if you get a response from the other transcriber you could let me know. I am loathe to get a pair of earbuds in case I can’t return them if they don’t work 🙁

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Thanks Kongo. I have put in an order with Amazon for the NRGs as my eyes are now crossing because of the on the ear headphones! I looked at the Koss UR20 because I have had Koss for many years but they are too big. I will let you know what happens. Thanks again.

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Kongo

Got the NRG and not happy with them so, unfortunately, they are going back. The buds wouldn’t stay in my ears unless I jammed them in (used all three sizes and two types) so they were uncomfortable. I gave them a while in case it was just because I wasn’t used to this type of headphone but to no avail. After finding out that the volume was cranked up to full, I realised the volume control did not work and I had to change it on my Express Scribe software – not satisfactory because as transcribers know speakers can sometimes dip in volume and this slows down work. Then it went from stereo to mono without warning. And the cable was too short for my desk configuration but that is only an add on! I am glad that the other typist found them brilliant but not me 🙁

My search will continue and I will let you know if I find anything.

Thanks Kongo

Mac Blackburn
Mac Blackburn
2 years ago

Thanks, Kongo. I do appreciate it as do all I imagine. Yours is a valuable site!

Suresh
Suresh
2 years ago

Thanks for the valuable information. Do you recommend using the latest budget noise-canceling headphones like MarQ for 70$ or will the sound quality be too bad to transcribe?

Derrick Betancur
Derrick Betancur
2 years ago

How about Bone Conductive Headphones for transcription?

Lynn N
Lynn N
2 years ago

I just wanted to say thank you for this excellent article. I was in the market for headphones after mine broke, and this really helped me find what I needed. Due to time constraints (I had work pending and no headphones. Panic!) I ended up buying the Bose wireless and they’ve transformed my work day. I’m transcribing so much faster due to the clarity, and I have to take fewer breaks as I no longer have sore ears!

Steve Marsj
Steve Marsj
1 year ago

Kongo, has anybody tried the Senal 1200 for transcribing? I wear glasses and I have a big head, so I’m looking for comfortable over ears that have that midrange sound clarity.

Jaime H Reyes
Jaime H Reyes
1 year ago

Greetings,

I need to purchase noise cancelling headphones for medical transcription. I work in a noisy office and really need some advice as to which type of earphones/headphones to purchase.. Your informative article states that it does not recommend noise cancelling earphones. And unfortunately, the Senal SMH-1000 model isn’t comfortable while wearing glasses. (what transcriptionist doesn’t wear glasses while transcribing?).

Thank you for your time and attention.
J. Reyes

Paige
Paige
10 months ago

Halp! Did that make everyone cringe? Most likely. I’ve been an at home transcriptionist for about a year and a half. I am starting captioning / court reporter training and need different headphones they tell me. They recommend a $250 gaming pair but I don’t like the ones they recommend. My husband has nuraphones and thinks those would be good for me, but I am unsure. I was looking at beyerdynamic and like those, but I don’t know if either of those is good for this. I currently transcribe with $10 skullcandy earbuds, and they are pretty good. Please help?

Karen Watson
Karen Watson
5 months ago

I read your review three years ago and purchased the Senal 1000 based on it. Like you, I’ve used several different headphones and find these to be the best. So much so, I’ve just ordered a second set, three years later, and didn’t even get the upgraded version because I figure if it ain’t broke, why fix it. LOL! Anyway, I really appreciated a review from a fellow transcriber. Equipment is a game-changer and it’s nice to hear from others in the same industry that come across the same issues.