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 headphones.

Best Headphones for TranscriptionAfter 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.

I got an email a couple of weeks ago 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 headphones. 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 headphones, 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 headphones 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 headphones that I bought.

Best Headphones for Transcription

  1. Behringer HPM1000Headphones for Transcription

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.

  1. Senal SMH-1000

Best Headphones for TranscriptionTo 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 is the straight cord was longer. The sound is simply superb. Simply perfect for transcription.

  1. Sony MDR7506Transcription Headphones

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.

What transcription headphones do you use? What are the main factors that influenced your buying decision? Let me know in the comments below.

19 thoughts on “Best Headphones for Transcription

  1. Mary

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

  2. ninja

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

    1. Kongo Post author

      Yes, getting a durable set of headphones is very important. And if you get a more expensive pair, you’re more likely to take better care of them – and not to step on them! Which headphones did you end up getting?

  3. Reina

    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. 🙂

    1. Kongo Post author

      Reina, it’s my pleasure.
      And yes, I bet the videographer’s audio is better – they probably have multiple microphones and a mixer.
      Can your CAT system get the audio from the videographer?
      To take full advantage of the Logitech Z906 you’ll need to record/get 5.1 audio – which is very rare voice recordings, the volume amplification feature is nice though. You probably need a mixer that you can connect to your PC – that will give you a lot of options.
      Looking forward to your blog…

  4. Debbie

    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!

    1. Kongo Post author

      My pleasure.
      I tried using a laptop for transcription and it was a horrible experience. A desktop is the way to go. I love that I can rotate my 16:9 desktop screen and get more space for transcription. Very handy. And yes, the desktop sound card is superior!
      Used to work for a company that insisted we get noise-cancellation headphones – the quality of the transcripts declined because the sound quality was terrible. Mind you, each headphone cost the company $200 and we had to dump them a month later. Most of these policies are made by people who’ve never transcribed a single word.
      Try the Senal SMH-1000, and if you get them from Amazon, you have 30 days to try them out and see if they work for you.
      And if you are constantly getting bad audio, a mixer might work better than an external sound card.
      All the best Debbie, and let us know what worked for you…

      Regards,
      Kongo

  5. Michelle

    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!

    1. Kongo Post author

      Sorry Michelle! I’m guessing everyone has realized how good they are and grabbed them off the shelves.
      Hopefully they’ll restock soon.
      The Senals have not let me down, and they seem to get better with time – which was expected.
      BH have the Senals in stock (~$75). If you do get them from BH, I’d love to hear your experience (I’ve never used their site).
      The Sony is a good second choice, I’ve not used them that much… but my first impressions was that it was a pretty good handset for transcription.
      So yes, they are a good alternative…but watch out you don’t break the cord!

      All the best.

      1. Stefanie

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

        1. Kongo Post author

          Stefanie, I loath to recommend a service/product that I’ve not used.
          But if you can’t get them on Amazon, then sure try BH and let us know.
          I just checked on Amazon and saw that they’ll be in stock on the 19th of June, if you can wait till then…

          All the best.

  6. Michelle

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

    1. 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.

  7. Sandy

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

    1. Kongo Post author

      Sandy I’ve never used the SoundTech headsets. So can’t really give you an opinion on them. But there is a good variety of replacement earpads (leather etc) on amazon. If you are looking for better noise isolation (“noise reduction”), I’d recommend you get these velour earpads for the Senal SMH-1000, and Sony MDR7506.

  8. Tamara

    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!

    1. Kongo Post author

      Tamara, glad I could help!
      Yes, earbuds can be very uncomfortable.
      Personally, I have a sensitive ear canal, I find earbuds to be very uncomfortable.
      And yes, the Senals are not ideal if you transcribe in a noisy room.
      A fellow transcriber, who has large ears, noted that deeper cushions helped to isolate noise.
      I love my Senals! I’m glad that you do too…

      Happy transcribing.
      Kongo

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