Trash headphonesTo use or not to use headphones?

That is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous decibels or to take arms against a sea of sound waves and by opposing thine headphones, end them.
Dan Roberts joins us today to share his reflections on whether or not you should put the cans on while performing a voice over as inspired by sessions at VOICE 2010.

Invasion of the Headphone Snatchers

By Dan Roberts
“A Nightmare on Headphone Street.” “The Good, the Bad, and the Headphones.” “The Unbearable Lightness of Headphones.” What do these movie titles have in common? Headphones have no business in them!
I know I’m being absurd, but think about it… The actors in our favorite movies and TV shows are not listening to themselves. They are in the moment… Acting.

“Ditch the headphones!” says Beau Weaver, who hosted a VOICE 2010 panel aimed at giving radio people acting tips. “Stop listening to yourself through processing. You are spending too much time judging yourself. Get into a performance space.”
Ashton Smith echoed this advice on the Promo panel, saying that wearing head-phones changes the read. You should be concentrating on the performance. Get it?

Can you imagine Gary Cooper stopping to check his look in the mirror during the gunfight in “High Noon”? He wouldn’t have had time to fire a shot. What if, while the villain bragged about his evil schemes, James Bond was busy admiring the cut of his tux instead of planning an escape? And what if John Travolta was constantly worried about his appearance in “Saturday Night Fever”? Oh, wait. That actually happened.
The point is: Stop analyzing what you’re doing and just do it.
Remember… the most important word in Voice Acting is ACTING. Not voice.

Headphones keep you tethered to your board as well, perhaps leading to an inhibited performance. I mean, you don’t want to move around too much or those Sony’s will come flying off your head, right? Yet using your whole body in a performance is very important. The microphone picks up every nuance because your voice changes with each gesture.
There are also long-term health benefits to giving your headphones a rest. I can’t tell you the number of guys I know who crank their ‘cans’ a little louder each year. They’re killing their ears. Don’t let this happen to you.

Obviously there are exceptions to the ‘no head-phones’ rule. If the director insists you wear them, you wear them. I’m a producer as well as voice-actor, so when I’m monitoring somebody else’s performance, I wear them. Promo guys punch-in live when recording copy, so they need to hear the production. Singers must hear the music or the song will turn into a train-wreck. But in general, it’s a good idea to lose the head-phones. So step away from the “Valley of the Headphones” and trust the experts. I think you’ll find that it will breathe new life into your performances!

Dan Roberts is the voice of Dilbert and Hammy the Squirrel in web-toons found at He has over 20 years experience in broadcasting, and is a proud member of For more information visit

Any Comments for Dan?

You’re welcome to drop him a line here or share your own ideas about headphones (and whether or not you should wear them during performance!)
Best wishes,
Image courtesy Dan Roberts

Previous articlePromo Panel at VOICE 2010
Next articleVOICE 2010 Audiobook Panel: Pat Fraley, Hillary Huber and Scott Brick
Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. It’s your preference. We should all do what works best for us.
    If your are a stage or on camera actor you can say your lines regardless of how the set is dressed, what you wear or what prop you are required to use.
    Wearing a headset puts me into a ‘recording place’. It blocks out other things around me and I focus on the copy better. I am used to using it real-time with producers and I keep using it in my own studio. It does not impinge on my ability to stand up or move around. I can see how it might impact others. And you can always get wireless cans if that is an issue for you.
    When I play back what I record, I want to hear any ambiant noises as well as hear my delivery. I also have the occassion to produce my dry read with production elements. Wearing a headset enables me to do that better, too. I would prefer not putting things on and off my head all day. The cans are part of my voicing uniform. Your mileage may very. Choices are a good thing.

  2. Hi Dan,
    Great article! To add a little bit, I remember Scott Rummell suggesting that he wears one headphone when recording so that he has one ear dedicated to what’s going on outside of the cans and one ear that hears what’s going on inside.
    Perhaps that might work for some people? Thank you for commenting Mitch 🙂 You are right to say that choice is a good thing.
    Best wishes,

  3. This is a fantastic article. I have recently chosen to stop wearing my headphones while I record because hearing myself talk while reading the script did, indeed, change my read/performance just as this article states. It has made a big difference.
    I believe the article is refering to wearing headphones WHILE you are recording; not just for playback. (Ex. “Stop listening to yourself through processing…”)

  4. When I’m in someone else’s studio and they request that I wear headphones, I normally put them on. I’m hired to do the job and sound a certain way, and getting a feel in the beginning for their chain and the sound on their end with a first run-through lets me know what – if any – adjustments I have to make to sound more like me. I’d prefer to not wear them when someone else is engineering, but it’s helpful in group recording sessions to hear how my voice fits in to the mix. If I can slide one ear off once the session has been established, I will. 🙂
    When I’m in my own studio, I have one side on, one side off. The side on my head is only for ambient noises or to catch myself if I need a bit more water – anything that might trigger the need to do a pickup. The open ear is my guide to my sound and is what I’m “hearing” when I record. Since this is my habit, it doesn’t take extra concentration away from the script or my performance in order to multitask my ears. In my studio I’m always in producer mode, somewhere in my head.
    Pat Fraley, in one of his workshops, gave the guidance to beware of wearing headphones and falling in love with your sound. It’s true, to test it just record a sample with them on and then off and there will be a difference. For me, when I’m in the role of both talent and producer, I’d rather catch those stray mouth noises, rumbling motorcycles or cat’s collar jingles as they print to my session while I’m in the moment so I can immediately redo the line. It’s a workflow thing for me and it works well, and I believe it also saves me time.

  5. I am my own worst critic and find myself reviewing in realtime as I read copy. I also seem to project less when I’m wearing cans.
    During two projects this week I completed them sans-headphones. It was refreshing and my read was dynamic with almost no false-starts. I’ve liberated my ears.

  6. I’ve been under the Phones for so long I’m not sure I can do it any other way. There’s something about being inside my head that makes me creative…lost in that world where you can have everyone and everything exactly where you want them to be…based on your perceptions….your slant…your image of the moment….awww who am I kidding…I wear ’em so I don’t have to listen to my Wife!!!!

  7. I don’t believe in wearing headphones, because it tends to push me in the direction of concentrating on how my voice sounds, rather than how well I am delivering and interpreting the script.

  8. I took the headphones off a couple years ago at the prodding of my voice coach. Now I find it distracting to put them back on. It takes a minute to get used to them again when clients request it, but only a minute. If you’re really into the script, you forget about those things on your years.

  9. when recording at home, i found that once i ditched the headphones, i started getting more jobs. initially i had taken them off because i was hearing tiny clicks on my recordings that i traced to the slight movement of the headphones when my jaw moved. (newer headphones would probably help with that, but i wasn’t ready to buy them.) but i found that once i didn’t have them on, i did feel freer to read more naturally, move a little more, and wasn’t so focused on how i sounded, which for me was a good thing.
    i think being able to keep that freedom while having the headphones on, is a good skill to strive for, though, because there are times when they are necessary (such as in a studio session where others are giving you direction). i have seen but not tried the one ear on and one ear off idea – to me it doesn’t seem comfortable, but i might give it a try.
    thanks for your article, dan!

  10. I think it really depends on what type of script you are reading. I don’t use headphones when I do casual reads to get a more natural sound. But I feel they are necessary when doing an announcer part or even audiobooks or long form training voice overs.
    Not using headphones helps to make the voice come across more natural, and using headphones to voice help you catch clicks, or pops before playback.
    Jason McCoy

  11. So, so true.
    I’ve found that WITHOUT headphones, I’m less likely to fall into “Joe Announcer” and stay in character. Plus, as others have stated, without phones, I’m much more ‘free’ to flail about. I just get caught-up in hearing my own voice, instead of ‘acting.’
    There are actually times when I LIKE to wear headphones, and that’s when I’m doing a straight-ahead “announcer” read. Otherwise…NO phones.

  12. You have to wear them when you self-produce OR commit to re-recording portions of a piece because of things you didn’t hear.
    When I wear cans, I am one ear mostly on and one ear off kinda guy.
    Most of the time I prefer my can-less reads.

  13. I was quite relieved by this, actually! As primarily an audiobook narrator, it is far easier to lose myself in the flow of the narration and characterizations without headphones. I understand that many advocate wearing them so that any extraneous noises are caught and such, but frankly, I feel they affect my performance.

  14. I agree 100% with the thoughts of Beau Weaver …. “ditch the head phones and get into an acting space”. Think about it, when is the last time you watched a movie and the actor was wearing headphones ? As a DJ for 20 years I was in love with my melodious tones, but for those of us who have made the transition into voice overs we have discovered ‘it’s all about acting.’ I never wear a set of cans when auditioning in my home studio.
    Bob Jordan

  15. Great article Dan! and something I often struggle with.
    Oddly enough, I find that I am perfectly comfortable and at ease with headphones on whilst recording narrations – specifically online learning modules (which seem to be my thang at the moment!).
    However, the minute I have to do a commercial read or anything character based, my inner critic comes out and I am constantly monitoring my performance – so, off they come.
    I’ve been lucky as directors have been fine with it so far (mainly because they hear the difference when I ask!), but I am quietly dreading the day I’m requested to leave them on. I just feel so much more alive without them!
    The “Valley of the Headphones” as you so eloquently put it – is definitely not my favorite place to visit in Commercial land.
    Go with what works for you!

  16. I remember I stopped wearing my ‘phones when working radio back in the 80’s & 90’s- I monitored them by keeping the volume levels up , keeping them close by so I could hear when the spot or song ended so I had my queues and had no dead air. I haven’t really used them since, except sometimes one ear on -one ear off, or when I’m editing, or in an ISDN session.

  17. Hi,
    I quit using headphones a long time ago. My voice acting coach is Marice Tobias and she says that the surest way to bring out your inner critic is to wear headphones while you’re working.
    Think about it: you’re listening to yourself listen to yourself, and when that happens you’ll start editing your performance. Another performance killer is wearing headphones when working with other actors in the booth.
    How can you listen and react to them when you’re listening to yourself at the same time?
    Free your self. Work naked.
    W.L. Jenkins

  18. Yes, I wear headphones while recording my voiceover work. I’ve tried with and without and even one and one but settled on both.

  19. Thanks for the comments, everyone! It’s interesting to hear your take on this subject. I stand by the no headphones rule, but respect that it may not be something that you are comfortable with. In the end, if you are satisfied with your performance (and more importantly, the client is satisfied) that is all that matters.

  20. There’s a bunch of factors you need to take into account: noise reduction, weight, ease of use, open-back vs. closed-back, and more. You should also think of the use cases. For example, if you’re a voice-over talent, you’ll be better off with minimal or no distortions or sound leaks, so closed-back seems like a good option. On the other hand, open backs deliver a more natural sound.

    My personal choice in closed-backs is the Shure SRH1540: I like the design, the level of noise reduction, and the flexibility. If you prefer open ear cups, try the Audio-Technica ATH-R70x and enjoy the spacious sound.
    For more choices, take a look at my headphone roundup


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