"Should I touch the cans or not?" - another 'Delightfully Irreverent, Yet Effective' discussion.

Gotcha! This blog is totally not about what you were thinking, unless you immediately thought, "STUDIO HEADPHONES...YES!" And if you did, congratulations, you're not a lech. This time.

My friend Erik Sheppard posted a link about new studio headphones by KRK, and so I was inspired. Thanks, bro.

KRK Rokit 5's are the monitors I have in my studio. They're totally great for locking in my voiceover tracks. Sometimes I can't crank them up as much as I like, because the 'lady' upstairs just might think I'm tossing the gauntlet. She would begin tossing the salad as a response, and the clackity-clackity-creak-creak-clackity-clackity would start again, and then I would never get any work done. But I digress.

As I was saying, sometimes it's just not cool to loudly monitor my VO work. So I pull out the Sennheiser HD280s, my venerable (no relation) set of cans. Now, for the uninitiated, 'cans' are just slang for headphones, which came from the observation that headphones look like you're wearing tuna cans on your ears. Anywho, I sometimes have to use my cans to listen in the wee hours. Read on for more in cans after the break.

So the subject of cans makes the rounds every few months in our industry. The questions that usually come up are:

1) Do you use them when recording, or not? Or even one ear on and one off?

AND

2) What brand and type of cans do you (the royal you) use?

Well, let's start with one. The short answer is, "Totally up to you, although it depends on the situation."

THE 'OVER THE TOP' METHOD

 Some people use them all the time. And when you do, you feel naked in the booth without them. I totally understand the physical need to sort of turn on the engine. To get psyched up. Kinda like Lincoln Hawk in Over the Top. Oh come on. you remember. The movie about the truck driver that arm wrestles. Surely you can't forget the typically gruff performance of "Oh-my-God-it's" Robert Loggia, right? OK, OK...in the movie, there are interviews with all of the arm wrestling competitors, and Sly Stallone says,

"What I do, is that I just try and take my hat, and turn it around, and it's like a switch that goes on, and when the switch goes on, I feel like another person. I don't know, I feel like a.........truck, a machine." 

Eloquent, no? Anyway, what I was driving towards is, that some people just have to have that switch that gets turned on, and theirs is putting on the headphones.

THE 'ONE CAN ON, ONE OFF' METHOD

Others kinda do the on-one-ear-and-off-the-other method, which consists of the highly technical process of placing one of the cans and placing it over one ear, while the other sits behind the opposite ear. Now I know that many question the effectiveness or usefulness of such a posture, but some people I know swear by it. To me, it creates an imbalance in my aural equilibrium, and I find myself pushing a bit more when I record.

THE 'LOOK MA, NO CANS' METHOD

And then there are still others who go commando when it comes to cans. And I'm one of those folks. To me, the benefit of doing this is that you get to hear yourself without a signal path coloring your voice.

Yes, folks. We luuuuurve the sound of our voice. If we don't, we're in the wrong freaking business. We know that we love to see the look on loved-ones' faces when something completely unholy or strange comes out of our mouth. Even better are the times when the magic words "that doesn't even sound like you" are uttered. At least it's better for those of us that do character voices.

But that's just it. I simply don't want what I hear in the cans to affect my performance. Voiceover is such a cerebral profession. The last thing that I need while I'm working, is the seed of doubt that is sewn into my brain from the headphone level being too low. That takes my mind out of the copy and into my environment, and when that happens, I'm not making choices based on me being in my comfort zone and totally in the words. So for me, no cans when recording........*

*Yup, there's always a but. -Editor

THE 'HYBRID' ("BS COMBO") METHOD

Yup, there's a 'but.' and it is: "Unless I'm being directed live. In studio, or remotely." That's a big DUH, I know. Of course you're going to listen to direction through the cans. But that's the only time. The last two times I wore cans in-session, I was getting direction over the phone patch for a radio spot, and when the DVA Meetup Group recorded A Christmas Carol at Reading & Radio Resource of Dallas. Any other time, folks, I'm self-directing at the studio desk. I don't need to hear instruction, and thus, I see no reason to wear headphones. So that's how I see it.

FINALLY, THE SUMMARY

Now, just as a review, I'm not telling anyone how to wear cans, or whether to wear them at all. I have tried each of the three methods, and snark aside, my own method works for me. Some of you will try the 'one on, one off' method and it will totally work for you. Some will want to wear cans all the time, and that's cool, too. Especially if it helps your body and mind get into performance mode. My friend Bob Bergen always says, "Engage the body, and the voice will follow." Words to live by, my friends. Whatever you need to get that performance pulled out of your body, by gum, do it! If you need to wear headphones while naked (please, in your own studio), do it. But you get the point. That's why the short version is so true. "Totally up to you, although it depends on the situation."

SO, UH...WHAT KIND, THEN!?

OK, so you are all going to hate non-committal answers after this blog, but the short version is even shorter than for number one. It's just "totally up to you." Yup, you gonna have to get out there and make your own decision. But here's the rub: you have to have cans that are like studio monitors on your head. That's what got me started thinking about cans again in the first place, was that link Erik posted on Facebook. One thing leads to another, and Bob's your uncle, here we are. 

So, I know...what kind? Well, here are some tips:

1) You don't need to take out a third mortgage to buy cans. Save that for the Neumann U87. U87...what's that? Ah...living under a rock, are we? It's a very expensive (and very good) studio microphone. But my friends, like Alton Brown would say, "that's another show." Please don't spend a ton of ducats 'just because.' There are some really expensive headphones, and after awhile, they just hit a watershed point, and that's as far as effective goes, and then you're into designer, overpriced name shills, and crap that's been pushed on uneducated consumers for years. Yes, folks, I'm not being kind, because there is no reason that you should be buying high-high-end cans for VO work. UNLESS*

(*No...Not again. -Editor) 

Yes...always! Unless you are producing your own commercials, audiobooks, narrations, or whatever. That's the only time you should even consider paying out the nose for cans. Because you need to hear a properly-mixed final product. And even then...caveat emptor. Do your homework. Buy the cheapest thing that you need, and move on.

2) The frequency range of human hearing is roughly 20Hz-20,000Hz. There are exceptions, and you know how good or bad your hearing is. So why's this a tip? Because there is no reason to by cans that extend below 20 Hz. Why? Because that's pretty low bass, and that stuff's more meant to be felt than heard anyway. AND YOU CAN'T HEAR IT ANYWAY!!

(And thus begins the rant on the recording process c. 1984-Today. *facepalm* -Ed)

Remember the last time you shook your fist out the window because a take was ruined because someone drove by playing hip-hop with dual 16-inch subs in their vehicle? Sure you do. It happened to me this morning. Point is, you don't need it. 99% of recorded music doesn't go below 20Hz or above 20KHz. Why? Physics, baby. Physics and the recording industry trying to squeeze as much music onto one CD as possible. I mean, why produce a sound that most humans can't hear and eats up more real estate on that optical plastic disc? That's why CDs really don't sound as good as pristine LPs. Because the CDs needed to fit on one disc, and they got rid of the frequencies that out of most people's hearing range...the extermely high, and extremely low. But now that lossless formats like FLAC exist, recording quality isn't suffering, and you truly do get a better aural experience. And that's the only time you need speakers of any kind that have a frequency response outside of the "20-20k" range.

(Glad that's over. -Ed)

So the thing is, your ears only work within a certain range, and some of you less than others because of age and a bevy of other factors. So why buy what you can't use? It's like buying the most expensive Les Paul at Guitar Center, not knowing how to play. OK, so some of you might do that. And that would make you either: a) Independently wealthy, or b) a Gear Slut, possibly both. 

The other thing to factor in is the voice itself. The average voiced speech of males and female combined are between 85Hz and 255Hz. This isn't accounting for the melodic qualities of the human voice, like the overtones that you can hear sometimes. Now, the regular vocal range is going to be covered in literally every pair of headphones ever made. So your ability to hear yourself isn't affected by that $4 pair of pink 'gel' earbuds you got at the checkout line in Wal-Mart. So why not use those? Well, those are made to alter the sound in a pleasing way for music, and not for monitoring one-to-one replication of recordings. That is one reason I would set a little money aside for cans. And by little, I'd say at least a hundred bucks. You can get by with the ear buds for taking direction, but not for monitoring.

3) So don't take out a mortgage, but don't cheap out, either.

So yes, I finally mentioned cost. That's an average. You want the Beyerdynamic DT770s like Erik wears? Those will set you back about $250. Be sure and get the right kind. That's what I'm talking about. You really have to do your homework. If you want my Sennheiser HD280 PROs, or the new KRK KNS 64000s, those will set you back about a C-Note.

I'm not saying run out and get one of those three sets. Just please get circumaural, closed-eared ones. That means they fully cover the ear, and that no sound escapes outward. These reason I tell you this. One, your ear cartilage will hurt from cans sitting on them if you don't get circumaural cans. Two, if you get open-eared cans, whatever you hear will bleed over onto the mic. And trust me, the last thing you want to do is lose a client because the entire two-hour session you just finished is useless, because the director was heard as much as you on the recording.

So that's it. Another marathon blog. Sorry, folks. I really wanted to impart some experience to you about headphones. I'm no expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Not really. That's all my brain can come up with after this much writing. So go touch the cans. More importantly, listen to them. Almost as importantly, make sure they feel comfortable. If you're going to wear them a while, you better barely be able to feel them on your head. That's worth the extra bucks...not needing a deep-tissue massage sooner than you already do.

Speaking of massages, my wife is home. Time to take turns. Take care of yourselves, and each other.

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