Let’s hear it for headphones!

Let’s hear it for headphones!
May 6, 2010 Matt LaMond

Ever wonder how your headset or more technically speaking, headphones work? They are a vital part of every transcriptionist tool set. The quality of the sound reproduction is the key to getting the most out of the recording no matter its content.

In order to understand how headphones work, you must first understand sound waves. When most people think of waves, they think of water waves, like you’d seen in an ocean or lake. A shallow water wave is an example of a transverse wave, which causes a disturbance in a medium perpendicular to the direction of the advancing wave. Think of the ripples you see when you toss a rock into a still pond. These waves form crests and troughs. The distance between any two crests (or any two troughs) is the wavelength, while the height of a crest (or the depth of a trough) is the amplitude. Frequency refers to the number of crests or troughs that pass a fixed point per second.

Headphones convert electrical impulses generated by a transcribe machine or your PC into sound waves. They function exactly opposite of the way a microphone works. The transducer “speaker” generates the sound waves that are processed by your ear into recognizable voice or music.

I know that is a lot to wrap your head around, or maybe wrap around your head in the case of headphones, but choosing the right headphones can greatly improve your efficiency and comfort. I will attempt to give you some information that may help you find the headphones that are right for you.

There are three basic types of headphones used by transcriptionist. In the ear buds or stethoscope style headphones. On-the-ear headphones where the speakers are connected by a band that hangs under the chin, behind the head or over the head. The choice here is mostly one of comfort. The third type is the over-the-ear headphone which covers the ear and blocks external noise better than the others but they are typically heavier and less comfortable when worn for long periods of time.

Let’s take them one group at a time. First the in-the-ear type. Many transcriptionist find that the stethoscope style of headphone works best. They usually have two hollow tubes that carry the sound produced by the transducer that is located at the base of the headphones. Tubes can be made of aluminum or plastic with the aluminum producing what most say is better tonal quality. The sound travels up the tubes to the ear tips that are placed lightly in the opening of the ear canal. The tips are covered with a soft vinyl cushion that comes in contact with the ear. The ear tip partially seals the ear from outside noise. The stethoscope style is worn under the chin so it will not mess the wearers’ hair when put on and taken off. Also in this group are ear buds, which are generally not liked by transcriptionists. With the up-coming iPod generation this may change but they are limited to use with a PC.

Next group is the on-the-ear group. These usually have two transducers (speakers) one for each ear and can be stereo or binaural. This group has the largest number of different styles and applications. They are worn under the chin again not to mess the hair when put on or removed. This was probably much more of an issue in the 1940s and 50s than it is today. The sound is produced at the ear and the ear tip has a small spherical housing for the transducer that fits against the outside of the ear. This arrangement does not seal out extraneous noise as well as either of the other types. When you buy a transcribe machine whether analog or digital this is the headphone type that will most likely ship with it. Many of the PC transcriber software packages, such as GearPlayer, also ship with this type of headphone.

The final group is the over-the-ear headphones. These are heavier and are worn with the band on the top of your head. There goes the hairstyle. They often feature large padded muffs the cover most or all of the ear. These are great in areas where outside noise interferes with the ability to hear what the speaker is saying. These headsets also have more powerful transducers and are capable of producing a strong sound where smaller headphones cannot. As a general rule these headphones are not the best choice for transcribing because of their size and weight. If you have a special situation where outside noise is a problem these may be a good choice.

Most headphones used by transcriptionist come in a variety of classes. By classes I mean what they are intended to connect to. Most older tape machines and dial up or direct connect transcribe stations are monaural. One channel played to both ears. These would have a 3.5 mm (1/8″) plug that was either straight or right-angled. There were a few manufactures (Dictaphone, Norelco) that used a proprietary connector.

The next class is headphones used with a computer sound card. These headphones are almost always stereo, which is two channels played one to each ear right and left. This class of headphones usually has a 3.5 mm (1/8″) plug that is straight. More recently headsets that make use of the USB port have been made available for the PC.

There are a lot of things to consider when selecting a headphone for transcribing. Be sure you understand the differences in plug type and application. Different applications require different headphones. There is no one headphone that will work in all applications. If you find yourself in need of a replacement headphone and you are not quite sure which one to purchase you can call the friendly and knowledgeable customer service staff at TranscriptionGear.Com. (888) 834-2392 or visit the web site at www.TranscriptionGear.Com