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Forums Field Production High Isolation headphones

  • High Isolation headphones

  • Don Alexander

    June 23, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    I’ve been asked to look for some noise-cancelling headphones for field shoots. The guys are currently using Sony MDR-7506 headphones, but in fairly loud situations it’s difficult to monitor the audio feeds. Any suggestions? I’ve used racing headphones for, well racing, but the fidelity isn’t that great.


  • Rob Neidig

    June 23, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    As you’ve noted, many of the high-isolation phones don’t have great sound. I have a pair of Vic Firth isolation headphones for drummers that fit that category. They sound awful, but at least you can hear them, most of the time.

    I worked with a guy who had a pair of the Remote Audio headphones that use the drivers from the Sony 7506 but put a shell around them that isolates the sound much better. I have only played around with them a little so I don’t have a fully developed opinion of them, but he loves them and has been using them as his main pair of headphones on numerous film and video shoots for years. I believe they are the ones I have linked to (on the B&H site) below.

    Have fun!


    Rob Neidig
    R&R Media Productions
    Eugene, Oregon

  • Bruce Watson

    June 24, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    [Don Alexander] “I’ve been asked to look for some noise-cancelling headphones for field shoots.”

    Noise cancelling doesn’t work the way you apparently think it does. What it tries to do is cancel out the sound field that you are in, so that you can better hear that phone call or mp3 that you’re listening to. That is, the noise is different from the signal. It can work really well for this. But this isn’t what you seem to want.

    What you seem to be asking for is to cancel out the noise which is, in fact, the signal you want to listen to (but with a bit of delay on top). So you’re asking the noise cancelling system to cancel out what you’re trying to hear. This isn’t going to work well for you, it’s going to give you a huge amount of artifacts in the sound. Both holes and missed peaks. The phase difference between the noise and the signal actually just mucks things up more (unless it’s quite large, I’m guessing on the order of a half second or more delay). It sounds really bad. Try it and see.

    What you really seem to want is to just attenuate the sound field that you are in so that you can listen to the recorded sound at a lower level. Unfortunately, the laws of physics aren’t on your side here. There’s a limit to how much you can attenuate the sound from the sound field you are physically in. The theoretical limit is in the low to mid -30dB range. Why so low? Because there are other paths to your ear drums besides your ear canals. The bone structure of the head is problematic, especially the sinus cavities. Even if you keep your mouth and nose closed (makes it difficult to breathe, but still) you still get large amounts of mid range to low frequency infiltration into the sinus cavities. If you breathe of course, it just gets worse.

    The only way out of this is to remove one’s ears from the sound field. You can do that by having your sound mixer work in a “green room” (broadcast booth? sound trailer?) that’s isolated from the source, for example, but your boom op is going to be stuck out there where he can’t really hear what he’s booming. About the only way out of this for someone who’s body has to be in the sound field is a fully sealed helmet with a separate air supply (a solid helmet, similar to a motor cycle helmet for example). Both of which have to be “sound proofed”. At least this way you shield the bones of the head from direct contact with the sound (mostly) and you get an “air gap” which can actually be rather effective at noise attenuation. I’m not sure how you’d deal with the separate air supply, but without it you surrender most of your gains.

    Sorry. Not the answer you were hoping for. But the laws of physics are the laws of physics. What can ya do?

    My suggestion would be a pair of custom molded in-ear monitors (IEMs), and a pair of 3M Peltor X-series earmuffs on top. That’s about as much attenuation as you’re going to easily get. Anything more puts you in the range of “extreme measures” which takes lots of money and time, and has no guarantees.

  • Bill Davis

    June 24, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Pretty sure Location Sound in California had a similar solution for this as well.

    7506 drivers mounted into Aviation Headsets, IIRC.

    As noted DO NOT use any typical phase based noise cancellation circuitry. The ambient will be so strong it’s totally mess up what you can hear.

    In ear would work as well, but if so, make sure you use them with a system that puts a brick wall limiter on the gain. It’s super easy in a loud sound field to have ear fatigue push you to into gain creep as your ears adjust.

    Doesn’t take much to start hearing deterioration in this type situation.

    Good luck.

    Creator of XinTwo –
    The shortest path to FCP X mastery.

  • Don Alexander

    June 25, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for the pointer, Rob. As both Bruce and Bill pointed out, I miss-spoke in referring to noise canceling headphones. As in my topic, I was asking about high isolation headphones.

    One of our crews is shooting episodes of “Wild Nevada” in the field and has had a couple of occasions to shoot around off-road vehicles. They complained about an inability to hear what was actually being fed into the recorder. The headphones you referenced look to be a reasonable solution.

    Having used custom molded in-ear buds in the past, I’m a bit hesitant about going that direction.

    Thanks again for the pointer.

    Don Alexander
    Studio Technician
    KNPB Channel 5 Public Broadcasting

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