Transcription Headphones: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Think having quality transcription headphones isn’t such a big deal?

Think again.

Picture this—you’re several hours into transcribing an interview and the audio quality is migraine-inducing. Voices are muffled and hard to distinguish. You wonder if the interviewer turned on the digital recorder and threw it in her purse.


Suddenly your dachshund spots the FedEx guy walking to your door and goes into full red alert. The usual 5-minute barking session ensues. You reach to turn up the headphone volume when you realize you’re already maxed out.

How are those iPhone headphones working out?

Ready to purchase some new transcription headphones? We’ve combed through reviews, spoken with vendors, conversed with transcriptionists, and done all the necessary legwork to bring you several of the most popular and highly-rated transcription headphones available.


Transcription headphones: What to consider before you buy?

USB vs. Headphone Jack: Ever wonder why you might choose one connection option over the other? Standard 3.5mm headphone jacks use your computer’s onboard soundcard. If you have a great soundcard, you’re in luck and this connection style might be a good option for you.

Desktop computers will often have better soundcards because manufacturers have more space to fit better—and often larger—components.

USB headphones include onboard soundcards, bypassing your computer’s card entirely. The three headphone vendors I spoke with all recommended USB over headphone jacks.

Sound Controls: Many transcriptionists find in-line volume control very handy, which is why you see this option on so many headphones. Be aware that some transcription headphones enable switching between stereo and mono sound; a feature you might need when transcribing an occasional tape. Some headphones even boost volume as a built-in feature—a major plus when cranking the volume to 10 just won’t cutting it.

Weight: Hold your arms out to the side, parallel with the ground. Hold that pose for 10 minutes. Notice how heavy your arms get? The same applies to any weight you’re putting on your head, adding strain and requiring your neck to work even harder. This is why transcription headphone manufacturers strive to reduce weight.

Cord Length: Some transcriptionists hate long cords. Chair casters are the arch enemy of cords and, the longer the cord, the more likely you end up running it over. Alternatively, with longer cords, your headphone doesn’t get pulled off when you stand up or lean back in your chair.

Budget: Decide how much you can spend before looking. (Remember how much you spent last time you went to Target without a budget)? I mention this consideration last because all the options we include here are very similar in price range and all are well under $50.


What are the best headphones for transcriptionists?


This is by far the most popular headphone style for transcriptionists and offers the comfort of earbuds with the security of headphones. The under-the-chin band applies continuous inward pressure, keeping the earbuds firmly in place—no more worrying about your earbuds slowly loosening and falling out.

These models are all lightweight and most have in-line volume control. The design is also great if you wear glasses.



Caliber headset

The Caliber is’s best-selling headphone for transcriptionists. At $24.99 it’s a steal.

This product is a reliable choice for transcriptionists requiring a 3.5 mm headphone jack connection.


  • The in-line volume control also contains a stereo/mono switch.
  • The headphones have built-in bass-reduction technology, ear cushion replacements are easy to come by, and the 5-foot cord has a sturdy braided nylon protective covering.
  • Plus, this full-featured headphone comes in at just under an ounce.

Reviews are typically quite positive, with many transcriptionists making repeat purchases over the years. Despite the reinforced cord, one user reports an issue with the cord weakening near the volume control connection. The short cord length might also be a downside for some users.



Spectra headset

Do you find the Caliber appealing, but want a USB model? Then the Spectra Transcription Headphone made by VEC might be the headphone for you. You can choose from four connection options, USB being one of them. At $27.95, it’s very similar in price to the Caliber.

Here are some of the headphone’s specific features:

  • For those who like having a longer cord, this headphone gives you ten feet to work with.
  • The in-line volume remotely controls the computer volume, which is different from the independent sound adjustment that headphone jack models provide.
  • Users report being able to hear even the most soft-spoken interview subjects clearly.

This Spectra headphone has been on the market for over ten years and has attracted a loyal following, with some transcriptionists refusing to use anything else. Reviews rave about sound quality, comfort, and how lightweight (weighs less than 1 ounce) the Spectra is.

Some users find that the in-line volume control adds noticeable weight. Others mention the volume unit is positioned so that it gets in the way of their hands when typing. As with the Caliber, the band isn’t adjustable. This isn’t an issue for most, but some users find the band is too loose and slowly slides off their head.



For transcriptionists preferring a headphone without an under-the-chin band, earbuds are a good option. They’re lightweight and come with the same functionality as the under-the-chin transcription headphones. However, without the band to apply inward pressure, some users might find that the earbuds slowly fall out of their ears.


ECS Wordsmith


wordsmith headset

The ECS WordSmith is one of the most popular earbud models, designed specifically for transcriptionists. The $49.95 price point is significantly higher than the other models we’ve included, but the extra features can make it worth the investment.

What’s so special about these headphones?

  • The WordSmith contains a proprietary sound card that produces ultra-clear audio optimized around the frequency of the human voice. This means you can adjust the controls to reduce background noise, optimize voice reproduction, and reduce static. One reviewer says they now have the luxury of “listening to almost silent dictation.”
  • This model connects via USB, so you don’t have to worry about a cheap computer sound card causing issues. This headphone bypasses your computer’s soundcard entirely.
  • You have two options for adjusting volume. In addition to the in-line volume control, you can use keyboard commands.

I couldn’t find out how much this weighs, but it looks it should be between 2 to 3 ounces. I’m assuming it’s heavier than the first two models because of the larger in-line control unit.

And be aware that the cord is 10 feet long. Again, a pro or con depending on whom you’re speaking with.

The WordSmith has a loyal following and many find the investment worth it. If your work quality improves, why not spend a little more now to increase your earnings later? You can easily make back your money with increased productivity.


What are you favorite transcription headphones?

Transcriptionists have several great headphone options in the $25 – $50 price range – and any of the units mentioned in this post should make you a more effective transcriptionist.

Did you buy one of the transcription headphones on this list? Did we forget your favorite brand? Let us know in the comments!



Psst! We’re hiring. If you’re an awesome transcriptionist looking for something new, click below to see our open positions.

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  1. This is a fantastic post, thank you. I was looking for and ordered a headset a while back, and I use earbuds for something difficult. I just ordered the ECS Wordsmith.

  2. This is a great post. The USB headphones just didn’t really work for me. Believe it or not, I had bought a set of earbuds from Best Buy. They are called Yurbuds, and they are the IRONMAN series. They work like a charm!

  3. I am using the Wordslinger headset with the built in sound card. I like the quality of the reception and the cord length, but the earphones are a bit heavy and irritate on longer shifts (hint: put your glasses on after the headphones). They will improve your QA, but I hope they come out with “foamier” headphones or lighter ones.

  4. I have the ECS Wordsmith. I’m not too happy with quality considering the cost of them. They’re great for amping up volume, but construction/performance are severely lacking. I got mine from Amazon and had a warranty, thankfully, because the first piece stopped working when the wire loosened at the base of the earbud. I got a replacement set back at the end of August (2016), and here in January, they have started to malfunction. Getting ready to contact the company again to find out what can be done. My other pair is similar to the Caliber listed above, but without the volume control. This is the set I use when there is ferocious background noise. The only downfall with that set is the lack of external noise cancellation. What I really want is wireless … The cords do nothing more than piss me off! 🙂

  5. I have been using the Spectra with volume control, but found I had to always have it at max, so I decided to spend the $50 and order the ECS Wordsmith. I love the volume and usually only have it at about 20%, BUT…I find the sounds kind of muffled and not sharp. I have switched back to the Spectra and am returning the Wordsmith. I am so disappointed. I was really hoping the Wordsmith was the answer. Back to researching headphones.

  6. I bought the Spectra some 5 to 6 months ago, and the ear pieces have broken apart. I transcribe 12 to 14 hours a day. Can I get the unit replaced?

  7. Bought the Wordsmith and was immediately relieved of my migraine because it cleared up the sound so well. I just don’t like earbuds, though, and find I’m readjusting them every few minutes/half-hour or so. I’m going to look for the Spectra this week and give them a try. I don’t mind having several different pair – then I can change out if one isn’t working as well with a certain audio file.

  8. I’m looking for a good pair of headphones for transcription, but I also need it to have a microphone. It must have noise reduction, and I definitely prefer an over-the-head phone, with cushion ears (even if they are large since I really want to isolate sounds from the outside and also isolate the sound from my phones so that I don’t bother anybody around me). It would be nice if I could turn the stereo off, if necessary, but, if it’s only stereo, I still can do it. I do NOT need them to be good for music. Ah…. and most important of all, it needs to be under $60.00! Not sure if I’m asking too much… Would you know of something with this characteristics? Thanks!

  9. I’ve had the spectra for about a month now and the earbuds are killing my ears. They’re so sore . I may need a smaller earbud or over the ear. Any suggestions ?!?

    1. I hate the spectra. They hurt my ears. I went with jvc in ear to listen for better quality. My beats 99.99 model works awesome because although they are pricey, my transcription speed has improved using beats to hear the sound better. I switch between jvc 29.99 and beats in ear bud but I am always looking into new headphones.

  10. I just got the Spectra and am completely disappointed. The little cushions were not comfortable in my ears and the volume was no better than a cheap pair of ear buds that I already have. I got them today, taking the back tomorrow. I think I am going to the Wordsmith next. Thanks. I hope this doesn’t post twice, I may have goofed.


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