Transcription Headphones: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

By Tyler Mitchell for Allegis Transcription

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, 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.


The Caliber is exclusively sold at and it’s the 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 positive, with many transcriptionists making repeat purchases over the years. The short cord length might also be a negative or positive for some users.


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 a lot of fans. 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.

Spectra SP-EB-USB Digital USB Earbud Headset

The Spectra SP-EB-USB Digital USB Earbud Headset is one of the most popular earbud models, designed specifically for transcriptionists. The $34.50 price point is slightly 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 Spectra USB Earbud Headset is lightweight and provides crystal clear digital audio. One reviewer says the headphones “cancel out noise way better than my previous pair (and I live in L.A. where there are constant gardening tools running, helicopters, sirens, loud motorcycles, noisy neighbors, etc.) and even on the lowest volume setting I can still hear everything loud and clear.”
  • 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, it also has digital volume control.

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

Any model of Spectra headsets have 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 – $40 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!