Gear For Interpreters: An Alternative to a Headset

Welcome to another chapter in the ever-expanding world of ZipDX multilingual conferencing.

As you may already know, we’re rather insistent that interpreters working on ZipDX multilingual conferences use a high-quality headset.

In fact, we maintain a list of recommended headsets so that people new to the system can acquire a headset that’s known to meet our rigorous standards.

While a headset may be the simplest approach, there are alternative arrangements that are also workable, if someone is so inclined. This was recently brought to our attention by an interpreter in the UK.

This gentleman divides his time between interpreting and recording announcements for broadcast radio. It happens that these two activities have similar technical requirements, which he accommodates admirably from the comfort of his home studio.

Headset vs Mic & Headphones

A “headset” integrates the headphones for listening with a boom-mounted microphone. These are readily available at varying prices and quality levels. We tend to recommend professional headsets designed to address telecom applications.

It’s possible to take an alternative, “separates” approach. That is, choose a high-quality microphone, pairing it with some good headphones. This is actually quite common in the realm of radio and podcasting.

Microphone: The Blue Yeti

The interpreter in the UK uses a Blue Microphones Yeti, which is a large USB-connected microphone. Weighing a hefty 3 pounds, it has a built-in desk stand. It sounds great and it’s even available in several colors.

The Yeti connects to a computer with a simple USB cable. You then plug your preferred headphones into the 3.5mm mini jack at the base of the microphone. The computer sees the Yeti as a composite audio device, just like one of our recommended headsets.

The front of the Yeti has a two simple controls; a mute button and a volume control for the headphones.

The back of the Yeti has a microphone level control and a pattern selector. An interpreter working alone should select the “Cardioid” pattern, which tends to reject sounds from the sides or rear of the microphone. This will minimize the influence of room acoustics and nearby sources of noise.

We focus on the Yeti in this case since it was the preferred microphone of our customer. There are many different USB microphones that may be equally suitable.

Headphones: As You Like

Since the Yeti has a standard 3.5mm jack for the headphones you can use almost any headphones that you like.

Radio hosts tend to prefer over-the-ear style headphones that are comfortable to wear for hours at a time. People who don’t like big, head-hugging studio “cans” can opt to use small ear-buds since they’re unobtrusive.

Anything that both sounds good and is comfortable to wear would be appropriate.

Open-Back vs Closed-Back Headphones

Open-back vs Closed-back headphones

If you choose over-the-ear type headphones it would be better to select a closed-back model. An open-back design may allow some sound from the floor channel to be heard in your workspace. This increases the opportunity for echo to be introduced into the conference.

If you’re curious, How-to-Geek has a longer look at open-back vs closed-back headphones.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M30x is a popular choice, and available for under $60, it’s affordable. It’s Amazon’s best seller in its class.

One of the nice things about choosing headphones is that your local shops may have a good selection, and allow you to try the out on the floor. In the US stores like Guitar Center often have several models available to try.

Practical Differences: Headset vs Microphone + Headphones

You might well be wondering which is better; one of our recommended computer headsets or a separate microphone and headphones as described above? It’s largely a matter of personal preference, but there are a number of factors to consider:

Absolute Fidelity

From a pure sound-quality perspective, the separate microphone and headphones usually perform best. They’re designed for creative uses, whether in music, radio or podcasting. Those activities are more demanding than simple voice applications.

As a practical matter, since you are still connecting to a conference bridge, the difference is minimal with respect to interpreting.


A telecom-style headset is typically lighter and more portable. It’s easier to tuck into a purse or brief case if you need to travel. It’s also much less expensive than separate devices.

Ambient Noise

The telecom style headsets that we recommend have noise-canceling microphones that suppress any background noise in your workspace. The boom-mounted microphone also helps to ensure that you sound great, free of distracting ambient noise and reverberation.

Microphones for ‘casters, including the Yeti, may be directional, but are not noise-canceling. This makes it more important to ensure that you use them in a quiet environment.

Microphone Placement

The headset boom keeps its microphone a constant distance from your mouth. That ensures that your audio level remains constant, even if you move around.

In contrast, the Yeti microphone is a tabletop design. To sound best it must sit right in front of you. If you move around, turn to the left or right, your audio level will vary. The automatic level control in the browser may compensate, but that will also alter the level of background noise.

Since the Yeti is sitting on the table anything else that you do on that table can result in impact noise. Even little things like typing beside the Yeti can sound like gunshots to your audience. Put down your coffee cup too hard and it can sound like a cannon shot.

None of these things are insurmountable. In broadcast studios the microphones are typically shock mounted on a boom arm that can be moved around. This helps keep the microphone at an optimal position, while eliminating the potential for impact noises.

It’s really a question of your workspace. Is it a simple home office? Or a home studio?  A headset goes with you, allowing you to work almost anywhere. A more elaborate setup often becomes a fixed installation, not readily transportable.


As a professional interpreter your voice is your product. Simultaneous interpretation over-the-phone using ZipDX is an alternative way to ply your trade without the cost and bother of travel. It expands the universe of opportunities available to language professionals.

The opportunity to work from home or an office is quite different from working in a studio or interpretation booth. In essence, you become responsible for your own toolset.

Those who want the simplest possible approach with minimal investment may opt for a computer in pleasant surroundings, and a high-quality headset. Those whose business takes them to broadcast voice work or podcasting as well may prefer a more elaborate set of tools.

These two solutions needn’t be mutually exclusive. You may elect to equip a home studio with fancy gear for days when you work from home, but keep a headset in your computer bag for days when you’re out-of-office.

In the hands of someone who knows how to use the tools, both arrangements can deliver excellent results.


If you have questions about any aspect of ZipDX please contact our support team at:

We’re here to help you get down to business.

Posted in: Multilingual

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