Choose Headphones for Medical Transcription Work

By Anne Martinez

Using headphones made specifically for medical transcription will give you a fighting chance at understanding what that mumbling dictator is really saying. Headphones provide much better sound quality than computer speakers and help block out surrounding noise.

Don’t try to use headphones from an MP3 player or other device, because those are optimized for music, not human speech.

Transcription headphones start at less than $20 and go as high as you’re willing to pay. The figure shows the two basic styles. Standard transcription headphones have soft foam or rubber cushions that fit comfortably in the ears and a very lightweight frame that hangs below the chin.

Medical transcriptionists who find background noise problematic can opt for noise-cancelling headphones. They go over top of your head like traditional headphones and cover your ears entirely. Instead of physically blocking out external noise, they use a sophisticated electronic feedback system to counteract it, effectively making it disappear.

Even seemingly minor sounds, like the clicking of keys on a loud keyboard, can get on your nerves over time. These headphones can make them disappear. As you’ve probably guessed, noise-cancelling headphones cost substantially more than a basic transcription headset.


Headphones come in traditional (analog) and USB versions. Analog headphones have a 3.5mm plug that plugs into an audio jack on your computer. USB headphones connect to a USB port instead.

Either type is fine for medical transcription work. The pros and cons of each are summarized in the table. Whichever type you select, make sure it has a cord that’s long enough for your setup; 10 feet or longer will usually do it. Although not a necessity, a volume control incorporated into the cord can come in handy.

Audio Jack vs. USB Headphones
Pros Cons
Audio jack headphones Very simple: Plug in and go. Sometimes the audio jack is located in a hard-to-reach spot,
like on the back of the computer.
You may have to unplug another audio device, such as your speakers,
to plug them in. Some speakers bypass this problem by adding a
second audio jack.
USB headphones You can have USB headset and speakers plugged in at the same
time, since they use different jacks.
Your USB port may be located in a position that’s easier to
reach for plugging and unplugging.
There’s a slight delay between when you plug them in and
when they begin to work. Also, if they come unplugged while
you’re working, you may have to restart the application to
get the sound back.
They take up a USB port, which are often in short supply.