JOn Gardner Voiceovers, review of Rode nth-100 headphones

Australian microphone company Rode has come out with their first-ever set of headphones, the NTH-100s. If you are looking for an exhaustive dissertation on every tiny technical detail about them, I am sorry, you are in the wrong place. Instead, you might want to read this article, or this forum thread. The door out is behind you on the left, but hey, come back next time!

If you are curious about my non-technical impression of them from the viewpoint of a voice actor, read on. The synopsis: I hate them.

It’s not them, it’s me

For a while now, I have been thinking about making a headphone change. The ones I have been using for editing, the AKG-K240s, are fine. I still like and respect them, but something doesn’t feel right anymore. It really isn’t their fault. We’ve just grown apart.

When I bought the AKGs, I had three strict criteria they had to meet:

  • They had to be from a brand I had heard of before, even if I knew nothing about them,
  • They had to produce sounds on both sides, and
  • They had to cost under $50.

The AKGs checked all of those boxes. The price was especially important because I was trying to fund my new business with the pocket change from my roadside lemonade stand with only marginal success. Turns out, it costs quite a bit more than $2.75 to start a business. Who knew?

It’s about trust

Before I get to my opinion of the Rode NTH-100’s, let me tell you why I wanted to make a change. The AKGs have always seemed a bit cheaply made. The ear cups feel loose and don’t clamp firmly around my ears. More importantly, the sound seems a bit thin and clouded, leaving me with the impression they aren’t telling me everything they know. Keeping secrets. That doesn’t work for me. I just couldn’t see continuing our relationship in the absence of trust. Plus, I admit it, I was bored of them.

I also own the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros which I use in my booth while recording. The Beyer’s are great, but its bass boost colors the sound too much to allow me to confidently use them for editing.

Back in the game

So, the time had come to put myself back out there. A lot of research went into making my buying decision. It was very important to me that my editing headphones:

  1. Be from a brand I have heard of before,
  2. Be comfortable to wear for hours at a time,
  3. Have exceptional clarity, and
  4. Costs less than $200.

See how much I’ve grown since the beginning? I now have four criteria instead of three! I see that smirk. Don’t laugh at me. I have to take encouragement wherever I can find it.

It’s not my fault

Keeping that list in mind, I read articles, watched video reviews and eventually pulled the trigger on the Rodes. Two days later, just as I opened the box, my wife walked in and asked me what I had bought this time.

After she calmed down and it seemed like I wouldn’t need to keep dodging random objects flying in my direction, I patiently explained to her why I did indeed need yet another set of headphones. I told her the truth. It is Paul Strikwerda’s fault. Please refer to this previous blog on deflecting blame. I’m getting pretty good at it.

If you regularly read Paul’s Nethervoice blog, you will know he sometimes reviews studio equipment, and has a very high standard for what he deems acceptable. As far as I know, he hasn’t yet done a review of the NTH-100s, but he did mention that he had heard good things about them and is curious about how they may stack up against his current favorite, the Hi-X55s from Austrian Audio. Hearing him say that got me started looking at the Rode’s, so ipso facto, he is at fault. Simple.

Marital Advice, Rule Number 17: Deflection of blame to someone who is not present to defend themselves is often effective when accidentally discovered making poor decisions.

—Unknown

Marital crisis averted, it was time to try them out.

First impressions

Right out of the box, the difference was apparent. Everything about them seems well made and sturdy. They have a premium feel that gives the perception of quality. I also think they look good, but of course that has nothing to do with how they feel or sound.

The headband has a feature called FitLock™, which allows you to adjust the fit to your head and then lock them into position. This makes sure they will fit perfectly every time you put them on. No more fussing with the fit. A nice touch.

I appreciated that the cord is easily removed and replaceable, unlike my more expensive Beyerdynamics. Rode also designed them so the connection cable plugs into either ear cup, which I have not seen before. This comes in handy because you can choose which side your cord is on, to be on the side where your interface is for instance, avoiding the cord dragging across your chest and desk. It is a little thing, but I like having the choice, and I like companies who pay attention to the little things. One note: Rode included a rubber plug to be inserted into the cable aperture of the ear cup that your connection cable is not plugged into. It changes the way that cup sounds, so you should use it. Without it, the two sides don’t match properly.

Getting it on

The time had come for me to put them on. The fit and feel of the earcups is the first thing I noticed. They have an unusual triangular shape which more or less mimics the shape of the ear. This shape makes them fit a little closer around the ear than I am accustomed to. The fit feels odd at first. It took a couple minutes to not be distracted by it. They do seem to provide good isolation, but I have not tried using them in the booth so do not know if they have bleed-through that could be picked up while recording.

The ear cups clamp pretty firmly to my head. Not quite too tight, but I wouldn’t want it any tighter. I wear a 7¼ hat size, and I wear glasses. If you have a very large head, it might be too tight to wear for long periods. The ear cups sealed nicely around the thin arms of my glasses. YMMV.

The ear cups themselves are covered in a soft material called Alcantara©  which means nothing to me, but some people seem to be impressed by it. I can tell you that it feels nice. Surprisingly, they seem to be stuffed with whipped chocolate similar to the insides of a 3 Musketeers™ bar. Rode describes it as “CoolTech™ gel” which helps the earcups stay cool . Underneath is a healthy amount of memory foam. I still think it is fluff from a 3 Musketeers bar, but I understand why they don’t want to admit that publicly since there would be copyright issues. Plus, people would be constantly eating their ear pads. In any case, it is astonishing how nice it can feel to have your head in a clamp.

Are you feeling it?

In short, they feel heavenly. Like a great big love-filled hug to the sides of my head. They are so comfortable in fact that I have found myself making up excuses to go to my office and put them on even when I don’t have anything to listen to. What, the smirk again? Don’t judge me. We all have our quirks.

The hills are alive

So, the final test. How do they sound? I was very surprised when I replayed an audition I had done previously. I had been hoping for a high quality sound with a very flat frequency response. It wasn’t. They made me sound good. Really good. So good that it was obvious the sound had been monkeyed with. Or do I really sound that good and my AKGs just never told me? Have I been getting lied to all this time?

Am I disappointed because they are not as “flat” as I had hoped? A little, but overlooking that may be worth it. Oh, the decisions we make at the beginning of a relationship!

I purposely avoided learning about the frequency curve prior to listening to avoid any preconceived notions. It was obvious to me that the sound is tailored to bring out the best in your audio source. Of course, “best” is very subjective. That is why listening through a device with a flat frequency response is desirable for editing; because you hear the audio how it really is. Still…

The sound

The bass is punched up a bit but is clean, without an overemphasis on subharmonics. There is no mud anywhere. The high end was crystal clear but never felt thin or grew distorted, even when turned up loud. Somehow, the mids weren’t lost either. What kind of audio alchemy is this? It isn’t possible to emphasize one thing without diminishing something else, but for my ears, these have done that. The sound is thick and full and clear as the air after a snowstorm. Frankly, my first impression was, at least on a spoken word sample, that they sound pretty fantastic.

The NTH-100 were designed for studio use, so I didn’t buy them for entertainment listening. Out of curiosity, I did try them out on a few songs of different styles. They sound noticeably different from other headphones I have. Songs that I am very familiar with sounded… unfamiliar. I wasn’t sure at first, but the more I listened, the more I liked what I was hearing. I noticed subtle nuances I had been unaware of previously. The soundstage felt spacious and there was a notable separation between instruments. The sound was full-bodied and well balanced from bass to lead guitar to vocals. One review I read said the high end was dialed back a bit, lacking detail. If so, I didn’t hear it. I do think many modern mixing styles emphasize the high end too much, so that may just be me.

Confused?

You may be asking yourself why, if I like the headphones so much, did I clearly state in the beginning of this article that I hate them?

Well, if you know me well at all, you know that I struggle with perfectionism. I have been known to waste all kinds of valuable time dissecting my auditions ad nauseum, obsessing over every detail. Therein lies the problem. It is amazing, shocking even, how much additional detail I can hear with the NTH-100s. A previously unseen veil has been removed and all of the flaws that I had previously ignored in my blissful ignorance have been revealed under a glaring spotlight.

The clarity of the NTH-100s instantly makes me a better editor because I can hear and clean things that I didn’t even know existed before. They also make my editing more difficult and time consuming because I can hear and clean things that I didn’t even know existed before.

Hate is a strong word

I hate my new Rode NTH-100 headphones because there is no hiding from the onslaught of EVERY click, tic, smack and pop. I hate them because if I tried to fix every flaw these headphones reveal, I wouldn’t have time for anything else. This in turn forces me to make aggressive decisions about which things to fix and which to let go. Thus, sending out my auditions with faults that I can now clearly hear forces me to deal with my perfectionism. Psychotherapy and personal development is not what I thought I was getting when I bought a new set of headphones!

They should require a warning label on the box that says ”This product provides extreme clarity which may reveal audio flaws which were hitherto unnoticed. Do not use these headphones if sensitive to the revelation of micro imperfections. Repeated use may result in the forced confrontation of perfectionistic tendencies in some individuals which could require professional intervention.”

Conclusion

Rode has done a great job designing these, from the sturdy construction, to the extreme comfort of the earcups, to the detailed sound. It might not be audiophile quality sound, but there is all the clarity I need for editing (and over-editing!), as well as a pleasing sound for listening to music. If you handed me a set of these and said you paid over $300 for them, I would believe you without question. For under $150, I doubt these cans can be beat.

Now I need to put my NTH-100’s back on my head and get back to my editing. I don’t know why, but it seems to be taking an unusually long time tonight.

_____

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-Jon

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10 Responses

  1. You just wanted a blog where you could say ipso facto. Admit it. I smirk in your general direction, and I have engaged my Judgment Nerve. Also – no psychotherapy needed as I’m already certifiably insane.

    BUT – that being said, I know what you mean! When I got my NDH20’s, my first, second and fifty-third thought were “Have I sounded like this all along? And…what’s that?!? I can hear my feet bones cracking when I shift my weight! And…and…I can hear my weight! OH NO! I CAN HEAR MY WEIGHT!!!”

    …which brings me right back to ipso fatto of course.

    Thank you for this awesome review of headphones I do not need and will not be buying, but if I ever suffer from a wild hair and DO run out and buy them and anger my wife, I now know who I will be directed Marital Rule No. 17 towards. Better slap your 3 Musketeers-filled cans on…there’s gonna be yelling.

    • Shit. Now I am going to be listening for the sound of my feet bones cracking! I can’t stop hearing it! Nooooooooooo!!

      • Jon –

        Thank you for this great review. I’m actually looking at upgrading headphones…and actually dreading doing the research for the next step up from my Scarlett headphone that came with mic / interface package I purchased last year.

        Then I saw articles about the new Rode headphones. I was impressed with the material for the earpieces and the shape of the cup itself. I’m also highly interested as I can a “brand” person. My mic / stand are made by Rode…so it makes sense now that they have headphones…yet it’s the available funds that keep me from buying items at the moment.

        With your blog / review of this product you’ve helped me decide what my next set of headphones will be, and I have to include Paul Strikwerda as responsible parties. Ha!

        Thank you again!
        Phil

        • Rode does make some good stuff, for sure. Not everything is aimed at the professional level that we need as voice talent, but I love my NTG5 microphone! I am also tempted to try their microphone arm…

  2. Dang it! Now I need to get a pair. Because who doesn’t like to torture themselves with tedious editing? On the up side, my husband is all about trying new gear so I won’t get the hairy eyeball when they show up. The down side is that he will want to try them and want one too. Oh man! This could make a good circle story. “If you give a VO some headphones”. By the end of the story I’ve got the most glorious studio but still need headphones.

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