Known for their professional microphones and having
which just released their first headphone: the NTH-100 - currently available for US$149 from multiple vendors.
Known for their professional microphones and having
which just released their first headphone: the NTH-100 - currently available for US$149 from multiple vendors.
These are targeting audio professionals. They look really well built and comfortable. Let’s hope they sound at least half as good as they look.
I’m anxious to see what a headphone enthusiast review with a proper FR measurement looks like. Until then there’s this: Rode’s first pair of headphones offer a comfortable and balanced way to monitor audio - The Verge
I’ll put together an article on this headphone shortly but wanted to post the measurements and some quick notes here first.
RODE NTH-100 frequency response taken on the GRAS 43AG with KB5000 anthropometric pinnae:
Assessment: While at first glance this looks decent and in general I’d say it is decent, there are some subtleties to this that should be pointed out. Strict target adherence acolytes will likely rejoice at a result like this, but others may find it a bit on the thick/muddy side of things. I find myself in the latter camp on this one.
There’s quite a lot of masking going on in the upper bass and lower mids that tends to obscure the clarity of the upper mids, yielding a kind of sound more cynical audiophiles might describe as ‘warmpoo’. But the bigger issue in my view is that this has the same kind of problems that affected the Drop Panda, in that the treble region is a bit too rolled off - especially in relation to the elevated midbass and lower mids.
With that said, there is still a lot of good here as well, specifically with the upper mid section of the ear gain being about where you’d want it to be, so maybe the better way to describe the NTH-100 would be “warmpoo done right”, if such a thing were possible. Moreover, this one is going to be very easy to improve with EQ, which is commendable as well.
I had a slightly harder time getting the right channel to seal, but for the most part, as we’d expect, the bass level is determined by the coupling. Otherwise, this unit does damn well on the channel matching front.
EDIT AGAIN: I tried it both with the connector plug out and with it in (and with the cable swapped to the other side), and there’s essentially no change to the right side bass. So it’s likely just to do with subtle differences in the pads or coupling.
Harmonic Distortion (not as meaningful as people think):
Normally the harmonic distortion on modern headphones is low enough for it not to matter, but in this case I think it’s worth pointing out. This is taken at 94dB at 1khz (externally calibrated), which is loud, but at a level where I’d expect this to be better kept in check. What’s more worrying is the elevated 3rd and 5th (almost reminiscent of BA driver behavior). Is it audible? I’ll need to spend some more time with it, but I dare say it might be given that the higher order products are also quite elevated.
All in all, the AKG K371 still reigns supreme for closed-back sound quality on a budget - at least for those who want a high degree of clarity from their headphones. But I do think RODE mostly hit their target with the NTH-100, as it offers a fantastic build and design (that’s far superior to the K371), with good isolation, and sound quality that, while not dethroning the well-established leaders at this price, is at least competitive. I imagine anyone looking for a warmer and thicker presentation will find something to like here. For the rest of us, it’s really just a matter of tweaking the lower mids and bass the tiniest bit to get it there.
EDIT: Upon further listening, there’s definitely some blunting going on for trailing ends of tones. I’m going to remove the front-damping felt piece and measure afterwards to see how this improves things.
Thanks for the impressions and measurements.
Why would you EQ a professional studio headphone…kinda defeats the point
Earlier I watched josh’s video and according to him there is some unit variance going on. I wonder to what degree and will Rode adress to it. Maybe like every product on the market potential buyers should wait for the later batches. Still a good first try on their end, not they are completely rookies though.
Why not? Every headphone can benefit at least a little bit from EQ.
Also not everybody is interested in this headphone only for mixing and monitoring. I see a perfectly capable headphone that looks and built better than K371. If it sounds good too, I’m gonna choose this over the AKG.
That might be true. But he based the opinion on two different units which were tested by two different people. He hasn’t heard more than one unit himself.
Any unit variance can be proven by measurements. Even going back and forth between two volume matched headphones won’t be enough in most cases.
I bought a pair of these. Subjective opinions online are polarized regarding these. Some love them and some absolutely hate them.
My critical listening tests were really insightful as to why some people have completely divergent opinions. Everyone is completely correct. They are both the best thing ever and are terrible.
The FR during playback of musical (non test) signals is material dependent.
The air region of the treble disappears during busy passages. The detail retrieval also waxes and wanes with how busy the drivers get. They’re like the opposite of a planar.
In choral or a cappella recording you hear them at their most extreme end of performing well in every metric that we look for and during something very busy and bass heavy you are hearing them at their very worst. In a simple stripped down recording with just vocals and guitar and some reverberation of acoustic space they perform better than they have any business being able to do. There are some recordings that are handled so well by these headphones that it’s just silly. They can get very natural sounding and very detailed.
The quirkiest quirk: The more power they have, the more strident the midbass dynamics become and the treble gets more crowded out. On weaker amplification they actually sound more balanced. It’s quite bizarre. Typical audio interfaces used for podcasting and by home recordists have very anemic amplifiers, but these seem to thrive on that better than a real amplifier. I plugged them into my Neve and they sounded their very worst.
Ok. So getting onto my opinion. I actually love them haha. They’re great for their intended purpose of being comfortable and monitoring. For voiceover and podcasting, the drivers are idle enough to stay at their full performance, which is really excellent. Also as a portable headphone just plugged straight into a phone, I’ve really enjoyed them. And what I mean by that, is that I straight up think they’re awesome for that. I’ve listened to them for hours on end and was blissed out the whole time. I am seriously stoked on these even as someone who fully understands the nature of their flaws.
To me this is a perfect example of the limitations of using a sine wave sweep as a test signal to plot FR and also why the FR plot doesn’t tell the whole story about how something sounds. A test signal that simultaneously tests across the audible range and has similar structure to music would provide more insight into the performance of a driver during real world playback conditions where things get a bit more busy than a sine wave.
These are very goodbad. Highly shrekommended.
Then why buy it? there’s a plethora of audiophile “based” sets that are targeted to just that
Oh sorry, maybe I wasn’t paying attention much. I thought he also heard his friend’s unit too.
There are a couple of additional measurements I’m going to do next week when I get back to the studio, including doing a light mod to the front damping to see how things change.
EQ’d I’d say yes there’s an argument for the NTH100 over the K371, the only issue would be the higher order distortion stuff.
Have you tried the Austrian Audio Hi X-15? I’d love to hear your take on how they stack up vs the K371 and NTH100. I haven’t heard the NTH100 but own the other two, and think they’re both amazing considering their price.
Further critical listening has revealed even more insight into the performance of the NTH-100.
Listening at a low SPL avoids non linearities in the frequency response(the treble roll off), detail loss, distortion and the degradation of other performance metrics. These hold performance together even with very dense tracks at low volumes. The more the drivers move, the worse their performance gets. On sparse tracks without any low frequencies, you can crank the volume up way farther. That means for podcasting/speech they should be more suitable as opposed to music.
My impressions were very favorable after a long listening session at a very modest near background volume while I was reading. This explains my very favorable impressions after that particular listening session.
Bring up the volume and the detail retrieval, high frequencies and distortion all take a turn for the worse and worse. And this occurs at a level that is in a range where many people, including myself sometimes, would want to listen in.
My LCD-X, my personal benchmark(unfair comparison alert), if I want more volume, I turn the knob and it just makes MORE SOUND in a completely linear way that leaves the quality of the sound completely unchanged.
Analog mechanical devices can be quite non linear and exhibit it in complex ways. This headphone is very well engineered and impresses me quite a bit. But they are not perfect/flawed.
Now that I know more about the conditions that they thrive in I will be able to enjoy them more effectively.
I will be spending many hours outdoors with these gently caressing my ears while I read. The level of practicality is off the charts. These have provided me with a lot of listening enjoyment to be away from my desktop rig and loudspeaker setup and without having to shove anything into my ear canal or paying very much.
I like these a lot, but a recommendation to others would have to come with a disclaimer regarding the specific caveats they exhibit for music playback that would certainly be unacceptable to some, possibly most and workable for others.
So, I’m not sure what you mean by this. I think maybe this is what it might seem like, as in, maybe it feels like the more you push it or the more busy stuff gets the worse it sounds or something along those lines. But a driver moving faster really just means it’s producing more upper frequency stuff. Not saying your experience isn’t of a real thing happening, merely that we have to be careful about what we attribute the cause of that experience to.
As far as the distortion stuff is concerned, this is a bit of an interesting one. 94dB is definitely loud but you’d want to see better harmonic distortion behavior. The flip side of it is that for the most part it’s in the lower frequencies, and that’s where it’s going to be more difficult to hear. I’d suggest that a lot of this perception is really just frequency response and masking, like when the images ‘fall apart’, that can also be an FR thing.
Andrew I think that the distortion measurement that you posted is in alignment with my impressions from trained critical listening.
To add depth to our conversation I’m going to have to give background for my thinking and methodology that pertains to trained critical listening techniques used by audio engineers. I apologize in advance for about how long this is going to be. For anyone willing to read this, I appreciate your engagement in the community.
Humans are biased to perceive something louder as sounding better. It is a bias that has to be constantly compensated for in audio engineering via careful level matching/gain compensation when comparing two signals because something louder will always sound better, even if it actually sounds way worse! That’s the number one rule in critical listening for audio engineers.
To illustrate to anyone reading how significant this rule is: Master bus compressors used by mastering engineers have a gain compensation knob and a meter for displaying the gain reduction amount paired with a bypass button. These are used together for gain matching because without gain matching, it would make life difficult or impossible for a mastering engineer to accurately evaluate their work. It is beyond ingrained into the process, it is an integral component of any audio engineering process to the point where these level matching controls must be present for the equipment to be functional.
The NTH-100 falls apart enough at moderate to high spl to overcome that strong bias causing my perception to be that it sounds bad when I increase the volume level and good when I decrease it It’s a sign that the performance in relation to SPL is non linear enough to overcome an extremely strong natural bias that we all have. No doubt a trained critical listening based indicator of distortions and other non specified deviations from the signal at moderate to high spl. I believe I am hearing deviations from the intended FR curve and a decrease in virtually all of the established performance metrics that we talk about when these are operated outside of a certain range of SPL. But within a certain range, they perform very well.
By the drivers moving, I mean the more low frequency SPL and and simultaneous complexity of the signal across the audible range, I perceive the all around performance decreasing relatively, but decreasing SPL alleviates the issue
All of the frequencies are being produced by one driver, a situation that is conventional in headphones, but unconventional to loudspeakers. Loudspeakers most often employ multiple drivers each covering a different frequency range. Each driver is mechanically optimized to produce the respective range, but each driver is also a completely separate device mechanically that is independent in it’s pistonic motion in the reproduction of each frequency range. This is an advantage that does not exist in a single driver system such as the one being discussed.
I prefer planar magnetic drivers for headphones because they really seem to overcome that phenomenon as a result of low mass in addition to linear and even excursion characteristics. It’s most commonly adjacently discussed and observed as “instrument separation”. The NTH-100 are a stamped mylar dynamic. They have limitations.
For the illustrative purpose of extreme contrast: My LCD-X with my Neve amplifier is the opposite to the nonlinear performance in relation to SPL I’m observing from the NTH-100. The performance on the LCD-X seems completely unchanged regardless of loudness and increasing the volume makes them sound “better” when loud because of the bias. This is strongly indicative that they are capable of high SPL low distortion performance. They have so little distortion that increasing the volume to crazy levels feels eerily comfortable and one could get carried away with it. The SPL seems detached completely from performance. They just just make more sound when you are absolutely blasting them. The best analogy I can come up with it that it is like opening a water valve farther, it’s more, but exactly the same. This is one of the reasons why it makes more sense as an audio engineer to spend $1,200 on an LCD-X vs. a more inexpensive headphone like the NTH-100 whose marketing claims that it is suitable for mixing and mastering. Critical listening techniques used by audio engineers is one of the most valid ways to evaluate such claims. And my opinion is that that the claims are somewhat valid, but with limitations.
I am having some really enjoyable listening sessions with them at very modest and low volumes and I absolutely love them as a portable. But when I see an experience that runs completely divergent to mine, I completely agree with that person’s subjective opinion because it aligns exactly with my experience when I run these at a higher but perfectly reasonable SPLs.
My opinion is that these are extremely good and also extremely bad. But I like them a lot and I’m very impressed with the engineering they have done at this price point with the technical limitations involved. When I listen to them within their ideal operating parameters, they sound VERY enjoyable.
This is the eye watering explanation of my previous post saying they were “goodbad” in all of its eggheaded glory.
The reason why I’m sharing my subjective critical listening evaluations to the communities online is because I am evaluating this piece of equipment as a critical listening exercise and I have an intense curiosity as to how my experiences and evaluations might align with that of others. Even if they do not, I would value that engagement in conversation and discourse. I see trained critical listening as a somewhat objective tool to supplement scientific machine testing that is prevalent online. Musical signals are currently more complex than test signals and the human ear may be more advanced than microphones in the current state of audio science and can provide insights into specifics that there are no current tests for. I am an advocate for those techniques after my experience with their effectiveness in the audio engineering world. I believe that critical listening adds depth and interpretation to scientific tests.
A good read @MAMMALHAMMER sheds some light on my experiences with my Dad as a electronics salesman in the 60’s & 70’s. His observation was that he sold more stereos when he was allowed by the store to turn the volume up ( which the other salespeople & some customers complained about ). That does tie into the Louder = Better aspect that you highlighted.
I’ve always had a habit of finding an acceptable volume level ( Speaker or Headphone ) and sticking with it. It seems to me that by being consistent with volume, and rarely touching the knob, I get to hear what the recording engineers were trying to do.
Thank you. Glad you liked it. I am aware that bringing ideas into a sphere where they are completely new to that sphere is not going to be well received or understood. I’m glad to get a response from someone.
Your dad knew a great technique! That exploits the most strong bias that humans have related to sound.
And sticking to one level is a technique used by some audio engineers to keep their perception leveled and their hearing safe. It’s a pretty great idea. Some people have even developed their own systems for calibrating listening levels with detailed methodologies for it. It’s easier to do with loudspeakers than headphones. Loudspeakers you use a DB meter and test signals. I would need a dummy head that gets accurate readings to accomplish that on headphones, but I use a fixed gain staging and have learned in a intuitive sense of where I am on my analog control from hours and hours of listening and working with the same setup.
I use one of these with REW software to level match different equipment setups. It’s not very good for measuring absolute FR but I think it’s accurate enough to measure SPL.
That’s a great solution to compare setups and to A/B headphones on the same amplifier that has a digital volume control!
A great tool in the toolbox for more objective listening comparisons.
That’s what I like to see!