Long a well-reputed maker of microphones, Australian company RØDE has jumped into the crowded, but red-hot headphones market with both feet. The NTH-100 'phones are closed-back and designed for efficient operation with a 32 ohm impedance rating (meaning it doesn't take much to drive them, and even a phone or iPod can run them too loud for comfort). They are lightweight, and RØDE has done something new and different here: The headphones include CoolTech™ gel in the memory foam earpad cushions – now that is a cool (pun intended) innovation! I wore these 'phones for hours, indoors and outdoors, and made a point to wear them while relaxing on the deck on a hot afternoon. The cooling gel strongly discourages the area around the ear from overheating and getting clammy. I wish this type of earpad were on my cheapo Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones that I wear while mowing the lawn! Bottom line – this feature is innovative and a home run! In a climate-controlled studio, your ears won't sweat.

Diving deeper into the feature set, RØDE describes the ear speakers like this: "A custom voice coil with a four-layer ultra-high-tension aluminum alloy at its core, which is coupled to an ultra-stiff triple-layer Mylar® diaphragm, with a rare-earth neodymium magnet and innovative phase plug inspired by the award-winning NTG5 microphone." In other words, a new look at a relatively small-sized and lightweight dynamic driver system. Their stated goal is "accurate frequency and phase response across the whole audible spectrum."

These headphones are marketed to audio professionals for all-day wearing in busy production environments. As such, they feature a locking audio cable assembly, which (uniquely?) connects to the left or right side (so handy!). A straight-wire cable is included in the package. The end connector is the now almost universal 1/4-inch screwed to 1/8-inch design. In my experience, the cable rubbing against clothes or surfaces transmits sound to the earcup it's connected to, but not as loudly as some 'phones I've tested. The isolation provided by the foam pads is good, but not disorienting. When wearing the NTH-100s, my ears and brain felt like I was in a highly deadened control room, as opposed to an anechoic chamber or a noise-canceled environment. That's how closed-back designs are supposed to feel, however, these RØDE 'phones fit my head a bit tighter, but not in an uncomfortable way. In fact, getting the earcups in place, then adjusting the band is quick and easy, and the fit is reliable no matter how I move my head or move around in the studio.

Sound-wise, the NTH-100s had more low end than my go-to Neumann NDH 20 closed-back headphones [Tape Op #132] and required less power to drive them to similar volume levels. I think I'd want to "reality check" the low end on a production done with the RØDEs, and make sure I don't go too light in case the headphones were giving me too much. As far as listening to music for enjoyment, the bottom end works well, and they are not grotesquely boomy like a certain popular consumer brand owned by a major cellphone and computer maker. I think a user can figure out how not to underdo the bass quickly with some comparisons to speakers (make sure the low end sounds full enough in the room).

I listened to a variety of music with the NTH-100s and enjoyed all of it, plus I used them while making a batch of vinyl-to-digital transfers. These headphones sure told me about all the rumble and hum baked into a lot of old records! That wasn't a bad thing, by the way; it was useful info told through sound and confirmed by my spectrum display.

One final cool thing to report about these 'phones: They are entirely manufactured in Australia. RØDE set up a new automated assembly system in their factory near Sydney. They are a creative statement from a company known to do things differently and do those things well. Plus, the price is very sweet. Check 'em out; they're impressive!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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