Rode NTH-100 Headphones Review

Rode NTH-100 Studio Headphones

It’s not really my thing to write reviews of stuff, but my recent experience with Rode’s NTH-100 headphones has inspired me to review them.


You can skip this section.  Why?  To my ears, all headphones sound different – and the same headphones sound different to different people’s ears.  So there’s no point me telling how they sound – you need to try them for yourself.

Secondly, if like me you wear headphones all day long, your ears become ‘used to’ the sound of your usual cans – and a different pair will sound ‘wrong’ until your ears have adjusted.  I migrated to the NTH-100s from the (open back) AKG K702s – and boy, was that an adjustment.

Thirdly, what I do is record, edit and produce spoken word.  So my opinions on the sound of the NTH-100s are only really useful to other people who work the same way.

All that being said, I do obviously listen to music – and still occasionally record and mix music.  Whenever I get a new pair of headphones, whenever I get new monitors, whenever I work in a new room, I always play the same piece of music to start with – so I have a consistent starting point for comparison.

For some years, that piece has been Tomorrow’s Blues by Colosseum, in my view the best track on the best album of Colosseum’s ‘reunion’ era.  My dear friend and mentor, the late Jon Hiseman, mixed and mastered this album and it exemplifies his ‘back-to-front’ (as opposed to ‘side-to-side’) and ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ production style.

And on the NTH-100s, I can hear it all.  Mark Clarke’s bass guitar opening sounds just as clear and rounded as it did the first time I heard it in the control room at Temple Music.  Jon’s cowbell is positioned right where it should be, and the offset shimmer of Dave Greenslade’s Hammond C3 sounds just as it should.

The NTH-100s are able to go stupidly loud without distorting or losing the clear three dimensional staging that was Jon’s trademark.

In short, the sound is quite exceptional – detailed, precise, spacious and non-fatiguing.  Given these are closed-back cans, it’s extraordinary,  Given these are closed-back cans costing less than £140, it’s jaw-dropping.

But that’s just my opinion (and that of many other reviewers).  Your mileage may vary.


Left/Right identification on Rode NTH-100 asymmetrical headphone cup
Left/Right identification on Rode NTH-100 asymmetrical headphone cup

The NTH-100s are promoted as having great isolation and being suited to use by artists recording as well as engineers.  To be able find a home on a busy studio floor, headphones need to be pretty rugged, pretty maintainable, and pretty quick to adjust.  I have a few reservations about these qualities, that I’ll get into presently.

The Rode NTH-100s are closed-back, over-ear headphones.  According to Rode, their “incredibly accurate frequency response and ultra-low distortion” make them suitable for both recording and mixing – both sides of the glass, as it were.  They offer several features which benefit long-format work such as audiobook creation – namely in the ear cushions and the headband adjustment.

The ear cushions contain Rode’s proprietary “CoolTech” gel and are covered with Alcantara.  The proprietary filling is intended to stop your ears getting hot and sweaty while providing a sort-of memory foam fit which minimises fatigue.

I can attest to this.  I find them extremely comfortable (and light – 350 grams according to Rode), and I have several times attempted to walk out of the control room with them still on, only to be yanked back by the cable – because I’ve forgotten I’m wearing them.

The quoted 20dBA isolation seems to be believable – they do block out ambient noise well, which would suit them to being used close to microphones.  This seems to be due to the memory foam-like action of the cushions, combined with a relatively tight grip on you head.  I actually thought at first that the tight grip would be fatiguing, but it turns out it’s not.

The ear-cups are asymmetrical.   The headphones won’t fit the wrong way round.  To help you get it right first time, the headphones have a large ‘L’ and ‘R’ printed on the inside of the ear-cups.  Nice.  This is doubly important because of another unique feature – the detachable cable can be fitted on either side depending on what’s convenient for you.

The adjustment system is also unique.  Unlike most headphones which adjust just by pulling them apart against some sort of friction, the Rode NTH-100s have a twist-lock system.  Turn the tabs one way, and the ear-cups slide freely up and down the headband.  Turn the tabs the other way, and the ear-cups lock firmly in position.

Now for me, this is great.  I set them up when I got them out of the box and haven’t touched them since.  Every morning when I put them on, they’re still exactly right for my head.

But… I’m not sure how efficient or robust this feature would be when the cans are being used by lots of different people from day to day – as on a busy studio floor.  The locking tabs aren’t that easy to set while trying to hold the cans in the optimal position for one thing; and anyone not familiar with this unique system will just tug like mad trying to adjust them.

Despite this reservation, I have to say the NTH-100s do look and feel really well made and engineered.

The relatively low impedance of 32 ohms makes these headphones easy to drive, and they’re also pretty efficient.  Even plugged into a mobile phone, they are quite capable of hurting your ears.  The frequency range of the 40mm drivers is quoted as 5Hz – 35Khz – but then, they all say that…


The headphones are supplied in Rode’s usual lovely packaging, and include a 2.4 metre anti-kink (i.e. rubbery) black cable terminating in a stereo mini-jack with a screw-on quarter inch adapter.  The cable is actually mini-jack at both ends; the end that plugs into the cans however, has a twist-lock function as part of the moulding.

This twist-lock concept is much cheaper to manufacture than the mini-XLR plug found on some cans, and quicker to change than the “find a tiny screwdriver” system on the Beyer DTs but it remains to be seen how robust it will be after a few years of plugging and unplugging given that Rode expects you to plug and unplug the cable on a regular basis.

Part of the design is that the twist lock will give way before the socket does.  This should mean that, the event of that chair-leg, foot or sax bell tangling event you might need a new cable – but the cans will survive.

Green identifying ring fitted to cable
Green identifying ring fitted to cable

Also included is a set of four pairs of clip-on rings that can be fitted to either end of the cable (five, if you include the black ones that are attached to the cable as supplied).  These are green, blue, orange, and a rather fetching pink.  The idea is to allow easy identification of ‘your’ cans when confronted with a crowded headphone distribution amplifier.

Coloured identifying rings on Rode NTH-100 headphones cable
Coloured identifying rings on Rode NTH-100 headphones cable

As well as these rings which are provided in-box, Rode offers replacement cables in each of these colours.  So you can actually have a pink headphone cable if you really want to stand out in the booth.

The final accessory provided with the headphones is a completely pointless “storage pouch” drawstring bag made of thin material that would provide no protection at all, other than from dust.

Headset Microphone Option

I wondered at the time why the connection type was quoted as ‘TRRS’ on Rode’s website.  The answer has since been revealed, in the optional NTH-Mic. This attaches to the unused cable port (again, you can choose which side), comes with a TRRS cable with a Y-split, and turns the NTH-100 into a broadcast-grade headset.  Again, nice.  You can also order the headphones and mic together, as the NTH-100M.

Blanking plug
Blanking plug

One accessory which is not provided either in-box or as an option is a spare for the tiny rubber bung you have to fit to the side that doesn’t have the cable attached.  This serves to block the empty socket and prevent the headphones from sounding unbalanced.   This has to be removed of course, to fit the NTH-Mic.

To my mind – and again looking at it from a busy studio floor perspective – it is only a matter of time before this gets lost.

In Use

I really like my NTH-100s, and at the price I consider them a bargain.  As I’m the only person allowed to wear them and as they never move from the top of the sidecar beside my desk, I’d expect them to last forever.  But this was not to be.

Six months or so after I started using them, they broke.  And where they broke is the fiddly locking mechanism.  Studying the way they’re put together there’s a weak spot in the moulded plastic which can be put under strain by twisting the ear-cups – as you would if you pulled the cans off using one hand.  Which is what I did, in the middle of a multi-day recording session.

Rode offers a ‘lifetime’ warranty on the NTH-100s, and the service I received from Rode and their UK service people was really fast and efficient.  It’s becoming rare to see old-school “pro” support in the recording business but I certainly got that from Rode.  Thank you!

But here’s the thing.  The locking system design might just be a bit too clever for its own good.  Unless I simply had a ‘bad’ unit (and that’s perfectly possible of course), I suspect the NTH-100s would have trouble surviving a life of being constantly adjusted, pulled on and off, knocked off music stands, dropped-kicked by people getting the cable tangled round their ankle, and all the other mishaps that happen day-in, day-out in live rooms.  The old AKG K270s and Beyer DT100s we used at Temple Music used to take tremendous abuse without failing and were in use for decades in some cases.  I wonder if the NTH-100s could match that.

This is where my first pair of NTH-100s broke
This is where my first pair of NTH-100s broke

In Summary

But I’d much sooner be wearing the Rode NTH-100s than AKG K270s, any day. Or my AKG K702s for that matter.  They are the first closed-back headphones I’ve used that I really feel I can track, edit and mix on.   They’re comfortable and feel light and unrestricting, they sound fantastic, and they’re excellent value at around £130 in the UK.

Rode has thought outside the box and produced a genuinely different product.  Whether the NTH-100 is a major contribution to the world of headphones as some reviews have suggested, or just another option in a crowded market is up to you – they are definitely worth checking out.



Punch And Roll – What is it?

Cue Lights for Punch and Roll recording

Punch And Roll Recording – What is It?

At Landen Park Studio, we record spoken word (audiobooks, voiceover etc.) using a technique called Punch And Roll recording – often just called Punch-In.

Punch-in is a familiar technique for musicians, who’ve been working this way since the dawn of the multitrack tape era.  But if you haven’t worked in a studio before, you might wonder what it’s all about.

What’s Punch-In?

Punch-in is one of those things that’s a lot harder to describe than to do!  Essentially, it’s just the process of jumping from playback to record without stopping.

Imagine narrating the following:

Since my first introduction to recording studios, I’ve been an admirer of punch-and-roll.  It makes things so much quicker and easier.

Now, suppose you read the first sentence perfectly, but fluff the second one.  The engineer will ‘roll back’ to the beginning of the previous sentence – “Since…” – play the sentence back to you, and then instantaneously switch to recording just after the word “roll“.  You then re-read the second sentence… and on we go.

Experienced narrators are so used to this that we can work this way without even talking about it.  We both just instinctively know where we’re going to drop in.  Also, some narrators are so good they can ‘drop in’ mid-sentence – after the word “studios” in the example above.

Punch-In with DAWs

Now, here’s where the magic comes in – and this is something even experienced narrators often fail to grasp.  Back in the days of tape, the punch-in point had to be perfect.  With tape, you are destroying whatever was recorded beforehand.

But with a DAW such as Pro Tools (the software we use at Landen Park Studio), nothing is ever deleted.  So, if we punch a little too early in the example above and just ‘nick’ the end of the word “roll“, it doesn’t matter.  We simply ‘drag out’ the clipped-off bit during editing.

Also, since the original take of the second sentence is still there, we can ‘drag out’ parts of it – even individual consonants – and combine that with the second take.  Again, we do this during editing.

The really mind-blowing thing about punching in with Pro Tools is that it’s actually always recording.  This means that if you start to speak just before the punch in point, even that audio is available just by dragging.

Discipline is Key

Of course, all this doesn’t mean you should just throw caution to the wind and start talking whenever you feel like it!  At the very least, this makes the editing job much more time-consuming (and it’s annoying!).  Also, the director will want to hear a ‘clean take’ as it goes along – to know if something is right, or needs re-doing.

To help you time your punch-in, there are cue lights in the studio, positioned to be in your peripheral vision while you’re working,  The amber light goes on when playback starts, switching to a red light as we drop in to record.  These lights are automatic, controlled by the Pro Tools software itself.

Improved record status indicators

Punch-and-roll record status indicators at Landen Park Studio

Record Status

Recording “punch and roll”, or “punch-in”, the artist needs a visual cue for when you drop into record from play.  These are the punch-and-roll record status indicators.

The Core Tech

The only manufacturer integrating with Pro Tools is Punchlight, who have a range of products for automated status indication.

Since the studio opened, we’ve been using the “Punchlight USB RGB” – a self-contained multi-colour indicator connecting directly via USB.  This has not been reliable… the device just doesn’t like working a long way from the computer, even using the most expensive active USB extenders available.

So I decided to change to the “Punchlight  Relay Switchbox“, which offers two programmable SPCO relays, and build my own lamp unit.  I used this model at Temple Music to control an existing single lamp mounted over the studio door.  In that case, I programmed it to flash when Pro Tools is record-armed, be on when in record, and off otherwise.


 It’s a good courtesy to have an indication of record-armed status – so the artist knows there’s a ‘hot mic’ and whatever they say can be heard in the control room.   At Landen Park however, all our work tends to be punch-in – so I decided showing Play and Record were most important, and the ‘hot mic’ issue could be dealt with manually by switching the indicator’s power feed on and off from the control room.

I had space in the headphone distribution box, so I fitted the indicators into a 1U rack strip.  The socket you can see on the left is for a repeater unit – which will be a tiny box that can be clipped to the side of a music stand.  (I’ll be building that soon.)

The Punchlight unit itself is next to the computer of course, so I had to run a four-core cable into the studio to run the unit.  The Punchlight configuration looks like this:

and relay 1 switches between the ‘stop’ light and relay 2 – with relay 2 switching between the ‘play’ and ‘record’ lights.  The whole thing runs on a 12V DC power supply nicked from a hard drive enclosure.  Here are the punch-and-roll record status indicators in action:

Nothing’s That Simple

Finally, you may be wondering what the level controls are and yes, they are brightness controls.  Extremely indulgent I know – but there’s a story behind that…

I ordered the indicators from RS originally.  They supplied the wrong thing, and apologised for a stock-numbering mix-up.  Then said they didn’t have what I wanted in stock.  So I went to Farnell… and had almost the same experience.  I ended up with three LED indicators that didn’t match cosmetically – or more importantly, in luminosity.  So I had to put voltage regulators in to get the brightness to match!  Actually, it’s a useful feature because sometimes you need them brighter and sometimes dimmer.

The key thing is the lights have to be in the artist’s peripheral vision, noticeable but not so bright as to be distracting.  As it is, the amber ‘Play’ light is much brighter than the other two.

The main thing is it works and it’s reliable.  Another job I can tick off in the maintenance book.

Focusrite ISA 430 Mk.II Meter Replacement

 There are always little maintenance jobs waiting to be done in a studio.  One I had been meaning to get round to was replacing the VU meter in the mighty Focusrite ISA 430 Mk II Producer Pack mic pre.

What was wrong with it?  The bulb had gone.  

Cyril Jones, the founder of Raindirk and one of the great British audio designers, once told me that he used to tell his clients never to turn their desks off.  He reckoned that the only time components were stressed were during power-on, when that initial surge of current hit cold components.  Once powered up, he would say, the thing would go on working forever.

He had a point.  I do try to leave my analogue equipment on, turning it off only when I know I won’t be using it for some time.  But I got into a situation with the Focusrite; I was fooling with different grounding arrangements for the mains and measuring the effect on noise floor, so I was turning the thing on and off repeatedly.  And inevitably, the bulb went.  An incandescent bulb is an obvious case-in-point for Cyril’s advice.  At the instant of turn-on, a high current momentarily surges through the bulb as it warms up and its resistance increases.

Other people to whom this has happened have moaned extensively that you can’t apparently replace the bulb in this type of meter.  You have to replace the whole meter.  Actually, it’s probably possible to replace the bulb (even with an LED).  I’ll be experimenting on the old meter when I get a chance.  I’ll tell you how I get on.

Obtaining The New Meter

Folks I’ve read about who found themselves in this position seem to tell stories of ‘finding’ a meter on eBay, or from such-and-such a supplier.  Before you go down this route, and especially if you’re in the UK, you should reach out to Focusrite’s service department.  After all, this is professional gear, not domestic or pro-sumer, and accordingly is intended to be maintained.

Focusrite supplied me with a brand new meter, with the all-important ff logo.  The cost was £28.08 including VAT and shipping.   At that price, why would you go anywhere else?

Fitting The New Meter

After removing the 10 screws to withdraw the lid, the meter is revealed, held in place only by two metal brackets which are bent into place:

rear view of meter

(Take care lifting the lid; there is an earth strap running from the underside of the lid to main chassis.)

You can straighten the brackets easily with needle nose pliers, and the meter then simply drops out.  The four connecting wires terminate in a connector at the extreme end of the main PCB, so you can remove the meter completely to do your soldering:

view of meter connection point

Then, it’s simply a case of transferring the four wires from the old meter to the new one.  Make sure you don’t mix up any of the connections, then pop the new meter in.  The metal brackets can be gently re-bent to hold the meter snugly.  The whole exercise takes about 20 minutes.

Power Supply Connections

While I was in there, I looked at another problem that the 430s ( Mk I and Mk 2) can suffer.  The main connection from the transformer to the PSU board is via a Molex connector.  Now these, as anyone who’s had the privilege of maintaining an MCI multitrack machine knows, can be troublesome.  People report burn marks on and around the connector where the molex is no longer making a good connection.

The oft-quoted ‘solution’ is to discard the connector and solder the wires directly to the board.

In my case, there was a barely-discernible discolouring of the plastic which you can see in this picture:

Power connector

I decided this was acceptable.  I cleaned the connector contacts and applied a little contact lubricant before putting it back together.  I’ll make a note to look at it again in six months to see if it’s got any worse.

Finally, I noticed the mounting bolt for the toroidal transformer had worked a little loose, so I tightened it.  This is well worth checking whenever you’ve got a piece of gear like this open for inspection.

Remote Support at Landen Park Studio

We offer two types of remote support at Landen Park Studio, which we’ll discuss in turn here.  We’ll also show the pros and cons of each method.  The two methods we provide are Phone-In, and Internet Connection.


We use a Sonifex SY03 TBU (Telephone Balancing Unit).  The SY03 and its predecessor the SY02 are almost a de-facto standard, with thousands of units installed in broadcast and post-production facilities.  So, what’s a TBU?

If you’ve ever phoned in to a radio programme, you’ve heard a TBU in action.  Put simply, it’s a device that attaches to a phone line and converts the incoming and outgoing audio to balanced signals that connect to the mixing desk.  An incoming call is answered using a handset in the usual way and then, with the press of a button, the audio is re-routed into the studio’s system.

It’s a bit more than just a glorified telephone of course; the public phone network works with two-wire connections and uses DC voltages for signalling. You can’t just plug that into a studio desk – and even if you could, it wouldn’t be allowed by BT.  The TBU does the conversion while simultaneously protecting the phone line and your mixing desk from each other.

What are the benefits of using the TBU?

    • The TBU allows a director/producer to join a recording session simply by phoning the studio.  It’s a tried and tested technique and directors with a broadcast background in particular will be completely familiar with it.
    • It’s ‘portable’ and fool-proof.  The director can access the session from anywhere where’s there’s a phone – including mobiles – anywhere in the world.
    • Set-up is quick, and no special software or hardware is required.  This is ideal for short-form recording – e.g. voiceover – where a spontaneous decision can be made to ‘bring in’ a director to check the recording.

What are the disadvantages of using the TBU?

    • It’s only really suitable for remote direction.  Line quality prevents its use for recording, and the slight latency in these systems makes it difficult to use for read-ins.
    • Line quality issues can also make it harder for the director to hear details in the recording.  This isn’t a major issue since the local director/engineer will be taking care of ensuring the recording sounds good.
    • It’s not really suitable for long-form recording – e.g. audiobooks – because, firstly the phone network (and particularly the mobile phone network) will tend the ‘lose the connection’ especially for calls lasting longer than an hour.  Secondly, it can get expensive, particularly when calling from a mobile.  Many ‘free calls’ plans only apply to calls lasting less than an hour.

Internet Connection

There are a number of internet-based solutions available.  One is CleanFeed Pro.  So, how does this work?

You can think of CleanFeed as being like Zoom.  One party sets up a session, and then the other parties access that session through the CleanFeed website.  The ‘host’ – that’s the studio in this case – can include multiple remote parties in the session.  These could include a director, a read-in actor, or the session talent, working remotely.   Audio quality is very good – equivalent to mp3.

There’s also Zoom of course.  Zoom is only really suitable for remote direction –  not remote narration – and there can be greater latency with Zoom than CleanFeed.  On the other hand, Zoom allows a video connection – so a remote producer can see the talent as well as hearing them.  The benefits and disadvantages of Zoom are otherwise the same as CleanFeed.

What are the benefits of using CleanFeed?

    • Unlike the TBU method, using CleanFeed also allows the director to be local while the talent is remote.  Obviously this requires that the remote end is simultaneously recording a full-bandwidth version of the audio – but Cleanfeed  will ‘record’ the session in up to mp3 quality as well as passing the audio. 
    • Because CleanFeed supports multiple connections, it’s possible, for example, to have an actor recording dialogue here at the studio being fed lines by one or more read-in actors remotely and even being directed remotely if necessary.
    • CleanFeed is fairly resistant to drop-outs, assuming good internet connections at both ends.  It’s reasonable to expect connections to stay up all day if required and of course there’s no direct cost associated with the time connected.

What are the disadvantages of using CleanFeed?

    • Obviously, it’s more complex to set up than TBU.  At the time of writing CleanFeed is only supported on Google Chrome browsers so all participants will need to be using a computer running Chrome and have some basic understanding of audio setup.
    • In its current form, CleanFeed only “recognises” the computer’s built-in input and output (this is a limitation of Chrome, we’re told).  You can use an external audio interface but only one (stereo) input and output will be recognised.  This is mainly an issue at the studio end; “input 1” and “output 1” are unlikely to be free for CleanFeed to use so we get round this by hosting CleanFeed on a separate computer with it’s own audio interface, patched into the main system.
    • Because CleanFeed only uses one input and out channel, there’s no way at the studio end to ‘split out’ multiple participants.  This means that if you have, say, a remote director and a remote read-in actor, they will both appear on the same channel and be heard by everyone else at the same level.
    • As already mentioned, CleanFeed transfers and optionally records audio at near-mp3 quality.  In some cases this may be sufficient but generally full-bandwidth uncompressed WAV files need to be recorded.  If the talent is remote, they will have to be recording their audio locally, simultaneously.   This is a key limitation; if someone is here at the studio directing talent who is recording remotely, the director is hearing the CleanFeed ‘feed’, not the actual recording.  So if the remote recording is full of plosives and breathing issues for instance, the director might not be aware of this.

Digitise your cassettes? Oh all right then

People keep asking me to digitise their old DATs and cassettes into CDs, and I keep saying no.  It’s not because I don’t have the means – it’s just that there are so many outfits already offering to digitise LPs, cassettes, VHS tapes and so forth, and prices are ridiculously low – so low it just isn’t worth the effort.

And it’s not like this work is new to me – I spent several years digitising Jon Hiseman’s tape archive over at Temple Music, working with 2 inch 24-track, 1/4 inch half-track, DAT, cassette, DDS, you name it.  Even a rare Audio & Design modified Sony PCM-F1 system.

And I worked with Jon when he created the CD-R versions of several classic Barbara Thompson/Paraphernalia albums that had previously only been released on vinyl (by playing in up to six unused LPs for each album and amalgamating them to produce the ‘perfect’ transfer).

I also produced the digital master for Art Of Life Records’ CD release of the Peter Lemer album Jet Yellow, from the original (and somewhat dilapidated) 1/4 inch analogue masters, which had to be baked twice and have all their leaders and splices replaced.

The transfers I did for Jon and Peter were scrupulous, painstaking – pedantic, even – exercises in preserving historic recordings for posterity, squeezing the absolute most out of the material and the equipment.  Seeing people offering to transfer from analogue to digital for twenty quid “including return postage” seems faintly ridiculous in comparison.

But… just because I can’t do it cheap, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it at all.  I can, after all, do it well.  I suppose I should stop saying no.

I might even plug up my turntable… maybe not…

Home booths – The Pendulum Swings Back?

Audiobook publishers have been courting narrators with their own home recording facilities for some time.  The reason is obvious – it’s cheaper.  Even paying the reader a ‘premium’ for using their own booth still saves money compared with hiring a real studio with an engineer/producer at the helm.

Home booth productions can also have tighter deadlines, because narrators will sit up all night in their cupboard under the stairs, attic or converted study to get the work done.

But there are signs that the tide is turning.  Publishers are seeing negative comments being left by reviewers on audible and other sites about background noise, intelligibility and ‘tone’.  Editors are complaining about having to spend more time than they can afford ‘fixing up’ problems with the recording.  And we’re seeing proof-readers actually turning down work from self-read authors.

And we’ve noticed that the big operators we work with are going back to being a lot more picky about audio quality than they’ve been of late.

Of course, not all “home booths” are the same.  Well-known long-standing ‘high end’ professional narrators sometimes install pro-quality facilities at home and benefit from the convenience and extra revenue this gives them.  But these are the exception.

Audiobook production isn’t the same as podcasting, for example, and sticking a USB microphone on the dining table is increasingly being seen as not good enough.  Furthermore, working solo is much harder than it might seem – and being guided by an experienced professional engineer/producer is more than worth the extra production cost.