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Finally! A Headset with a Pro Microphone
A review of the fantastic Rode NTH-100M headphones.
Back in March, I wanted to get back into the game of writing articles and reviews about the media production industry. While mulling over the idea, wearing a crusty, 10-year-old pair of Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros, I stumbled on an announcement by the audio company Rode for a new headset, the NTH-100M. I knew I needed a new pair of headphones (... Sorry to everyone who had to wear those Beyerdynamics on jobs with me...) and I wanted to do a write-up on them. Is the audio any good? How is that microphone? And, here we are.
Disclosure: This review is not sponsored by Rode and I had no communication from the company. I purchased the headset myself. These are my thoughts.
When I first read that announcement, I thought, "It's about time an audio company release a headset with a broadcast grade microphone." It boggles my mind that it took this long for audio companies to realize they could stick one of their lavaliere mics onto a headset and make a profit. When I think of headsets, I think of universally bad microphone quality, and I know because I've tried quite a few in the process of making a podcast and running a production company.
But does this headset live up to the "broadcast grade quality" on the packaging? And how about durability?
In the Box
Let's start by looking at what you get in the box. You get the headphones inside a Rode-branded bag. You get an 8 foot TRRS cable, a splitter cable, a 3.5mm to 1/4" Adaptor (I'll add that to the drawer), and some color ID bands for accessorizing. Oh, and there is a tiny rubber seal piece that goes into the right headphone socket when the mic is not plugged in. Rode says this balances out the frequency response of the headphones that would be off if the socket were left open to the air. Also, there's dust that'll get in. Good luck not losing that.
With the headphones out of the bag and in my hands, I like the feel of them. They're on the heavy end at 350 grams. The cushions are soft. They're made from a polyester and polyurethane blend called Alcantara. This textile is used on car seats, steering wheels, and actually on the top end Sennheiser HD800s. It's very durable. The headpiece and ear cushions are made of this on the outside and of a trademarked CoolTech gel on the inside.
There's a steel band running through the headset. The rest of it is plastic. The headset does not feel cheap. But, at least on first impressions, it does not feel like it would withstand a drop. The plastic joints, the plastic hinges, and the plastic socket for the TRRS cable all feel like they could fail in some way, an impression that I never had with the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros or the Sony MDR-7506s.
You've also got Braille for left and right and big L and R letters on the insides of the ear cushions. That's great. I don't like it when headsets aren't clear about left and right earpieces. Just make it big and visible.
There is a cable socket on the bottom of each earpiece. The TRRS cable goes into the left socket and the microphone goes into the right socket. They are not interchangeable, despite what Rode's marketing says. Why? The mic arm is one rigid plastic piece shaped to the curve of the right side of your face. While theoretically the mic would work in the left socket, you would either have to contend with a microphone curving away from your face (not great for audio) or wear the headphones backward (not comfortable).
The mic arm has an omnidirectional mic on one end and the bayonet connector on the other. Plugged in, there is some ability to pivot the arm around, but not a lot. Placement is where you want it to avoid plosives. Rode probably planned this to avoid complaints about plosives ruining their podcast interviews. More on that later.
Okay. I have a big head. On every headset I have owned, I have had to prepare for disappointment about sizing. I would unbox the headset, max out the size, and place it on my head. My earlobes would be exposed and get sore after a few hours of use. These Rode headphones? No problem. I still have to max it out using their trademarked Fitloks, but that max size is large enough to be comfortable. The ear cushions aren't the roomiest in the world, but my ears have no problem.
The rotational aspect of the Fitloks is not intuitive. The arrows go both directions. I was afraid of stripping it by going the wrong direction. Looking closer at it, it appears there is some metal inside the plastic housing that contributes to its durability.
Let's fast forward a bit. I've worn this headset for over a month. I have worn it for 10 hour editing sessions and have worn it on set while doing sound. It is the most comfortable headset I have worn. My ears do not hurt. My ears do not get hot. I don't get that soreness on the top of my head from other headsets. For me, they're perfect and I'm happy to keep using these for editing for years to come.
Sound quality is also great. I'm no audiophile, I'm an editor with a need for confidence when doing critical listening. Rode says the headset's 40mm dynamic drivers deliver an "accurate frequency response" with "low distortion." Impedance is 32 Ohms. I can't test headsets, but compared to other headsets I've used, these have high clarity, a large soundstage, and great sound. I'd say they are a bit warmer than the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros that I have been using for a long time.
What else here? Rode quotes a wider than average frequency response of 5 Hz to 35 kHz. Nice. Max sound pressure is 126 decibels. Passive noise attenuation is up to 20 decibels, thanks to the closed back design. If the jargon doesn't make sense, I don't get it either. For my uses, they're comfortable and have a detailed sound perfect for editing and sound recording.
The microphone is no slouch either. I suspect the capsule in here is a repurposed Rode omnidirectional lavaliere mic capsule because the clarity and vibrance is so similar to Rode mics that I have used. Rode's lavaliere microphones in my experience have never been as clear as other brands' mics. But, for a headset, this is fantastic.
I'm recording this entire article with the headset and putting it in the post for your reference, linked below.
I use Auphonic AI for mixing and mastering. Auphonic is not a sponsor, but I recommend them for audio correction work. You can upload single audio tracks or multitrack audio to the platform. Then, Auphonic's AI processes the audio for the best sound for each voice. It works on isolated dialogue, sure. But what's amazing is that you can upload mix down tracks with music, sound effects, and dialogue, and it will process all three independently. It's amazing. I used to spend 3 hours doing this mixing and would get a mediocre result. It now takes 5 minutes. The company is Auphonic. They're pretty neat. I wrote about them in my last article.
Anyway, audio quality out of the mic on the NTH-100M is better than any headset currently out there that I've tried. Until someone puts a Cos11D on a boom arm, this mic is going to be hard to beat.
I am currently producing a podcast for a client and we have been using traditional podcast mics. I was so confident about the quality of this headset's mic that I used two pairs to record an episode on the podcast. I had the host and guest each use an NTH-100M for the session. It was amazing to not have to remind the talent to sit at the correct distance from the mic. Once the headsets were on, the mic was always at the right distance.
Two issues did come up. At the beginning of the recording, the guest had rotated the microphone too close to their mouth. As a result, her recording had plosives. I noticed this and asked her to rotate it away out of her talk space and the plosives went away. So I recommend, if using this for recording, to have your talent place the microphone outside of their talking space. It may also be a good idea to purchase a small windshield for lavaliere mics and perma-mount it on the arm.
Another issue that came up during this recording was the mic's connection to the headset. At the start of the call, I could not hear the guest. She said she had plugged it in. After a few minutes of troubleshooting, we found out the mic bayonet had not been inserted all the way into the socket. The groves in the bayonet allow the mic to "lock in" farther out, making the wearer think they plugged it in. Nope.
Taking a closer look, you can also see another issue. Durability. See how the plastic channels are already chewed up? How is this going to last more than three years?
Durability and Repairability
If I were to fault one thing about this headset, it would be its durability. The bayonet connection on the microphone looks weak, but a new mic can be purchased. However, the socket on the headset is non replaceable. Looking right up at the socket, we can see some tiny plastic pieces that look breakable. If this headset were dropped, would these sockets be the point of failure?
If purchased from an authorized retailer, the headset will come with a one year warranty. Purchasers can extend this to a lifetime warranty by registering the headset at warranty.rode.com. You will only find this info in the fine print. The warranty only covers factory defects. It does not cover damage caused by the user or excessive use in a commercial environment (whatever that means).
The ear cushions and headband are replaceable. You'll need to contact the Rode service center.
Cables are also replaceable. They have that same socket connector, unfortunately. Why can't companies just use magnets for these types of connections, like a Magsafe connector for mic arms?
The headset comes with a lifetime warranty (if you register) and Rode talks heavily of its durability in the marketing. But weird proprietary plastic connectors like these just give me end of life, planned obsolescence vibes.
For use in a studio, I have no concerns about the durability. They'll be sitting in a dark room next to a keyboard for years and years. The biggest test for them will be head sweat and luckily enough Rode's got that covered with replaceable cushions.
Travel and use in the field is where durability is more of a question. Twice daily, on the morning commute, I unplug and replug the microphone and TRRS cable. None of these components fit assembled inside the included bag, so you have to break it down before traveling.
Those FitLoks are a hassle to adjust every time I want to head to the office. I have taken to at most unplugging the cables and mic and tossing the headset into my backpack. I don't use the rubber seal when the mic is not in. It's lazy, but hey I'm a user of this headset and I'm sure Rode came across this behavior in their testing phase. Give it a few months and we'll probably see a hard case specifically for this. I've got my fingers crossed that it will contain it at its fully-extended position.
I took these on the plane, too. The 20 decibels of passive noise attenuation did make a small difference. Planes are loud. If you are doing a lot of travel, I wouldn't use these for your listening. Active noise cancelling headphones are great for that.
In the field, I bet these will last as long as the sound recordist feels comfortable resting them on the handle of a C stand. At some point, they'll fall. Unlike the ubiquitous Sony MDR-7506s, I picture these landing with a harsh crack. Keep them on your neck or in your sound bag.
Over the course of recording footage of these headphones, I kept dropping them. They fell off the C stand, off the table, onto carpet, onto wood flooring. Every time, they withstood the impact. There are no loose parts rattling around. I don't know how the headset will fair if landing on concrete, but with the handful of hard drops that left me cringing like when my phone flies out of my hand and lands perfectly flat on the floor, screen down, the headset was fine.
I'm also a little perturbed by the cable texture. Rode went with a smooth, grippy cable material. I can't say that it is as durable as the shiny plastic cables of other headsets. This feeling my be because, at first glance, this cable would not pass the cat test. I had a cable made of a similar material that was chewed through in seconds. My other cables have chew marks, but are not in pieces in the bottom of a plastic container labeled "film stuff" (I have several of those containers, don't you?).
Texture aside, the integrated strain relief on the cable is nice. You can also always buy the cable in blue, orange, green, and pink and in 4 feet and 8 feet lengths if you've got a preference or if your cat does.
So where does this leave us? The NTH-100Ms are comfortable and have great sound quality. The included microphone is the best out there for a headset mic. I will continue to ship out this headset to podcast guests in place of a podcast microphone kit. The balance of convenience and audio quality is that good.
I don't know how long the cabling on these headphones will last. For $189, I expected a better quality locking connection. A cable or cushion can be replaced, but as soon as the sockets on the headset wear out, you're stuck with another job for gaff tape.
Would I buy these again? Yes, 100%. They are the best and only headset out there right now offering comfort, audio quality, and microphone quality in one complete package.
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