Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Røde – the company may be a big deal in the world of pro audio, but the NTH-100 are both its first pair of headphones and its first attempt to engage with the consumer audio market. So unless you have an interest in the world of recording studio mics and what-have-you, this Australian brand will be new to you.
The pro audio world is competitive enough, of course, but the consumer-facing equivalent is absolutely cut-throat. And Røde doesn’t seem to have given itself the biggest chance of making waves by making its first product a pair of wired headphones – if there’s a consumer audio category that’s currently less fashionable, we’d like to hear about it. But who knows? Maybe Røde NTH-100 are high-achieving enough to lure us back in time.
The Røde NTH-100 are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom they go for £149 a pair. In the United States they’re $149, and in the company’s native Australia they’re an even more reasonable AU$249.
You don’t need us to tell you there’s an awful lot of choice where over-ear headphones at this sort of money are concerned, of course. But wired headphones are harder to come by – and wired headphones that claim to be equally at home in the studio as in the lounge are harder still. Is it a good thing that Røde has such little competition? Or does it suggest a flaw in the NTH-100 concept?
There’s a school of thought that says the design of over-ear headphones achieved perfection almost immediately, and anyone who tries to mess with the rulebook is doomed to failure. It’s difficult to argue against – and it’s certainly apparent that Røde sees no reason to fiddle with a winning formula. So the NTH-100 look exactly as you’d expect a pair of (reasonably) affordable over-ear headphones to look.
A combination of plastic and metal, with Alcantara fabric at the contact points, makes for a purposeful look. The big, stylised ‘Ø’ on each slightly triangular earcup manages to be both bold and understated at the same time – the company’s customary gold dot is about as close to a design ‘flourish’ as the NTH-100 get. Unless you want to spend a little more by switching up the colour of your cable.
The Røde weigh in at a significant 350g. But the company has paid a lot of attention to the headband and hanger arrangement, and the clamping force is very nicely judged, so the NTH-100 don’t really feel their weight and stay comfortable for even long listening sessions. In fact, they might stay comfortable forever – but the ‘CoolTech’ gel that’s integrated into the memory foam earcups only stays cool up to a point. Long before the frame of these headphones has become any kind of burden, the earpads will return your own body heat to you – with interest.
We’ve all become accustomed to there being a long list of features attached to a pair of over-ear headphones, because we’ve all become used to wireless headphones. So it’s initially just a little surprising to see how short the features list of a wired product like this is. ‘Purity of purpose’ is probably the most charitable way to describe it.
Fundamentally, the NTH-100 are a way to suspend a pair of 40mm full-range dynamic drivers over your ears. Røde claims they have a frequency response of 5Hz - 35kHz, and if those numbers are anywhere near accurate then they’re more than adequate.
Drivers 40mm dynamic drivers
Claimed frequency response 5Hz - 35kHz
Cable 2.4m cable supplied
Dimensions (hwd) 188 x 190 x 80mm
Otherwise, genuine ‘features’ are pretty thin on the ground. The NTH-100 are supplied with a 2.4m length of cable, with a 3.5mm jack at one end and a ‘twist-to-lock’ plug at the other. The generous length of the cable indicates Røde wants to make things as convenient as possible for pro users, and the fact the cable can plug into either earcup confirms it. The knowledge that a 1.2m cable is a cost option is disappointing, no two ways about it.
The NTH-100 also have Røde’s ‘FitLock’ system, though, and it’s an authentic feature that’s genuinely worth mentioning. The company has fitted a little ‘twist/lock’ control on either side of the headband so, when you’ve got the headband adjustment exactly as you like it, it can be locked in position. The simplest ideas are often the best, and they seem better still when there are no other features competing for attention.
Headphones are for one of two things: they’re either for the purposes of casual entertainment, or they’re for critical, businesslike purposes like monitoring or mixing. It’s unusual to find a pair of headphones that are able to fulfil both roles adequately, and it’s even rarer at the sort of money Røde is asking for the NTH-100.
Wired to a half-decent USB DAC and taking receipt of a 24bit/96kHz file of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, the Røde waste no time in establishing their unarguable strengths and subjective weaknesses. They’re an almost fanatically insightful and revealing listen, happy to dish all the details no matter how minor and/or fleeting. They’re a balanced and poised listen, and not exactly analytical for the sake of it – but they’ll describe the whole picture for you.
Tonally, they’re on the neutral and naturalistic side. What bass there is in this recording is respectably deep, yes, but it’s swift and well-controlled too – attack and decay of individual sounds are really well observed, and as a consequence, the NTH-100 are a rapid and (in the right circumstances) punchy listen. It also means they muster very decent rhythmic expression, too.
At the opposite end of the frequency range, they’re similarly detail-heavy and similarly articulate. There’s substance to treble sounds here, but it’s not the sort of weight that can bog a recording down – instead there’s crispness, attack and real conviction in the upper register. Even when listening at significant volumes, you can be sure that any treble hardness is present in the recording you’re listening to – the NTH-100 do not attempt to dress up a recording any more than they attempt to dumb it down.
The midrange, though, is the star of the show. Even the most slight variations in tone or timbre are picked up on, even momentary shifts in harmonic detail are identified – so without being in any way dispassionate, the Røde are as informative as a 24-hour rolling news channel. Drake’s voice during this recording is quiet and without affectation, and sounds very much like the mic is very close indeed to his mouth – and subsequently the NTH-100 describe his singing with all the intimacy and immediacy it demands.
Add in considerable dynamic headroom, a big and solidly constructed soundstage and an overarching impression of ‘control’, and it should become apparent the Røde NTH-100 are deeply capable headphones. If you want to know the minutiae of the differences between ‘mix A’ and ‘mix B’, or if you just want to hear your favourite recordings in a cleanly explicit manner, they’re just the job. The likes of Austrian Audio’s Hi-X50 have a slightly more analytical feel about their presentation, but don’t quite exhibit the same sense of energy or drive.
There are expectations when it comes to headphones costing this sort of money, doubly so when the headphones in question are wired. But it’s safe to say the Røde NTH-100 outperform those expectations comfortably – if you can live with a long cable (and, eventually, warm ears), they’re outstanding value.
- Sound 5
- Features 3
- Build 4
Read our review of the Austrian Audio Hi-X50
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