Current testing methodology is v1.2
March 24, 2022
Studio headphones aren’t a category of the market that gets a lot of movement.
When you’re out looking for the best studio headphones, what usually gets recommended are surprisingly old headphone designs. For example, the ATH-M50 originally came out in 2007 while the CD900ST is from 1995, and the Sennheiser HD 25 goes back to 1988.
Now, there’s nothing wrong or bad about using a headphone that has more than stood the test of time. I do, however, believe that sticking with the tried and true does mean you lose out on fresh ideas and features that are common on newer headphones.
Take, for instance, the Rode NTH-100. Dropped in 2022, it’s the microphone maker’s first headphone and part of a larger push to appeal to the content creator crowd — streamers, podcasters, YouTubers, that sort of thing.
It’s a brand-new headphone in more ways than one. So naturally, I had to review it.
A surprisingly competent headphone release from Rode Microphones—especially for a first attempt
Headphones are probably not the thing you’d expect to come from a company called Rode Microphones, but they’ve gone and swung for the fences with the NTH-100 anyway. Packed to the gills with small but noticeable details, these headphones are one of the most well-thought-out designs to come out in recent years.
Their excellent comfort makes them feel right at home no matter how long the recording session gets. While the sound might be too soft for critical mixing work, the NTH-100 is clean and clear enough to use anywhere else, and the smooth signature ensures you won’t hear any spikes or sore spots.
The Rode NTH-100 is a headphone that’s comfortable almost to a fault and is worth a look.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back over-ear headphones
- Driver Type: Single 40mm dynamic
- Frequency Response: 5 – 35,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 110 dB/V
- Impedance: 32 Ohms
What’s in the Box?
- Rode NTH-100 headphones
- 4 pairs of cable ID set
- 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter
- 2.4m NTH-CABLE (3.5mm TRS to 3.5mm TRS)
- Carry pouch
Stuff I like
- Impressively comfortable for long sessions
- Smooth, friendly sound signature
- Thoughtful design details and usability
Stuff I like less
- Treble is a bit too soft for my tastes
- A bit heavy on the head
- Not very portable
- Earpads and cables are basically proprietary
A Bit of Background
RØDE Microphones is an Australian company that, as the name suggests, specializes in making quality microphones. Starting as Freedman Electronics, the company made its claim to fame with the “RODENT-1” condenser microphone, which we now know as the Rode NT-1.
Today they’re mostly known as a quality but relatively affordable brand for filmmaking, podcasting, and content creation. I myself use the AI-1 (their budget audio interface) at my workstation.
Priced at $150, the Rode NTH-100 can be seen as a cheaper parallel to the Neumann NDH 20 — a headphone that’s meant to match your microphone, your audio interface, and other equipment in your recording, streaming, or podcasting setup.
Based on my time with the AI-1 audio interface and NTG-1 shotgun microphone, I didn’t expect much to come out of the unboxing experience with the Rode NTH-100.
That wasn’t quite the case this time. Past the box sleeve and a couple of panels are the headphones and the accessories stored inside a carrying pouch that, while appreciated, is thin and not protective by any means.
At the very least, it works as an easy storage solution for the cable, quarter-inch connector adapter, and the color coding clips Rode calls an “ID set”. Beyond that, there’s nothing special to report.
I usually combine my comments on a headphone’s design with its build quality since they’re mostly intertwined in terms of look and feel. This time is a bit different, though, since there’s a lot more to unpack with the Rode NTH-100 than its box implied.
The first thing I noticed was the distinct earcup shape — a triangular oval that’s meant to trace the basic shape of the ears. Just from a single glance, you can tell how you’re supposed to wear the NTH-100 because of how one of the endpoints of the “triangle” points backward.
Even ignoring that, Rode has gone the extra mile to indicate the orientation in multiple other ways.
There are L/R labels on the inside of the earpads and there’s also a red cable strain relief on the right earcup that contrasts with the black one on the left side. And if that wasn’t enough, there are Braille characters for L and R molded in the earcups, just above the big Ø logos on the outside.
Unlike a lot of studio headphones, the NTH-100 lets you plug in an input cable on either earcup. It’s super convenient for those who are either left-handed or have right-sided setups as you won’t have to cross the headphone cable across to reach your audio output device.
Rode, however, has taken things a step further with their NTH-MIC attachment. Available as either an optional purchase or in the NTH-100M bundle, the NTH-MIC lets you turn your NTH-100M into a “pro-grade” headset. While I don’t have the mic to test myself (will do so in a future review), I can say that even in concept it should prove pretty handy.
We can clearly see Rode’s eye for modern accessibility with how they designed the Rode NTH-100, and the little details they’ve added here are quite thoughtful for those who notice and can make use of them.
But just as important as the details Rode added are the details that they didn’t.
An obvious one is the lack of portability. While cans like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and the AKG K371 can fold flat or collapse inward to make it easier to stuff them into the bag, the thick metal headband of the Rode NTH-100 basically makes this impossible.
In Rode’s defense, this seems to be by design. Rode never really marketed this as a portable headphone in the first place, instead honing in on its comfort for content creation — something that usually involves a static, at-home setup.
The included cable is also a lengthy 2.4m one, which is just the kind of length you’ll usually have for a home recording studio.
Speaking of cables, Rode has incorporated a twist-to-lock mechanism for their cables. There’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about it — it’s a way to keep cables secured if you want. But I feel Rode fell a bit short in execution here as the mechanism takes up a decent chunk of space with very little wiggle room.
This means that you can’t use any other cables besides Rode’s despite it being a standard 3.5mm connector.
You also probably won’t be able to buy any replacement earpads for the Rode NTH-100 from third parties. In fact, not even Rode themselves sells this directly — you have to contact support to request these earpads.
Down the line, you might also need to contact Rode support to get replacements for the headphone jack cover that’s for some reason incredibly important but also incredibly easy to lose.
(For context, all headphones move air, and closed-backs in particular need vents somewhere on the earcups to aid in regulating air pressure inside the earcups).
Rode thought it was a good idea to use the headphone input jacks as ports for the drivers. What ends up happening is that, because there are two ports, you need to cover the other port with something to equalize the airflow rate on both ports. Otherwise, you get a noticeable channel imbalance that changes both volume and tonality.
Going with this design isn’t necessarily bad; just that, to match the vent with the unused port side, Rode thought to use a tiny silicone cover as the solution.
“Dense” was the first description that came to mind when I took the Rode NTH-100 out of the box. Weighing in at a portly 350 grams, it’s definitely on the heavier side of studio headphones on account of its mostly metal construction.
If you judge it by look and feel, the NTH-100 is a headphone that’s tough as nails and will handle any situation.
That said, I wasn’t super confident about how the Rode NTH-100 would hold up long-term. Like the AKG K371-BT I reviewed previously, I’ve seen reports from other users of the NTH-100 breaking within months at the FitLok adjustment mechanism.
As we already covered, the adjustment mechanism twists loose to let the earcups slide up and down the headband, then can be twisted to secure its position.
The main problem from what I see is that the mechanism is mostly made of plastic, which bends and cracks under stress more easily than the metal headband and earcup hinges that it’s holding together.
In my case, that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve used my NTH-100 for several hours as my main pair for about three months in preparation for this review without any issues, but there’s still the chance that my pair will experience the same breakage by the time you read it. I’ll throw in an update on this when it does happen.
As a response to this, Rode has bumped up their warranty period for the NTH-100 from the original two years to a *lifetime warranty*. I’m not sure if this is a sign of Rode admitting it’s a general design flaw, but I do very much appreciate them going to the effort.
Fit and Comfort
With its exposed interconnect cabling and thick metal parts, the Rode NTH-100 gives off a pretty “rough and tough” vibe that doesn’t seem like it’ll be very comfortable. That 350-gram weight, while it’s no Audeze LCD-XC, will make itself known after a while.
In practice, though, it’s not actually the case. Over the hundred or so hours I’ve clocked in with the NTH-100, I’ve only ever felt the need to take the headphones off either to stretch or because it got too hot. Rode’s attention to detail is on display here again, making it one of the more comfortable headphones I’ve used.
Much of its success comes down to two factors — weight distribution and material choice. The Rode NTH-100 does a very good job of balancing the force pushing down from the headband and the clamp pushing in from the earpads, which helps a lot with keeping that feeling of weight at bay.
Those specially designed earpads are arguably the star of the show here. They’re a bit firmer and rebound a bit faster than other memory foam pads I’ve tried, which (at least to me) feels like it gives them more support to keep the weight off of the top of the head. The CoolTech gel layer and Alcantara are just a couple more cherries on top.
Now, I do want to temper expectations a bit here — the Rode NTH-100’s comfort isn’t exactly luxurious like a La-Z-Boy or a Meze Empyrean. Its weight definitely doesn’t make it like a K701 or R70x, which provides comfort by feeling like you aren’t wearing anything.
It’s firm but still cushy and supportive. It feels kind of like a sports car seat, actually —and it even has an Alcantara-like one.
As a listener, I like my headphones with a treble that’s bright, sparkly, airy, and clear. To that end, I’ve been using the AKG K701 as my primary pair for just about everything I do at my home workstation, from live streaming games on Twitch to watching video essays and mini-docs on YouTube
So with that prior context, you can imagine I was thrown off quite a bit by the Rode NTH-100’s warm tilt and very soft treble.
After spending a good while with these headphones as my main pair… well, I’m still not a fan of the sound signature. But I at least have a good grasp of their approach and an appreciation for how the NTH-100 performs within that context.
The NTH-100 is pretty even-handed in the bass as far as closed-back studio headphones go. Because of the warmer midrange tilt, the overall bass tone feels like it’s centered on the mid-bass, but it reins in its punches and doesn’t really commit to providing any strong impact.
The bass guitar in “Re:Re:” by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, for instance, feels less defined as a singular instrument in the mix and comes off more as a rumbling drone laying the foundation of the song.
It doesn’t quite have the impact that I tend to expect from most other headphones in its class, and for a time I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
I would later figure out another way to conceptualize it: The Rode NTH-100 is more midrange-focused.
I came to realize this as “Kansaete Kuyashiiwa” by ZUTOMAYO came up on my playlists. On most other headphones I’ve heard this on, the vocals tend to come off as thin and delicate and can get quickly overwhelmed by the rest of the band that comes in from the sides.
On the Rode NTH-100, the vocals gain a bit more body and seem a bit more prominent in their place at the front. My speculation is that the NTH-100’s treble roll-off dulls lines and blurs edges, allowing the midrange to come through more prominently.
The main goal of a softer treble response is usually to reduce sharp spikes in the treble, which a lot of people are sensitive to. With a significant dip around the 7 to 8 kHz range, the Rode NTH-100 has basically no sibilance to speak of.
While that’s a good thing, a further dip and roll-off past the 12 kHz point intensify the feel of the headphones sounding too “soft” or “veiled”.
That’s not to say the headphones are completely devoid of upper frequencies. In fact, lots of high-energy, high-frequency sounds like cymbals, claps, and other percussion are still quite audible and don’t sound smothered.
However, comparing the NTH-100 to other headphones side-by-side reveals how vocals, like that of Ben&Ben in “Pagtingin” lose a pretty big chunk of their bite and detail, especially with softer “S”, “P”, “K”, “T”, and similar sounds.
The NTH-100’s soundstage is where I have the least to say. Given that it’s a closed-back headphone, it expectedly doesn’t have that much room to give that impression of a large space.
The headphones do their best given the circumstances, but whether it’s in games or in songs like “Arthur’s Theme” by Christopher Cross you kind of notice the NTH-100’s soundstage feels a bit narrow compared to a DT770 or a K371 (although in fairness to Rode, the K371 in particular is a bit of an anomaly).
Probably more importantly, the treble roll-off of the sound also lets things blend and blur together more than I’d like, which hurts its imaging ability and generally makes it undesirable for mixing work.
Priced at $150, the Rode NTH-100 sits in a crowded and very competitive price bracket that’s home to new and old designs in equal measure. Stuff like the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, and the AKG K361 and K371 are the most obvious competitors.
As it is with any headphone review, it’s hard to say whether or not the NTH-100 is right for you (or anyone for that matter). To me, its soft sound signature is mainly what holds this headphone back from being close to a must-buy.
But between its already pretty solid sound and excellent ergonomics, I can imagine most people will be more than happy to use these headphones for either content creation or consumption.
There’s always a first time for everything. And oftentimes, that first time is spotty, messy, and rough around the edges. The expectation, of course, is that we get out there as a test to see what can be improved upon. While we would all like to get it done right the first time, nobody really expects to.
But Rode came and did it anyway with their NTH-100.
It’s already pretty impressive that Rode has developed and made a headphone from scratch for their first release — but for it to be as competitive as it is in the sub-$200 range is a feat in itself.
Impeccable comfort, thoughtful design, and a smooth and agreeable sound signature all come together to create one of the freshest and most flexible studio headphone designs I’ve seen in recent years.
Of course, there are always things to be fixed. Cable and earpad replacements, improving the FitLok parts, and making the size and shape more accommodating for larger heads are the ones that stood out to me. I wasn’t a complete fan of their sound signature either — a bit too dull for critical listening work.
But the Rode NTH-100 is a monitoring headphone; by all accounts, it has done everything it was made to do and then some.
There’ll always be better. There’ll be things to be fixed, new ideas to incorporate, and more testing to be done. But for now, what we have is the Rode NTH-100. And I dare say it’s enough.
This post was last updated on 2023-11-27 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.