It was Spring of March, 2014. I was deep in the mire of creating 300+ sound effects and delivering them on 240 speakers in 57 audio environment in the 10,000 sq/ft Marvel Avenger’s S.T.A.T.I.O.N.
I’d brought on my friend Frank Serafine (Tron, Hunt for Red October) as Senior Sound Designer. We were running around like dead cats on fire trying to get it all done and the massive audio installation completed before the trucks took everything to NYC.
We would go into the shop with my Zoom H6 and record the round-the-clock construction personnel who were building the venue, because we needed a bunch of new-fangled effects for the venue itself. The opportunity to build our libraries with a built-in, next-door construction site was too good to pass up.
The trouble was that it was so loud in there (like 105+ dB) that we could hardly tell what we were recording. Then Frank mentioned the Direct Sound Extreme Isolation EX-29 headphones. The pitch is: they have massive rejection of outside sounds without noise cancellation. We asked them if they thought they were good for our application. They immediately sent us a couple to try out.
We donned them and marched into the construction zone with H6 in hand. It was like a quantum leap in
monitoring. The nature of the EX-29s is that they use similar “over ear” technology as hearing protection muffs you’d wear to the gun range. A -20 dB reduction in exterior noise is our general experience. The geniuses at Direct Sound have a much flatter noise attenuation than those “electronic” hearing protectors you’re donning while you shoot your .223 rifle, however. Of course, high frequencies are the most readily reduced, we found that frequencies down to 200 Hz were quite uniformly attenuated as well.
The real selling point of the headphones, however, is their sound. They’re flat. Nothing fancy. Nothing “awesome” about them.
Just. Dead. Flat.
Your mix is going to sound that way as well. You’re going to discover if your mixing sensibilities work listening on these. To be fair, there is a pretty strong bump around 60-80 Hz, and that’s to be watched out for. I’m guessing that it’s variable depending on the size and shape of your head, because those frequencies are certainly enhanced by bone conduction in the majority. I have a big head. Otherwise, these phones are amazing to mix with both in 2D and 3D audio.
More than once, now, I’ve done an entire assembly of a mix with Spatial Audio Designer in 11.1 listening only on
the EX-29s. This means, I mixed everything right up to final tweezing wearing these headphones. Look, with the except of having to fix some LFE bits, 95% of my headphone mix translated to both Mackie HR 824s, and my JBL LSR 6328Ps. That’s just crazy. Headphone mixing typically doesn’t translate well. It’s both a testament to Spatial Audio Designer and the EX-29s. The nature of their construction is also quite robust. I’ve taken them all around the world, and the only reason I had to replace them was because I left a pair on the plane (a very sad affair). They have a “red is right” interior lining so you’re never unclear which way to plop them on your head, and you’re never searching for the “R” letter.
Now listen, I love AKG and Sony MDR headphones. They’re amazing. But
when you’re in Dallas airport and the client needs one more tweeze on the mix, it’s really hard to whip out your laptop and do a reasonable mix on any other pair of headphones with Suzie Stewardess calling out on her carbon mic 75 seconds of completely useless information about your flight in 45 minutes at 95 dB. Well sure, you can whip our your Bose/Beatz noise cancelling headphones and get a good reduction of her monologue – even if you know what they’re doing to the frequency response of your mix – but you’re never going to get good positioning in 3D. It’s just not possible. The EX-29s do all of that for $129 on Amazon. They receive a 120 CS rating.
Are they comfortable? Well…no. They really snap on your head. It’s a function of why they reject exterior sound so well. No, these aren’t headphones you’re going to feel great wearing for 8 hours (although I’ve done it). But for flat response, exterior rejection without phase issues, and an affordable price, you’re not going to go wrong with EX-29s.
Use headphones you thin are better? Let us know or Tweet about it!