Months back we reviewed the venerable Direct Sound Extreme Isolation EX29 headphones where they received a rave review from the Cinema Sound staff. The good folks at Direct Sound have reinvented the wheel with its “plus” version, and we’ve put it to the test.
The NEW EX29 features the same great isolation and comfort that has become legendary, with a host of new professional features that further sets the EX29 apart from other noise isolating headphones. A detachable premium cable results in greater mobility. Aircraft grade aluminum cable grommets provide superior stability and super-quiet operation. An 8’ cable extension with 3.5 mm stereo plug and 6.3 mm screw-on type adapter expands the boundaries of connectivity. New High Precision Audio (HPA) drivers lead to improved fidelity and audio quality. A re-designed universal headband results in even greater comfort. The new Direct Sound EX29 continues its reign as the world’s best noise isolating headphone.
Type: Dynamic closed type headphones with closed back speakers
Passive Attenuation: 36.7 Db
Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
Fidelity Response: High Precision Audio (HPA)
Drivers: 40 mm, closed back
Impedance: 32 ohm
Sensitivity: 114 dB at 1 KHz 1 mW
Cord: Premium detachable
Rated Input Power: 1000 mW
Weight: 11.5 oz
Warranty: One year
Red is Right E-Z channel identifier
Universal padded, fully adjustable headband
Foldable for storage
Environmentally responsible natural passive isolation – no batteries required
Made in the USA
What’s in the box
EX29 Plus Extreme Isolation™ stereo headphone
Premium 96″ cable extension with 3.5 mm plug & 6.3 mm screw-on adapter
Sounds pretty good, right? Well. It is. The Ex29 has become the staple of the Cinema Sound isolated listening environment. Why?
- When you have to mix an update for a client in a noisy airport, and you’re mixing in DTS HP-X, Waves Audio NX or Spatial Audio Designer, you’re FUBAR if you’re wearing “noise cancelling” headphones. You’re DOUBLE FUBAR if you’re wearing in-ear headphones. EX29s (and 25s to a bit lesser degree) serve the listener with an isolated experience from the external world with an internal experience which translates 90% accurately to the speaker driver world. Even Waves Audio has made the EX29 it’s exclusive headphone sponsorship for it’s NX surround system. That should tell you something…never mind I’ve been saying that EX29s have superb spatial positioning.
- The sound of these headphones is akin to a microscope. Do you want to watch a movie with a microscope? Well, no. But if you have to find out what’s WRONG with the movie’s film, you sure do. The EX29s deliver hyper accurate representations of your bad mix with spades. Don’t be upset, because it means you can fix all of them before you get to the screening in front of 500 people and realize your immersion is dog meat. Further, I’ve mixed two Spatial Audio Designer projects to 90% completion in EX29s, and when I brought the mix to the dub stage, I really only had to tweak a few LFE elements. People didn’t believe me when I told them on that stage that I’d never heard the mixes “in-air.”
- Over-ear headphones are notoriously uncomfortable. The more isolating they are from external sounds, the more they “clasp” to your head and ears creating a sweaty, sticky, miserable physical way to listen for hours on end. Somehow, the engineers at Direct Sound have figured out a way to have even the MK 1s be pretty comfortable. I wore mine on every plane trip for Sound Advice including a trip to Australia and back, and only had to rest my head once (14 hours).
The issues that I always ran into with the EX29s was the very long cable and the low frequency bump around 65 Hz and a bit of a roll-off of high frequencies around 7.5kHz. The long cable was nice, but always seemed to get caught in everything it could which would either limit your movement or rip the phones right off your skull. I never got a short in a pair of 29s because of it (although I had my first pair stolen off an airline chair mid-flight) even though I accidentally yanked that cable pretty hard a few times. The high frequency loss and low frequency bump were a bit unfortunate, but they never affected a mix to translate into “in air” environments once I figured out what was happening.
Mark I vs. Mark II
Most of my experience has been with the “Mark 1s.” the EX29’s first offering. I asked the good folks at Direct Sound to
send us some Mark IIs – otherwise called “plus” models – for us to review…and they were generous enough to put our Cinema Sound logo on them. Here’s what we’ve experienced.
- Improved comfort. Although the Mark 1s were pretty easy to wear, there’s always going to be some amount of “skull squishing” on isolation over-ears, because without that pressure a slight move of the head will let the bad exterior sound in. It also gives a better cranial-acoustic connection (better/snappier bass). The Plus models are superior in this regard. They feel a bit less “pressing,” and, for certain, my bald head sweats less.
- Improved cable. As mentioned, I was always catching the cable on things with the Mark 1s. With Plus, the cable detaches. I was a little despondent about this at first – fearing constant short issues – but the robust aluminum connections so far have consistently made a solid, non-shorting connection for both drivers. And yes, I’ve gotten this cable caught on something, and instead of yanking on the drivers mercilessly, the cable just detached and my headphones were unmolested.
- Improved sonic clarity and flatter frequency response. I’m not sure how they did it, but with the new Plus drivers, almost all of the low frequency bump has been removed, and the high frequency roll-off is quiet enough that it may just be psycho-somatic on my part that I think I still hear a bit of it. Not to mention that somehow they’ve made spatial clarity akin to listening to real speakers. You can point to where a sound is in the stereo field. In a word, Plus EX29s are just “clearer.” Now look, if you want to have a party, you need to crack out your Bose or Beats and crush yourself with the 15k shelf cut, the 6.5k shelf boost, and the 80 Hz shelf boost. Enjoy. But if you’re trying to make a mix that will translate, these are your buddies.
- User serviceability. Of course, no manufacturer wants you to service their kit. But if you needed to replace a driver, because you accidentally plugged your 29s into a 5,000 watt Crown Power Amp and listened to Purple Haze… you can do that without too much issue or hassle.
Except for having to do the odd mixing in noisy environments, I generally use headphones to their maximum capability when doing surround-for-headphone mixes. I will admit that AKG makes some crushingly great headphones for surround mixing in this fashion, and, generally, you can’t go wrong on audiophile headphones over $500 as long as they don’t have some kind of EQ curve. But given the isolation quality of the EX29s, they’re in a class all their own. More than once I’ve had the experience of pulling off the headphones, firing up the speakers and having the mix sound profoundly similar from a room modeled virtual space in the 29s. Are there better headphones for surround mixing – or getting sonic accuracy? Absolutely. But to me, it’s the isolation combination which really makes up for any slight inconsistencies there might be in a pair of drivers that are $140 compared to a pair at $1,400.
The Bottom Line:
These are the headphones I recommend to every filmmaker. Until I get something on my skull which is in the price range
which combines powerful isolation, comfort, fidelity and panoramic integrity, I’ll continue to recommend them. The Mark 1s, received a 120 CS Rating. The Plus EX29s receive a 123 CS Rating.
I’m sure you’ve already noticed if you’re a member, we sell the Cinema Sound branded EX29 Plus headphones in White and Black for the same price you’d get them for at Amazon. I know. It’s sort of crazy that we’re reviewing something we sell, but I hope that you’ve seen the breakdown of why we believe in them so much in order for you to do your own contrast with what you’re putting on your head right now.
Full disclosure, Direct Sound is a sponsor of Cinema Sound – and we sell these in the store with the Cinema Sound icon on them – but, look, I wouldn’t push something on you all just because they’re a sponsor. These headphones genuinely earned that rating, and I defy anyone to show me better professional headphones for that price.