Besides bringing to attention the extraordinary and completely fixable problem of blindness among rural populations in India, A Runaway Goat is also about achieving real results despite overwhelming corporate indifference and bureaucratic obstruction.
The BBC’s Samira Ahmed has called A Runaway Goat “required reading in governance and business schools as a case study in how to get things done”.
In keeping with her strong views on Big Tech, A Runaway Goat by Lucy Mathen of Second Sight has never been released on Audible or any other streaming platform. It’s only distributed through the charity, and made available via donations. You can reach out to Lucy through the Second Sight website, or get in touch with us and we’ll connect you.
It’s not really my thing to write reviews of stuff, but my recent experience with Rode’s NTH-100 headphones has inspired me to review them.
You can skip this section. Why? To my ears, all headphones sound different – and the same headphones sound different to different people’s ears. So there’s no point me telling how they sound – you need to try them for yourself.
Secondly, if like me you wear headphones all day long, your ears become ‘used to’ the sound of your usual cans – and a different pair will sound ‘wrong’ until your ears have adjusted. I migrated to the NTH-100s from the (open back) AKG K702s – and boy, was that an adjustment.
Thirdly, what I do is record, edit and produce spoken word. So my opinions on the sound of the NTH-100s are only really useful to other people who work the same way.
All that being said, I do obviously listen to music – and still occasionally record and mix music. Whenever I get a new pair of headphones, whenever I get new monitors, whenever I work in a new room, I always play the same piece of music to start with – so I have a consistent starting point for comparison.
For some years, that piece has been Tomorrow’s Blues by Colosseum, in my view the best track on the best album of Colosseum’s ‘reunion’ era. My dear friend and mentor, the late Jon Hiseman, mixed and mastered this album and it exemplifies his ‘back-to-front’ (as opposed to ‘side-to-side’) and ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ production style.
And on the NTH-100s, I can hear it all. Mark Clarke’s bass guitar opening sounds just as clear and rounded as it did the first time I heard it in the control room at Temple Music. Jon’s cowbell is positioned right where it should be, and the offset shimmer of Dave Greenslade’s Hammond C3 sounds just as it should.
The NTH-100s are able to go stupidly loud without distorting or losing the clear three dimensional staging that was Jon’s trademark.
In short, the sound is quite exceptional – detailed, precise, spacious and non-fatiguing. Given these are closed-back cans, it’s extraordinary, Given these are closed-back cans costing less than £140, it’s jaw-dropping.
But that’s just my opinion (and that of many other reviewers). Your mileage may vary.
The NTH-100s are promoted as having great isolation and being suited to use by artists recording as well as engineers. To be able find a home on a busy studio floor, headphones need to be pretty rugged, pretty maintainable, and pretty quick to adjust. I have a few reservations about these qualities, that I’ll get into presently.
The Rode NTH-100s are closed-back, over-ear headphones. According to Rode, their “incredibly accurate frequency response and ultra-low distortion” make them suitable for both recording and mixing – both sides of the glass, as it were. They offer several features which benefit long-format work such as audiobook creation – namely in the ear cushions and the headband adjustment.
The ear cushions contain Rode’s proprietary “CoolTech” gel and are covered with Alcantara. The proprietary filling is intended to stop your ears getting hot and sweaty while providing a sort-of memory foam fit which minimises fatigue.
I can attest to this. I find them extremely comfortable (and light – 350 grams according to Rode), and I have several times attempted to walk out of the control room with them still on, only to be yanked back by the cable – because I’ve forgotten I’m wearing them.
The quoted 20dBA isolation seems to be believable – they do block out ambient noise well, which would suit them to being used close to microphones. This seems to be due to the memory foam-like action of the cushions, combined with a relatively tight grip on you head. I actually thought at first that the tight grip would be fatiguing, but it turns out it’s not.
The ear-cups are asymmetrical. The headphones won’t fit the wrong way round. To help you get it right first time, the headphones have a large ‘L’ and ‘R’ printed on the inside of the ear-cups. Nice. This is doubly important because of another unique feature – the detachable cable can be fitted on either side depending on what’s convenient for you.
The adjustment system is also unique. Unlike most headphones which adjust just by pulling them apart against some sort of friction, the Rode NTH-100s have a twist-lock system. Turn the tabs one way, and the ear-cups slide freely up and down the headband. Turn the tabs the other way, and the ear-cups lock firmly in position.
Now for me, this is great. I set them up when I got them out of the box and haven’t touched them since. Every morning when I put them on, they’re still exactly right for my head.
But… I’m not sure how efficient or robust this feature would be when the cans are being used by lots of different people from day to day – as on a busy studio floor. The locking tabs aren’t that easy to set while trying to hold the cans in the optimal position for one thing; and anyone not familiar with this unique system will just tug like mad trying to adjust them.
Despite this reservation, I have to say the NTH-100s do look and feel really well made and engineered.
The relatively low impedance of 32 ohms makes these headphones easy to drive, and they’re also pretty efficient. Even plugged into a mobile phone, they are quite capable of hurting your ears. The frequency range of the 40mm drivers is quoted as 5Hz – 35Khz – but then, they all say that…
The headphones are supplied in Rode’s usual lovely packaging, and include a 2.4 metre anti-kink (i.e. rubbery) black cable terminating in a stereo mini-jack with a screw-on quarter inch adapter. The cable is actually mini-jack at both ends; the end that plugs into the cans however, has a twist-lock function as part of the moulding.
This twist-lock concept is much cheaper to manufacture than the mini-XLR plug found on some cans, and quicker to change than the “find a tiny screwdriver” system on the Beyer DTs but it remains to be seen how robust it will be after a few years of plugging and unplugging given that Rode expects you to plug and unplug the cable on a regular basis.
Part of the design is that the twist lock will give way before the socket does. This should mean that, the event of that chair-leg, foot or sax bell tangling event you might need a new cable – but the cans will survive.
Also included is a set of four pairs of clip-on rings that can be fitted to either end of the cable (five, if you include the black ones that are attached to the cable as supplied). These are green, blue, orange, and a rather fetching pink. The idea is to allow easy identification of ‘your’ cans when confronted with a crowded headphone distribution amplifier.
As well as these rings which are provided in-box, Rode offers replacement cables in each of these colours. So you can actually have a pink headphone cable if you really want to stand out in the booth.
The final accessory provided with the headphones is a completely pointless “storage pouch” drawstring bag made of thin material that would provide no protection at all, other than from dust.
Headset Microphone Option
I wondered at the time why the connection type was quoted as ‘TRRS’ on Rode’s website. The answer has since been revealed, in the optional NTH-Mic. This attaches to the unused cable port (again, you can choose which side), comes with a TRRS cable with a Y-split, and turns the NTH-100 into a broadcast-grade headset. Again, nice. You can also order the headphones and mic together, as the NTH-100M.
One accessory which is not provided either in-box or as an option is a spare for the tiny rubber bung you have to fit to the side that doesn’t have the cable attached. This serves to block the empty socket and prevent the headphones from sounding unbalanced. This has to be removed of course, to fit the NTH-Mic.
To my mind – and again looking at it from a busy studio floor perspective – it is only a matter of time before this gets lost.
I really like my NTH-100s, and at the price I consider them a bargain. As I’m the only person allowed to wear them and as they never move from the top of the sidecar beside my desk, I’d expect them to last forever. But this was not to be.
Six months or so after I started using them, they broke. And where they broke is the fiddly locking mechanism. Studying the way they’re put together there’s a weak spot in the moulded plastic which can be put under strain by twisting the ear-cups – as you would if you pulled the cans off using one hand. Which is what I did, in the middle of a multi-day recording session.
Rode offers a ‘lifetime’ warranty on the NTH-100s, and the service I received from Rode and their UK service people was really fast and efficient. It’s becoming rare to see old-school “pro” support in the recording business but I certainly got that from Rode. Thank you!
But here’s the thing. The locking system design might just be a bit too clever for its own good. Unless I simply had a ‘bad’ unit (and that’s perfectly possible of course), I suspect the NTH-100s would have trouble surviving a life of being constantly adjusted, pulled on and off, knocked off music stands, dropped-kicked by people getting the cable tangled round their ankle, and all the other mishaps that happen day-in, day-out in live rooms. The old AKG K270s and Beyer DT100s we used at Temple Music used to take tremendous abuse without failing and were in use for decades in some cases. I wonder if the NTH-100s could match that.
But I’d much sooner be wearing the Rode NTH-100s than AKG K270s, any day. Or my AKG K702s for that matter. They are the first closed-back headphones I’ve used that I really feel I can track, edit and mix on. They’re comfortable and feel light and unrestricting, they sound fantastic, and they’re excellent value at around £130 in the UK.
Rode has thought outside the box and produced a genuinely different product. Whether the NTH-100 is a major contribution to the world of headphones as some reviews have suggested, or just another option in a crowded market is up to you – they are definitely worth checking out.
We had great fun this week hosting a voiceover session with Romesh Ranganathan (who lives near us, it turns out).
Actually, it was two sessions back to back. The first was a voiceover session for BBC Studios, reading for a children’s TV animation which will transmit around Easter.
The second was Romesh’s voiceover for the final part of A League Of Their Own: Road Trip for Sky Television, produced by CPL Productions. This voiceover session was done to picture – which always adds an extra layer of terror – and will transmit on 16/2/2023.
Both these sessions included remote producer contributions via Zoom, integrated into the cue system.
At Landen Park Studio, we record spoken word (audiobooks, voiceover etc.) using a technique called Punch And Roll recording – often just called Punch-In.
Punch-in is a familiar technique for musicians, who’ve been working this way since the dawn of the multitrack tape era. But if you haven’t worked in a studio before, you might wonder what it’s all about.
Punch-in is one of those things that’s a lot harder to describe than to do! Essentially, it’s just the process of jumping from playback to record without stopping.
Imagine narrating the following:
Since my first introduction to recording studios, I’ve been an admirer of punch-and-roll. It makes things so much quicker and easier.
Now, suppose you read the first sentence perfectly, but fluff the second one. The engineer will ‘roll back’ to the beginning of the previous sentence – “Since…” – play the sentence back to you, and then instantaneously switch to recording just after the word “roll“. You then re-read the second sentence… and on we go.
Experienced narrators are so used to this that we can work this way without even talking about it. We both just instinctively know where we’re going to drop in. Also, some narrators are so good they can ‘drop in’ mid-sentence – after the word “studios” in the example above.
Punch-In with DAWs
Now, here’s where the magic comes in – and this is something even experienced narrators often fail to grasp. Back in the days of tape, the punch-in point had to be perfect. With tape, you are destroying whatever was recorded beforehand.
But with a DAW such as Pro Tools (the software we use at Landen Park Studio), nothing is ever deleted. So, if we punch a little too early in the example above and just ‘nick’ the end of the word “roll“, it doesn’t matter. We simply ‘drag out’ the clipped-off bit during editing.
Also, since the original take of the second sentence is still there, we can ‘drag out’ parts of it – even individual consonants – and combine that with the second take. Again, we do this during editing.
The really mind-blowing thing about punching in with Pro Tools is that it’s actually always recording. This means that if you start to speak just before the punch in point, even that audio is available just by dragging.
Discipline is Key
Of course, all this doesn’t mean you should just throw caution to the wind and start talking whenever you feel like it! At the very least, this makes the editing job much more time-consuming (and it’s annoying!). Also, the director will want to hear a ‘clean take’ as it goes along – to know if something is right, or needs re-doing.
To help you time your punch-in, there are cue lights in the studio, positioned to be in your peripheral vision while you’re working, The amber light goes on when playback starts, switching to a red light as we drop in to record. These lights are automatic, controlled by the Pro Tools software itself.
Recording “punch and roll”, or “punch-in”, the artist needs a visual cue for when you drop into record from play. These are the punch-and-roll record status indicators.
The Core Tech
The only manufacturer integrating with Pro Tools is Punchlight, who have a range of products for automated status indication.
Since the studio opened, we’ve been using the “Punchlight USB RGB” – a self-contained multi-colour indicator connecting directly via USB. This has not been reliable… the device just doesn’t like working a long way from the computer, even using the most expensive active USB extenders available.
So I decided to change to the “Punchlight Relay Switchbox“, which offers two programmable SPCO relays, and build my own lamp unit. I used this model at Temple Music to control an existing single lamp mounted over the studio door. In that case, I programmed it to flash when Pro Tools is record-armed, be on when in record, and off otherwise.
It’s a good courtesy to have an indication of record-armed status – so the artist knows there’s a ‘hot mic’ and whatever they say can be heard in the control room. At Landen Park however, all our work tends to be punch-in – so I decided showing Play and Record were most important, and the ‘hot mic’ issue could be dealt with manually by switching the indicator’s power feed on and off from the control room.
I had space in the headphone distribution box, so I fitted the indicators into a 1U rack strip. The socket you can see on the left is for a repeater unit – which will be a tiny box that can be clipped to the side of a music stand. (I’ll be building that soon.)
The Punchlight unit itself is next to the computer of course, so I had to run a four-core cable into the studio to run the unit. The Punchlight configuration looks like this:
and relay 1 switches between the ‘stop’ light and relay 2 – with relay 2 switching between the ‘play’ and ‘record’ lights. The whole thing runs on a 12V DC power supply nicked from a hard drive enclosure. Here are the punch-and-roll record status indicators in action:
Nothing’s That Simple
Finally, you may be wondering what the level controls are and yes, they are brightness controls. Extremely indulgent I know – but there’s a story behind that…
I ordered the indicators from RS originally. They supplied the wrong thing, and apologised for a stock-numbering mix-up. Then said they didn’t have what I wanted in stock. So I went to Farnell… and had almost the same experience. I ended up with three LED indicators that didn’t match cosmetically – or more importantly, in luminosity. So I had to put voltage regulators in to get the brightness to match! Actually, it’s a useful feature because sometimes you need them brighter and sometimes dimmer.
The key thing is the lights have to be in the artist’s peripheral vision, noticeable but not so bright as to be distracting. As it is, the amber ‘Play’ light is much brighter than the other two.
The main thing is it works and it’s reliable. Another job I can tick off in the maintenance book.
Leah: Unnoticed, Unwanted, Unloved by Amanda Bedzrah is now available on Audible.
Produced here at Landen Park Studio, Leah… is a fictional retelling of one of the greatest Bible stories of all time. It is a story of love, deception, betrayal, competition, heartbreak, and forgiveness.
Recorded here at Landen Park Studio by Lucy Scott and directed and post-produced by Justin Hill, Leah: Unnoticed, Unwanted, Unloved is now available on Audible and all your favourite audiobook platforms.
The second Amanda Bedzrah work we’ve produced here, Leah... was actually Amanda’s first novel – we produced Becoming Queen Bathsheba, her second novel, earlier this year.
Tiny Thunder by Sue Rice, produced here at Landen Park Studio, is a fascinating journey through marketing using metaphoric storytelling. The book explains, with copious examples, how to turbo-charge your marketing efforts through a “magical mash-up” of metaphor and story.
Recorded here at Landen Park Studio by the author and directed and post-produced by Justin Hill, Tiny Thunder is now available on Audible and all your favourite audiobook platforms.
Just completed the last of three really fun sessions with silver-tongued Canadian actress Jessica Porter – who’s also a certified hypnotherapist.
We’ve been recording meditations for the Sleep Wave podcast series, designed to help you relax and get a good night’s rest. Fascinating stuff requiring close attention and concentration to deal with very quiet, veeeeery sloooow, readings… Loved it.
Becoming Queen Bathsheba, a new novel by Amanda Bedzrah, is now available on Audible and all your favourite audiobook platforms.
Recorded here by Lucy Scott and directed and post-produced by Justin Hill, Becoming Queen Bathsheba vividly brings to life the story of Bathsheba and her often-painful journey to becoming the wife of King David and mother of Solomon.