Extreme Isolation Headphones

There hasn’t been much variation in the conventional wisdom about the best headphones for field recording over the years: Sony MDR-V6 headphones seemed to be in everyone’s kit, replaced only by the almost-identical EX-25s still sound good, and are lighter and more compact, and therefore easier to pack. Either provides a significant isolation from outside noise, without using electronic tricks, and could be very useful tools for the field recordist.

Jeff Towne

About
Jeff Towne

During more than 25 years as a producer of the nationally-syndicated radio program Echoes. Jeff Towne has recorded interviews and musical performances in locations ranging from closets to cathedrals, outdoor stages to professional studios, turning them into radio shows and podcasts. Jeff is also the Tools Editor for Transom.org, a Peabody Award-winning website dedicated to channeling new voices to public media. At Transom, he reviews field recorders, microphones and software, helping both beginning and experienced audio producers choose their tools. In his spare time, Jeff will probably be taking pictures of his lunch in that little restaurant with the strange name that you've been wondering about. 

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  • Chris

    11.26.10

    Reply

    I use in-the-ear etymotic headphones. The noise isolation is a LOT better than the headphones introduced here (> 35dB, if I remember correctly), purely passive too, and you can’t beat the size. They’re also comfortable over long periods.

  • Jeff Towne

    11.29.10

    Reply

    I too have a set of Etymotic in-ears (ER-4s), and I love them, but they’re not the best choice for all circumstances. It’s not easy to get any in-ears in and out quickly, and sometimes you need to move quickly from the outside world to the recording environment, or vice-versa. I much prefer conventional headphones for some situations, especially when I need to pop them on and off in order to better communicate with others.

    As I mentioned above, sometimes too much isolation can be dangerous – I’m very wary about using the Etymotics for field recording when I’m out in an uncontrolled space, where I might need to be at least minimally aware of other sounds around me, like traffic.

    Also, in-ears can’t really be shared, but it wouldn’t be a problem to lend these to someone, or for an organization to have a few pair around that go out in a filed recording kit.

    And most important – some folks really don’t like the feeling of devices stuck down their ear canals, or have a hard time getting the phones to seat correctly. Conventional headphones are pretty simple to use, and relatively comfortable.

  • Skip Pizzi

    12.01.10

    Reply

    Thanks, Jeff. The Sony’s are one of the few products that I’m still recommending from my days at NPR (pre-1990), so I’ll be sure to check the Extreme Isolation headphones out. Sounds like the EX-29s might be a good choice for guests on tape syncs (if anyone’s still doing those), given their good leakage performance.

    (BTW, I’m still hearing good feedback from your presentation on Audio for Newsgathering at the AES Show in San Francisco last month. Thanks again for a great job there!)

  • Henry Howard

    12.01.10

    Reply

    I have to take exception to replacing the Sony ear pads as expensive. The Pad is part X21131231 and cost $6.99 plus shipping from Sony Parts. That is the beauty to the V-6 / 7506 series, almost any part can be replaced.

    For real comfort, add the Garfield Softies. For that matter just put the Softies over the cracked pads.

    I also have the Remote Audio HN-7506 High Noise Isolating Headphones with Sony MDR-7506 Drivers and Custom Baffling.
    Those too will really block out reality around you.
    A bit pricey, but if you have to work in a concert level environment, they do a good job. They make good ear protectors too.

  • Claes Andreasson

    12.02.10

    Reply

    A few years ago my Sony’s broke, and I needed a new pair. I never really liked the sound in the Sony’s – it never sounded quite the same in the field as it did when I played back the recording in my monitors.

    After looking around, I decided on Ultrasone PROline 750. They fold just as easily as the Sony’s but sound much more true to my ears. And they are very comfortable, I can wear them for hours without any uncomfort.

  • Jeff Towne

    12.09.10

    Reply

    Henry – by “repairs are difficult and expensive” I meant in general, I’ve had more go wrong with the Sonys than just having earpad material flaking onto my neck, giving me a panic when looking in the mirror, making me think I’ve contracted some awful disease… But we probably put them through more than the average user does: we have about 7 pairs that get ragged around on the road or used by visiting musicians who may not be super careful with them.

    I’ve had the main cables go bad, the fine wires that lead to each earpiece get crimped, then fail, etc. That stuff is hard, at least for me, to replace, and parts are not especially cheap. I was kind of impressed with how modular the design of these Extreme Isolation phones was, most everything just pops apart with no special tools, and could be repaired pretty quickly without a soldering iron or glue gun. The parts are all listed here:

    http://www.extremeheadphones.com/parts.html

    and seem pretty fairly priced.

    I like the Garfield Softie idea, do you have any sense of whether they impact the isolation of the headphones?

    The earpads on the Extreme Isolation phones are kind-of rubbery-plasticky, and not everybody likes that. It doesn’t bother me, but some folks just don’t like the feel of those earpads – try them out before buying if you can. I’d be reluctant to put a covering on them, I suspect part of their isolating character comes from that earpad surface making a seal against your head.

    Claes – thanks for the tip on the Ultrasones. It’s absolutely true: the Sonys have a frequency bump up high and down low, making them sound extra vivid, but not very realistic. That can be helpful, it’s easy to catch extraneous noises on them, and overall thing usually sound pretty great through them, but it’s also hard to mix and EQ accurately because of their frequency response.

    I don’t mean to diss the Sonys: I still have a few pair I intend to keep using, but I think these Extreme Isolation phones offer a good alternative at a good price.

  • Jeff Towne

    12.09.10

    Reply

    7 pairs that get *Dragged* around…

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