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Microphone Month 3

HANDS ON: Direct Sound EX-29 Extreme Isolation Headphones

It’s a tough problem: you need headphones to track and to monitor, but they rarely seal tightly enough to really seal out outside sound, and because of that, sounds from inside the phones, such as click tracks, can bleed into open microphones.

That’s exactly the situation the founder of Direct Sound described to me when he visited recently. He was a studio drummer in L.A., but he constantly had trouble hearing the click track in his phones over the outside sound that bled in. Rather than do what I would do (whine in an annoying fashion), he did something about it. He designed and assembled a homemade set of headphones that provided much better sound isolation. Over the years, he improved the design until he arrived at the current model: the EX-29 Extreme Isolation headphones.

These headphones provide an amazing 29dB of isolation, both from sound entering from the outside and from sound bleeding from the inside out. They seal quite tightly on your skull, yet they’re very comfortable when worn for long periods of time. A nice touch is that the interior of the right ear cup is red, making it clear which way the phones should be oriented, even under dim studio- or stage-lighting conditions.

I tried the EX-29s for tracking vocals with a click – no problem with the click bleeding into the microphone. I also used them when tracking a loud guitar amplifier in the control room; though there is no way a set of phones could completely block out that onslaught, the level was reduced to where it was easily workable.

The Extreme Isolation phones are designed to stand up to the rigors of tracking or live use, but Direct Sound is well aware that repairs may someday be in order. For this reason, every part on the EX-29s is field replaceable – without tools. Changing out diaphragms, ear cups, cables, and other parts is a simple and quick matter.

These phones are great for drummers, musicians, and vocalists to use during tracking. I compared them to other commonly used phones and found that these isolate better. They also sound great, with plenty of low end to keep drummers and bass players happy and to help fill out the sound for vocalists. The EX-29s are also excellent for engineers, like me, who enjoy working in one-room studios, sharing the “control room” space with the musicians. They’re efficient enough to be driven by an iPod for hours (both 1/8” and 1/4” plugs are included) and tough enough to handle high levels from a power amp.

The Direct Sound EX-29 Extreme Isolation Headphones provide an excellent monitoring solution for tracking and click isolation. And best of all, they’re no more expensive than other studio-standard phones. These are highly recommended.

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