Direct Sound EX-29 Isolation Headphones: Cancelling Out The Bleed?
Kevin Martin, former vocalist of Seattle band Candlebox once said "It's called Rock and Roll - look it up." Whether or not he coined the term I haven't a clue but it does a fine job of summing up what we all do into a tidy little blanket statement. Namely rock. Loudly. This is all fine and good in a live environment but when it comes time to head to the studio finding a way to simultaneously play with the same intensity, hear yourself and avoid excessive headphone bleed this can be another matter entirely.So are the Direct Sound EX-29 Isolation Headphones a solution for this problem? Let's find out!
Every vocalist has their own strategy that presents its own unique challenges. Some guys like to sing in the middle of the roo m with no headphones and the monitors blaring. More budget-minded bands may all be the same room together and still with others the singer may insist on having their headphones as loud as possible to be able to feel the music. With some effort, a competent engineer will likely be able to take the bleed coming into the mic from monitors and/or headphones and reverse phase to cancel it out. Unfortunately, this isn't always an option. With the majority of us utilizing at one time or another our own home studios instead of having our own on-call sound engineer I'm happy to say there is another solution for when a high quality isolated monitoring environment is needed.
Direct Sound EX-29: Look And Feel
Engineered with the pro drummer and studio musician in mind on the premise of delivering maximum isolation the Direct Sound EX-29 certainly looks serious. In fact the '29' signifies these puppies provide up to 29db of sound attenuation. Finished entirely in matte black [white is also an option] the EX-29 sports gold Direct Sound logos adorned on each rectangular shaped can.
Direct Sound EX-29: Durability And Useability
Extra Thick ear pads and a nicely padded headband suggest these things might do well for a long session. While not flashy the materials are of high quality a nd appear very durable. I have no doubt you could toss this one around in your gym bag with a couple bricks and they'd likely be just fine. The EX-29 comes standard with a 1/8" mini stereo plug with and optional screw on 1/4" as is the norm now. The straight cable [ Thank you - no twisty] and its connection points are also of high quality. As an added bonus the inner right headphone has been colored red to easily distinguish between right and left. As an extra, extra bonus, my demo arrived complete with handy soft carry case and bag. Yep. My inner nerd is a sucker for thoughtful details.
Direct Sound EX-29: Pricing And Competition
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After considering my options on test plan, I finally decided the best way for a reference point was to throw the Direct Sound EX-29 which lists on Musicians Friend for $119.95 up against an alternative or two. After some digging around at the test barn I managed to come up with a Beyer-Dynamic DT 770 at $199 and my trusty well loved pair of industry standard Sony MDR-7506's right at $85. While the 7506's aren't exactly isolation headphones they've got an excellent reputation of sounding good regardless of the application. A word of warning: The Direct Sound EX-29's fit very snugly. However I never found them to cause hot-spots around my ears like the Beyer-dynamics have had a tendency to do in the past.
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Direct Sound EX-29: Test And Comparison
For the test I decided to use each of these headphones in the loudest possible place possible my rehearsal studio - a 13x13 box with moderate sound deadening and a high ceiling. Throw in a drummer, guitars and bass on top of vocals and you've got a seriously loud room. My plan for the test was to use the headphones in lieu of my typical inner ear monitoring setup.
First up naturally were the Direct Sound EX-29 's. After my bandmates got rolling with a song it became pretty apparent that I started with my monitor mix significantly hotter than it needed to be. Between the thick ear padding and tight enclosure the sound isolation is quite impressive. T he overall mix with the EX-29's is smooth and flat. The sound as you would expect with a heavily dampened closed-ear type design sounds a bit closed in but not bass heavy nor exaggerated on the high end. I predict that these would do well in a critical listening situation for mixing. The only thing that was missing for me was a bit of that extra high crispness on the high end that for a vocalist makes the vocals really come alive in the mix. I digress what you hear on the EX-29's is what it really sounds like.
Next in li ne were Sony MDR-7506's. As I said earlier not exactly and isolation headphone but more artists and professionals use these more than any other pair of cans out there myself included. Once the band started I immediately had to turn the mix up. No surprise here but these things leak like the Queen Mary with a torpedo hole. Once I got the mix up to the point of overpowering my bandmates leaking through things were great. I have always been a fan of the 7506 sound which while not being exactly a 'reference' headphone sounds great for live tracking. The slightly sloppy bass with slightly over-accentuated high's give the signal good cut and make pretty much anything sound good. Now if I just didn't have to turn things up to ear bleeding levels to hear.
The final contender in the series were of course the Beyer-Dynamic DT-770's. Like the Direct Sound EX-29 they are more of an isolation type critical-listening headphone providing up to 19db of sound attenuation. With the DT-770's I was able to turn the mix down slightly over the Sony's. Again like the EX-29's they have more of a neutral flat frequency response with the exception tending to be slightly bass heavy which translates to a slightly muddier top-end. This would probably be great for a drummer but as a vocalist it ends up being less than ideal as I found myself with the DT-770's having a slight tendency to over-sing in an effort to compensate for qualities of my voice usually heard with other cans that somehow were lost in translation with the Beyer-Dynamics.
The Direct Sound EX-29 's represent an excellent addition to the premium studio headphone market. Their flat frequency response and ultra high sound attenuation make them a solid choice for anyone looking to lower the sound level they need hear themselves as well as preventing mic bleed. While they lack the artificial high end crispness of the Sony MDR-7056's, they deliver an accurate representation of the sound that is both smooth and non-fatiguing. The construction is top notch and the design makes it easy to replace specific parts should you manage to break something. Should you be in the market for a top-quality reasonably priced set of isolation cans I recommend you look these guys up.
Type: dynamic closed type headphones
Frequency Response: 2 0 - 20,000 Hz
Drivers: 40 mm
Impedance: 32 ohm
Sensitivity: 114dB/mW @ 1KHZ 1mW
Cord: 9 feet
Plug: stereo 3.5 mm with screw-on type gold plated 1/4Â¨ adapter
Rated Input Power: 500 mW
Maximum Input Power: max 1W
Weight: 11.5 oz
Warranty: 1-year manufacturer warranty
Review by Travis North