Neumann NDH 20 Closed-Back Monitoring Headphones
After seven decades of history in the microphone-manufacturing world, Neumann diversifies its portfolio with its first-ever pair of headphones, the NDH20.
Let’s get straight down to business: the Neumann NDH20 is a closed back headphone with 38mm drivers, 150Ω impedance and a stated frequency response of 5Hz–30kHz. Orange accents are splashed around the futuristic design, on the foam inside the ear cups and at the tip of the cable. The headphones are large but comfortable and don’t feel like 388g when on my head.
Build quality is second to none. The folding ear cups rotate on a solid quarter-circle joint connected just under the proudly embossed Neumann logo either side of the rubber-lined headband. The coiled cable plugs into the right ear cup. (A small gripe here — the plug tends to rub against my right shoulder with movement and this is quite ‘audible’ with the headphones on.) Also the cable’s generously thick and long coiled section results in a weightiness that gets irritating if unsupported (the NDH20s aren’t trying to be your iPod headphones). Besides the minor inconveniences, the NDH20s are certainly a premium piece of gear with a design that conveys both class and roadworthiness.
ON THE EARS
After comparing the NDH20 to various other headphones lying around the traps — models from AKG, Shure, Ultrasone and Beyerdynamic — it became clear these cans are designed for honesty more than flattery. The NDH20 is that mate who unapologetically says what you need to hear even when it hurts. Play a bad mix through them and it will undoubtedly let you know. On the flip side, mix a banger on them and they translate well to other playback systems.
Some may perceive the NDH20’s modest high end as a lack of detail, others will hear it as refreshingly flat and un-hyped. The lows are reined in a little too much for my taste, especially sub frequencies, however it’s not to the detriment of a natural overall balance. With some headphones, certain chunks of the frequency spectrum jump out briskly, but it’s not so with the NDH20. It all feels contained and neutral just like any good monitoring headphone should. Even the soundstage feels this way, presenting as tight and focussed rather than wide and majestic. My AKG open-backs are more ‘fun’ to listen to but the NDH20’s absence of exaggeration bolsters confidence for mixing and monitoring purposes.
IN THE ZONE
Isolation is commendable — both incoming and outgoing spill is well controlled. Take a moment to position the memory foam ear cups for the best seal because, for my (admittedly small) head, this came only after a little shuffling.
The more I listened to the NDH20 the more they grew on me. While initially I felt they sounded unexciting, my ears settled into hearing them as transparent and honest — precisely the kind of portable tool an audio engineer needs.
There’s no doubt the NDH20 is a solid entry into the headphone world for Neumann. I keep going back to the lux look and design — like any Neumann mic it’s built for business and makes a lot of other headphones look like toys. With excellent isolation, it’s a trusty companion for recording or mix engineers who do location work, and you can just as easily pass it to a musician to monitor during a recording session. While it’s not my go-to headphone for leisure listening, the NDH20 is an ideal option for all manner of mixing and music production applications.