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Korg NC-Q1

There’s nothing ‘me-too’ about Korg’s first headphone offering.

By

March 23, 2021

I don’t think I’ve ever read the user manual for a pair of headphone. But Korg’s new cans deserve that kinda homework. In fact, there are a few features that I can almost guarantee you won’t find if left to your own devices.

Korg surmounts the obvious question (“What’s Korg doing making headphones?!”) about as quickly as it takes to pair with my iPhone (less than five seconds, is the answer).

The NC-Q1s are instantly recognisable as ‘not your regular headphones’. They’re white, for starters (you can choose black if you like, but all the promo material pushes the white model). Not only are they white but they look like they have an Imperial Stormtrooper endorsement.

FLOORED NOISE

The reason for the chunky, closed back build is noise rejection. The NC-Q1s have noise cancelling and the best place to start with noise cancelling is to physically block out as much noise as you can. And when you block serious amounts of ambient noise, you’re doing the long-term health of your ears a favour. They’re not quite in gun-muff territory but the tight fit and memory foam provide plenty of hermitic seal. Ask me in a few hours how comfortable they are.

The pragmatic design also make an important point: these headphones are for audio people, DJs and musicians, and not commuters. Yeah, sure, there’s the very niche Stormtrooper cosplay market but otherwise I can’t imagine the NC-Q1s putting Beats out of business.

That said, if commuters had even the merest inkling about just how smart the NC-Q1s are, there might be a Covid-style bunfight at the retailer.

They might get a sense that Kansas has gone bye-byes when they spot you taking a call by pressing the Function button on your headphones. The multipurpose Function button doubles as a slider. It’s possibly the most overworked button on any piece of electronics I’ve seen and I hope it’s cast in solid Kryptonite as it’s going to take a pounding. Once you remember where it is (reach for your right earlobe and you’re close), you’ll be talking to Siri, moving up and down to change the volume, tapping it to pause music and holding and double/triple tapping it to take care of various transport control functions.

If the Function button is the most overworked, the touch sensor is the most enigmatic. It lives in the shell of the right earcup. When you find it, then press it, the touch sensor activates Ambient Sound Monitoring. Ambient sound monitoring works by switching off the audio in that channel and activating the noise cancelling microphones so you can hear the world around you.

NEED TO KNOW

Korg NC-Q1
Smart Noise Cancelling DJ Headphones
  • PRICE

    A$499

  • CONTACT

    CMI: www.cmi.com.au or (03) 9315 2244

  • PROS

    Solid sound
    Flexible ambient monitoring

  • CONS

    Controls are a little fiddly

  • SUMMARY

    Korg has set out to make DJs’ lives easier and to preserve their ears. Wear the NC-Q1s clamped on your head for as long as you want or need and use the ambient monitoring to interact with the world/club on your terms. Live audio engineers will also appreciate the sound and features.

Once you get over the innate habit of ripping your headphones off when you see someone desperately attempting to communicate with you, the ambient sound monitoring is oh-so-convenient. It’s just as handy when you have the headphones tethered to a console while you’re soloing and monitoring — tap the touch sensor to talk to your system guy and/or pretend not to hear anything when the lighting operator is shouting at you or a punter looks like they’re attempting to make contact.

If ambient sound monitoring wasn’t cool enough, it is customisable. You can switch it interchangeably with the other ear and you can select from a bunch of tonalities — want your ambience ‘mid scooped’, Korg has you covered. The idea here is it depends on the ambience of the venue and what you’re trying to focus on — speech, adoring crowds…  — the EQ presets will assist.

COMFORT & SOUND

Okay, you were going to ask me how comfortable the NC-Q1s were after extended listening? Very. They’re not light (320g), but the memory foam and circumaural design sits comfortably. 

The noise cancelling itself is comfortable. It’s a tech that’s come a long way over the last 10-plus years. At one time, noise cancelling could be downright uncomfortable. But the NC-Q1s feel very natural, there’s none of that ‘jumbo jet landing with a head cold’ pressure.

Noise cancelling in extreme SPL conditions has always given noise cancelling headphones the yips. Korg’s NC-Q1s has an attenuation button to assist. Much like the Pad button on a condenser microphone — it changes the sensitivity.

How do they sound? Really quite good. Like any closed back design there’s an inevitable sacrifice in transparency. Nonetheless there’s a pleasing amount of detail on offer.  They sound big and impressive. Given DJs are a big target market, they’re not shy in the low end. But not shamelessly so. There’s a pleasing tonal balance. Remember, these cans aren’t designed so much for critical listening, so a little hype isn’t a bad thing.

The NC-Q1s break new ground. They’re a workhorse headphone for audio types that double as super-handy recreational work-a-day cans. Bose has this lifestyle end of the market sewn up. Bose cans are lightweight, they do noise cancelling really well and the Bose beamforming mic array has enjoyed years of refinement. But the Korg NC-Q1s will go places, seriously noisy places, where the Bose QuietPoints don’t thrive. 

If you’re a DJ, drummer or live sound audio person (or all three) you can thank Korg for looking out for you. Will you need to relearn a few habits? For sure, but then how seriously do you take the preservation of your hearing?

REIMAGINING DJ MONITORING

DJs traditionally take care of their cue monitoring with one side of their headphones and flip the other side to hear foldback and the house. Headphone monitoring with one ear is notoriously bad for hearing — the same applies to in-ear monitors… don’t take one IEM out, just don’t. The reason: you always crank that side of the ear/headphone to get the level you need. Effectively you’re exposing your ears to unnecessarily high SPLs. 

Korg observed this and thought: how about we design a headphone that allows DJs to keep both earcups on? One side can use noise reduction technology (ie. microphones that ‘sniff’ the ambient sound and phase cancel that sound to attenuate unwanted audio going to your ears) to achieve what DJs do by pulling one ear cup off. What’s more, not only will DJs get the desired affect without removing an earcup but they can adjust the volume of the ambient sound coming into that side, and even tweak the tonal character of that ambient sound.

The health benefit? The side of the headphones doing the cuing doesn’t need to be as loud because it’s not competing with the ballistic ambient sound. 

It’s a different approach. But it could potentially keep DJs in the game for much longer and keep tinnitus at bay.

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MIXING SYNTH POP
A Complete 4-Part Series
READ ONLINE NOW
Online
Issue 71