(This article was written by Ali Pardiwala and originally published on NDTV Gadgets here)
If there's one thing we've learnt from the Beats success story, it's that good looking, desirable products will sell fast. This is one lesson that every company in the headphones industry is taking seriously. More and more brands are attempting to win over customers by selling the idea that they'll look and feel like a million bucks; so much so that even traditional manufacturers such as Sennheiser are coming up with products like the Urbanite to win back customers from Beats.
One such brand that takes design and build quality seriously is V-MODA. We reviewed the V-MODA Crossfade M-100 headphones and gave them full marks for style. Unfortunately, we also found the M-100 too expensive. The Rs. 14,990 V-MODA XS which we're reviewing today is considerably cheaper than the M-100, while sticking to the same look and feel we loved. Whether it will retain the comfort and sound as well is the key question here. Let's find out.
Specifications, Design and Build
The V-MODA XS features 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers with a frequency response range of 5-30,000Hz. Sensitivity measures at 105dB, while the impedance is 28.5Ohms. The headset weighs 195g without the cable. The sales package includes a detachable braided cable with a microphone, and a hard carry case.
The XS looks very similar to the Crossfade M-100, with pretty much the same design cues. The all-metal hexagonal casings, the sharp lines and the exposed bolts are exactly like the they are on the M-100, and you get the same industrial look and feel. The plates on the casing can be customised with a design of your choice, just like on the Crossfade. The double-hinged mechanism has also been carried over, and lets the ear cups slide into the empty space within the headband. This keeps the set compact and safe during storage. Simply put, it's a design we loved on the M-100, and we still love it.
A key difference between the Crossfade M-100 and the XS is size. While the M-100 has an around-ear circumaural design, the XS is an on-ear supra-aural headset. Obviously, this means that the ear cups are smaller. The headband is nearly the same size as the one on the M-100, though.
We personally don't like the fit of on-ear headphones, preferring the comfort of around-ear designs. However, the XS is surprisingly comfortable. It doesn't clamp down on your ears too tightly, which keeps them from getting too warm. However, this loose clamping also means that the headphones don't stay on as securely as the M-100 does, and sound also suffers to a small degree. At this price, we expected better with the ergonomics.
While the M-100 comes with three detachable cables in the box, the V-MODA XS has only one 1.2m cable with a microphone and single-button remote. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because it's the same Kevlar-reinforced braided cable that came with the M-100. It's tough and looks like it can take some serious strain, and will likely detach from either the headphones or the source device before the cable itself snaps. The microphone and remote work well and get the job done.
We used our reference Fiio X1 high-resolution audio player and an Android smartphone as source devices when reviewing the V-MODA XS headphones. Focus tracks for the review were Bonobo's Nightlite, Clean Bandit's Dust Clears and Zedd's Clarity in 16/44.1 FLAC; and Daft Punk's Get Lucky in 320kbps MP3.
We started with 2013's summer hit, Get Lucky. The first thing we noticed was the reduced bite in the bass when compared to that of the M-100, especially when the robotic auto-tuned voices of Daft Punk took over. While those headphones had a meatier bass response, the V-MODA XS is a bit more tonally neutral. We quite liked the intensity of the bass in the M-100, so we're a bit disappointed to see it reduced, since it's this very bass that gives V-MODA its character. However, while reduced, the bass still has a calculated elegance to it. It's gentle and in tune with the neutrality of the sound.
Moving on to Nightlite, we noticed that the warmth in the sonic signature had been retained. The low frequency-oriented sonic signature is enjoyable and comfortable to listen to. There is no sharpness to speak of, while keeping detail and tone at acceptable levels. The guitars toward the end of the track felt clean and pleasing. In tracks like this, the gentle bass response sounded excellent and gave the XS a cheerful character.
Next up was Dust Clears, and the V-MODA XS showed its quality with mids and highs. This was particularly notable during the violin riff in the middle of the track. There's also excellent interplay between the highs and lows, and you can hear both within the same note or element at times. This speaks volumes of the gentler detail that the XS is capable of reproducing.
Finally, with Clarity, the XS showed its real weaknesses. It isn't quite as detailed we'd like for a Rs. 15,000 pair of headphones, and the lack of excitement is also evident. The soundstage isn't quite as wide as it should be, either. While all of this is decent in its own right, the only problem here is that it feels lacking when the price is considered.
The V-MODA XS has a lot going for it. It's a beautiful pair of headphones, with the same confidence-inspiring build quality and design that we fell in love with on the V-MODA Crossfade M-100. The sound isn't quite as exciting as we've come to expect from V-Moda, and it doesn't have the bite and attack in the bass that we thought we'd find. However, it's a bit more tonally balanced and neutral, and this should appeal to listeners of genres other than electronica.
These headphones also offer a pleasing, warm sound that is comfortable to listen to. While it's good in many ways, it falls just short of being great. The Sennheiser Urbanite is a similarly priced option that does a better all-round job, with better comfort and a more exciting sonic signature. However, if you want a visually stunning sub-Rs.20,000 pair of headphones with a sound that you can't really complain about, the V-MODA XS is for you. The XS is available now through official distributor headphonezone.in.
Price (MRP): Rs. 14,990Pros
Ratings (Out of 5)