on December 29, 2012
Let me preface this review by saying that I'm by no means an audiophile. I am writing this review to help others out there who may be trying to decide how to spend their hard earned cash on "cool" headphones. With that said, I will be comparing these headphones with the Beats by Dre Studios. Why? Well, because these two models may appeal to the same demographic--people trying to spend a little extra money on quality, stylish headphones for their portable device. To give you a little back story, I travel a lot and need something I can wear on long flights. I saw the Beats Studios at Best Buy and liked the look. I like Dr Dre music and decided that if he endorsed this product it must be good, right (it looks a lot more naive in print form)? I did a little research on the Beats and read reviews on Amazon and CNET. Most of the negative reviews were due to the inflated price, but the CNET Editors and many folks on Amazon liked the sound quality of the Beats. I was able to get them at a discount at a military base, so I thought they were a good value. However, I never really liked the Beats. It was like a bad relationship with a girl that was kinda cute, but we never really had any chemistry; I was always looking for something better. I then bought the Klipsch Image Ones on sale. But when I got home I started researching to see what the experts thought of these. By this time I had found Head-fi, a site for the snobbiest of audiophiles. However, those guys do know their stuff. The verdict for the Image Ones wasn't positive and they were right, the Image Ones weren't very good. It was at that time that I noticed that the V-Moda M-80s were very highly rated. I returned the Klipsch and started digging for information into V-Moda. I found out that the Crossfade M-100 was the newest model. After reading what seemed like thousands of glowing reviews (and no negative reviews), I decided to get the white M-100s. Below I will compare the Beats by Dre Studios to the V-Moda Crossfade M-100s.
I don't know if this matters to anyone, but it seems that all the reviews I read mentioned the packaging. If this is something that concerns you, I would normally say something snarky, but I understand that you are spending ~$300 (you deserve quality). In this respect, the Beats win. The packaging for the Beats is superb. The box is really nice and compartmentalized. The V-Modas come in a much more modest box with less frills.
If you just spent $300 bucks on headphones, you want to ensure they are protected when you're not wearing them. Both the Beats and M-100s come with semi-hard cases. However, the quality of the M-100's case is far superior. The shape is very aesthetically appealing and it is also smaller than the Beats' case--this will be important if you're traveling and space is at a premium. The headphones also fit a lot better in the M-100s' case. There is no wasted space in the case; it almost seems that the case was made out of a mold of the headphones. As for the Beats, the case is a little big for the headphones. It doesn't seem like there was much thought given to the design of the case. It's bland, kinda bulky and everything is just kinda thrown in there.
Now we're going get to the meat and potatoes of the review, the actual headphones. The first thing that really disappointed me about the Beats was how plasticky they were. When I actually unfolded the Beats, they felt like a child's toy. I was afraid of breaking them. The battery compartment seemed like it woouldn't last more than 10 uses. And the worst thing is what you've probably read in many other reviews: the right ear cup makes a sound when walking. By comparison, the M-100s are built to last. The first thing I noticed was that many different materials were used (the headband is a pleather-type substance and aluminum is used on many of the high stress areas). The M-100s give you that feel in your hands that you can handle them without the fear of breaking them. There is really no comparison in the built quality, even going into the peripherals. The cords on the V-Modas are wrapped in Kevlar. This is a big deal if you're like me and get your cords caught on things. The Beats' cords are the run-of-the-mill plastic type.
Now I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but having both of these headphones side by side I feel I can give you a pretty good idea about how they look. It's no secret that the Beats were mainly designed for looks first. However, even in this aspect that is supposed to be the Beats forte, the V-Modas win convincingly. I have the White Studios and the Pearl White with Silver M-100s. If I may use cars to elaborate, the Beats look like a Nissan Altima with all the packages, rims, tint and cool paint job; conversely, the M-100s look like a BMW M6. You can actually see the difference in quality. The Beats look like they are trying to be cool; the M-100s look classy, sophisticated and sexy. The M-100s also have a really cool feature that allows you to customize them by changing out the ear cup plates and the V-Moda logos on the sides of the headband (you have to purchase the new plates).
Since both of these headphones are mainly for portable use, they should be pretty comfortable for extended periods. The M-100s are much more comfortable than the Beats. The Beats really warmed up my ears and put a lot of pressure to the top of my head. I tried adjusting the fit, but nothing helped. The ear cups on the M-100s are very comfortable and I feel no pressure on the top of my head. The M-100s also feel more secure on your head; the Beats always felt like they were going to fall off my head.
I reiterate that I am a common fellow not an audiophile. That said, the main thing that really disappointed be about the Beats was the sound quality. They just didn't sound like what I expected out of $300 headphones. I actually returned them the first time I bought them, but went back to get them when I found out that new headphones had to be "burned in." I was just not that impressed by anything. They sounded like regular headphones. I had a pair of $40 JVCs, and the only difference between the JVCs and the Beats was that the Beats had a little more bass. Furthermore, the sound leakage of the Beats is reprehensible. Even at 50% volume on my iPhone my wife would ask me to turn them down because they were distracting her from watching TV (she was ~15ft away from me). If there is something good about the Beats is that your friends won't need extra plugs for their headphones to enjoy your music because they will be able to listen to your music clearly when you wear the Beats. Also, the Beats are supposed to be "sound cancelling"; they are not. Aside from being a pain in the ass because you will need batteries to use them, the sound cancelling isn't very good. Outside noise really creeps into the headphones. But enough about the Beats, let's talk about the M-100s. When I put these headphones on, I instantly understood a lot of the jargon used by audiophiles. Even on my portable device, without an amp, I can hear so much more detail. The V-Modas are so clear and silky smooth. The bass--which is another thing the Beats are supposed to excel at--is much richer in the M-100s. It's definitely punchier, but not overwhelming--and never muddled. The mids are very well defined, I can hear the vocals clearly; whereas in the Beats the vocals on some songs were a bit muffled. The highs are crisp and refreshing--I thought the Beats were too sharp on the highs. One of the first things I also noticed was how big the sound seemed out of the M-100s. It seemed like it was all around me, not just in my ears like the Beats. I also own the Klipsch Image S4 and they also have pretty good sound, but its not nearly as spacious, balanced and full as the M-100s (not a fair comparison). As for the sound leakage, the M-100s are infinitely better than the Beats. The M-100's leak a little bit, but you couldn't make out the song someone was listening to at 5ft distance...in a library. Lastly, although the M-100s are only noise isolating--and not noise cancelling like the Beats--they somehow do a better job and keeping outside noise at a minimum better than the Beats.
Winner: M-100s...by a landslide.
If you're on the market for stylish headphones with superb sound quality, look no further than the V-Moda M-100s. I have never written an Amazon review before, but I felt compelled to let everyone know about my experience with these headphones. As ridiculous as this sounds, I felt I owed V-Moda that much for putting out such a quality product--ridiculous because I did hand them $300 of my dollars for these headphones. As I said, I always felt cheated with the Beat Studios--from the built quality to the sound quality, they just didn't feel like something worth $300 (or even $200). These V-Modas are expensive, but you are definitely getting what you're paying for: quality. And that's really all we can ask for as consumers, we don't want to be taken for a ride. If someone as unfamiliar with such things as "sound stage" can still be blown away by the sound quality, then everyone will be able to appreciate how good these headphones sound. I have no problem with Dr Dre or Monster (I'm one of the few people who've had pleasant experiences with their customer service), but they are definitely banking on the trendiness of their product. I'm just happy I accidentally found out about these headphones, because I am officially off the market for headphones for a while. The V-Moda Crossfade M-100s are simply amazing.
on December 17, 2012
I'll start with a quick summary (read this if you don't want to read the whole review), list the package contents, the headphone itself, talk in-depth about the sound, and finally my overall verdicts.
Note that this is a review for the V-MODA Crossfade M-100, not any other headphone, so I will keep comparisons between other headphones to an absolute minimum. If you would like a specific comparison, please leave a comment below and I can try to answer it. You guys are reading this review because you want to know more about the product and what I think of it. For the average person, $300 is a large investment for a headphone, so I want to write my complete thoughts in-detail about the M-100. This is not a typical 2-paragraph Amazon.com review that glosses over many important details and aspects about the product.
Just as some extra information, the M-100's that I have are the "VTF-100" edition, so I pre-ordered these mid-August, received them mid-October, and I paid $310 USD for them. Val Kolton of V-MODA himself said the "VTF-100 is actually the limited first production run of M-100." The "VTF-100" has no sound differences from a normal M-100 unit.
<< The Very Quick Summary >>
Audio Quality: 3.5/5 for home listening, 4.5/5 for mobile listening
Overall Rating: 4.125 for home listening, 4.375/5 for mobile listening
+ For mobile listening the bass seems just right to me
+ Bass has a chest-thumping kind of feeling
+ Midrange frequencies have a nice lush/organic sound to them that sounds very natural and tonally accurate; the upper-midrange has a slight emphasis (so instruments such as violins, and female vocals are more pronounced)
+ Highs have sparkle without being fatiguing
+ STEELFLEX headband can be hyper-extended/stretched so that it can be "bent" to fit your head better (flatten the headband to decrease the clamping force, twist the headband to make the earcups angled, etc.)
+ Excellent instrument separation (instruments are clearly defined within a song)
+ Very excellent build quality as a whole (lots of metal parts in important structural areas)
+ Minimal noise leakage despite semi-closed (V-PORT) design
+ Cables are replaceable and do not lock
+ Earpads are replaceable
+ Can be driven quite well with an iPod/iPhone (it does benefit from an amp though)
+ Accessories bundled with the M-100 are plentiful
+ Ability to customise your headphone (base headphone colour, shield colour, shield design, earpad colour, different cables, different cable colours)
- For home listening, the bass might be too much
- Midrange is laid-back in presentation relative to the bass and lower-treble (laid-back meaning they sound distant)
- Upper-treble is quiet/not very good treble extension (likely due to V-MODA decreasing the treble peaks that cause hearing loss and fatigue)
- Soundstage is deeper than wide, which presents instruments oddly
- Earpads are shallow in depth and might be too small in size for people with larger ears
- Earpads tend to get warm and moist/wet
- Some cable noise/microphonics can be heard (with the SpeakEasy cable, a lot more is heard)
+/- Isolation is decent, but the midrange frequencies are not blocked-out very much
<< The Package >>
These headphones have a TON of accessories with the package! The box itself is very nice and of high quality, so it's definitely a box worth saving. Don't forget about the inner box within the box (the outside of the box is a sleeve for an inner-box).
Inside the box:
* Official user manual
* 2-year limited warranty (covers headphone defects and whatnot)
* Lifetime replacement warranty (after 2 years, if your headphones break, you can get another pair at 50% off)
* Hard-shell protective carrying case
* Carabiner clip
* Crossfade M-100
* 2 V-CORKs
* ~4 ft. SpeakEasy fabric cable with 45˚angled jack (1-button control + microphone)
* ~6 ft. SharePlay fabric cable with 45˚angled jack (regular audio cable with a headphone splitter at one end)
* 1/4" (6.3 mm) gold-plated stereo audio jack
<< The Headphone Itself >>
The comfort on the M-100 is kind of a mixed bag.
My ears fit snugly within the earcups with some wiggle room, so if you have larger ears they probably won't fit in the earcup. I have a pair of LP/LP2 pads with me and they are slightly smaller than the M-100 earpads (there is hardly any wiggle room). If your ear couldn't fit in the LP/LP2 earpads, they might in the M-100.
That being said, the M-100 earpads are MUCH softer than that of the LP/LP2's. The LP/LP2's earpads feel like a harder/denser foam material compared to the M-100. As a result of this, the M-100 earpads have a better seal on one's head than with the LP/LP2 pads since they're much squishier. This is generally good in terms of comfort. Because of the more squishy padding though, the tip of my ear actually presses against the hard dome-shaped driver enclosure in the earcup. This does cause some discomfort and I can't wear the M-100's for more than 3 hours without getting bothered by it. While exercising, this effect is magnified and I can't wear the M-100's for more than 30 minutes without my ears being in pain. Also, since the earpads are made of a leather material, the earpads get quite warm and they do get wet while exercising.
As for the rest of the fit, the M-100 does really well here.
I've tried V-MODA's previous headphone, the M-80, and it had a very small headband even when the adjustable parts were extended to the max. The M-100 doesn't have this issue and I use mine on adjustment 3 of 11.
If there is too much (or too little) clamping force, you can bend the headband outward (or inward) so that the STEELFLEX headband is adjusted to your liking. If your ears are angled relative to your head, the earcups themselves don't swivel so you can, again, bend/twist the STEELFLEX headband at an outward angle to angle the drivers to your liking.
As a whole, the M-100 is fairly comfortable on my head. I gave the comfort a 4/5 because the super-squishy earpads are bothersome for me for long listening sessions.
I won't say much about the looks of the M-100 since "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". I own the white silver model (which is more a creme colour) and I like its appearance because it has a non-traditional appearance: the hexagonal drivers are unique in the sea of headphones out there and the colour scheme isn't very common to find either.
Back to the design, the M-100 has a very rugged build-quality. There are metal pieces in important areas within the headphone and the CliqFold hinge is a first-class hinge. I'm not an expert with hinge design, but I don't see the hinge falling apart any time soon. They feel VERY robust and sturdy such that it makes other headphones' hinges feel cheap. When the earcups are folded inward, a satisfying *click* can be heard. When unfolding the earcups, another satisfying *click* is heard. The mechanism for this is very clever: the hinge has multiple metal discs, one of which has a metal nub; when the headphone is folded/unfolded, the metal nub slides out of a niche on a different metal disc and goes into another niche to make the *click* sound. You really have to see and feel it in-person to realize how clever and robust the mechanism is.
The STEELFLEX headband is designed to be stretched, bent, and/or contorted so that it won't snap. I wouldn't advise doing so, but it's a nice safety net for peace of mind.
Likewise, the removable cable is a nice safety net in case the "headphone" goes bad and it turns out it's only the cable. The cables do not lock so if you tug on the cable, the cable pops off instead of bringing down the whole headphone...and yes I have accidentally tugged on the cable before; the non-locking cable is a huge relief for that purpose. The dual-entry earcups is a nice addition in case you prefer the cable entry to be on the right-side instead of the left like on most every-other headphone out there. Cleverly enough, this dual-entry earcup allows you to share music with others using the other port, OR you can play music from 2 different sources at once to get a mixed music experience. To prevent dust from getting into the entry ports, you can "plug" the ports with the included V-CORKs. Also, cleverly enough, the M-100 was tuned with 1 earcup entry in use such that without the second port being blocked (whether it be with a V-CORK or another headphone jack), the sound in the other channel is slightly imbalanced. You probably won't even notice the difference (I don't), but it was something that Tyll at Innerfidelity.com measured with his measuring equipment.
One thing I don't like about fabric cables is that they tend to fray over time. This has happened to some extend on both cables, but much more so with the SpeakEasy cable even though I use it less than the SharePlay cable. With any cable, there is some cable noise when the cable rubs on your shirt or jacket, again being more evident with the SpeakEasy cable. While this usually isn't an issue for me, it is kind of annoying since fabric cables tend to produce a higher-frequency noise compared to a more traditional rubber or plastic-coated cable.
The V-PORT design is interesting because it does make the M-100 leak music more so than other headphones, but it's not nearly to the same extent as an open-back headphone. If you're listening to music at reasonable volume levels, the noise leakage should not be a problem at all. Also, I'm not sure if the V-PORT design but the noise isolation of midrange frequencies isn't the best I've heard in a headphone in this price range. I can still carry out a conversation with a friend while listening to music (a good thing for me, but it might be a bad thing for you).
The earpads, as explained in the comfort section, are too squishy for me for long listening periods so my ear gets hard-pressed on the dome-shaped driver enclosure withing the earcup.
The replaceable shields, although very cool, can crack the earcup's plastic. Word to the wise, do NOT over-tighten the shield's hex screws! This is probably a user-error so I won't blame V-MODA. Speaking of the earcup's plastic though, I have accidentally dropped the M-100's on a hard carpet surface and the enclosure is cracked a little bit. I'm not worried about it at all, but it's something to keep in mind: plastic is not indestructible. Adding on to that fall experience, one of the earcups actually detached from the yokes holding the earcups in place. This is all by design so it's easy to pop back in.
As a whole, the M-100 is well-designed. My only real gripes with the design are the earpad and the dome-shaped driver enclosure so I give the design a 4/5.
<< Sound >>
OK the important part of the review. I will divide this section into 4 sub-sections: home listening, mobile listening, amping, music I listen to. I have let the M-100's "burn-in" for 144+ straight hours with pink noise and I did not noticed any differences between the "burned-in" M-100 and the out-of-the-box M-100. Burn-in is still a myth and/or psychological difference to me. Even after an additional 200+ hours of listening to the M-100's with my own music, as well as letting the earpads and headband adjust to my natural head shape, my observations with the M-100 have not changed.
What is home listening? Listening to your music in an environment with minimal background noise (e.g. quiet office cubicle, silent library room, a quiet bedroom, etc.).
The bass for home listening is really too much for my personal tastes and I find that it intrudes into the midrange too much. If you listen to a lot of midrange-centric music (classical, folk, some types of pop, smooth jazz, etc.), the bass is really too distracting as it is very forward relative to the midrange and thus midrange-centric music just doesn't sound right. On the other hand the bass has very good extension (meaning it easily produces lower-bass and sub-bass frequencies), is very clean tight or well-controlled and it is very accurate especially for a headphone at its price. Also, the bass gives you a kind of chest-thumping feeling especially with a drumset's bass pedal. Of course it's not the same feeling one would get from a club, or a good speaker system, but it's a very satisfying bass if you listen to a lot of electronic-based music.
Like I mentioned in the bass section, the midrange frequencies feel distant relative to the bass. Tonally, the midrange sounds very good and accurate considering the price, especially when compared to other competing headphones. The midrange as a whole has some nice warmth in it which makes the midrange sound lush and organic. While I find the midrange to be really great in that regards, I can't help but think the midrange feels left out when the bass is right in your face. I listen to a lot of midrange-centric music genres for home listening, so it's hard for me to completely enjoy those genres with the forward bass, laid-back midrange of the M-100. By no means is the midrange bad for the M-100, but I just can't groove to the midrange in a lot of my music because it's so distant-sounding.
More specifically about the midrange, the lower-midrange (male vocals, lower guitar and piano notes, etc.) seems to be veiled by the big bass to an extent; veiling meaning not-in-focus and lacking in detail. If you listen to Seal and/or Michael Jackson's music for example, their lower-pitched voices gets over-shadowed by the big bass. On the other end of the midrange, the upper-midrange, they are slightly emphasised. What this means is that upper-midrange sounds such as female voices, violin, upper piano notes, etc. have more of a forward presence compared to the lower-midrange and thus have a lot of details. As a whole though, the entire midrange is still laid-back relative to the bass.
V-MODA has a tendency to tune their products such that ear fatigue and sibilance are removed from your experience. Supposedly these frequencies are artificially spiked in many headphones and can cause hearing loss. I don't know if this is true or not, but I have noticed that the treble is not very fatiguing at all compared to other headphones I've heard. In terms of tonality, the treble does seem a bit artificial-sounding, but it sounds much better than a lot of the competition from my experience. The lower-treble is slightly pronounced like the upper-midrange, so sounds like initial snare drum hits have a nice presence in a song. On the other hand, the upper-treble is pretty quiet relative to the rest of the treble so cymbal crashes sound kind of dull and lacking in detail. This can attribute to a lack of treble extension and some rock tracks don't sound very lively as a result of this. The treble is sparkly though, so cymbal hits have a nice "tss" sound to them. One thing that really bothers me with some headphones is sibilance, which is in the upper-midrange/lower-treble region. Although the M-100 has a slight emphasis in this area, they never become sibilant at all. No unnatural-sounding, annoying "ssssssss" sounds can be heard with female voices and snare drums.
Soundstage and Instrument Separation:
The M-100's have very excellent instrument separation compared to the rest of the competition. The instruments being played within a song are well-defined and nothing really feels muddled together.
Although the front of the box says: "the soundstage...colossal", I wasn't particularly impressed with the soundstage. It is fairly spacious for a closed-back headphone but I've heard a larger soundstage in other closed-back headphones in the same price range. I didn't find the soundstage to be particularly wide (if you close your eyes, the spread of the instruments around your left and right ears indicates the width), but I did find the soundstage to have a large depth perception (if you close your eyes, how far away the instruments are from your head indicate depth). This more depth-based soundstage sounds unnatural to my ears because if you imagine the stage in which sound is being played, a natural stage is wide and has some depth (such as a concert stage). The depth-based stage makes the stage rather narrow and very long in depth, it just doesn't sound right for me. What this does for the sound is that although the instrument separation is good, the instruments are layered in a depth-based stage. Left and right stereo imaging is thus reduced and isn't the most accurate from what I've heard, especially for gaming and listening to binaural recordings (people call binaural recordings "3D" sound). In general, I often find the bass (drum pedal and bass guitar) to be in the front stage, lower-treble (snare drum hits) slightly behind this, upper-midrange (female vocals, upper violin notes, etc.) behind the lower-treble, the rest of the midrange a few steps away from the upper-mids, and the cymbals as a whole in the very back of the stage. Because of this layering effect, the drumset sounds very unnatural to my ears as the bass pedal is in-your-face and the cymbal crashes are way in the back of the stage. It is also because of this soundstage that the midrange in general seems pretty distant from the bass and some treble.
So for home listening, the odd-sounding soundstage presents instruments in a way that is really awkward for me to listen to as the bass sounds are dominating over the midrange and the lack of treble extension makes many rock songs non-ideal with the M-100. Likewise, orchestra, classical, folk, and some pop music sounds weird with this kind of presentation. This makes the M-100 a genre-specific headphone so music genres that rely on electronically-produced sounds will likely excel with the M-100. Of course using an EQ or even earpad modifications can help, but I am reviewing the M-100 as it is, not modified. 3.5/5 for the sound while home listening
What is mobile listening? Listening to your music in an environment with extra background noise (e.g. people chatting in the background, walking between classes at school, waiting for your flight at an airport, etc.). It is to my understanding that V-MODA refers to such people as "road warriors" (this was mentioned in their official press release for the M-100). As such, the M-100 was built specifically for this type of listening, and demographics, which factors in as to why I give the sound quality rating a 4.5/5 for mobile listening as I think it's the best mobile headphone I have ever touched. Since I already covered what the M-100 sounds like in general for home listening, I will just list the differences in sound for mobile listening.
So the bass may have been too much for home listening, but with the extra background noise while mobile listening, the bass gets drowned out and it actually sounds very nicely balanced with the rest of the sound spectrum. Call me stupid, but when I use the relatively bass-light Shure SRH940 while mobile listening, the bass is gone; it's really non-existant and I need to apply a massive bass-boosting EQ. Any complaints I have about the bass for home listening is immediately negated for mobile listening. The bass quantity while mobile listening is reduced such that I can still comfortably hear the bass in a noisier environment, while still keeping that chest-thumping feeling. Perfect bass in my opinion.
Similar to the bass while mobile listening, the nitpicks I had for the midrange while home listening are somewhat remedied with the extra background noise. The midrange while mobile listening doesn't sound nearly as laid-back as while home listening, so the midrange is ever-so-slightly more clear while mobile listening. It is still laid-back though and it is noticeable, but it's at least more tolerable for me to listen to than for home listening.
And once again, just like the bass and midrange, the treble seems a little more pronounced while mobile listening, so cymbals are a little more audible and more balanced with the rest of the sounds. The treble extension does still seem a bit lacking, but rock music sounds more lively compared to home listening nonetheless. Listening to Nightwish's albums while mobile listening sounds AWESOME!
Soundstage and Instrument Separation:
The instrument separation still retains its high value, instruments are still well-defined.
The depth-based soundstage is reduced while mobile listening such that the depth is not nearly as obvious and the soundstage thus sounds a little more natural to my ears. The soundstage is still lacking in width for my personal preferences but it is certainly acceptable.
For mobile listening, any complaints/nitpicks I had for the M-100 while home listening are remedied with the extra background noise. I only wish the midrange was a little more forward and the soundstage a little wider, but as a whole the M-100 is the BEST mobile headphone I have ever touched, especially considering its competition at a similar price range. More music genres are listenable while mobile listening as a result of this difference in sound. Very nicely balanced bass, clear, tonally-accurate midrange, balanced treble that is sparkly and non-fatiguing, very excellent instrument separation: 4.5/5 for mobile listening
First and foremost, the M-100 does NOT need an amp in order to sound good. This isn't an AKG K 701 where it's really inefficient and has a high impedance. The M-100 is quite sensitive and fairly easy to drive at 32 ohm. Because of its high sensitivity, you might be able to hear the "background hiss" of some sources like you can often hear with in-ear earphones.
Also, because of this high sensitivity and low impedance, these headphones can get LOUD. I don't care for loud listening volumes that cause hearing damage, but if that's what you're into, the M-100's do get loud. I don't know why, but that seems to be a popular theme amongst YouTube comments in headphone reviews: "do they get loud?"
With that out of the way, the M-100 does benefit from an amp depending on how good your source is. For the most part, the M-100 pairs well with inexpensive, portable headphone amplifiers, so you don't need to go out of your way and purchase a super, high-fidelity headphone amplifier that costs over $300.
From what I have, a FiiO E7 USB DAC and a JDS Labs (or the UK equivalent, Epiphany Acoustics) Objective2 (also known as the O2), the O2 is by far the best headphone amplifier I have heard with the M-100's. For the record, I have tried the M-100's with other headphone amplifiers (cheap to really expensive), and the O2 just really pairs nicely with the M-100. The O2 and M-100 combo is simply killer! The bass's chest-thumping effect is increased, the whole sound spectrum as a whole sounds cleaner and instruments are more clearly-defined thus increasing the instrument separation, more details within the whole sound spectrum can be heard, the treble extension is a little better, and the soundstage is increased in width (yay!). With the O2, everything just sounds so crisp and well-defined. It's hard to describe in words, but maybe it's like viewing a photo through frosted glass and regular clear glass (though not to the same degree). It really makes a noticeable difference, regardless of what source you're using (unless you already have a super high-fidelity setup of course). The difference isn't night and day, like I said because it is very efficient and easy to drive, but having a relatively neutral and uncoloured amplifier does help bring the M-100 to its maximum potential.
That being said, the same benefits of the O2 are still heard through the less expensive FiiO E7 (as an amplifier, not a USB DAC) but to a lesser degree. So if you can't afford a headphone amplifier over $100, the E7 still pairs quite nicely with the M-100. I should mention on the other hand, that the benefits from the E7 depend on how good your current source is. I own a 2008 MacBook and the E7 makes a HUGE difference in sound quality with the M-100 compared to its headphone out port. I use a Sansa Clip Zip portable media player for listening to music on the bus, and the E7 likewise provides a nice increase in sound quality for the M-100. On the other hand, I also own a new 2012 Retina MacBook Pro and the sound quality with the E7 seems to be decreased compared to its headphone out port. In the end, depending on how good your current source is, a portable amplifier may or may not be beneficial for the M-100.
If you so desire, a coloured amplifier can also benefit the M-100. I have tried a Digizoid ZO2 portable subwoofer amplifier and I found that it increases the M-100's "fun" factor. If you use the ZO2 at the green or green-yellow colour "settings", the M-100's have a noticeable increase in sub-bass and lower-bass. Fortunately this increase in bass does NOT ruin the rest of the sound spectrum, and it just makes the bass more fun to dance to. So, if you want a headphone amplifier that makes the M-100 more "fun" to listen to, I would actually highly recommend the ZO2.
*Music I Listen To*
I listen to a large variety of music artists and music genres. Most of my albums are either in the form of a CD, accurately ripped EAC FLAC files, or FLAC files downloaded from Bandcamp. If I used an MP3 file, except where noted, it is encoded as a V0 LAME MP3 file.
László Szendrey-Karper - Hungarian Chamber Orchestra - Guitar Concertos & Sonatas - Antonio Vivaldi & Francesco Geminiani
Leo Ku - Strings Fever
Opus Two, Charles Bernard, Marin Mazzie - Leonard Bernstein: Violin Sonata, Piano Trio, New Transcriptions
Yo-Yo Ma - Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten: Sonata for Cello & Piano, Simply Baroque 2
Yury Boukoff, Mark Drobinsky, Rasma Lielmane - Richard Strauss: Les Trois Sonates
2CELLOS - 2CELLOS
Lindsey Stirling - Lindsey Stirling
ThePiano Guys - ThePianoGuys
Vanessa Mae - Choreography
Ambidextrous & Morkva - A&M
Amon Tobin - Bricolage, Foley Room, ISAM, Out from Out Where
Deadmau5 - 4x4=12, For Lack of a Better Name, Random Album Title
Fila Brazillia - Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight
Ladytron - Best of 00-10 Deluxe Edition
Little People - Mickey Mouse Operation, Unreleased Bits & Pieces (Part 1 and Part 2), We Are But Hunks Of Wood
Massive Attack - Mezzanine
Tiësto - Magikal Journey: The Hits Collection
Trash80 - Hologram EP, Icarus EP, Weeklybeats 2012, various singles
Yosi Horikawa - Wandering EP
Dr. Chesky - Dr. Chesky's Sensational Fantastastic and Simply Amazing Binaural Sound Show
Jamey Haddad Mark Sher - Explorations in Space and Time (24-bit/96 kHz, binaural)
Ottmar Liebert - The Hours Between Night + Day, Up Close (24-bit/96 kHz, binaural)
12 Girls Band - Eastern Energy, Romantic Energy
Beth Orton - Comfort of Strangers, Daybreaker, Trailer Park
Chen Dacan Chinese Ensemble, Soloist Li He - Classical Chinese Folk Music, Featuring the Chinese Flute
I Ching - Of The Marsh And The Moon (24-bit/96 kHz, binaural)
Joanna Wang - Start From Here
Shan Di Orchestra - China-The Middle Kingdom
Various Artists - Pu'ukani: 'Sweet Music' of Hawai'i
Yoshida Brothers - Ibuki, Yoshida Brothers II, Prism
Jon Cleary - Jon Cleary and the absolute monster gentlemen
Tower of Power - Bump City
M-Flo - Cosmicolor
Quincy Jones - Back on the Block
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Deems - Deem's Greatest Hits
Fourplay - Between the Sheets, Fourplay
Mongo Santamaría - Montreux Heat!
Quincy Jones - From Q, with Love
Vince Guaraldi - A Charlie Brown Christmas [Starbucks Exclusive]
Gabriela Montero - Baroque, Sergei Rachmaninov
Yuja Wang - Sonatas & Etudes: Chopin, Scriabin, Liszt, Ligeti; Transformation: Stravinsky, Scarlatti, Brahms, Ravel; Yuja Wang: Rachmaninov
Adele - 21
Fahrenheit - 越來越愛, 雙面飛輪海
Gigi Leung - 怕寂寞的貓
Lady Gaga - Born This Way, The Fame, The Fame Monster
Michael Jackson - Bad (24-bit/96 kHz)
Peggy Hsu - 奇幻精品店
Pet Shop Boys - Please, The Most Incredible Thing
S.H.E - Play, SHERO, Super Star, 愛的地圖
Taylor Swift - Fearless, Speak Now, Taylor Swift
Vitas - Say You Love, Philosophy of Miracle
Slightly Stoopid - Chronchitis, Everything You Need
1724 Records - Beijing Post-Rock
Battles - Gloss Drop
Boris - Heavy Rocks
Cloudkicker - Beacons
GACKT - Diabolos, Episode.0, Mizerable
HIGH and MIGHTY COLOR - Swamp Man
Moi dix Mois - D+SECT, Diaxandu
Nightwish - Angels Fall First, Imaginaerum, Once, Wishmaker
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Stereopony - Over The Border
The National - Exile Vilify
Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul
Seal - Best 1991 2004 (24-bit/96 kHz), Seal, Seal 6: Commitment, Soul 2
Usher - Confessions
Chiaki Ishikawa - Bokurano OP & ED
Daft Punk - Tron Legacy Original Soundtrack
Jun Maeda, Shinji Orito, Magome Togoshi, OdiakeS - various Key anime soundtracks (Air, Clannad, Clannad: After Story, Kanon, Kanon 2006)
Isaac Hayes - Shaft
Official Music Created for Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs - Sound Sketches of Ancient Egypt
The Track Team - The Legend of Korra Unreleased Music (16-bit, 48 kHz, 256 kbps)
Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra - 涼宮ハルヒの弦奏
Various artists - Tron Legacy Reconfigured
<< Conclusion >>
Overall, despite the nitpicks for sound, I think the M-100 is definitely worth the price you pay for. I was originally looking for a headphone that would better suite my needs for mobile listening, mainly a warm-sounding, bass-boosted, durable, compact headphone since my previous Shure SRH940 headphones weren't very good for the music genres I listen to while mobile listening (you can check out my review for them by clicking on my name). The M-100 meets and exceeds all of these criteria and if I could, I would give their value a 10/5 because they really are the perfect headphones for me for mobile listening. Other portable headphones I've tried (e.g. all of the ones from the Apple Store) can't live up to what the M-100's offer. The M-100's really do "stand above the rest" of the competition from my experience.
For home listening, I would honestly pick a different, more audiophile-friendly and balanced headphone because the M-100's odd soundstage, presentation of instruments, and laid-back midrange are a detraction for me and the music genres I listen to. However, for mobile listening, I would look no further. The M-100's slay other competing headphones in its price range for mobile listening, and to some extent even home listening (headphones at the Apple Store come to mind for these comparisons).
Would I recommend the M-100? Yes for music genres that rely on artificial/electronically-produced sounds and for mobile listening, no for music genres that are midrange-centric, rely on naturally produced sounds, or home listening(without any modifications or EQ's).
<< Thanks >>
Thank you for taking the time to read through, or glance over, my review. I realize this is a big 'ol, long review, but I hope this is helpful in some way or another. I like to write detailed thoughts and explanations to justify my ratings, so hopefully you guys can get a better sense of what I experience and make a better-informed decision on this $300 purchase. Don't forget though, V-MODA offers a 60-day test trial for any of their products if you make purchase from their website. If you don't like the product within 60 days, you can return it for a full-refund. It's a nice program if you still aren't sure if you'll like the M-100. Why not give it a try?
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment below and I'll try to get back to you as soon as I can.
Thanks again for taking the time to read this!