488 of 524 people found the following review helpful
Frustratingly Close to Being Really Excellent
, August 9, 2012
This review is from: V-MODA Crossfade M-80 On-Ear Noise-Isolating Metal Headphone (Shadow) (Discontinued by Manufacturer) (Electronics)
First, the good news. These are a very appealing design aesthetically, have impeccable build quality, and an excellent warranty. More significantly, this extremely slick and attractive product also sounds very good, and does not take the usual thumpity-thump extreme bass distortion that is so typical to mainstream consumer headphone designs, especially the ones targeted towards the young and hip. VModa has designed a credible product that stands out in crowded field of mediocre headphones that look good and sound ordinary or worse.
That said, there are a few issues buyers need to be aware of. The immensely positive reviews these phones have received on Amazon and places like Inner Fidelity and Head Fi seem to have ignored some key concerns which I will voice to fully inform potential buyers.
First, if your hat size is L, these will barely fit. If your hat size is XL, forget it, these will not fit at all. On headphones like the Sony V6 and Shure 440, my reasonably sized head needs 6 of 10 ratchets. On the M80s, 10 of 10 fits with a bit of struggle. Those with a bigger head than mine need not bother. Yes, you could bend the headband in hopes of getting them to fit your oversized noggin, but why would you want to do this? The Phiaton MS400 and Sennheiser HD 25 are roughly the same size and can accommodate heads of all sizes pretty handily. VModa for some odd reason assumes their users are all well on the average side of cranium size.
Second, the pad that goes on your ear is too small. Again, my ears are not that huge and the HD25 covers up the whole ear nicely, but the M80 needs to be precisely centered to sound good, and then sometimes it moves a bit and needs to be re-centered. Annoying, and unnecessary. If the cups were 10 or 15% bigger, there would be no issue here.
So any other issues for those who have heads and ears that the M80s fit well? Yes, a few. First, in the only truly bad design element seen in the phones, the plug that goes into the left headphone cup needs to be removed before you store the headphones in the hard case. The bottom of the headphone does not have enough clearance for the straight connector on the plug to fit in the case still attached. Otherwise you have to bend the cable at a really sharp angle that looks like it will lead to early cable failure. The cable is high quality and sturdy, but even an excellent stress relief bend is not meant to be kept at close to a 90 degree angle for the long periods of time when the phones are sitting in the case. So this means if you take these on the bus, you first will have to take them out of the case and then connect the cable to the phones before connecting them to your device. Minor, but irritating for a set of phones supposedly designed for mainly mobile use.
All minor issues so far. But now we come to the Big Three Problems.
Problem One: The sound profile - too much accent in the mids! Bass is excellent, well controlled yet resonant when needed, quick response. The equal of the HD25, which is tough to do. Excellent for rock and metal, decent bass extension for other genres. The treble is rolled off a bit, lacks some detail at the higher end, but no real problems as many find truly accurate treble to be fatiguing. The real problem (for some music) is that the mids are boosted too much. Listening to rock where you have a mix of quiet instrumentation and vocals (e.g. The National, Lost in the Trees) the singers sound artificially forward and overwhelm the music. Listening to "Fake Empire" from Boxer on the M80 and then comparing it to the HD25s makes the piece sound like 2 completely different songs, with the M80 version sounding unnatural and unpleasant.
For other types of music where vocals are equally mixed with loud instruments (e.g. Lamb of God) there is no problem and for non-vocal or non-amplified music (jazz and classical) this is also not an issue. Most modern popular music uses studio miking where everything is mixed as coming from the center while jazz and classical recording is more positional (e.g. the drums are on the right, the bass is on the left), so I think that may explain this. This may or may not be a problem for individual users. Metal and electronica sounds really fine (probably rap and pop too though I didn't test those types), classical and jazz are decent, but less energetic vocal oriented rock (alternative) may end up sounding weird. In any case, the boosted mids mean these phones are not very accurate, which may offend audiophiles.
Problem Two: Strong competition at the price point. For roughly half the price of the M80s, the AudioTechnica M50, Sony ZX700s. and Shure 440s will thoroughly trounce the M80s. Bass is as good or better, treble handling is more accurate, and the mids are more natural sounding yet also enjoyable. If you want good sound cheaply, any of those options are superior. They are all somewhat larger phones though, none of them are quite as portable as the VModas (though the M50 does at least fold up, something that the M80s rather surprisingly cannot do), none of them look as nice, and all of them are made mainly of plastic (though very durable and good quality plastic).
If you want something more portable, the Senn HD25s and Phiaton MS400s are in the same price range and size configuration as the M80 and so are more of a direct challenge to it. Both headphones sound as good or better than the M80s, especially the MS400s which have a bit of a mid-bass boost that M80 users will like, though without also having the weird artificial over boosted mids that the Vmodas have. The HD25, though being both accurate and fun in its sound, looks drab and cheap compared to the VModas, but the MS400 is just as sexy as the M80s, sounds better, is more portable because it folds, and fits more ears and heads. It sells for less than 10% more (at time of writing) but the main issue is that the build quality is less impressive (my MS400s are a few years old and still holding up well, but they seem delicate and have a few creaks when they are flexed). Phiaton's warranty is also only half of VModas (one year instead of two), and there is no lifetime 50% off replacement deal.
So big heads and ears need not apply. Getting the M80 unpacked from its travel case and set up takes an extra few seconds. Some music genres don't work out too well with the M80s. There are cheaper or comparably priced competitors that sound better, though none that offer the added aesthetics and build quality of the VModa. Still a contender? Sure, except for...
Problem Three: No Isolation. The M80s have a little port on the back of the driver encasement. This helps them to have a nice airy soundstage, much better than the HD25s or MS400. Well and good. This means others right next to you can hear what you're listening to, though not too much. But this also means you get a lot of sound leakage coming into your music from the environment. If you listen to anything but constantly loud music (metal, some electronic) the quieter moments in your music will let in far too much external noise, even with your Iphone at 75% volume. These phones are utterly hopeless on the NYC subways for most music. Even if you don't ride mass transit, the music in a Starbucks café was getting in the way of jazz and classical and could even be occasionally heard during a Muse album, which has pretty few quiet spots. The subway is a bit of a bridge too far for everything except canal phones, but Starbucks?
Basically if you listen to any music with peaks and dips in sound level, you can only listen to the M80s at home (assuming your place is nice and quiet - in my house, the air conditioning was overpowering the sound at some points!). What is the real point of small portable headphones with awful isolation? If portability is not an issue (i.e. you are at home) why not use full size headphones that are cheaper and sound better? I guess you could use these if you were hiking in a quiet natural setting, or were in the library. Or you could listen to metal all the time and leave the volume cranked, which may have other consequences for the long term... The HD25 isolates much much better, sounds better, and costs the same. It just doesn't look as nice.
So to conclude, I wanted to like these headphones more than I did. The aesthetics and build quality of the design are impressive, and its obvious VModa is trying to give Joe Public headphones that do sound decent. The boosted mids are defensible as they make some types of music sound really good, but the poor isolation in a purported portable headphone is the main issue for me.
Sound Quality is 3 and a half stars. Build Quality and Appearance are each 5 stars. Isolation is 2 stars. I'm rounding down to three stars because the isolation problem does not reconcile well with the VModas main raison d'etre which is portability. Because these are supposed to be portable, the cups are small, the frame is small, the cord needs to be removed when carried etc, all of which cause other issues for the user. Without good isolation, these deficiencies are all exacerbated. Three stars for me. If you like metal, add a star or two.
I hope VModa will go back to the design boards and produce the M80 Mk II; ideally, it would be somewhat larger, would have a slightly more naturally tuned driver, and would get rid of the sound ports and otherwise improve isolation. The M80 Mk I is great in many ways, and comes close to being top of its class.
Testing Methods: 20-30 hours of listening to Ipad and Touch Ipod, no amp used, including about 5 hours of A/B comparisons with other phones. Music Sampled: Rock - Muse, Lost in the Trees, The National // Metal - Lamb of God, Agalloch, Opeth // Electronic - Massive Attack (Mezzanine), Lamb, Portishead // Jazz - Kind Of Blue (Davis), Bill Evans Trio, Maiden Voyage (Hancock) // Classical - Bernstein's Mahler (DG), St Saens Organ Symphony, Brahms Symphonies.
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