REVIEW: V-Moda XS
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Thursday, July 17th, 2014
by Arly Borges & Ethan Wolf
A short while ago Arly approached Val Kolton, the CEO of V-MODA, in hopes of securing two review samples for himself and Ethan concerning his new headphone, the XS. Val Kolton, always interested in feedback of his products, immediately agreed. Within a few short weeks Ethan and Arly each received a pair of white XS headphones for review. Previously, Arly was exposed to V-MODA's product line (which entailed the original M-80 and the M-100) while Ethan had yet to hear anything from V-MODA. The end result is quite an interesting review.
The XS is an interesting headphone in that it's not a true new product, per say, but instead is an improved product that borrows heavily from the already solid foundation of its predecessor, the M-80, and further utilizes some well thought-out engineering ideas from its big brother, the M-100.
First off, the XS's sleek clamshell hard case is vastly improved for mobile use over the M-80 clamshell case by being shrunk down in size. It can fit in the palm of your hand. While the original M-80s case could be cumbersome and space consuming when carting around, the XS case is backpack friendly and demands very little room when on the go. This was achieved by borrowing from the M-100, and giving the XS headphone the same click fold hinges so many M-100 owners raved about. Because the XS's cup can be folded up, the final form factor is ridiculously small and therefore no longer requires the bulky case the M-80 was known for.
V-MODA is infamous for its headphones durable form factor and use of high grade materials. The XS is no different. Like the M-80 and M-100, the XS's padded leather wrapped steel flex headband can be flexed and twisted in many different directions without fear of breakage or excessive warping. The click fold hinges as well as the gimbles, which can be retracted and extracted to fit different sized heads, and it's also made of steel. Unlike the M-80 and M-100, the XS sits differently on the wearers head due to the gimbles being angled differently resulting in a more low profile, closer to the head fit.
For those who already own the M-80, and are looking to trade up the customizable shields on the M-80, as well as the removable ear pads, they will the XS perfectly. One of the things we would've liked to see improved: slightly thicker and softer pads resulting in a more comfortable fit for a wider variety of people, but more on that in a minute. Like the M-80 and M-100, the cups are fashioned from hard plastic and are scratch and crack resistant. Inside the cups are housed the same 40 mm dual-diaphragm driver the M-80 possesses. Like the M-100, the XS possesses a cable port on each cup, enabling the wearer to choose which side he/she can plug the headphone cable into. V-MODA provides small plugs which can be used to plug up the unused port.
When you buy the XS you're provided one removable Kevlar covered cable, grey if you order white and black if you order black, with an inline microphone and quick touch controls for your phone that's terminated with a 45 degree, 1/8th inch plug. The cable, although well fashioned and sleek looking, is tangle prone, overly stiff, and unfortunately microphonic. That aside, we've handled far worse and the cables provided by V-MODA seem to do their job well.
The XS, like its predecessor the M-80, is an on-ear headphone. While isolation isn't bad, it's still not ideal. As such the XS is not the best solution for listening to music in an overly noisy environment such as a plane or bus where the drone of the engine can leak in. Although isolation may be average, the lack of noise leakage proves effective. As such, using the XS in semi quiet, such as a mall, or quiet place such as a library, should not be a problem and the average consumer shouldn't be able to disturb his/her neighbour as long as the volume isn't cranked up to ear deafening volumes!
The XS fit for Arly and Ethan was an interesting experiment. While Arly has yet to have any sort of fit issues with V-MODA's headphones it should be noted Ethan's experience was far different. For Arly the XS fit like a glove and was so comfortable he could forget he was wearing a headphone and concentrate on the music. While Ethan mostly agreed with Arly that the XS, aesthetically speaking, was excellent, the fit for him was far from perfect. When Ethan field tested the XS he found it could easily fall off his head and due to the way it fit over his ears the cups exuded more pressure on the back of his ears. This caused pain on his ears, making for an uneasy listen.
Sonically, the XS is a better, more balanced sounding version of the M-80.
For me, the overall signature is warmish, smooth and has a slight-bass emphasis.
The mids are fluid, and have acceptable detail retrieval for this price bracket. Vocals, especially female vocals, are rendered well. Transition into the highs are smooth and sibilance was minimal. Lower mid transition was acceptable but at times, with some songs, I noticed some bass bleed.
The bass is full-bodied with acceptably deep extension, and tight mid-bass. To my ears, the bass is maybe boosted 2, maybe 3db at most. Control in the lows is acceptable for this price bracket of headphone, even though I noted some slight leakage into the lows on some music. Even so, I give V-MODA top marks on how they tastefully tuned the lower frequencies of the XS.
The major quibble I had against the M-80 was its highs: they sounded too soft for my taste. I can honestly say now the one black mark I gave against the M-80 has been fixed to my satisfaction. Unlike the M-80, the XS has a nice sounding, more authoritative treble that no longer gets lost in the mix all the while remaining smooth. Because of the extra energy the treble seems to extend, the XS has a slightly bigger sound stage when compared to the M-80.
The bass region on this headphone was deep, but not tight to my ears. It has a slightly blobbish sound on the song "Once In A Lifetime" by the Talking Heads. The mid-bass section is tight and fast, and very prominent. Listening to, "Bones" by Radiohead, it is elevated for a good reason.
The mids on the XS are smooth and less prominent than the bass. On, "Let Down" by Radiohead, the singers voice was rendered well, with great detail. However, the V-Moda has an upper mid spike, which causes discomfort when a singer gets into the higher octaves. It is apparent on many songs, for example: "Afraid of Nothing" by Sharon Van Etten, when she gets starts rising, the spike was noticeable.
The treble is laid back, and very smooth. Pink Floyd's, "Time" is produced well by the XS. The highs don't make the biggest appearance, but they are clear. There wasn't too much body to them, could be because they were very light. The soundstage sounds a bit closed in, only slightly though. The imaging is solid, with instruments in relation to each other.
Overall, the XS is extremely well-built, and is a beautiful piece of art. However, while Arly was impressed with the XS based on how it's been improved when compared to his M-80 for Ethan there were a few faults. While he could overlook the fit issues as just his own personal problem, one that he could not overlook was the upper mid spike. That aside, they both recommend this headphone, as do we at audio360, for someone looking for a very stylish headphone, but still containing good sound.
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