Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
Stylish on-ear headphones built to military specifications
In today’s wireless world, headphones are no exception. More and more, Bluetooth-enabled headphones are becoming the norm. I have become a huge fan, having switched to the MEELectronics Air-Fi AF32 wireless headphones several months ago and currently testing out Phiaton’s PS20 BT Bluetooth earphones for a future review.
Wireless headphones eliminate the cord, which, for me, has always been an issue with traditional headphones. The cord is usually the first thing to go—either the connection at the plug eventually detaches or the cord itself is severed. Also, the cord oftentimes gets tangled with my laptop bag or duffle bag during my daily commute.
Having abandoned wired headphones, I was intrigued by the look of the V-MODA Crossfade M-80 headphones. They represent another trend in headphones, where headphones are becoming as much a fashion statement as they are audio accessories.
It’s hard not to be struck by the look of the M-80s and their construction. V-MODA didn’t skimp on the building materials—you won’t find any plastic here, which you should expect for $230. The frame is metal as is the Steelflex headband. However, it is covered in microfiber suede that makes wearing the M-80s reasonably comfortable (more on that later). The ear cups, which are octagonal in shape, rest on your ear (supra-aural) versus those that fit around your ears (circumaural).The ear cushions are made of memory foam and mold to your ears over time for optimal comfort.
The M-80s come with two Kevlar-reinforced cables that are detachable from the headphones (a feature I have never come across). The Kevlar makes me feel that it would be next to impossible to damage the cables. The one drawback is that the Kevlar makes the cables a bit stiff.
The detachable audio cable isn’t something to gloss over either. As I mentioned before, at least for me, the cable is usually the first thing to go. Being able to swap cables instead of having to buy a whole new pair of headphones is an extremely attractive option. Both cables measure 52 inches and one has a traditional three-button controller while the other has a one-button controller. The remotes are equally over-engineered, encased in durable plastic with rubber-coated buttons.
Lastly, all M-80s come with a hard “exoskeleton” zip carrying case to protect your investment. In addition, V-MODA provides a carabiner that allows you to clip the carrying case to a bag.
Having been wowed by the convenience of wireless Bluetooth headphones, the V-MODA M-80s faced an uphill battle in winning me over. From almost the instant I started listening to them, they had me. I am not an audiophile, but I know enough to identify superior sound quality. At mid-volume levels, the M-80s’ 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers had me picking out layers on songs I have listened to dozens of times before that I had not noticed with other headphones. Disappointingly, however, at higher volumes, the highs can become a little too bright and there is some bass distortion. It seems that for the price you are paying, these things shouldn’t happen.
The buttons on the remotes are responsive, unlike the stiffness of some other remotes I have run across. The three-button controller is the typical up-and-down volume with the play/call button in the middle. The one-button controller is intended for iPhone operation. The controls are only a few inches below the left ear cup, an optimal location for the microphone if you are using the M-80s for calls. However, this location makes it impossible for you to see the controller, which means you have to rely on touch to operate the buttons. This led to more than a few accidental hang-ups and advancing or rewinding tracks when I was simply trying to adjust the volume. Furthermore, encasing the microphone in thick plastic, presumably for protection, V-MODA did sacrifice audio quality for calls. If you are someone who uses headphones for listening to calls, this is something to keep in mind too.
From a comfort standpoint, the memory foam ear cups and microfiber suede headband make the M-80s relatively comfortable. After prolonged use (a couple of hours) the ear cups began to press on my ears and the headband started pinching my head. This is something to keep in mind if you plan on using your headphones for long periods of time.
Having the luxury of receiving many of my review models gratis, I am able to focus on performance when deciding which of them I choose for my day-to-day use. For that reason, the V-MODA Crossfade M-80s are now the headphones I take with me on my daily commute as well as on trips. At moderate volumes, I have yet to come across headphones that offer better sound quality and clarity. While I am a bit dismayed of the performance at higher volumes—distorted bass and overpowering highs—I prefer to enjoy the musical experience without ruining my hearing any more than it already has been damaged. Add the fact that the M-80s are arguably the best-constructed headphones I have reviewed to this point, and the decision is relatively easy.
However, there is also the important issue of cost. Taking into account the solid construction and excellent sound quality, the $230 price tag is justifiable ($172 from Amazon). However, this is still not an insignificant price to pay for headphones, especially considering the sound performance at high volumes. For this reason, I give the V-MODA Crossfade M-80s my qualified recommendation.
$230 (Currently $172.25 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.