Steven Stone is the former editor of AudiophileReview.com. He a longtime audiophile and home theater writer, as well as a musician and recording engineer. Steven has written for publications like Stereophile, as well as HomeTheaterReview.com, AudiophileReview.com, and The Absolute Sound.
Steven is plays guitar, mandolin, and Ashbory bass and is a collector of fine musical instruments.
V-Moda makes stylish-looking headphones that are designed and built to appeal to a wide audience -- music lovers, travelers, audiophiles, and DJs. The V-Moda Crossfade LP2s ($199) and M-100s ($310) are both full-sized over-the-ear headphones aimed specifically at DJs and others who need maximum isolation in noisy environments. The new XS ($212) is an on-ear rather than over-ear headphone for travelers and anyone else who needs some isolation to prevent their music from disturbing others, but also wants to be able to hear what's going on around them, such as when they're in an airline terminal waiting for a plane.
The XS replaces the M-80 ($199), which was V-Moda's first on-ear design. The XS manages to be even more comfortable than the M-80 while folding into a much smaller package for travel and storage. I've owned and used the V-Moda M-80 headphones for a while, and they've been my go-to cans when I travel, along with a pair of isolating in-ears for the actual plane ride. Since the XS arrived, the M-80s have been relegated to back-up travel headphone status. Everything that I liked about the M-80s has been retained by the XS design. In several ergonomic and performance categories, the XS betters V-Moda's previous efforts.
The V-Moda XS is based around a 40mm patented dual diaphragm design. It uses a Steelflex headband that is quite flexible but still supplies enough pressure to make a good seal around your ears. XS earpads are made of memory foam that molds to your ears after being on for a few minutes. The XS employs V-Moda's "cliq-fold" design, which allows the headphones to fold up into the curve of the headband. The whole XS package is less than five inches across and six inches high.
One unique feature of the XS is the lack of a space between the top of your head and the curve of the XS headband. Unlike some headphones, such as the AKG K701 or Audio-Technica ATH-A900x whose headbands stick up well above your head and resemble alien antennae, the XS headband closely follows the curve of your head. Another neat ergonomic features is the ability to attach the removable cable to either the right or left headphone enclosure. Most headphones, even those with removable cables, have an attachment only on the left side. You can also use the second attachment point to power a second set of headphones in a daisy chain, or you can place the supplied V-cork into the opening to seal it from dirt and sound leakage.
The V-Moda XS comes with one Kevlar-reinforced cable for use with portable devices, complete with a built-in volume control. Longer cables are available via V-Moda's website. Other accessories that come with the XS include an Exoskeleton hard carry case, a metal carabiner, two V-corks, a V-MODA sticker, and the V-MODA Six Star Service instruction book with discount codes for accessories. V-Moda's Six Star Service includes a two-year full warranty, plus a "50 percent immortal life" program where older, nonfunctional pairs of V-Moda headphones can be replaced by a new pair at a 50 percent discount. The V-Moda website also has live chat for questions about any of the company's headphones or warranties.
V-Moda headphones are more than merely a good pair of headphones; they are a complete experience that begins with the packaging, which is clever, artistic, and elegant, just like the headphones themselves. The hexagonal box features a faux white leather carrying handle, a hinged snap-closure opening, and slots for installing a locking anti-theft cable. Once removed from the packaging and placed onto your head, the XS adapts quite easily to your head shape. After a couple of minutes, the warmth from your body encourages the memory foam pads to form a complete seal on your ears. In many ways an on-ear headphone is one of the most difficult designs to fit right: if the headband is too loose, you'll never have a good seal; if it is too tight, the headphones can cause discomfort, especially if you want to use your headphones while wearing glasses. The XS avoids these issues. The fit was as complete and comfortable when I was wearing glasses as it was without spectacles. In fact, the V-Moda XS ranks as the most comfortable on-ear headphones I've used. Only the over-ear Oppo PM-1, Stax 404, and Sennheiser HD-600 headphones offer a more comfortable fit.
Isolation from outside sounds is not as complete as what I've heard from over-the-ear designs like the MrSpeakers Alpha Dog Prime, but it is good enough to shield anyone nearby from your music. As I mentioned earlier, in situations where you do need to hear some outside noise, such as in an airport or waiting for the light to change at your favorite pedestrian crossing, the XS headphones permit some connection to the outside world.
The only ergonomic shortcoming on the XS is that the designations for right and left are located on the bottom of the headband, so you have to turn the cans upside down to figure out which side is which.
Click over to Page Two for Sonic Impressions, High Points, Low Points, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
V-Moda calls the sonic signature of the XS "balanced, with precision bass, vivid mids, crystal clear ultra wide highs, and a 3D sound stage." I would call the XS a natural-sounding headphone with a fairly flat response throughout its frequency range, which is listed on V-Moda's site as an optimistic 5 Hz to 30 kHz. While I would question how much energy the XS can put out at 5 Hz and haven't heard a 30-kHz tone ever, I did notice that within my own audible frequency range the XS had a well-balanced frequency response that didn't call attention to any particular section of the frequency spectrum. If you're a bass-head or someone who wants a pair of headphones that emphasizes lower frequencies, V-Moda's M-100 or LP2 would be more to your liking than the XS. But for music lovers whose tastes lean toward classical, jazz, and acoustic music, the XS could be just the thing, a natural-sounding set of cans that supply a full-frequency response.
Although headphones offer a different perspective on the soundstage than speakers, they can create an image that is every bit as palpable and present as that of loudspeakers in a room. The XS imaging is good, but not quite as specific as the best-imaging headphones I've used. On my own live recordings, the spaces between the instruments aren't quite as distinctly defined as they are with the Oppo PM-1 headphones. The overall soundstage size was spacious, but some headphones (such as the Stax Lambda Pro Novas) have larger and even more expansive soundstage dimensions.
Because of their 28.5-ohm impedance and 105dB sensitivity, the XS are easy to drive. While I did notice increased detail, dynamics, and bass extension when tethered to a good desktop amplifier such as the Oppo HA-1, even my iPhone was able to drive the XS to more than adequate volume levels. Although I noticed some differences between various headphone amplifiers and sources through the XS, they are not fussy headphones that need a particular amplifier or source to sound their best.
• The XS headphones are extremely comfortable.
• These are well-balanced, natural-sounding headphones.
• The detachable cord is Kevlar-reinforced.
• The XS headphones fold into a compact package.
• The on-ear design is not as sound-isolating as an over-the-ear headphone.
• The XS may not be ideal if you want a headphone with extra bass energy.
• The right and left headphone markers could be easier to find.
Comparison and Competition
At its street price of $212, the XS headphones have some competition, but nothing else combines this product's unique design and set of features. For slightly less money you can get a pair of AKG K701 headphones ($175 average street), but this open-enclosure design does little to isolate you from outside sounds and is much less comfortable, especially if you wear glasses. Another well-respected headphone that goes for about the same price is the Audio-Technica ATH-A900x, which offers a similar amount of isolation but lacks a removable cable, isn't as comfortable, and doesn't fold down to a manageable size for travel. The Grado SR225e also goes for around $200. The SR225e offers excellent balanced and natural sound but is not as comfortable or as isolating as the XS and lacks a removable cable.
If you travel a lot or use your headphones when you are out and about, the V-Moda XS headphones should be on your radar. They are made to withstand heavy usage, they look elegant, they fit well, and they have natural harmonic balance that suits most genres of music. Also, the XS delivers enough isolation to prevent your music from disturbing others while still letting you hear some outside sounds. All in all, the V-Moda XS is a well-thought-out pair of headphones that delivers on all of its promises. I know that I won't leave home without them.
• V-Moda Crossfade M-100 Over-Ear Headphones Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Check out our Headphones category for similar reviews.