Practically Perfect in Every Way: The V-Moda XS
V-Moda XS ($212)
Val Kolton, CEO of V-Moda, is a funny guy. Totally committed to style and fashion, totally committed to high build quality, totally committed to music and great sound, and totally committed to doing things in his own, very unusual way.
So it was with no significant surprise when the diminutive V-Moda XS's reviewer kit arrived in a rather large box. "I wonder what he's up to this time?" I slice open the box and pulled out a large plastic bin covered in gaudy bumper stickers and filled with cheap plastic balls. "What the...."
I open the bin and rummage through the ball pit only to find a little package nicely wrapped in very supple bright orange leather and tied together with a black leather lace. "Mind the gap, bespoke fit, you spoke sound", the little card said. "What the...."
Knowing Val, I'm used to scratching my head for a little while as I figure out what he's on about. I don't mind though, when Val is on about something it's usually pretty cool once you figure it out. I look at the sticker "fugazi". What's a fugazi?
"Fugazi" is slang for fake/counterfeit in Italian. V-Moda has become a very desirable brand of headphones...and that means there are fakes. Fortunately, V-Moda has done a terrific job of dealing with the problem providing a resource page for spotting fakes and identifying trustworthy authorized dealers, and serializing each headphone (on XS serial number on holographic label inside left headband end), manual, and product box. Use the QR code on box bottom to instantly register and verify your headphones are genuine. Please be aware, you want the real thing.
And what about all those plastic balls in the bin? I couldn't find a mention of it in the XS packaging or on the site, but Val used to have an acronym, something about no circles or cheap plastic in his designs. If you look at V-Moda headphones there's lots of angles in the design and lots of metal in the build. And when V-Moda does have to use plastics, they're superbly finished and anything but cheap looking. The quality of the materials in V-Moda product is first rate. I guess the balls represented cheap plastic crap when compared to the XS buried within. At first I though that's was what the whole "Mind the Gap" stuff was aboutthe vast difference in quality between some of the junk out there and a V-Moda productbut of course I was wrong. Had to keep thinking to figure out the riddle.
So, I went to the XS product page, and there it was...
Val has been working hard on the ergonomicsor as the website states "ERGONOMIX"of these headphones. The gap is the space between the headband and the side of your head that causes all the weight to be carried at the top of your head. By reducing that gap and allowing headphones to touch more of your skull, the weight of the headphones is more broadly distributed over the top of your head, the pressure on your skin is reduced and the fit is more comfortable. I'll spill the beans here: it works.
I'm still not sure I've figured out Val's exact message in all of this, but if it's to say, "Hey reviewer, wake up! There's something really special in this box." I'm going to have to agree with him. This is one sweet headphone.
The V-Moda XS is a sealed, on-ear headphone. It's available in both a white/silver and a matte black color schemes. The external aluminum shields on the outside of the earpieces may be customized both in color and with laser etched graphics.
The "Steelflex" headband is constructed using using an internal steel part that has two bands going over the head but is joined near either end. The steel part is then enclosed in a rubbery molded part on the outside and head-pad foam on the inside. The headband is then covered with nicely textured artificial leather on the outside and a cool mesh fabric on the inside. This headband is extraordinarily durable, and its metal internal structure will allow it to take a bend should you desire to form fit it more closely with your head.
The thing is, V-Moda has already done most of the work for you with their "Mind the Gap" headband redesign. Comparing these with the earlier M-80 it's evident that though these two cans are very similar in shape, subtle changes in geometry were made to narrow the overall arch of the headband to conform more closely to the shape of your head. And it works, the new XS does indeed fit much more comfortable and securely on my head than the previous model. All heads are not alike though, so having the internal metal parts of the Steelfex headband available to gently bend for fine tuning is excellent.
The headband arms and gimbals are likewise steel and are held together by a spring loaded hinge. V-Moda calls this their "CliqFold" hinge, which allows the ear capsules to be folded up into the space within the headband to reduce its size for transport and storage in the included Exoskeleton case. I find this a remarkably cool design not only as an excellent piece of engineering, but also a very handsome execution. The picture of the Exoskeleton case below is roughly life size (on my MacBookPro 15" display); it looks big in the picture, but put your hand up next to it, it's one of the smallest headphone cases I've encountered.
Ear capsules are injection molded plastic and are very nicely finished in a pearlescent creamy off-white matching the headband end trim pieces. Wires to the headband exit the top rear of the capsules and are exposed as the travel to the headband end caps. Both ear capsulas have 3.5mm stereo jacks and the headphone cable can be connected to either ear. The jacks are slightly recessed and there is no locking mechanism. The remaining jack can be used by a friend to daisy-chain a connection to your player; when not in use, the included V-Corks allow you to block the unused jack to prevent sound leakage and degradation of the headphone's acoustic performance.
Earpads are a nice grade of protein leather covering memory foam, and are mounted to small plastic plates that attach to the ear capsules. They can be removed with a firm tug; spares are available at $15/ea. Coupled with the new ergonomic geometry and the nicely tuned caliper pressure of the headband, these pads are delightfully comfortable for an on-ear headphone.
The "Speakeasy" cable included is 54" long terminated in a straight 3.5mm plug at the headphone end, and a 45 degree angled 3.5mm TRRS plug on the player end. In what I think of as a brilliant maneuver, the mic and one-button remote are housed in separate pods on the cable. The mic is mounted about five inches from the headphone end and is nicely positioned to pic up your voice; the one-button remote is about a foot farther down the cable putting it within easy reach. The cable is Kevlar reinforced and, like many other parts of this headphone, unbelievably durable. I think V-Moda offers the best array of cables of any headphone manufacturer. I find the BoomPro Microphone cable particularly sweet for gamers or a long day of phone calls. V-Moda is an excellent source for modestly priced, but very good quality, headphone cables of this type.
In sum, V-Moda's new XS is spectacularly well built, very comfortable for an on-ear, brillianly stylish (though its design is so strong that some may not have a taste for it), amazingly compact, and, to top it off, very reasonably priced considering the quality of this kit. One can only hope it sounds as good as it looks.
Follow me to the next page, and we'll find out.