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.

VMODA_XS_Photo_FugaziPackagingSo 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 about—the vast difference in quality between some of the junk out there and a V-Moda product—but 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...

VMODA_XS_Photo_MindTheGap

Val has been working hard on the ergonomics—or 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.

Physical Description
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.

VMODA_XS_Photo_Case

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.

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COMMENTS
Heretix_Aevum's picture

I found the M80 to be the most uncomfortable headphone I've ever owned, and I see little reason that the XS would be different. Shame because both this and the M80 are great headphones. I'll have to stick with my PX100ii for my portable headphone.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The ergonomic changes to the XS may make it worth having a second fitting. It seems quite a bit better.
Jazz Casual's picture

Not doubting your review of this headphone's build quality and performance Tyll, but I find V-Moda's brash styling aesthetically unappealing and the XS is no exception.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Strong design is like that, you either love it or hate it. Looked back through the article and it does seem that I've missed saying that. Thanks for the comment.
Impulse's picture

But eventually ended up with the M-80 for all it's other qualities, and it's look kinda grew on me. I like that they're unlike anything else out there, tho that on itself can be polarizing as Tyll stated.

I think the design actually loses a little appeal with the all new all black muted color palette (cable aside), but then there's always the custom shields. I can imagine why they moved away from red/black...

Maybe some orange accents wouldn't have been out of place on the black XS tho. I think Momentums look classier but then they don't fold/collapse and their cable is harder to replace, which is huge for me (as I often use a shorter one with my M80 & clip on BT receiver).

ashutoshp's picture

I currently own a pair of the XS and I think your review is absolutely spot on.
Three questions, sorry:
1)I especially found it interesting that they go really well with (imperfect) streaming services such as Spotify. I think this is critical info. for newbies like myself and in fact, millions others who use such services across the globe. Although I've read about it here and there in your reviews (eg, the V Moda M100) and some others, I've always wondered why more reviewer's don't specifically start listing which headphones work 'better' with such streaming services, if possible of course?
2) Considering the Harman curve and ignoring the technicalities for now, would you say that this headphone is more similar sounding overall to the NAD Visos, Focal Classics or any others that you might have come across (eg, Beyer's Custom One Pro)?
3) Considering the Harman curve again, is it actually suggesting that people want more prominent mids than what manufacturer's like Beats or Sony are marketing these days (V-shaped)?
Thanks.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I didn't directly compare the XS to the NAD VISO HP50 or Focal Spirit Pro, so I'm not sure. Don't think the Beyer COP is very close, they sound quite colored to me. It's not really prominent kids as much as it is filling in some between 1kHz and 4kHz or so on the relatively otherwise flat cans. The V shaped trend is off base, I think.
tom22's picture

hi Tyll, which of these these do you prefer? in terms of both fun and neutrality? does the fc have a tighter bass? how is the treble in comparison? the mids on the xs are gorgeous for vocals does the fc300s stack up? the onkyos can be had now about 100$ (fc versions) so really tempted.

Any favorites in terms of portables for you?

tom22's picture

Tyll, would say that the Xs is an on ear version of the ver smooth mdr1r?

with the elevated midbass forward mids and smooth highs? abeit when last time i heard the mdr 1rs i felt the soundstage was pretty expansive for a closed back. didn't find that with the xs.

thx1000's picture

Thanks for the review, I will be getting a pair for my son's birthday. Will this be on the top of the Wall of Fame list of Headphones: Ear-Pad Sealed?

JML's picture

The XS is FAR more comfortable than the M-80; I could not wear the M-80 for long without experiencing ear pain, and I can forget I'm wearing the XS. The headband change resulted in far less pressure on my outer ear, while retaining the semi-sealed nature of the headphones. Better sounding, too, just as he describes.

And as far as looks go, apart from the stock orange cable, the matte black version of the XS is about as unblingy as it could be (unlike the white one). In fact, I miss the handful of red accents from my M-80, and wish there had been some accenting, such as brushed aluminum or some red.

Impulse's picture

I like the orange cord (I traded my M-80's iPhone cable with an M-100 owner for his OJ), but I miss the red accents too. V-moda is probably trying to move away from the over used black/red motif tho.

My M-80 aren't too uncomfortable and I'm happy with them but I'm totally considering selling them to get the XS, a kind of upgrade I'd normal never consider.

When the M-100's folding mechanism leaked the first thing I said is "adding that to the M-80 would just about make then perfect for me". I wish they had a step up or upgrade program sorta like the immortal warranty!

paul's picture

The closed-back-on-ear headphone has its place - A portable headphone with some isolation. Based upon my experience with the M-80's, I doubt the XS offers anything new.

Unlike other headphones, both the M-80’s and the XS's have a cathedral shaped headphone opening. They result in a hard sealing headphone. They don't isolate.

The XS's are a one piece headband. They don't stay put and shift on the head. They are not very portable.

My commute is in the big-noisy-city. I am surrounded by bass, bass and more bass. I bass heavy headphone is not good for a city commuter. The outside overwhelms the music. For a city commuter, less bass is more.

tom22's picture

Hi Tyll,

First thanks for the review, i recently tried something that might help with that fuzzy treble and the somewhat loose bass on my xs

what i did was take some medical or transpore tape and basically stuck them over the v-port. (not the prettiest thing) this suppressed the width of the soundstage a bit but helps a bit with tightening that bass and help with the treble articulation.

easily reversible. i now moved on to putting it on the underside of the shield. so its out of sight

i haven't tried with other tape but i think it helps a bit. its not world changing but i find it helps.

Tom

vkalia's picture

Hi Tyll -

Have you had a chance to listen to the Audio Technica on-ear woodies? I have a pair of ESW9As, which are quite modestly priced on Ebay, and I find them to be more timbrally accurate than the V-Modas with violins and pianos. I got the M80s based on the great reviews they get on Head-fi, but quite frankly, I thinkthe ESW9As are much better. So much so that I am going to get a pair of ESW11s if i can find a pair.

anetode's picture

minor typo on 2nd para on 2nd page: "Mid-bass response is somewhat elevated elevated, moderately lacking in tight punch"

JML's picture

I had the M-80 and ESW9 (same as the 9A, but different sources for the Cherry wood). Replaced both with the XS. The ESW9 phones do sound really good, but they're nowhere as comfortable as the XS. I also preferred the sound of the XS to the Audio Technicas.

Bennyboy's picture

White headphones are like white chocolate - pointless.

Who wears (or eats) those things? Weirdos from planet mental.

tom22's picture

i love the white pearls the glittery pearl all over the earcups are soo nice (haven't seen a headphone that has that, Absolutely beautiful! i love the white headphones in general, black is too overdone and bland, theres too many black headphones (especially studio headphones) IMO! white stands out more and its cleaner looking, easy to accessorize your outfit as well (requires more work to keep em clean though) To each their own

jmm007's picture

I apologize that this is OT, but please someone tell me where I can purchase those headphone stands in the first pic of this article?
Thanks

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Not sure where to get them in the US, but here's the product page. http://www.klutzdesign.com/pages/klutz-design
JML's picture

It is an Auralic Gemini: stand/amp/DAC all in one.

jmm007's picture

Thanks

JML's picture

Didn't realize the picture was the stand without the electronics!

Basshead11's picture

Hey Tyll, I'm currently looking at the V-moda line of headphones. I currently have Skullcandy Mixmasters (already got a crack in the headband after a few months, don't want to deal with waiting for replacements), and love their sound a lot. Which of the V-moda lineup would sound the most similar to them? Hope you get my message! Love watching your videos

vtiger's picture

reminds me Beyers DT150 - as good example - opposed extreme :)
Well, I like that old /olympics operators/ design/build still.

GBluth's picture

So I've been looking at a lot of headphones and keep gravitating towards the XS. The one thing holding me back is: I mostly used headphones with my ipod while commuting on the (very) loud subway. I want to stop cranking up the volume just to tune everything else out, but something semi-portable. Given that, are the XS good for someone like me or overkill?

Impulse's picture

I love my M-80, so much so that I'm about to get rid of them to step up to the XS (the more compact size will make a big difference given my use)...

Part of the reason that I like them so much is that they're a very good alternative to my IEM because they're less isolating, so for instance I can sit in an airport terminal and still hear (somewhat) when an announcement is being made over the PA yet simultaneously drown out most crowd noise.

I'd say if you wanna completely drown out a loud train you're better off with IEM or even NC headphones tho. The XS will work well against most background noise but not so well against deep rumblings and such.

V-Moda CS kicks ass, I just called in with a question about the Immoral Life warranty (got exactly the answer I wanted) then came back here to re-read Tyll's review before committing to the XS.

Mllump's picture

I've gone round and round. I have QC-15's that, as shrill as they can be, I just can't toss because they're so stinking comfortable for long periods and great for travel. I've had other over ears around the house, and not a fan of IE, so I'm left with more portable pursuits for everyday use. That said, since the QC's are far from reference, I want the best quality I can get. I love the P5's for every reason others do, but the sound is overly warm in my opinion. I haven't tried the XS or the 1350, but lean toward the 1350's, with concern being clamping (in comparison to P5's, which after an hour or so I just need relief). All that said, I'm looking for the best everyday, portable, sealable, comfortable, near-reference cans I can find. Not to much to ask, right? Anyway, any recommendations besides buy them all and try? I love the site. I'm here very frequently and appreciate your input, Tyll.

Zero Decibels's picture

Hey Tyll, I'm thinking of buying a portable headphone in the 200$~ range, and currently I'm eyeing on the V-Moda XS and the Sennheiser Urbanite. Which of these are better, I listen to mostly EDM, and do you recommend any other headphones, or should I buy earphones instead? (Great review BTW!)

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