iPhone Life magazine

V-MODA Crossfade M-80 Headphone Review *Revisited*

Readers may recall my initial review of V-MODA's Crossfade M-80 Headphone and the less than stellar reception it received. Consequently, V-MODA founder Val Kolton contacted me about his authentic concern regarding my listening experience and graciously sent over several competing on-ear headsets to compare to the M-80. Here are my results.

In addition to the M-80, the other headsets Val sent (all of which were either as expensive or more expensive than the M-80) were:

The most expensive of the bunch was the Bowers & Wilkins P5 with a retail price clocking in at $299.99 while the other two were around the same retail price as the M-80. Each had their own unique approach to on-ear placement, but only the V-MODA had the addition of the mic cable, making it more than just a headphone.

I used each headset for a day listening to a variety of audio, from hard rock to spoken word podcasts. Members of my family also participated in this sonic taste test, with my wife and daughter taking unbiased turns with the headsets (they were unaware of my original review and tested each headset without knowing the price or review rankings). The following rankings are based on subjectively perceived audio quality and comfort.

My daughter was the first to try out the headsets and after spending time with each came to the following conclusion:

  1. Bowers & Wilkin P5
  2. beats by dr. dre
  3. Sennheiser HD25-1 II
  4. V-MODA M-80

I was next up, spending a day with each. Of course, I was already biased against the V-MODA from my original review, but was looking forward to perusing the quality of the competition given my lack of familiarity with the on-ear headphones genre. My ranking results surprised even me:

  1. beats by dr. dre
  2. V-MODA M-80
  3. Bowers & Wilkin P5
  4. Sennheiser HD25-1 II

Finally, my wife gave each a trial run with her selection of listening materials and came to the following ranked conclusion:

  1. Bowers & Wilkin P5
  2. beats by dr. dre
  3. V-MODA M-80
  4. Sennheiser HD25-1 II

So what does this limited sample test prove? On average, the most expensive headset scored the highest, with the Bowers & Wilkin P5 winning top spot from both my daughter and my wife. Oddly though, while I found the P5 to be the most comfortable of the four headsets, I found the audio quality even less impressive for the selections I listened to compared to the considerably less expensive V-MODA.

The other result of this study proved, at least to me, that even among family members, we have different perceived notions of what sounds good. Except for the P5, none of us were able to consistently ranking the same headset in the same way.  So basically this study reaffirms Val's assertion that on-ear headsets can be perceived differently by different people based on factors like on-ear headset fit/placement, music choices and the hardware generating the sound source. For me, it proved in my subjective analysis that I'm not a good candidate for on-ear headsets, preferring the in-ear models for my listening pleasure.  

Speaking of which, Val also sent along V-MODA's interpretation of their in-ear headset called the Vibrato. These $129.99 retail  headphones are, in a word, awesome. In fact, I found myself returning again and again to wearing them when not testing the various on-ear headsets. In fact, I wore them so much that the lobe ridges of my ears had small dents where the headset's outer casing rested against my ear. So while the M-80's (or any of the on-ear headsets for that matter) didn't quite meet my audio expectations, the Vibrato was absolutely spot on rocking!

In closing, I want to thank Val Kolton for his generosity of allowing me to explore his competitor's products. Val also demonstrated his passion and deep belief in his own products as a result. I don't know if his competition would be as deeply committed and tenaciously educational about their products as Val is about V-MODA's, but his concern over the original review and the time and effort he took to illustrate the alternatives was unprecedented. Ultimately for those reading this review, this experience has shown me that everyone has a different opinion about sound, and the best thing you can do if you're interested in the on-ear headphone experience is to try them yourself.  V-MODA offers a no-hassle 60-day money-back guarantee, so I highly recommend this low-risk approach if you're looking for an on-ear solution.

After discussing these results with Val, he responded with the following reply:

Mike:

We sincerely thank you in taking the time to group test products with your family.  

What we like-wise concluded from your results, in addition to the results of 60+ producers, DJs, consumers and editor reviews, is that sound is indeed very subjective with so many variables of the “sound chain”.   Our #1 goal is 5 star customer reviews, and that is achieved with a combination of durability, sound consistency and comfort.  A consumer’s sound will vary based on the product's intended goal (balanced vs bass vs production), and the "sound chain" variables including the individual fit, hearing capability (loss and health), sources and test environment.   

Inside M-80 we include a “trueHERTZ” card that explains how to optimize the sound chain, including V-MODA musique apps that are continusously optimized to make the headphones sing for everybody.  Visit V-MODA.com/TRUEHERTZ for updated videos and information on how we make and test headphones, we'll even be adding uncensored interviews with legendary music producers, DJs and even the factory managers.  

The result of your real-life subjective analysis was enlightening, although it was initially puzzling to our team of acoustic engineers, producers and third-party “lab-rat” techies accustomed to running both machine and blind-testing subjective analysis surveys.   Our team agrees, in addition to the "sound chain" variables that the mixed results are also due to partially to the statistical sampling size.   Even with a team of 3-5 similarly trained professionals with high-end test equipment and the same tracks, we sometimes find mixed results compared to 20 to 50-user samplings we use for mass production lock-in.

The Fit IS the Sound

An on-ear headphone is often the toughest headphone for a proper fit and comfort, it is like a new pair of shoes.  We strongly recommend to our customers that on and over-ear headphones be worn for at least 24-hours (or at a gym for 2 hours) so that the headband and cushions "break-in" and conform more to the user's head to get a better seal on the ears.   It took V-MODA several years with hundreds of small variations to fine-tune the ergonomics.  The key is to not have too much pressure on any part of the ear or head while creating the best possible sound.  Also, on M-80, the left and right are different shapes so it is essential for users to use the correct sides as more than 40% of users do not.

Katz's Law of Sound and Time

"Katz's law" of Ear Training of frequencies states, "the length of silence between two successive plays is proportional to the number of incorrect conclusions."  In order to compensate for this in V-MODA’s group testing, we loop the same 1 or 4 bars of a sample so that there is a minimal silence between plays, as well as no chance for the song itself to change.  Even in extreme testing labs that lock down many variables, the volume levels (Sound Pressure Level) of different headphones and various other “psychological-acoustic’” factors may alter the perception.   Even extremely trained acoustic engineers and listeners who can hear 2Hz difference in tones often make contradicting conclusions, especially with listening fatigue.

Once we gather a user's subjective results at different frequencies and other vital feedback, we compare it to the measured data such as the frequency response, SPL levels and impulse (speed) to see if the data correlates.  We also measure each user's hearing with an audiogram. This not only helps measure the user’s hearing loss, but current health and the physiology of the ear.

“Professional" headphones ranked #3 and #4 Overall

Based on your 3-user analysis, we feel that one possible explanation, besides possibly Katz's law, ergonomics and even unknown bias, that the M-80 ranked #3 and Sennheiser HD25 #4 overall is that these are the two "professional consumer"-marketed models of the bunch.  Many brands will tune speakers for consumers to have high bass, lower mids and even higher highs >8kHz at the expense of slight "muddiness" around 100hZ.   In my opinion, they do this for two reasons, people love bass and people go high deaf (although these brands may say otherwise).   For many music genres and professional usage, such as sound engineering and production, the midrange clarity and vocals is more important for an overall balance.   Our over-ear model, Crossfade LP, has a slightly different sound that may appeal to some consumers that prefer more bass but with balanced mids and highs.  Again, results may vary based on other factors, especially the music.

Sound Driver Consistency

Another major variable to consider in the results, is that not all headphone drivers are created equally and many manufacturers “rev” their products in production runs.  Even the finest wine may have a bad bottle, and poor wine may luck into a great bottle.  To compensate for this, we buy 8 of each product to test and have the highest QC standards and patents for mass production and quality control.

Top speaker brands will only sell you models in pairs, and may even include their individual response curve to uphold consistency. Without rigorous quality testing, many headphones have variances from unit to unit of up to 30dB, even on the left to right channels. But V-MODA's strict driver testing program guarantees consistent quality and critically-acclaimed sound in every single pair of M-80 headphones, every time.

Conclusion

Many notoriously tough editors have given the M-80 amazing reviews claiming they are “decidedly superior” to both our rivals and even our award-winning over-ear, the Crossfade LP.   

Therefore, we encourage consumers to test drive the M-80 with our 60-day guarantee and learn more about its "utilitarianism" development on V-MODA.com.   We are confident you’ll be thrilled by the combination of materials, style and balanced sound.  We spent over five years of true blood, passion and travels to develop this product and we hope you enjoy it as much as so many passionate music-lovers do already.

Cheers!

Val Kolton
V-MODA CEO and PRODUCER/DJ

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Mike Riley's picture

Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.