By Mike Riley on Tue, 08/16/2011
Most discerning listeners of music emanating from an iPhone or iPod Touch prefer lightweight earbuds. But for many, wearing them is uncomfortable as their one size fits all never quite fits them. There are also times when the more traditional on or over-the-ear headphones are appropriate, such as in noisy environments and times when you don't want to fuss with earbuds falling out such as when vigorously exercising. Whether these were the primary design tenants in mind when DJ-centric V-MODA crafted their Crossfade M-80 On-Ear Headphones is hard to say, but one thing is for certain - these headphones are the most durable I've ever placed over my ears.
The M-80 comes packaged in an elaborate container worthy of keeping as a sturdy flapped box that could hold other things besides headphones. Included in the box are two detachable Kevlar-reinforced cables, one with a three-button remote control for iOS products and one with a single button microphone that can be used with iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows 7 phones. Also enclosed are a hard shell carrying case, interchangeable ear shields and the M-80 headphones themselves. Every one of these accessories teems with high-quality, intensely durable parts that obviously contribute to the plus-200 dollar overall price tag.
After removing everything from the box, connecting the three-button cable between my iPod Touch and the M-80 headphones and slipping the M-80 over my ears, I was able to easily adjust the expandable headset to my liking. The grip was firm but comfortable and I was able to twist and bob my head without any slippage. The STEELFLEX headband and materalEDGE construction of the M-80 were solid as a rock but never too heavy. There's no denying that these headphones were built for serious permanence. In fact, V-MODA backs up their assurance of the product's durability with a two-year warranty and a "Immortal Life Replacement Program" where they provide a 50 percent off lifetime discount to replace consumer-damaged headphones. That says a lot for the belief in their headphone's quality construction.
Ultimately though, it comes down to the sound and this is unfortunately where the M-80 stumbles. Cranking up the audio on my iPod Touch reproduced muddy, flat sound that had me second guess my equalizer settings. After fiddling with the iPod's equalizer configuration a bit more, I was able to bring a bit more vibrance to the headphones, but still subpar compared to the far less expensive earbuds I use for daily listening. I decided to try the headphones on my iPhone, Android and laptop to verify that the problem wasn't the iPod Touch/M-80 combination. The results were conclusive - it was the headphones that were lacking, not my hardware.
The perceived constrained dynamic range of audio output was a real letdown, especially after my expectations were so high on account of the highly positive impression the M-80 made on me from a superior materials design. It's not that the audio is poor, but compared to earbuds costing significantly less, the M-80 simply falls short. As such, I can only recommend these headphones to those who demand nearly indestructible construction over absolutely brilliant sound reproduction. Otherwise, those seeking better audio reproduction could purchase five decent sounding earbuds for the price of the M-80. Considering how much the M-80 has going for it, I can only hope that V-MODA focuses as much attention on the best audio reproduction to match their already far superior quality materials construction for the next iteration of this headset.
After my original review was posted, I spoke with Val Kolton, the head of V-MODA about my experience with the M-80 and got schooled on the acoustic considerations with On Ear headphones and the variations that can affect sound reproduction.
In addition to the source material and the device being used for playback (Val recommended that the iPhone 4 and iPad were the best mobile devices to use with the M-80), ear shape and size play very important roles in On Ear audio reproduction. So while the hardware could be the issue, it's also quite possible that my ear shape isn't conducive to the type of sound reproduction that the shape of V-MODA's On Ear headphones provide. Consequently, he has graciously sending out another set of M-80 headphones to test just in case the original review unit I evaluated had an anomaly. And to test the ear shape, I will be conducting a poll among my friends and family with the new set for a broader assessment of the product's sonic capabilities.
Another important reminder that Val passed along was the fact that his company stands behind a no-risk 60-day money back satisfaction guarantee. Given the number of variables that go into high quality sound reproduction, this is a commendable offer.
So stay tuned... another update will likely follow some time next week!
Product: Crossfade M-80 On-Ear Headphone
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars