V-MODA CROSSFADE M-100 REVIEW.
Associated Gear: Macbook Retina Pro, iTunes 10.7 with Amarra Music Player, CEntrance DACmini and DACport, Nuforce DAC-100, Woo WA6, Eddie Current ZDT, HiFIMan EF5, HM-801, iPhone 5, iPod Nano (5th and 6th Gen), CablePro Reverie LOD, Whiplash Audio TWag V2 LOD, Headamp Pico Slim, and RSA SR-71b.
MUSIC USED: See review.
M-100 FEATURES (from website):
- Modern Audiophile Sound
50mm Dual-Diaphragm drivers (patent pending)
Analog Noise Isolation
No Batteries or Artificial Processing
3+ Years of Ergonomic R&D
Balanced, layered, clean yet Deep Bass, Vivid Mids and Ultra-Extended Highs
Maximal 3D Soundstage & Minimal Leakage
- Military-Level Materials & Quality
MIL-STD-810G Test Standards
Virtually Indestructible CLIQFOLD Headband
6 band frequency response Quality Control
Exoskeleton Hard Case
ABCP® - Anything But Circles & Plastic Materials
Detachable Kevlar® reinforced SharePlay and Universal SpeakEasy Mic cables
1/4" adapter included
PHOTOS: [review edited to fix a missing photo]
The M-100 comes with a nice hardshell zipper case, 1/4" adapter for the 1/8" plug, and two 1/8" (3.5mm) plug headphone cables - one with a mic and button, and the other with a short splitter and extra 3.5mm jack to allow plugging in another set of headphones. The other end of the cable that plugs into the headphones is terminated in a 1/8" plug as well. The two headphone cables are covered in a tight weave fabric, which feels more upscale than the cheap rubbery cable with my HD25-1 II or Shure SRH-840. I tried the splitter cable at RMAF, and with a second M-100 connected there was no change in sound quality when connected to a DJ Mixer board and amp. If the cups could swivel forward to uncover one ear this might work better as a DJ headphone, although the extra hinge it might weaken the super-strong headband. At RMAF Val told me that we could daisy chain 4-5 M-100 together without causing problems.
With the single button on the headphone cable I was able to pause the music (1 click), or skip forward (2 click) and back (3 click). The button also works with Siri on my iPhone 5 if I press and hold it, which is wonderful. The microphone pod in the cable is closer to the ear cups and mouth, while the button pod is at an easier to reach location at mid chest level. The plug is also small enough to be used with just about any iPhone case out there, even those with with a small headphone jack hole like my Speck candyshell case.
I spent a bit of time with the V-MODA M-100 at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012 (RMAF), and posted some early impressions about them in the RMAF 2012 impressions forum at Head-fi.org that night. I was excited about these and was ready to buy a pair of matt-black at the show, but they only had a few samples remaining until December, so they couldn't sell me a pair until then. After two days of pleading my case I was able to get a loaner pair to review. To last me until December I also got a pair of M-80, which I hope to review later and hand down to my daughter or son.
Now that I've had these Shadow Black M-100 in hand for a few days, the shiny black shell surrounding the matt black ear cup's center panels has grown on me. At first I liked the all matte black ones better, but I thought the headband on these Shadow black phones was more attractive. I love the look of the suede headband that comes with the Shadow. These are stylish without feeling gaudy. I would not be embarrassed to wear them out in public, or in front of my kids.
I was initially drawn to the V-MODA M-100 not by the looks but by necessity. Before RMAF I had misplaced my Sennheiser HD25-1 II and I wanted something better to replace them as an inexpensive closed headphone with good isolation. My SRH-840 are a little too big to be portable, and didn't isolate as well the HD25-1 II. After the demo at RMAF I felt these could be a good replacement for the HD25-1 II. I was sad that I wouldn't be able to compare them for more than the 10 minutes I had with someone elses HD25-1 at RMAF.
As luck would have it, when I got home from Rocky Mountain Audio Fest my son pointed me right to the missing headphones, hiding in a black Sennheiser case on my dresser. For some reason someone had put them away for me and didn't tell me. This meant that I'd still have a good isolating phone if I didn't buy the M-100, which I felt would make me less biased. But if I hadn't thought I'd lost the HD25-1 II before CanJam @ RMAF I might have glossed over the M-100 and any other closed headphones altogether. That would have meant no review. Needless to say, after doing comparisons with my HD25-1 II, SRH-840, and ATH-A900 at home I'm still convinced that I need the M-100.
In a nutshell, the M-100 is a fuller and richer sounding headphone than my HD25-1 II, with stronger bass and less grainy treble. The M-100 is actually more laid back and less aggressive sounding than the HD25-1 II, which I sometimes think sound too much like lower or middle of the line Grado headphone. That's not such a bad thing, but it limits the HD25-1 II as far as what I can enjoy with them. This especially in light of the Sennheiser's flat soundstage which presents more of a wall of sound, as well as limits the immersion in the musical experience with many genre like classical music and live jazz recordings.
I tended to think of the HD25-1 II as my "rock music" headphones with isolation, and even then I would prefer a bit more bass impact from them. The M-100 give me that and more, while throwing out a bigger and more transparent soundstage that is unusual for a mid-priced closed headphone like this. And the icing on the cake is the M-100 are more comfortable to wear for long periods than my HD25-1 II which sit on and compress my ears.
In comparison to my Shure SRH-840, the M-100 mids are fuller and not recessed in the lower mids like the Shure seem to be. And the M-100's stronger bass lends a bit more weight to instruments and the illusion that they are in the room with me. The M-100 soundstage is also a bit bigger than the SRH-840. The SRH-840 and HD25-1 II are a little brighter in the treble region, which does make picking out small details in the music a little easier if these are all paired with a high output impedance amplifier. I have a comfort issue with the SRH-840 in that the cups are shallow and my ears hit the baffles, but not so with the M-100.
My ATH-A900 have been recabled and internally dampened, and sounded a lot more like a Denon D2000 the last I did comparisons. The problem is that means the same V-shaped frequency response with recessed mids in relation to the bass and treble, and the treble still isn't all that smooth. All of my comparison phones were a little brighter than the M-100. With good gear and good quality masterings I wouldn't say the M-100 are too dark, and although they are darker than the HD25-1, SRH-840 or ATH-A900 the M-100 treble seems a little more refined to me. The ATH-A900 are extremely comfortable, but often too loose and don't retain their position on my head when I recline my chair. They also don't isolate much at all compared to the M-100 or HD25-1 or SRH-840.
The first time I tried the M-100 at RMAF was with my iPhone 5 and 5th Gen iPod Nano and a CD ripped in Apple lossless format. I listened to Amanda Palmer (AFP) playing Radiohead songs with her ukelele; and in "Fake PLastic Trees" I thought the ukelele was clearly coming from outside of the headphones. When Amanda started singing after the intro, her voice was full and inviting without any overdone lower mids or missing ambience and air. And the music's weight, body and presence was great.
I then listened to the M-100 with a $2700 April Music Eximus DAC/amp at the Moon Audio table and fell in love even more (with both the M-100 and Eximus). My 5th Gen iPod Nano paired with a CablePro Reverie line-out dock and Pico Slim amplifier fell between the iPhone and Eximus in sound quality, with a surprising level of detail for such a small audio rig. All of these with a lower output impedance than my Nuforce DAC-100 and CEntrance DACmini that I used once I got these headphones home. What I heard at RMAF sold me on these phones, as they did other head-fi member like jude and Asr.
At home, with some amps that have an output impedance of around 10-15 Ohm the M-100 did develop a little more bass-boost than is optimal, but that's not the M-100's fault but rather an impedance mismatch to blame. Fortunately it's not an issue with every music track played through these amps, and one song or album might be okay while another was just a little troublesome. But if it was an issue it's improved greatly just by using the EQ in iTunes or Amarra Music Player to take out about 2-3 dB at 125Hz and 250Hz. It was never bad enough that I felt I must use EQ with these amps.
Regardless, with my Pico Slim and SR-71b portable amps, Woo WA6, HiFiMan EF5 or Eddie Current ZDT desktop headphone amps, the output impedance is low enough to not be an issue. The M-100 also play very well with my HM-801, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and iPod Nanos (5G and 6G) right out of the headphone jack. So, if I note elsewhere in my review any issues with bass bloom or slightly decreased bass control, know that I was using the high output impedance amps at the time.
Clearly, changing to an iPhone/iPod or an amplifier with low output impedance the week after I started my review negated the need for the small amount of EQ that I tried in parts of the review. However, I didn't want to re-write all of my review that was almost completed without using the amps in question, because it's important that people see what the synergy with different gear is like. While many of my high-end headphones don't mind the slightly elevated output impedance (LA7000, HF-2, HE-500, HE-5 LE, LCD-2 r1, HD600, HD800), I think that proper impedance matching is a little more important with the M-100. With that sorted out they did very well with all the program material and no EQ required.
IMPRESSIONS - mostly with DACmini (10 ohm) and DAC-100 (15 ohm), and other home amps:
The day after I returned from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest I started listening to the M-100 with several of my home audio rigs. The DACmini and DAC-100 are the ones I usually have hooked up to my Macbook Pro, and the most convenient. One thing I noticed was that the M-100 were very sensitive and efficient, and revealed the zero volume background hiss of the DAC-100's headphone amp, which previously I had only heard with IEM or earphones. I didn't hear any hiss or noise with my other amps, including my HiFIMan EF5 which is also too noisy to use with IEM.
Up first was Lori Bell-Ron Satterfield Duo on the Nuforce Bluport Jazz Sampler in 24/96 via my Nuforce DAC-100. In direct comparison the M-100 has a better soundstage in every dimension than my HD25-1 II which have a fairly flat or shallow soundstage front to back in comparison. The M-100 is fairly transparent despite the strong bass, but there was a small amount of mid-bass bleed of the string bass and acoustic guitar into the lower mids, due to the amp's >15 ohm output impedance. But then the flute was so "right there in the freaking room with me" that I almost turned my head to look for it!
This portrayal of a spacious soundstage was reinforced when I played Tabula Rasa "Part: Fratres" with Gidon Kremer and Keith Jarrett. I could place the violins and piano easily in the concert hall, with an enveloping sense of space that was surprising for a closed phone in this price range. Many of my classical recordings that were done with wide spaced and somewhat distant mics usually lose a bit of bass impact and presence from the instruments being unamplified in a large hall. However, the M-100 retained the weight and warmth that I've heard before in live performances when the bass strings, brass, and tympani come in full strength (such as in my 24/96 recordings of Elgar Enigma Varation No.9 • Lawrence Foster • Houston Sym. Orch.• Recorded Live, and Tchaikovsky: Hopak from Mazeppa • The Minnesota Ochestra, and especially in Jeu de cartes • Charles Munch • Boston Symphony Orchestra).
With female vocals in Chesky's "Audiophile Voices I & II" the M-100 sound full bodied, and with the DAC-100 and DACmini there was only small amount of bass bleed into the lower mids, but not too bad or distracting, especially if you've been to enough concerts to be used to hearing close mic'd and amped vocals that you forget about it. In other music selections on the Nuforce Bluport Jazz Sampler album, with piano's I thought the M-100 lacked some of the super fast transient response that I get with high end phones like the HiFIMan HE-500, Audeze LCD-2 and Sennheiser HD800. However, their speed and performance with pianos improved noticeably when I selected other piano recordings such as Keith Jarret "The Koln Concert" in 24/96 or Maxense Cyrin "Novo Piano". The transient response improved even further when used with a low output impedance amp like the Woo WA6, proving that synergy and recording quality are both just as important.
I'll note that pianos are usually hard to reproduce with the stunning clarity of live instruments, but these can do a pretty respectable job with good music selections, even with my DAC-100 and DACmini. I pulled out the venerable Jazz at the Pawnshop. In the song "Lady Be Good" for example, I was pleased with the piano presentation offering pretty good transparency and no bleed-over. When the saxophone kicked in at 2m 10s it felt just a little more forward and up front in respect to the rest of the band than I am used to. More like he was playing right up to the microphone at the edge of the stage. I went into the iTunes EQ and pulled back the 125Hz slider by about 2dB and the 250Hz slider by 2.5 dB which took care of the bass bleed into the saxophone. Despite the M-100's laid back nature and treble, the high hat cymbals and ride cymbals that are struck in the background behind the piano for the first minute or two were clean and sharp. And you could still hear them shimmer in the background through the entire song, although slightly recessed in volume.
At the other end of the spectrum, when switching to the Batman Begins soundtrack, you can feel all the weight and power you'd expect from a 5.1 sound system with subwoofer in your home theater. Sometimes I'll skip right to the song "Molossus" for a demo, but the sound was so immersive and surrounding when I started track one that I found myself listening to the entire album while typing this, even though I was supposed to be spending that hour with a wider variety of music. Likewise, I greatly enjoyed the M-100 with many other orchestral movie soundtracks from Hans Zimmer and others, such as Gladiator, Pirates of the Carribean, The Dark Knight, Lord of the Rings, etc. This needed no EQ with my high or low impedance amps.
These headphones give a very powerful presentation, with huge weight and depth and immersion into the movie soundtrack. By blocking the outside noise, one doesn't need to crank up the volume to higher than safe levels either. But just like being addicted to the acceleration of a fast car, it's sometimes still fun to turn it up the volume and feel the power and weight these portray. I did so and was not disappointed. They can play at extreme volumes and not complain one bit. The M-100 is the first efficient headphone with which I have maxed the volume on my DACmini, and it did so without distortion at incredibly high and dangerous volumes.
And with music like Pink Floyd "The Wall" or Black Eyed Peas the M-100 found their element as well. With "The Wall" and the DACmini I preferred to use some light bass-reduction EQ the music as above, but switching to the iPhone 5 or a low impedance amp with "The Wall" required no EQ. With Blackeyed Peas I preferred the M-100 without any EQ, regardless of amp. In one test I cranked up "Boom Boom Pow" and "Imma Be" on the DACmini to such high volumes that I actually felt my ears bouncing and saw my vision blur, surely exceeding 120 dB without clipping. After that I tried some V-MODA Faders VIP plugs to reduce the volume level for hearing protection during high volume tests, and I could hear clean music without clipping at very high volumes (I learned the earplug trick when I used to do car stereo competition in college - turn it up until it was just below clipping and then look at the dB meter).
With the same desktop rig I switched to The Dark Night soundtrack, and in "Why So Serious" the sucking throbbing low 20Hz bass notes really felt like I had a plunger hooked up to my ear canals with somebody working it like a butter churn. Seriously, I don't recall the last time I felt such power and impact from a headphone without clipping, except maybe when I got my first Koss Pro 4AAA when I was a teenager, played via Marantz 2240 receiver. With the Bella Sonus album, in the intro to "Enamoured" it throws out a few 20Hz notes that can be clearly heard, while the low notes often disappear with other mid-priced headphones.
To see just how low these go and how they play from 20Hz - 20Khz, I tried out Michael Knowles "Binks Audio Test CD" where bass is strong to 20Hz and can still be felt at 16Hz. There is a small hump around 160-250 Hz as well as a small audible dip in the frequency response from 2150-5000 Hz, but no spiky treble peaks and especially nothing noted in the 6KHz range that would lead to any sibilance. My 50 year old ears roll off after 12,500 Hz and I can clearly hear the M-100 at that point, but with the volume turned up to compensate for my age the 16Khz tone is also definitely audible with these.
As I said before, some recordings sound a little "bloomy" with high output impedance amps, like "The Wall", but with other recordings the bass and overall clarity is just fine without EQ on those amps. Switching to the Nuforce DAC-100 to play Jimmy Cobb Quartet "Jazz in the Key of Blue" in 24/96 was one example of such. It was very detailed and well balanced with the M-100, without being dark or boomy. This was another time that I found myself listening to the entire album when I was supposed to be listening to everything I could throw at the M-100. I didn't realize I had become totally immersed until the next album in iTunes started playing, which was Keith Jarrett "The Koln Concert" in 24/96. And with this recording the M-100 did a fine job of reproducing the delicate piano notes that seemed to hang in the air, with great ambience and space of the live hall where it was performed.
Next I pulled up Sara K "Hobo" in 24/96. This album also showed off the clarity and PRAT that the M-100 are capable of, albeit with continued strong bass emphasis. I also tried the 24/96 Chesky Records "Explorations in Space and Time", which proved that the M-100 can transparently recreate a large hall with ambience and air, and still hit super hard with the drum impacts. In contrast, with the same amp I listened to "Fever" on the Ray Charles "Genius Loves Company" in 24/96 and thought the bass sounded a little boomy, requiring that previous EQ of about minus 2-3 dB at 125 & 250Hz. This went on and on where many albums were just fine with the 10-15 ohm output impedance, and if not it was fixed by a low impedance amp or a small amount of EQ in the bass.
Even better news is that for the intended playback devices like iPhones and other iDevices or portable gear, with or without a portable amp, the synergy is very good. This makes a great portable circumaural headphones for iPhone use, with a mic and without need for an amp. However, it's good enough to reveal the differences between sources, so choose well.
I don't think the iPhone 5 sounds as good as those that came before it, and I preferred my 5th Gen iPod Nano, iPhone 4 and 4S, and iPad 3 over the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is reported to have a slightly higher output impedance than the 4S and older iPods, but it still worked well when using it with the M-100. Unfortunately the clarity, spaciousness, and detail still can't compare to the DAC-100 or DACmini (or even the iPhone 4S). Note, the iPhone 5 needed a lot of burn-in to open up, and it wasn't fully burned-in by RMAF. After almost 2 months it sounds much more open, and is more pleasing to listen to than a month ago when I started working on this review. The iPhone 4S, 5G Nano and iPad 3 still hold an edge over it, but I can still enjoy them with the iPhone 5 despite it's slight veil over the other iDevices.
I really appreciated that I don't need to use an amplifier to drive the M-100 well, because with an amp piggybacked to the iPhone you can't use the mic or the controller button on the cable. The other reason to avoid an amp is that the iPhone 5 now lacks a line out to connect a line-out dock to an amp. The cheap Apple Lightning to 30-pin adapter plus a line out dock and Pico Slim sounded pretty dull, bland and lifeless vs the headphone out, so I did most of the listening via headphone out.
For a comparison of power output from the iPhone I played Mercan Dede "800" in lossless via the DAC-100 at 50% volume, and really got into the thumping rhythm and drums. I then switched to the iPhone 5 headphone out with the same album, and the M-100 right out of the headphone jack only needed to be set at about 65% volume to match the volume of the DAC-100 at 50%.
Setting the iPhone 5 volume at 50-80% is all you will ever need with most music. Above 80-90% it was louder than I normally listen (without distortion I should add). And 100% was uncomfortable after 15-30 seconds but still sounded clear with most music. Dropping back to 65% on the iPhone was just right for me after that. This is loud enough to drown out most traffic driving by, without blocking the sound of a honking horn or screeching tires.
With a wide variety of high-end, mid-fi, and lower budget rigs the M-100 never failed to please. They have a solid high standing in the ranks of fun and easy to drive headphones that can also please audiophiles, although I might not place these in the ranks of audiophile headphones, mostly due to their emphasis on the low end and their laid back treble. Still, I thought their timbre and tone reminded me most of being like a "closed Sennheiser HD650", although with a little extra bass and slightly less detail. That's a good baseline sound signature that can appeal to most people.
Compared to other popular passively isolating headphones near this price range, such as Shure SRH-840, Sennheiser HD25-1 II and Amperior, and Beyer DT-1350 or Custom One, I really prefer the M-100 (my ATH-A900 and Denon D2000 don't really offer much if any isolation). While the HD25-1, ATH-A900 and SRH-840 that I have here at home have a more present treble that makes them sound crisper (and maybe seem more detailed at times), those lack either the weight, body, presence, or depth of stage that brings the music to life and makes you feel like you are there. The only other closed headphones that I think could compete with the M-100 in this category, that I heard at RMAF but don't have on hand to compare, were the Sennheiser Momentum and Sony MDR-1.
And, the M-100 don't have a problem with presenting details if you have the gear and the ears to hear it. For those who are getting older and experiencing high frequency roll-off, or using these with too high of an output impedance, then the M-100 might start to sound a little too dark. But even then, it was easy to enjoy them with just a touch of EQ, although I didn't find myself touching the treble with the EQ.
Personally, I found it easier to just listen to them as they are without adding or removing anything with EQ. If I MUST EQ a headphone to enjoy it, like with my last two pairs of Darth Beyers, then they aren't worth owning. The M-100 on the other hand are a keeper. Now, if I can only keep my son from sneaking in and borrowing them from me.