Pros: smooth sound,good all arounder, comfortable, gorgeous customized headphone shields
Cons: some of the cords are stiff and tangle prone, poor isolation, needs a touch of sparkle in the treble region
Those of us sitting at the back of the bus who love our music reserve the right to practice a healthy dose of skepticism involving audio gear as we ride along the long winding road that is life. Until said gear has passed our personal expectations thus meriting the mantra of GOOD GEAR any and all reviewers/reviews will be taken with a grain of salt. As natural born cynics we also expect those around us to practice a healthy level of free thought and approach our reviews with a healthy dose of skepticism. In the event there's violent disagreement concerning gear reviewed then please grab said gear throw it out the bus window grab your own much loved gear and by all means please join us fellow cynics at the back of the bus. Please be sure said gear being thrown out the window isn't mine.
Part I Overall Feel And Finish
Overall I generally like the M-80 in my book it does a lot of things right. It's no giant killer by any stretch of the imagination and like any other product it has it's strong points and weak points. I've never done a review before or rather stated more correctly I've never done one for a audio company so if this comes across as a little amateurish please excuse my noobiness. In an effort to avoid writing a book I'm going to try and keep this review to the point and will only touch on the stand out strengths and weaknesses of this headphone. I'll leave the more minor points to be discussed on the thread. I've taken the liberty of using my current collection of headphones as benchmarks and will be alluding to them in certain parts of the review in order to further hammer home my points.
Form Factor And Durability
The overall fit finish and feel on these headphones is very good and it's lines are crisp clean and it seems to be well assembled. The headphone seems to utilize quite nice high quality materials and I really like the Kevlar cords that come supplied with the headphone. When I first received these headphones the most surprising aspect was how light and small they were and my first impression was these would never stand up to any kind of punishment. After various intentional headband twists, cord pulls, and real world testing by having them knocking around in my crowded backpack for a few days my view has drastically changed. Whether they can take the same punishment and outlast my HD25-i-ii only time can tell but first initial impressions are positive. Shortly after writing this review I posed the question to Mr Val Kolton of V-Moda on whether his company would be providing replacement parts for it's M-80 in the event of a part breaking. Mr. Kolton promptly responded as follows:
To answer your question, yes M-80 is a very modular headphone and we'll offer replacement pads, parts in the future. The pad and most parts are user replaceable, even the driver in fact.
A very welcome response and a huge plus for M-80 owners. My hat goes off to V-Moda for going the extra mile with it's product and it's customer support.
Packaging Fit Finish And Extras
The product's packaging and presentation is excellent and is easily on par with Monster's offerings. The consumer gets a very durable carry case to help protect his/her investment as well as 3 (2 with audio controls) Kevlar covered cables in different colors. All cables have a 45 degree jack and in my book the 45 degree jack is a smart move on V-moda's part. The dark cable with no controls has a rather nice feel to it but the two cable's with audio controls for whatever reason feel rather stiff and are overly tangle prone. Only time will tell how well they fare. Along with the cords you get a large metal clip that will clip the headphone case to your purse backpack carry on etc. The inside of the carry case has two Velcro mounted carry areas with straps that function as storage for the extra cables supplied and if not wanted they can be pulled out for home storage. The inside is also covered in a nice red velvety material that will keep your cans safe from scratches. In short the case is compact sturdy fits over the gear like a second skin has style and functions very well as a mobile solution for safely carrying your whole V-Moda gear around at all times. It's safe to say V-Moda took notice of Monster's extravagant packaging and has upped the anty with their own take on style. Kudos to V-Moda for going that extra mile and giving that extra little attention to detail.
The M-80 fit for me is very good and I give it high marks. Fit for me is a concern considering I wear glasses and the M-80 very pleasantly surprised me with it's comfort. I'm finding clamping force is just right and ear pain is non existent after 3 hours. The most comfortable fit I've ever had would go to the P5 with the M-80 breathing down it's neck in second place followed by the DT1350 in third and the HD25 in fourth. Last spot goes to the poorly ergonomically challenged iGrado.
Customized Plate Options
The fact the consumer can customize their plates and make their headphones stand out and different from anyone Else's is a killer extra for me. In a sea of bright red Beats, overly loud SkullCandy artwork blue Sennheiser Adidas, and the standard no frills plain Jane all black headphones it's a very welcome sight. I'm hoping as time goes on V-Moda will take this idea and run with it and offer even more customization options. Right now the only color options for the M-80 is the all black or black with red accents. A few more color options down the road such as blue green etc would probably be welcomed by many consumers. A personal suggestion towards V-Moda why not really let your hair down and offer different background color options for the custom plates to match with different form factor accents? I'm sure there would be enough consumers who would jump on the option.
Mobility - I'm Always On The Go
Making a mobile headphone that works well means addressing many different problems compared to a headphone designed for use on a home rig. In my line of work I'm always on the go day in day out and log by far more hours on a mobile headphone then my home headphones. For someone like me a good mobile headphone isn't a luxury it's a necessity. I could write page upon page discussing the finer points on what makes a good mobile can, we all could, but for the sake of trying not to wander off topic I'm going to touch on the two that are by far the most important for a mobile can, noise leakage and isolation.
First the good news, noise leakage or lack there of is very good on the M-80. I've had these cans blaring away at around 60 to 70% volume setting on my iPod Touch on a bus with someone sitting right beside me reading without disturbing them. I've also been in a library and have yet to hear any complaints involving noise disturbing people around me. If I crank the volume to it's absolute max I will notice some noise leakage but let's be realistic cranking headphones to maximum volume is not only dumb and asking for hearing damage it's just not done by the average consumer.
Isolation is a slightly different story for the M-80. My now gone Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphone in my opinion is the best isolating mobile headphone I've ever owned. Behind it I would rank the DT1350 a distant second with the HD25-i-ii in third and the M-80 running behind in fourth place. I'm finding the HD25 -i-ii isolates out the low drone like noises (engine drone while riding on a bus) better then the M-80 and the DT 1350 easily further isolates out that drone twice as much. The P5 say what you will about it it's isolation is spooky quiet. Coming up in the dismal deal breaking you should be ashamed of yourself last place is the iGrado. V-Moda needs to take a second look and work on this problem. Poor isolation in a mobile headphone can be a real deal breaker for some consumers.
Sound - In The House That Head-Fi Built Sound Reign's Supreme
I find the sound of this little headphone very interesting and it took me a few days to really wrap my head around it's sound signature. If I was to try and describe the M-80 in one word it would be smooth as in smooth as silk. If you're looking for edgy treble with pristine almost ethereal like highs you won't find it in the M-80. It's not analytical and comes nowhere near being classed as a detail monster nor hot in the treble but it will provide good detail across the frequency ranges. If you're looking for deep thick lows that slams visceral like bass into your cranium you also won't find it in the M-80. It does have good bass slam but it's nowhere near what would be classed a bass cannon. What the M-80 will do is give you a slightly bass centric sound signature with clear highs good detail across all frequencies and when the music demands it it'll muscle it's full bodied bass to bring forward good percussion. Put simply it's clear has good detail and the highs mids and lows don't try to overpower one another but instead play nicely together. It's a headphone that has been very shrewdly engineered and will appeal to the bass head who wants to hear a mid range and has grown tired of overpowering muddy lows. The M-80 will also appeal to the treble head whose gotten tired of the analytical and wants a slightly warmer fuller bass with nice authoritative slam but still wants a decent amount of detail in his music.
Sennheiser HD25-i-ii Adidas, Beyerdynamic DT1350, iGrado/Grado SR60i
Easily the strongest suit in the M-80's audio signature. V-Moda claims to have invested countless man hours into this headphones bass over the last 5 years and I believe them. The DT1350 easily has the deeper extension but it's bass is quite thin compared to the M-80 and it's bass slam is quite poor. The HD25-i-ii on the other hand although it doesn't extend as much as either the M-80 or the DT1350 it delivers very nice authoritative slam with it's mid bass hump. The M-80 compared to the Sennheiser is no slouch and can also slam pretty good and it does it in all the right places and does it smoothly with better control avoiding bass bleed into the mid frequencies. Which of these 3 cans do better bass in my opinion comes down to how the listener prefers to take his audio poison. If you don't care about slam and prefer detailed deep reaching down into the dungeons lows the Beyer delivers in spades. You want a more visceral like boomy slam the Senn will be your poison of choice. Personally I give the the M-80 the nod in this area. It extends not to badly will deliver good slam when it has to and above all controls itself better then the Senn.
Mids are generally good on the M-80. Although I give it good marks across the board it doesn't do anything special that makes it stand out to my ears. Vocals I would say are very good on the M-80 slightly edging out the more mid recessed lusher sounding HD25-i-ii but it takes a back seat to the DT1350 with its glorious vocal reproduction. Guitars also gets a good grade and the M-80 returns the favor to the DT1350 whose guitar tonality can at times sound slightly off especially in hard rock and metal. When it's compared to the iGrado with it's much more aggressive nature and forward mids it's still left playing second fiddle though. I have to admit though I am openly biased and think nobody can do guitars like a Grado. I will also say although the Senn gets third place it was a tough call for me and I place it very marginally behind the M-80 for guitar reproduction. Overall mids gets a ranking of very good and I feel it does it's job fairly well and gives the M-80 a nice cohesive sound that works well for it.
If I was to pick a sore spot for the M-80 it would be it's high's. It's not bad per say and I think it meshes in well with the general smooth sound signature V-Moda is going for. When I compare it to the HD 25-i-ii DT1350 and iGrado I had to rate it low compared to these other cans. I'm finding the treble region on the M-80 works generally well for most type's of music but when paired with more aggressive metal sub genres such as death metal thrash metalcore or melodic death metal the treble regions short comings manifest's itself. The problem I'm hearing is the M-80 high's are for a lack of a better description overly polite. A polite treble range doesn't work very well in metal when the music demands edginess and shimmering cymbals and at times the treble region seems almost recessed (it isn't) when compared to the pounding drums and driving guitars in the music. That being said there is good news as far as the highs are concerned. Sibilance control is quite good on the M-80 and badly recorded music with overly sibilant vocals gets smoothed over and sounds quite nice on it. As far as the moshing metal head is concerned it's not a total loss and certain metal sub genre's such as doom symphonic metal old school heavy metal some power metal nu metal and progressive metal seems to pair acceptably well with the M-80 highs. Soft rock jazz hip hop hard house and trance seems to work especially well with these sort of high's and although polite the upper treble range still seems to release enough energy to belt out that nice loud crash and smash when the music demands it. Overall I'd have to rate the M-80 highs a mixed bag of pluses and minuses.