Pros: full sound with plenty of bass, clear forward midrange, large sound stage.
Cons: treble can be to polite and lacks detail, midrange can be harsh on some tracks
I would like to thank VModa for including me in their VModa Crossfade M80 voyage.
OK when I opened my package from Vmoda I was surprised at how small the retail packaging was. Then as I opened it up I was pleasantly surprised at the high quality custom moulded case inside. It was solid and very posh. When I opened up the case my breath was actually taken away for a second or to by how beautiful the headphones were. I had decided to go with red custom shield and man do they ever look good. I unfortunately gave to complex a picture to VModa when sending in everything and consequently only have my initials on the headphone but they still look soooooo nice.
I then turned my attention to the cables that came in the case and box and with the package. They were all high quality cloth covered cables that look very strong and durable. But I do have to say they are quite bulky when using with my iPhone in my pocket and I have to be careful I don’t kink the iPhone cable. But over all I have to give VModa props for making well-built cables.
Over all I have to actually give VModa props for everything they have done from an appearance level. These headphones simply exude class and craftsmanship.
I then put them on and had my first moment of trepidation. Well actually I had been having that trepidation all along because I wear glasses and every on-ear headphone I have tried has been a pain to my ears physically. Unfortunately that trepidation was initially warranted as they did cause my ears to hurt. But as I wore them I did notice they started to feel softer and after a while the pain disappeared completely in one ear and was only very minor in the other. But I did and up bending out the headband as they show in the VModa video which has helped them become even more comfortable without becoming too loose. OVERALL I would say they are the most comfortable on ear headphone I have tried.
Also up front I will say that I tried these while on the train and found they were OK, but just OK in regards to blocking out enough sound without cranking up the volume. So if you’re using an IEM for your commutes and wanting to switch to headphone, these may not be quite isolating enough, but it will depend on the volume level you’re used to listening at. On the other hand aside from strong winds (they don’t handle wind to well) I did find these very nice for walking on the street as they did allow enough sound in to allow me to be aware of traffic and my surroundings better.
OK so enough with all the fluff and stuff, HOW DO THEY SOUND!
My initial impression was actually pretty positive as I took them out with me for a walk with my dog. I even had a moment where I busted a move in the middle of the street listening to Cold Hearted Man by AC/DC. I worked my way through a choral and violin piece, both which sounded nicely detailed and full.
But when I got home and hooked this up to my small desktop amp and my home computer with Little Dot DAC and started to try some other songs I did notice the bass was quite a bit more than I was used to from my GR07 IEM’s and even my Denon D7000 to a degree. Plus they had the dreaded cavern effect (echo-ee sounding)! This effect was not as bad some small headphones I have heard like the Denon A100 but it was a bit disconcerting. Some may like this effect but I find it’s a poor alternative to a real sound stage.
I then threw on my trusted burn-in files and left the headphones to cook over night.
The next day I took the headphone with me to work and tried using these on the train with mixed but ultimately unsatisfying results. I turned up the volume to a bit more than I like and then they drowned out enough of the train sound that I was able to enjoy some music. But this ultimately left my ears feeling a bit fatigued at the end of the train ride.
Once at the office I used them when possible as I worked throughout the day. The first thing I noticed was most of the cavern effect I had heard the night before was mostly gone much to my relief. But as I used them I felt I still had to turn the volume up a bit more than I like to hit the sweet spot dynamically speaking where the music sounded right. I do think some of that may have been from my train ride though and my initial ear fatigue which then was extended by my turning up the volume at work. Later that night I was starting to hear some of the dynamic sound I like at lower volumes.
I then left them to burn-in again for the 2nd night.
The next day I took them with me to work but used my GR07 on the train as I decided I preferred the better isolation and lower volume levels. This allowed me to then just use them at work without any ear fatigue. Between the lack of ear fatigue and the continued maturation of the headphone I noticed a marked improvement in the dynamics of the headphone as everything just sounded and felt more vibrant. The bass had also lost all of the cavern effect and while being much heavier than I am used to was starting to sound very nice.
I have since then let these burn in for another 40-50hrs plus head time and feel they have started to stabilize. I imagine there will still be small changes but they are now very close to what VModa designed them to sound like.
So where do they fit in sound wise?
My hope for these was that they would be a portable alternative to my VSonic GR07 IEM and my full-size Denon D7000 Headphones. Both the GR07 and the D7000 have many similar characteristics such as full deep bass without a midbass hump, clean mids that are not affected by the bass, and nice detailed treble extension (the treble on both is often considered sibilant by other head-fi members but is exactly how I like my treble). Finally the GR07 (and the D7000 to a slightly lesser degree) have an amazing transparency allowing me to hear emotional component or grit of my music.
The M80 unfortunately has the dreaded (for me) mid-bass hump. The hump is not as heavy as some products I have owned such as my Sennheiser IE8 but it’s more than I personally like and it also encroached on the midrange a bit making them warmer than I prefer. The midrange, aside from being warmer than I like on the other hand is fully present and enjoyable for vocals and is very nice for vocals. I would say the midrange is more forward than the GR07 and a lot more forward than the recessed mids of theD7000. The treble is unfortunately as much of a challenge for me as the bass. Without using a lot of technical jargon, I find cymbals have more emphasis on the crash than on the shimmer and decay. This has the tendency to make these a bit harsher than I like for some of the music I listen to as it over emphasizes that part of the music and any music that is in the same sonic range. Finally in order to get some of the transparency and emotional content I like I find I have to turn up the M80 louder than I would like.
But as I said that was my hope. So now that my agenda is OUTED. How do these sound on their own without my motives in the way?
Here is a list of music I used while testing. I have decided to only listen to these songs with the M80 and give my thoughts on just them alone. I may occasionally give a comment about another headphone that I feel does something better or show how I like the M80 better but intend to keep such comments to a minimum.
Loreena McKennit – Stolen Child – female Celtic music : This song has strong female vocals from Loreena that are beautifully rendered by the M80. They are slightly warmer than some of the headphones I own but this added warmth does make music like this sound even richer. I also like how the bass line of the song is portrayed as it is a huge part of the atmosphere of the song. The various bells and chimes used in the song also sound very clear well rendered.
Loreena McKennit - Lullaby – Thunderstorm at the beginning tests sound stage plus Shakespearean speech in middle is nice as a vocal test : The thunderstorm sounded very good with the M80 capturing the sense of expanse a thunderstorm has in real life with good crashes and rumbling. The speech also has an authoritative quality to it due to the added warmth. This song also has an echo quality to the speech which on many headphones can sound hissy versus an echo, the M80 manages to carry the echo off well.
Elemental – Carrighfergus – A male sung Celtic song : The warmth of the midrange again adds a nice weight to the male singing.
Overall I really like how Celtic music sounds on the M80. The M80 seems to be built for this type of music.
Patricia Barber – Miss Otis Regrets – female jazz singing, jazz guitar, and cymbals, I look for strong emotional conveyance in this song : The singing is much like what I heard with the Celtic music but I do notice slightly less emotional response in the singing than I get from my GR07. The bass of the song is also a bit too strong for my liking as I again prefer the GR07 or the D7000. Cymbals are a bit to subdued for my liking as well losing to much of their shimmer.
I think Jazz will be a hit and miss for this headphone depending on whether the bass and the treble suit a person’s preference. In my case I want slightly less bass and more treble. I do not have a lot of experience with Jazz though so do think others with a Jazz back ground will be a better judge of the genre and the M80.
AC/DC – Cold Hearted Man – Hard Rock with some grit : Guitars sound very good with lots of growl, the male vocals also sound warm and authoritative but loose some of the grit I like in this song. The cymbals are not as crisp as I like but also never come across as too harsh or over power the guitars. The bass sounds deep but not quite as crisp as I like.
AC/DC – Let There be Rock – Hard rock with grit and a quite busy sound : The speed of the song is managed by the M80 but only just barely and for those who love busy sounding music I suspect you would find the song to be a bit too muddy for you especially at the end.
Heart – Magic Man – Classic Rock with a heavy beat : The bass is close to perfect for this song and the guitars again sound very nice. The cymbals of this song also sound clear and right for this song as any more shimmer would come across as too much. I also like placement of the instruments on the sound stage of this song.
Over all I think the M80 does this genre pretty well. Only falling down on very fast paced songs and needing a bit tighter bass for some music.
Eagles – Hotel California : The bass guitar sounds full without being over bearing. Background cymbals are a bit lacking in clarity. Singing comes across nicely. This song is a hard one for most headphones to sound right, the Sennheiser IE8 for example sound hollow for this song in my opinion. The M80 while not nailing it does a good job with this song.
Kansas – Closet Chronicles : The vocals come through clearly as does the cymbals and the electronic sound this band was famous for. This is another song hard to get right, often coming across as fake sounding (think cheap Casio keyboard quality). The M80 actually does this band’s music justice.
Supertramp – Rudy : Railroad tracks sound very good and atmospheric. The piano sounds very good in the song as does the vocals. I like the bassier sections as well. The overall atmosphere of the song is well portrayed and is on the same scale as my D7000.
The M80 actually does a VERY good job with classical 70’s rock. I think it’s one of this headphones strongest genre’s.
Arvo Pärt - Summa: Summa for Strings –Classical Strings : The texture and vibrancy of the cellos in this song are very present and wonderfully rendered by the M80. I also love how it does the violins. The overall atmosphere of the song is also well done pulling you into the song.
Arvo Pärt - The Woman with the Alabaster Box – Classical Choral : Choral vocals are very clean and atmospheric with a string ethereal quality.
The Red Violin - III. Oxford - Pope's Gypsy Cadenza : The violins sound clean but to polite losing the raw energy the song has in the movie. While pleasant to listen to, it just misses the emotion of the music.
The Cleveland Orchestra & Pierre Boulez - Petrouchka - Scene 1: First Tableau – Classical Orchestra : While I cannot speak from a technical perspective in regards to instrument placing in regards to orchestra’s I did like how the instruments came across as being place throughout the sound stage. I also liked the instrument separation and over sound.
I think the M80 does well with this genre except when there is a raw energy required for the song, then it’s politeness takes away from it.
Some final comments:
In general I think the M80 is an excellent entry in the portable headphone market. They are well built and definitely offer a full warm sounding headphone that will meet a lot of people’s musical tastes. They are not perfect though, but then again I haven’t found a portable headphone that is as of yet.
If you like a warm sound with strong bass, a forward midrange, and treble that is a bit on the polite side, and a nice big sound stage then I would say the M80 may be just right for you. I also think this headphone will lend itself well to being EQ’d since you would be reducing most areas versus feelinga need to increase the sound.
If on the other hand you prefer subdued bass and a much stronger emphasis place on the treble and detail then I would look closer at the Beyer Dynamic DT1350.
If you don’t mind a headphone that is larger (actually over ear) that has a more classic V shaped sound, then the Denon HP700 may be more to your liking.
Personally I prefer the M80 myself as it fit's most of my music genre's well enough for me and the ones it doesn't are not the ones I listen to the most and I do have other alternative headphones as well.