After become reacquainted with portable audio with the PX100, I decided that I wanted to invest more in my portable headphones in order to bridge the gap between my pleasurable, but humble, portable rig and my much more capable full sized desktop rig. The V-moda M80 looked like a pretty prime candidate, generating quite a bit of hype on Head-fi, and having a glowing recommendation from the well respected Tyl Hertsens of Innerfidelity. I happened to be browsing on Amazon, and they were priced down to $148, so I decided to pounce.
2 weeks later, my headphones arrived and here is what I found;
Normally, I wouldn't mention or even think about the packaging of a headphone. Packaging really doesn't mean much to me, it should really only appeal to impulse buyers who judge a headphone by how nice it looks on the shelf, rather than by doing any actual research. But, I have to give credit where credit is due. These are the most well packaged headphones, and possibly the most well packaged thing I've bought before. Not only does the cardboard box look excellent, complete with glamour shots of the headphone and all sorts of product info, but it's an outstandingly sturdy box. Something would have to go disastrously wrong in shipping for your M80s to sustain any sort of damage. On the top of the box there's a small ribbon seal that you cut to get access to the goodies inside, and there's also a little faux snake skin button seal, too. It's all very nice. Once inside you'll find all your usual papers, and the hard travel case.
The M80 is very well accessorised. The carry case not only looks awesome, but it's very sturdy; perfect for it's intended use. Upon opening the case, you'll be greeted by the headphones themselves, and the two cables. A single button cable for Android and other smartphones, and a 3 button cable for Apple devices. As an android user, it's great to see a headphone manufacturer smart enough not to completely alienate me by only catering to the Apple users. The Android audience is massive, and it's simple stupidity to ignore us. Both cables are great quality, complete with sleeving and a sleek 45 degree jack.
Moving on to the headphones themselves, these things are some of the coolest looking headphones out there. I think these headphones strike a good balance between subtlety and flashiness. Countless headphones on the market today try to be good looking by being as gaudy and tasteless as possible. Some others (usually these belong more to the audiophile crowd) go for a mature, minimal look such as the Sennheiser Momentum and Bowers & Wilkins P5. The M80s are very much like a sports car. They're flashy to an extent, but refined. I think it's flashiness mitigated with the sensibilities of taste. The sort of looks that will get you compliments but won't make you feel like a 14 year old. They're all black with subtle red accenting. I especially like the brushed aluminium shields. I love brushed alu in general, and this is no exception. The hexagonal shape of the cups is quite unique, very eye catching.
But, don't think for a second that these headphones sacrifice build quality for their looks. These things are built pretty darn well. The basic frame of the headphone has a nice solid rigidity to it, it feels very strong. My sister accidentally half-way sat on them briefly, and I think her rear end came off worse. They're strong. The plastic you'll find on the headphone is quality stuff, very solid. the materials used on the padding are also good quality. The pleather on the earpads is possibly the nicest pleather I've encountered. It's lightyears ahead of that utter garbage I got with the Ultrasone HFI-580. The microfibre on the top of the headband, and the fabric weave on the bottom are both quality materials. The entire headphone is simply spot on, build wise.
It just gets better. On top of great looks and build quality, these headphones are also very well featured! Obviously, you've got a removable cable feature which is very welcome for replacing broken cables, but allows you to easily get aftermarket cables since the input on the headphone is 3.5mm. The headband has the impressive feature of being ultra flexible. You can bend it all sorts of ways and it just springs into shape again. This is great for durability, but also useful for adjusting the headphone to the shape of your head.The other major (and very popular) feature is the replaceable, customisable shields. There's a good variety of colours to choose from, and you can get an image engraved onto it for an extra fee. "Endorse yourself" as it were. A cool idea.
But it doesn't stop there, unlike most headphones with such fashion and accessory bragging rights, these also sound good. I'd describe the sound as slightly dark, surprisingly spacious and quite rich. The bass is very satisfying to me, I really love it. It has good authority, though I've not once found it overbearing. It can be potent when it needs to be, though. It remains quite clean and controlled, though I think there's a hint of looseness in the lowest reaches, but it's minor to be sure. This bass is definitely able to perform with the likes of electronic, pop and hip hop, and perform well! And, most impressively, for a headphones with such bass capabilities, the mids are just as good. They sound thick (in a good way) and well separated from the bass, with good definition and placement. Where the M80s might not be that impressive to some is the treble. As I said, it's a slightly dark sounding headphone, so the treble takes a little bit of a backseat, however it's quite smooth and not fatiguing at all. The quality is respectable, but isn't as good as the mids or bass. The sparkle and crisp definition isn't there to the extent that some will be wanting, and the way some genres demand. Genres I find these satisfying for are Electronic, Pop, Ambient, Progressive Rock, Hip Hop, Jazz, Folk and some Soundtracks. I thought they didn't sound particularly impressive with Classical, and for Metal that's fast or aggressive at all, they just sounds too congested and a bit muddled. But all things taken into account, I think they sound wonderful!
Unfortunately this headphone isn't perfect (what is?). The first problem with this headphone I came across very shortly after using them for the first time. I'm using a Samsung Galaxy S, and the M80s cables are not compatible my device. When plugged in normally, the sound is quietened and distorted, but when you hold down the inline button, the sound returns to the correct volume and clarity. This wasn't a cable problem either, because the cables worked flawlessly with a Blackberry and iPod Touch. It's also not a problem with my device since other inline control headphones work fine. I'm not the only person with a SGS to have this problem with the M80, this is just a compatibility issue it seems. Quite disappointing since it says on the box that it's compatible with Android devices.
Luckily, V-Moda's wise design and their excellent service help remedy this. A simple reversing of the cable allows for the sound to come through loud and clear, since it bypasses the controls and microphone. Whilst this works, I still have to sacrifice the convenience of being able to press a button to stop my music, I have to pull my phone out to pause. That, and I also lose the benefits of the 45 degree angle jack. I expressed my woes to V-Moda and asked them to send me an audio only cable, and to my surprise, they agreed! Their communication was great (they tried to help me solve my cable issue) and they were nice enough to send me a free cable. I've slammed Grado's service before and I'll do it again. Grado, pull your finger out and take note from V-Moda. This is how you treat customers! Not to mention the 2 year warranty (which they still honour if you buy from Amazon, which is a lot cheaper than buying it from them) and the immortal life program. Just brilliant!
I also have noise and isolation issues with these headphones. The cables make a noticeable amount of noise when they brush against clothing. It's very much there at low volumes, and even at higher volumes it's still a bit irritating because you can always JUST hear it. Aftermarket cables could remedy this I imagine, but I think it's a case of V-Moda going for looks over functionality. As for isolation, in and of itself it's actually fine for me. It's not super effective, it won't completely isolate you from everything, but I don't really like total isolation. It makes me feel uncomfortable that I have no situational awareness. They'll block enough noise for your music to be satisfying, but still let you hear important noises around you. My isolation issue comes from the wind noise. If you're out with these in windy weather there will be a noticeable wooshing noise. This is a nitpick or a dealbreaker depending on how much you're actually going to be walking around out with them. My portable needs are more for chilling on the couch with my phone, or sitting in a car or train or bus on a long trip, so for me it's not a bid deal. But, be warned all the same.
My opinion before comfort break in completed (Click to show)
The flaws I've listen so far are undoubtably things I would prefer that weren't there, but they're really nitpicks that I can accept in the face of all the pros of this headphone. Unfortunately, this headphone has one enormous flaw that, even despite all the things that this headphone does right, I simply can't justify. That thing is the comfort. In a word, the comfort for me is "dreadful". It's actually the least comfortable headphone I've owned. I've sold off more comfortable headphones than this for being too uncomfortable. The first problem lies in the head band. I feel that 3 issues cause discomfort for me with it. Firstly, it's a quite narrow headband. For a headphone that weighs 200g, it doesn't have much area to distribute the weight. Secondly, it's not generously padded. I was actually quite surprised with how hard the headband padding felt, I was expecting it to be super soft, but it's not. The padding is very minimal. Thirdly, the texture and shape of the padded area isn't optimal. The fabric texture isn't a smooth, consisted texture like leather for example. It's varied. In the area where the fabric and microfibre join, you can feel a very slight bump where the stitching is. All of this adds up to an extremely uncomfortable headband which leaves me with a very intense pressure hotspot on my head, regardless of where I place it or how I bend the headband to conform with my head.
When it comes to the earpads, things get even worse. These are supra aural headphones, so regardless of what you do, some level of pressure has to be put on the ears. On ear doesn't automatically = uncomfortable. However, I find that my ears become quite sore with pressure hotspots within 25 minutes. I've stretched the headband out to lessen the clamp force, and I've been wearing the headphones for the 24 hours (of total use, not one day of use) that V-Moda recommends. So, I've got simultaneous pressure hotspots on both my head and my ears, which is bad enough. However, this headphone commits my personal cardinal sin of headphone comfort. It makes my ears hot and sweaty. This is something I really just can't stand, and it's one of the reasons that I go exclusively for open headphones when I want a fullsize can. I just hate that feeling. Obviously it's not so black and white. It's OK for your ears to get slightly warm, but I'm talking about proper sweat inducing heat. It's just an awful feeling, utterly uncomfortable. Now, all these comfort woes wouldn't be that bad if they were sort of thing that set in near the end of a couple hours. But the fact that it's there in full force before I'm even halfway through an album is just pathetic. It negates all the positive points of the headphone if I can't even manage to wear them long enough to appreciate it.
I have to say, I'm truly jealous of people who find this headphone comfortable, I really am. I love so much about this headphone, but it's utterly intolerable to wear on my head. I'm actually shocked at how bad it is for me. The general consensus amongst head-fi user reviews is 4 stars for comfort! It really leaves me bitterly disappointed that I can't use a headphone that I like so, so much because of one flaw. I'm not going to rush into getting rid of them, though. Maybe, just maybe, the comfort will improve, maybe it's still breaking in. I want them to be comfortable, so so much, but I'm prepared for disappointment. I love the looks. I love the build quality. I love the sound. I love the accessories. I love the features. I love V-Moda as a company. And at $148 on Amazon it's killer value, too! Why couldn't I have found it comfortable?!
As you can see, I had serious issues with this headphone's comfort initially. I am so, so glad to be able to say that the comfort did improve for me with a few extra weeks of use. I'm glad I kept it longer to make sure, because I came damn close to boxing it up for returns. I had them all packaged back into the carrying case, where they sat for a few days. But, I just couldn't bring myself to ship them, and it's a good thing I didn't. Now, don't get me wrong. I still think these 4-5 star comfort ratings are undeserved. I've given the comfort 3 stars. It's what I'd describe as being "snug". I consider true, genuine 5 star comfort to be a headphone that you can almost forget you're wearing. That's impossible with this kind of headphone I'm pretty sure. I really think it's just plain wrong to rank this sort of headphone up there with the velour padded, open, full sized headphones that we know all about. While the M80's are on my ears, they feel fairly snug for the most part. After longer amounts of time some discomfort starts to set in, but unlike before I'd say it was mild discomfort, it's definitely bearable, and can be relieved quite a bit by a quick readjustment.
As for how I achieved the higher comfort levels? I do think just using it more helped soften the padding on both the headband and earpads, but I also did two specific things. I stretched the headband a bit more to relieve some more of the clamp force. This definitely made a difference,for obvious reasons. It also helped shape the headband to my head a bit more. The other thing I did was in the wearing of the earpads. I had previously been wearing them on the 6th click, but I lowered them to the 7th. When putting them on my ears, I sort of pushed them down a little bit on the lower part of my ear. This made them more comfy for me, and seemed to allow my ears to breathe a little bit better without any noticeable changes in sound quality or isolation.
So, I am now a very happy V-Moda M80 owner! I now have decent comfort along with the great sound, looks, build quality, features and accessories, complete with awesome warranty and support (the audio only cable V-Moda sent me arrived today :D ). I won't sugarcoat it, I still doubt these are going to seem comfy for everyone, but if they are, then they're brilliant! I love these headphones and I don't foresee myself getting rid of them for a long time.