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V-MODA VAMP Headphone Amplifier

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #39 in Amp/DACs

Posted

Pros: Clarity, Soundstage, build, dynamics, textured bass, crisp highs.

Cons: iPhone 4/4S only

 

So my Impressions:

 

Introduction

I have said before, I am against selling what you win or are given, and I am not an apple fan, and have no interest in getting an iPhone. So what was I to do with the VAMP I just won? Well the original idea I had was to give it to my mother to troll around with with her K550's. But it seems fate had other ideas, my friend, helped me win the competition, he was the photographer. But recently he got committed to a psychiatric institution, and I went to visit him. He has an iPhone 4, and I was going to test it with my AKG K242HD and my Denon D7000. But i planned like a prized nob, his iPhone was just replaced, he had no music, and the VAMP was not charged. So it didn't happen. But he did enjoy the AKG's straight out of his iPad, I decided bugger it and left the AKG's and the VAMP with him. 

 

The next morning I get 2 messages. "Holy Jesus!" "Thats all." 

 

This particular friend of mine could not discern in quality between my D2000 and his skull candy Ink'd buds using my Xonar (albeit with stock opamps and no impedance adapter at that stage, which means it was harsh and had horrible bass bloat.) So I was quite confused. He says the AKGs sounded great just out of the iPad or the iPhone, but that VAMP, he said it even made the skull candies not sound like turd.  

 

Headphones

I feel I have to talk a bit about the AKG K242HD (same as the K240mkii with velour pads and no detachable cable.) They are underrated around here, and I know why, since this is out of scope I will keep it short (if anyone would like a full review, ask and it shall be done.) 

Anyway, these $90 bargains I bought are transparent, they sound like whatever you plug them into, their sonic characteristics and quality is a direct reflection of the source/amp. That was very useful when opamp rolling. And in comparison my Denons (D2k or D7k) barely change at all, they are only affected by impedance mismatches, and having enough current and clarity from the source/amp.

 

Gear

I will be comparing to normal iPhone w/ Golden Ear and my HTC HD2 w/ 64bit NEON enhanced Neutron player, and my Asus Xonar essence stx (with THS4032 opamps in I/V) and an impedance adapter with the denons. The Asus Xonar STX + THS4032 opamps + AKG K242HD combination is a combo I think is particularly synergestic, and I recommend highly to anyone looking for a low budget high quality all rounder system.

 

Headphones: as stated above AKG K242HD, and Denon D7000.

 

Impressions

So after getting all the music onto his iPhone in flac format using Golden Ear, we got down to business. I brought my D7000 along aswell, but unless otherwise stated, this is with the AKG K242HD

 

I used songs I knew very very well, and out of the box, the imaging and soundstage is magnificent, the detail retrieval was the biggest killer, it was amazing, I have heard some songs so many times I know every hit and echo backwards, and I was hearing almost double the details I have ever heard with either the AKG or the Denons, and thats the part that hurt, I couldn't help but think why the hell would I buy the D7000's if this is so good. 

 

All the songs had a much more intimate feeling, and despite everything that the AKGs could show it was always musical, and the bass was the biggest surprise, it was beautifully textured, and the subbass just got the extra little push it needed on the AKGs (although I will note for heavy electronica an equalizer is still useful.)

 

I never felt the VAMP was slow, or hiding anything or overly bright, which the AKGs can be. 

 

The background was also black, very black, impressively black.

 

When I plugged in my Denon D7000, there was improvement, but my time was much too little to give an affirmative answer, but I do think the improvement WAS NOT so great. The reason is because in the AKG's + VAMP combo the VAMP follows the single colourating (yes I just made up a word) component rule, where with the denons both are adding colouration, and the result was still great clarity, but nowhere near the wow of the AKGs and tbh, I would rather have the VAMP + AKG combo, there is no way I would be able to justify the D7000. But I would need more time to say how close they actually are, but from the brief experience:

AKG K242HD + VAMP >> Denon D7000 + VAMP/Asus >> AKG K242HD + Asus

 

Conclusion

This has taught me (actually just reinforced my belief) that just as implementation matters more with a DAC then the chip itself, that synergy matters greater then the sum of the components.

As a basic rule you want one colourating component in a chain. With the denons, they have their own strong natural sound so you want a neutral and transparent amp, which explains why except for the odd exception they are suited best for solid state amps. With the AKGs they are transparent in their sound and benefit from the added musicality of colouration in an amp. The HD800 fits into the same category from my reading.

 

The synergy between the AKGs and the VAMP is utterly disgusting (in a good way) and because of the transparent nature of the AKGs I can conclusively say the VAMP is a great product. So great infact that I almost considered getting an iPhone, and I would have, but I thought the VAMP would find a good home with my friend, so I gave it to him.  And I will buy the Go-dap X based VAMP when its released. Now I just haveto tell my mother I have given way the VAMP I was going to give her.... gulp....

Posted

Pros: A versatile portable DAC/amp with excellent build, design, sound quality and equalizer function

Cons: Usage limited to iPhone 4/4S, probably won't work with future iPhone models

I was one of, if not the first to order the VAMP through V-MODA's official website once it was put up for sale after months of rumors, speculations and advertisements. Featurewise, VAMP is a very unique product in many ways, and I'd like to discuss its functions and capabilities compared to other portable DAC's, amps, or DAC/amps before sharing my impressions.

 

First of all, VAMP is a portable DAC/amp for the iPhone 4/4S, but that doesn't mean its usage is strictly limited to an iPhone 4/4S. Although they won't fit into VAMP's case physically, you can also use other iDevices such as an iPod (including iTouch), iPhone 3GS, or iPad by with VAMP via a sync extension LOD (line out dock) cable . Of course, VAMP should still be used primarily with an iPhone 4/4S as it was meant to be for maximum comfort and portability. So if you don't own an iPhone 4/4S and isn't planning to get one, then VAMP will serve you little or no purpose.

 

VAMP is special in a way that it bypasses the in-built DAC of iDevices and utilizes its own DAC for better hi-fi performance. As far as I know, there are only three other portable devices capable of this feature: Cypher Labs Algorithm Solo (DAC only), Fostex HP-P1 (DAC/amp), and VentureCraft Go-DAP (the model which VAMP was based on). Most so-called DAC/amps, such as Fiio E17, aren't capable of this, because the ability to take the pure digital data out of an iDevice through LOD costs the product Apple's license fee. That explains why gears like HP-P1 or VAMP are a lot more expensive than other portable DAC/amps.

 

To summarize VAMP's functions:

#1. A solid case for iPhone 4/4S, protecting it from scratches (although it would break my heart to see my $650 VAMP damaged instead)

#2. Extra battery for an iDevice, doubling its life

#3. Takes pure digital audio data out of an iDevice via LOD

#4. Outputs digital data from #3 via mini-Toslink optical S/PDIF (fixed to 48 kHz) with digital-digital coversion to another DAC, effectively serving as an iDevice dock

#5. Converts digital data from #3 to analog signal via VAMP's in-built DAC, amplified through VAMP's headphone amp section with volume control and 3.5 mm headphone out

#6. An equalizer function (aptly named VQ mode) which enlarges 3D soundstage and add some bass to music, making some closed-sounding or bass-weak recordings more enjoyable... YMMV.

 

FYI, VAMP is a fully upgraded, uber version of the Japanese company VentureCraft's Go-DAP Unit 4.0. So it's made in Japan, but should be overall better than the default Go-DAP, at least in theory.

 

Also, I purchased the VAMP at $650, but right now it's also on sale at Amazon for $600.

 

Before actually reviewing the VAMP, some caveats and disclaimers: this is the first time I'm doing a full review for an audio component, so please excuse my bad writing. This is a subjective review, after all, and my ears aren't really the best measurement tools. Also, VAMP happens to be the first portable amp - or DAC/amp, for that matter - that I've bought, so I didn't have much opportunity to compare it to other similar products. For the sake of review, however, I was able to borrow a Fiio E17 and a Hifiman HM-801 from a couple headphile friends. I wish I could've compared it to something like a  Fostex HP-P1 to level the playing field, but unfortunately I couldn't find one around. So without further ado, let's get down to it.

 

Unboxing, Design, and Build Quality

 

The VAMP arrived in a sleek box like most V-MODA products. You can check out Val Kolton's (owner of V-MODA) cool unboxing video of VAMP, which involves boats and choppers and other gimmicks. Included in the box were VAMP itself, a mini-USB to USB cable, and a user-friendly instruction manual. The USB cable can be used to charge VAMP alone, both VAMP and iPhone, or iPhone only. With the latter option, you can also link your iPhone to a computer for streaming data as well.

 

VAMP looks gorgeous in real life as its pictures are. Snap an iPhone into it, and it makes an awesome-looking combo for portable use. I've carried it around outdoors, and it sure was an attention-grabber for many friends I ran into. As for build quality, it's build like a tank as most V-MODA products are. I was too afraid to test it by dropping it or throwing it around, but it felt very sturdy, almost military-grade. In short, build quality is top-notch.

 

Overall, with nearly double the thickness and weight of an iPhone alone, the iPhone/VAMP combo looks like a badass iPhone on steroids.

 

Sound quality

 

I mainly used my Crossfade M-80 (V-MODA's current flagship headphones, soon to be replaced by M-100 over-ear headphones) for this review, but also an AKG K 550 (on loan) and even my Audez'e LCD-2. I compared VAMP to various portable and desktop gears, including Fiio E17, Hifiman HM-801, and my high-end desktop system costing over $4,000 sans cables. I had a couple music playback softwares for the iPhone, from the default player to the well-received Capriccio and FLAC Player.

 

Compared to listening directly via my iPhone's headphone out, the improvement from VAMP was significant. I had been slightly worried that I may not hear a lot of difference, for two reasons. One, V-MODA's M-80 is a highly sensitive headphone which can be efficiently driven by anything, even an iPod. Two, some Head-fi'ers have pointed out that the VentureCraft Go-DAP (the model VAMP was based on) didn't make a serious improvement with an M-80. Well, I'm happy to say that my fears turned out wrong, because I was pleasantly surprised by the unprecedented power and liveliness of music coming out of my M-80. There was an extra level of clarity, as if a veil had been lifted from the music, as well as satisfyingly punchy - but not loose, bassy - bass. 

 

I was also impressed by VAMP's VQ mode. In fact, as I spent longer time with VAMP, I found myself using VQ mode more often than the default, neutral-sounding Pure mode, because VQ adds a level of spaciousness and juiciness that makes music more satisfying, at a slight loss of fidelity to the originally recorded material. For some recordings that already sound too spacious, however, using the VQ mode may cause them to sound overly spread out and thin. While I had previously appreciated Capriccio's 3D equalizer feature, using that and VQ mode at the same time made music sound too loose. But then again, it helped with a few songs that sounded too "closed." Your mileage will vary with this one, but it's always a good thing that they're giving us a choice based on our preferences.

 

I tried using VAMP as a iPhone dock by connecting it to my desktop rig DAC via an optical cable (as I mentioned above, this is fixed to 48 kHz). Compared to my iMac running Pure Music with April Music's Stello U3 converting asynchronous USB to coaxial S/PDIF, I knew it couldn't be a fair comparison. As it turned out, VAMP as an iPhone dock sounded flat compared to my dedicated Mac-based transport. But honestly, the difference wasn't that huge, and when I used the default iTunes instead of Pure Music to level the playing field, the gap was lessened. I'm not sure if many people would actually use VAMP as an iPhone dock, but it doesn't hurt to have an extra feature. In fact, if I had already had an iPhone dock like VAMP, I probably wouldn't have bought another computer that costs a lot more.

 

Compared to sub-$200 Fiio E17, the $650 VAMP was downright superior in many ways. The Fiio E17 can't even take advantage of its own DAC when using with an iPhone, so it wasn't really a fair game from the start. The best way I could think of to A/B these two was iMac/E17 vs. iPhone/VAMP. While both rigs boasted decent clarity, the latter combo sounded more immediate, forward, and stronger in bass punch. VAMP wins, hands down.

 

Vs. Hifiman's HM-801, this was a rather difficult comparison. HM-801 is more expensive than VAMP alone, but the iPhone/VAMP combo could cost more depending on the contract with your mobile company. In terms of outdoor convenience, the VAMP clearly wins because it holds both a cell phone and a DAP (digital audio player) in one box, whereas HM-801 is only a DAP and you'd have to carry a separate phone. Sound quality-wise, I cannot say that one is clearly superior to another; they simply sounded different. VAMP sounds forward, energetic, and juicy while HM-801 sounds laid-back, sweet, and spacious. Overall, when it came to fast-paced music like mainstream pop or rock, VAMP was my favorite, while I liked HM-801's presentation of more audiophile-oriented music like classic and jazz. As a college student, I listen to more mainstream music outdoors, so I ultimately preferred VAMP to HM-801. I guess it all depends on your musical tastes.

 

Now, compared to my main desktop rig... there was no comparison, really. I'm not saying that VAMP was vastly inferior to a multi-thousand dollar system, it's just that VAMP and my desktop amp, Schiit Lyr (with upgraded tubes), were meant to drive entirely different headphones from the start. Lyr is a high power hybrid amp designed to drive low-sensitivity, hard-to-drive headphones such as orthodynamics from Audez'e or Hifiman. It's what I've been using to drive my planar magnetic Audez'e LCD-2 for several months. Still, I plugged the M-80 into Schiit Lyr and let the music flow... only to realize my 6 watts at 32 ohm per channel amp was overkill for such highly sensitive cans, and even made hissing noises.

 

This time, I plugged the LCD-2 into VAMP too see the how far VAMP's potential goes. As expected, I felt VAMP slightly lacked sufficient power to drive the LCD-2 to its fullest, in contrast to the monstrously powerful Lyr. Even so, the relatively high sensitivity of LCD-2 - for an orthodynamic headphone, that is - made it possible to enjoy it with rather favorable results. I forgot to mention above, but the VAMP has two gain settings you can toggle with a simple tool. While M-80 sounded pleasant enough with low gain, the LCD-2 noticeably benefited from high gain setting. But then again, LCD-2 is a full-sized headphone weighing over a pound, so I don't think a lot of people would bring their LCD-2's outdoors. For most portable headphones VAMP was intended for, I think low gain setting is good enough.

 

The other headphones I've tried with VAMP was AKG's K702 and K550, the latter of which was released less than a year ago. The K550, albeit less expensive than the K702, was better than K702 in many regards and I personally consider it AKG's new flagship model. What I didn't like about the K550 was that it somewhat lacked PRaT (pace, rhythm, and timing) factor, otherwise it would've worked well with mainstream music. However, the VAMP makes up for its shortcomings by boosting its bass and overall energy. While I still prefer M-80 (and possibly, the M-100 in the near future) for mainstream pop and rock, the K550/VAMP turned out to be a great all-around player that excels in nearly all genres of music. The K550 is light and comfortable enough to be carried outdoors for portable use, so the K550/VAMP would make a decent portable rig for most people.

 

Value

 

Now, as for VAMP's overall value... is it really worth $600? Even if you are an iPhone 4/4S user - otherwise you'd have no business with VAMP and won't have read this far - is the price tag of $600 at justifiable for everything it does? Strictly from an iPhone 4/4S owner's point of view?

 

My answer is yes and no.

 

Yes, because it is a "portable" DAC that actually bypasses iDevice's in-built DAC circuitry, a decent headphone amp with high-low gain and equalizer settings, and an iPhone dock. Considering all that it does at a cheaper price than Fostex HP-P1 and HM-801, and being a lot more versatile and multi-featured than CLAS which is slightly less expensive, I think it's a great deal value-wise.

 

And no, because VAMP is not completely future-proof. I purchased my iPhone 4S some months ago, and I'm sure I'll stick to it for the next couple years, but what happens after that? I'll have to change my cell phone one way or another someday, and by then VAMP would have become obsolete. But by obsolete I mean obsolete for sales, as I'll still be using iPhone 4S/VAMP combo as a dedicated DAP.

 

Think about it, there are already many people out there who carry both their cell phone and a dedicated DAP like HM-801 or Colorfly. VAMP was designed as a product for the present, but even after iPhone 4S gets discontinued in the future, why not continue to use it as my main portable rig? The only edge it will lose after several years is its convenience factor, because once I get a new phone I'll have to carry two devices at once.

 

Verdict

 

Overall, the VAMP is an awesome gizmo for an iPhone 4/4S users with excellent build, design, and sound quality with a set of decent features one can hope to get from such a small, portable device. The price tag of $600 may seem questionable for some, but I believe it's justified considering everything it does and does well. Of course, VAMP is a niche product that may be discontinued once iPhone 4S is discontinued in the future, but that doesn't mean you can't continue to use it as a dedicated DAP for outdoor activities. For now, I'm really happy with my new toy. Kudos to V-MODA for coming up with such a kick-ass device!

 

1000

 

V-MODA VAMP Headphone Amplifier
By:
Description:

Amplify your inner audiophile and make your iPhone unique via VAMP. V-MODA's headphone AMP, DAC, metal casing and battery pack transforms the iPhone 4/4S into the ultimate spy-worthy gadget. The VAMP incorporates a 150mW x 2 amplifier that delivers optimal power to drive even the most power-hungry headphones and pure audio clarity for headphones of all sizes. VAMP also features a dedicated Digital to Analog Converter processor that bypasses the iPhone's analog output for the ultimate analog sound. Tuned by V-MODA's M-Class team, legendary musicians and Grammy-Award winning producers, the VAMP offers two selectable audio processing modes for the discerning audiophile. The PURE mode processes audio in the truest of forms and the VQ (V-MODA equalizer) mode tightens bass, sharpens the treble attack and adds a 3D sound that makes the music feel live. VAMP's To slink/SPDIF digital audio output enables the iPhone to double as an audiophile-level source. Powered by a 2200mAh battery, the VAMP functions as a backup power source almost doubling the iPhone's battery life. A unique aircraft-grade brushed metal exterior and shock-absorbing silicone protects the iPhone from impact, scratches and dents. VAMP is essential gear for the modern audio connoisseur to stand out from the crowd.

Details:
DetailValue
BindingElectronics
BrandV-Moda
ColorBlack/Red
EAN0877653005429
FeatureIntegrated Headphone Amplifier (150mW x 2) for the iPhone 4/4S Digital to Analog Convertor (DAC) bypasses iPhone's analog output for pure analog performance Two selectable audio processing modes Pure and VQ 2200 mAh battery doubles iPhone battery life Aircraft-grade brushed metal and shock-absorbing silicone protects the iPhone from impact, scratches and dents
LabelV-MODA
ManufacturerV-MODA
ModelVAMP
MPNVAMP
PublisherV-MODA
StudioV-MODA
TitleV-MODA VAMP Headphone Amplifier (150mW x 2), DAC, Battery Pack for iPhone 4/4S
UPC877653005429
Warranty1 year v-moda premier warranty
CatalogNumberList - CatalogNumberListElement877653005429
Item Height5.03 inches
Item Length0.91 inches
Item Weight0.31 pounds
Item Width2.5 inches
Package Height1.6 inches
Package Length7 inches
Package Weight0.55 pounds
Package Width4 inches
PackageQuantity1
PartNumberVAMP
ProductGroupCE
ProductTypeNameHEADPHONES
UPCList - UPCListElement877653005429
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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