Pros: Excellent with V-MODA M-100 closed HPs; great subbass; excellent transparency for closed headphone
Cons: Slightly less treble detail than SONY PHA-1; hard to get to "capture" iPhone on initial restart after battery discharge; Metallo case can fall off
The V-MODA VAMP VERZA DAC and amplifier is only about 1/4 inch in each dimension larger than an iPhone 5, yet provides a novel and useful method to attach to the iPhone as a single unit and provides excellent sound in a shirt-pocket-sized stack with the iPhone in the V-MODA Metallo case, particularly with the V-MODA M100 headphone for which it has been tuned.
The picture shows the VERZA with its silver volume control knob underneath a matching Metallo case holding an iPhone 5. The Metallo case slides onto the VERZA along a track and a small lightening-to-USB connector connects the two (at the far end of the unit). Testing was done with a V-MODA M-100 headphone, as shown.
The unit feels solid and is sold with an Apple Lightening-to-USB cable of minimal length to connect the two units. It would be better if the cable were a right-angle cable at each end, so the short length of wire is not increasing the length of the stack. It would also be great if the cable was white for those VERZAs that are white (my cable is black). The package also includes the Apple 30 pin - to - USB connector.
As described below, the sound is excellent.
However, the unit is not always able to seize control of the Apple Lightening connection when plugged in, specifically if the VERZA has discharged its power (such as being left on all night) and then recharged. This is a problem that has been noticed by several others on the head-fi.org thread on the VERZA and Metallo case, for years, though in my case, it only happens (but almost always happens) upon full discharge of the VERZA battery. Fixing it (i.e., causing the VERZA to actually connect with the iPhone) requires random cycling of power, unplugging and plugging the Lightening connector, switching through the various modes (VAMP, VAMP/Power, Synch on one switch; iAMP, USB-DAC on the other). Once it connects, it stays connected until the next time that one discharges the VERZA battery, but it is a random process of unpredictable duration to cycle through the various combinations of actions to cause it to reconnect. When it has not reconnected, the sound of the iPhone music comes out of the iPhone speaker rather than the headphones hooked to the VERZA. If V-MODA is not able to fix this problem in the design, it would still be helpful if V-MODA would publish a sequence of steps (on/off, switch cycling, plug/unplugging) that would reliably bring the connection between iPhone and VERZA back to life upon VERZA discharge/recharge. Several calls to V-MODA were not able to elicit any solution to this problem.
The Metallo case that holds the iPhone and slides onto the VERZA has its own set of challenges. I am on my third case at this point of four months of ownership. The metal of the track on the Metallo case is either milled too loose or tends to wear away or bend such that the track no longer holds onto its mating track on the top of the VERZA case, and your iPhone can fall off. Furthermore, it would be useful if there were a firm locking "click" when the iPhone in the Metallo case has slid fully onto the VERZA. There is not, and the Metallo case slides free, restrained only by the Lightening-to_USB plug. That problem, too, has been common to all three of my Metallo cases. V-MODA has been very helpful in sending me a new case prior to my sending them the old, so i am not without a case during postal transit times.
Of course, the VERZA sounds fabulous, particularly with the V-MODA M-100 headphones that I used to test it.
To quantify "fabulous," I used a regimen of 10 three-way comparisons, in which I rank the ability of three different systems as "best," "next best," and "third best" in reproducing ten different aspects of headphone listening (e.g., transparency, soundstage, subbass, as shown in the table below). I described this method, including the specific pieces and several-second segments of these pieces, here.
The three chains I chose to compare were the VERZA with M-100 driven by my iPhone 5S, the M-100 driven directly by my iPhone 5S (no VERZA), and the Sony PHA-1 DAC/ amp driving the M-100 from the iPhone. I chose the Sony PHA-1 because it is similar in price to the VERZA and because like the VERZA, the PHA-1 has a 10 ohm output impedance. A 10 ohm impedance is rather high for such headphones as the 32 ohm input impedance of the M-100 or the Grado headphone line, as a rule of thumb is that the output impedance of the amp should be less than 1/8 of the input impedance of the headphones, to keep the bass tight. In this case, it is 1/3.2, or about 1/3, of the headphone input impedance.
This table shows the ranking of the three chains for each of the 10 acoustic tests. Each test is a row, and a brief explanation sits at the right of each row. Each of the three chains is ranked as best (score of 3, box color of blue), second best (2, blue), or third best (1, yellow) on each acoustic test. Ties are allowed (indeed, encouraged, as I must hear a difference that I think is sufficient to be reliably reproduced before ranking one above another). Ties for first place are purple (blue+ red) and scored 2.5; ties for second place are orange (red + yellow) and scored 1.5.
One may compute a total score, indicative of how many first places vs. third places each chain had. That shows that the VERZA with M-100 sounded just a bit better than PHA-1 with M-100 (differences of three are significant - this is only a difference of one). Both amps sounded significantly better than the M100 without an amp, i.e., driven directly by the iPhone.
I really like my VERZA amp, so much so that after I got it, I purchased, for the second time, a pair of V-MODA M-100 headphones, this time in matching colors (I had a pair earlier that I had sold). I find the small size of the VERZA and its simple, unique way of sliding the VERZA amp onto the iPhone 5 V-MODA Metallo case as a wonderfully compact, attractive way to always have a top-quality portable DAC/amp with my iPhone.
If only the VERZA would reliably capture the Lightening connection to the iPhone every time after power discharge / recharge of the battery, and the Metallo case would stay tight and click at the end of its transit onto the VERZA amp track and not fall off, this would be a perfect product for me.