Pros: Dynamic, balanced, nice detail, extremely comfortable, and more portable than the most portable of cans
Cons: May not have enough sparkle for treble-heads, otherwise the highs are much airier and more improved than the M-80s
The XS is one of the most portable, best-built and packaged headphones you can find on the market today. Not to mention, it is the smallest headphone I've encountered that packs the biggest sound that is also incredibly balanced and neutral compared to many headphones out there. I thought the M-80, its predecessor, was amazing when it came out a couple years back, but I'm in awe at how much V-MODA was able to improve an already great headphone in basically every category.
Ergonomics and aesthetics:
The XS is extremely lightweight and more head-conforming. While I considered the comfort of the M-80 just fine, the XS takes it to the next level now that the headband, itself, is lighter weight than that of the M-80 and the XS basically hugs the head now that the gap has been reduced in between the head and the headband on each side. V-MODA's slogan for this headphone is 'Mind the gap' - it's about time, IMO, that a headphone company paid attention to this. Not only does it look better (as in thank goodness it doesn't look like I have a satellite dish on my head like with some other headphones, but it looks gorgeous and its stealth factor just sky-rocketed), and somehow while it feels snug and secure it never clamps with a vice grip the way many other supra-aurals do. I also feel the weight is very well distributed with the way it hugs the head - it's easy to forget I'm even wearing headphones. All in all best ergonomics hands down I've experienced in a headphone and I've had quite a few. Good job V-MODA!
Presentation, features and accessories:
I'll be quick with this part - basically V-MODA always packages their products with the utmost love and care, as if a precious gift to their customer. I love this and cannot commend it enough. They also pay attention to the smallest of details; when this headphone was designed to fold up this small, they kept the case in mind to make sure it was small and slender enough to fit in just about any bag. I wish many more headphone manufacturers kept this in mind - many a time even though a headphone came with a case I end up not using the case because most cases out there are so bulky and so I just end up keeping my headphones in my own bag on its own. Even though the XS, like all other V-MODA headphones, is built like a tank and I know it can withstand just about anything, I am now using its case because it is so small and discreet. (I recently found out they're making a chain for it in different sizes so you can actually carry it like a bag also - pretty innovative) The headphone comes with detachable speakeasy cable that can be used with your smartphone or DAP. The documentation is good stuff, very informative and well-designed. And who doesn't love to cut that ribbon before you hear some amazing cans? And on that note, let's get to the sound....
The beauty of this headphone, besides its aesthetics, is the SQ. It's balanced, neutral, detailed and fun all at the same time. It also works for just about any genre. I'm listening to some metal as I write this and I am indeed head-banging quite a bit. I listen to pretty much all genres so it's important to me that a headphone sound good with just about anything, from all kinds of rock to R&B to electronic, etc.
Bass: deep, punchy, extends to very low octaves and is wonderfully layered. The bass is tighter to my ears than its predecessor's yet it still has plenty of power and impact. With the way the XS conforms so easily on the head, it's much easier to get a seal also which certainly helps with the bass. It's also very fast while still remaining full-sounding.
Mids: This was the highlight of the M-80s: rich liquidy beautiful mids with great vocals that are tonally very natural. The mids on the XS are all that yet a bit more detailed to my ears. This may be due to how nice and tight the bass is. The resolution is pretty amazing so if you're a mid-head and love a balanced sound with some punch in the low end, this is your ticket.
Highs: My only slight issue with the M-80 was that the highs were a bit too soft. They extended nicely but just weren't sparkly enough. I still loved the fact that they were non-fatiguing still at the top there was not enough sizzle for me. The XS has improved in that respect as well and sounds much airier up top while still remaining non-fatiguing. Cymbals and high-hats have more detail and overall the highs have slightly more energy and a bit more sparkle. (If you want even more sparkle the M-100 may be a better option for your preferences.)
The XS is incredibly dynamic and one thing that has always impressed me, with both the M-80 and now the XS, is the spacious sound and better-than-average imaging (placing of the instruments around you) for such a small supra-aural. The fact that it's such a small headphone would, I think, attract a lot people who usually go for IEMs. But at the same time, I can see a lot of full-size-headphone-users loving this headphone for its big and balanced sound in such an ultra-portable package. I am someone who finds the M-100 very portable for example (another great V-MODA headphone that exhibits more impactful and powerful bass, a wider soundstage, and more sparkly highs with mids that are also detailed but slightly further back in presentation - to my ears, XS = intimate lounge/club while M-100 = spacious concert hall) and so naturally this is why I call the XS 'ultra-portable.' It's as compact as it gets.
IME while the XS sounds great out of a DAP or smartphone, it sounds even better when amped. Out of my VAMP VERZA, the resolution goes to the next level: better separation, soundstage expands, imaging improves, more detail across the spectrum to my ears.
If you want a rich, smooth, warm yet detailed, big and dynamic sound in a crazy small portable package I strongly recommend trying the XS out. V-MODA just keeps getting better and better with the quality of their products and they should really be proud of this one.
**Hope this review has helped. Please keep in mind these are my personal impressions to MY ears, YMMV.**