Review: V-MODA M-100
published on June 16, 2013
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I first heard V-MODA's M-100 at CanJam@RMAF 2012 (in October), where it was "unveiled" for the masses following a long period of pre-hype on Head-Fi. I'd previously owned the M-80 so I was interested to hear the new M-100 at the show, and it sounded very promising. I finally got around to buying my own set back in February and this is my review of them. This review is based on approximately 3 months of ownership (Feb-May '13).
- Source components: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (Signal Cable Silver Reference power cord, directly into wall), desktop PC w/ headphone jack on Yamaha YSTMS50 speakers, iAudio X5
- Analog interconnects: Emotiva X-Series RCA
- Headphone amplifiers: Burson Soloist, Schiit Magni
- Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-AD2000 & ATH-ES7, Beyerdynamic DT1350, Fostex TH900, HiFiMan HE-400
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane
- Carlos Kleiber & VPO - Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7
- Coldplay - X&Y
- Dave Brubeck - Time Out [Legacy Edition]
- Diablo Swing Orchestra - Sing-Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious
- Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage
- Jane Monheit - Surrender
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos
- Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
- Lee Morgan - Tom Cat [AudioWave/Blue Note XRCD]
- Massive Attack - Mezzanine
- Megadeth - Countdown To Extinction [MFSL]
- The Crystal Method - Vegas [2007 Deluxe Edition], Tweekend
- The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land
- Tool - Lateralus
- Far Cry, Half-Life 2 [Windows]
Pros & Cons
+ Highly durable construction
+ Highly transportable with a convenient hard-shell molded travel case
+ Deep, heavy bass & full mid-range
+ Forgiving of poor-quality recordings
- Very uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time (> 1 hour) due to supra-aural clamping pressure
- Not efficient enough to get loud enough out of portable sources at medium settings
- High lack of clarity, especially in lower mid-range and bass
- Slow impulse response
- Relatively "dark" frequency response due to primarily a lack of treble quantity to counterbalance the mid-range & bass
- Forgiving of poor-quality recordings
Computer & Portable Applications
I briefly tested the M-100 on my PC for Internet video streaming (i.e., YouTube) and some PC gaming (first-person shooters). It turned out to be moderately good for this purpose and provided satisfactory explosions & gunfire effects, though it also had a lack of clarity that affected primarily clarity of multiple simultaneous audio streams, like gunfire on top of ambient effects (water, wind, or other natural/mechanical ambience) with footsteps at the same time (i.e., firing while moving).
I also tested the M-100 on an iAudio X5 DAP (with MP3 files @ 256 kb/s VBR). It sounded ok this way but it was also clearly a step down from my dedicated audio setup, as it lacked general force to the sound in all parts of the frequency spectrum. It also required extra-high volume settings to achieve loud volume - on average 25-28 to sound loud, compared to my JH13 IEMs which were loud at 17-18.
Critical Music Listening
For this review of the M-100, I changed up my usual set of test music CDs and discarded some, replacing them with much newer music from the likes of Coldplay, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Gojira, Tool, and Katy Perry (I'll freely admit to liking her songs, they're catchy and have cool beats!). I did this on purpose for two major reasons: (1) I figured most of the targeted audience for the M-100 would be listening to modern music from the past decade or so, and (2) Too many of my CDs were still stuck in the 90s anyway. They needed updating. I thought it was time to use more recent stuff!
The M-100's sound made me think of it as a consumer-level headphone for the masses. It simply had the sort of sound that I associate as prime for American Top 40-type music - an assertive-sounding signature, with focus on the mid-range & bass, in a somewhat compacted soundstage that placed vocals close-up yet clearly setting up "walls" for some illusion of 3D depth. It was actually really good, probably at its best, with the variety of modern music that I tested it on. It made pop/rock, electronica, & metal sound quite bassy overall, with very good depth, force, and impact. Its mid-range was nicely full-sounding as well, translating to full (but not "forward") vocals & bass guitars, for example. Drums also sounded appropriately "heavy" on it too. The M-100 essentially had a strong, solid, & full/heavy sonic signature overall, with nicely stereo-diverged imaging as well (yet severely lacking in the aspect of an open/airy soundstage). And I just have to say it again, it had bass to spare too!
However, while the M-100 sounded "very good" for general intents & purposes, there was no way that I found it acceptable for "critical listening" or as a serious "audiophile" level headphone. It sounded like a mid-level set of headphones to me and I'd class it as "average", in the company of the $200-$300 mid-level headphones from AKG and Sennheiser, for example. To me its biggest flaws were a lack of clarity, a "slow" impulse response that blurred over fast sequences, plodgy bass (most obvious on fast-paced electronica & metal), and a lack of treble quantity. Add "bloated" bass quantity too - but I viewed this more as a positive than a negative in the case of the M-100, as the high level of bass added to its fun & enjoyment factor. In fact, if it weren't for the bass, I thought the M-100 would've had less going for it.
As far as other types of music, I briefly ran the M-100 through some classical and jazz. Its lack of clarity hurt both genres in particular though, as IMO classical is inevitably dependent on a clear-sounding violin section and jazz is dependent on clearly-audible instrument textures (for brass & bass instruments especially). The M-100's stereo-diverged imaging also made both genres sound the opposite of cohesive, as it effectively took out the "center" part of the sonic image. (This didn't negatively affect any other genres nearly as much.) So while classical & jazz didn't sound ideal on the M-100, they weren't terrible on it either though and were acceptable for non-critical listening. I'd add a caveat here though that vocal jazz (i.e., Jane Monheit) was generally better on the M-100 than instrumental jazz (Dave Brubeck & Lee Morgan), primarily due to the M-100's portrayal of vocals.
Comparison: Beyerdynamic DT1350
The DT1350 wasn't a "better" headphone to me than the M-100, mostly just different. Although it was substantially clearer-sounding compared to the semi-hazy/blurred sound of the M-100, it also had less bass & mid-range quantity that negatively affected electronica, pop/rock, & metal for me. Drums & bass, for example, didn't have as much weight & presence on the DT1350. In fact, when directly comparing the two, I typically found that the DT1350 sounded mid-range- and bass-anemic coming right after the M-100. The M-100, on the other hand, had very emphasized weight, presence, & physicality in comparison.
As far as imaging/soundstage, the M-100 was clearly the more intimate and "forward-sounding" of the two, as it made everything sound close-up, almost in a Grado-like sort of way. It also set up "walls" in the soundstage, which enhanced effects like reverb and helped to make room acoustics stand out, which the DT1350 didn't do as much. Because of this, the M-100 had more consistent illusion of 3D depth between the position of a singer and the back wall of the virtual studio/room. So it had a definite advantage for certain types of music like pop/rock & metal.
I'd be inclined to recommend the M-100 for primarily electric, synthesized, or otherwise "American mainstream" types of music as it had a great type of sonic signature for those, and the DT1350 more for "period" or traditional music like classical, jazz, or acoustic/folk (or even traditional "European" type music to go that far). In other words, general sonic expectations for an American vs German company wouldn't be amiss.
Comparison: Audio-Technica ES7
I've owned the ES7 for a long time (since 2007) and have become so heavily biased to it that it's actually my measuring stick for all other closed portable headphones now. And true to my bias for it, the ES7 was not beaten by the M-100 - in fact, I thought the ES7 was superior to the more-expensive M-100! The ES7 had the following aspects in its favor: (1) A "faster" sound, as it had less plodge and faster/cleaner note attack, (2) Higher amount of clarity throughout the spectrum, (3) A more "open" soundstage, and (4) Higher efficiency (or "sensitivity" for the technical term). The ES7 is also my preferred computer headphone, specifically for gaming, as machine guns always sound appropriately "fast" on it. The M-100 simply didn't compare to it in that aspect, as it was just too plodgy-sounding.
For those who also own the ES7 and like how it sounds, I'd recommend keeping it and not "upgrading" to the more-expensive M-100. The M-100 was more of a side-grade (at best) to me than an upgrade. Though the M-100 had a lot more bass than the ES7 and a more full-bodied mid-range, the ES7 was simply more "clean" and "agile" sounding.
I ended up disappointed by the M-100 coming after the M-80. It wasn't really the upgrade I'd been hoping for, and I thought it suffered from the same flaws too. Not to take anything away from it though. At $300, I view the M-100 as great-sounding mid-level closed headphones for listening to any type of mainstream music. Anyone upgrading from iBuds or anything less than about $150 (roughly) will probably find it to be a worthwhile purchase.
I'd probably sum up the M-100 as something of a closed micro-version of the Audeze LCD-x headphones. Not that the M-100 is sonically comparable with the Audeze headphones though, just loosely similar in overall type of sonic signature - i.e., a similar American-type assertive sound skewed towards the mid-range & bass. To put that another way, anyone who likes the M-100 and wants an upgrade without drastically veering away from its sonic signature might want to look into the LCD-2 or LCD-3.
Beyerdynamic DT1350 review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/666438/review-beyerdynamic-dt1350
V-MODA M-80 vs Audio-Technica ES7 review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/587296/mini-review-v-moda-m-80-vs-audio-technica-es7
Story of my closed portable headphone journey: http://www.head-fi.org/t/235997/how-my-journey-for-closed-portable-bliss-came-to-an-end