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Aedle VK-X First Impressions

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  1. FenderP
    Hello everyone. Been awhile since I've been around these parts. Been busy, but also haven't really had any GAS for new stuff. I've been pretty happy with my portable setup for the road for well over a year but every now and then you poke your head up and get curious to see what else is out there. When I did that a little while ago, I saw the VK-X was coming.

    I liked the VK-1 soincally (and still need to sell mine, to be honest) but it was fairly useless on a plane/train and did not isolate very well. If you look at my post history, it's littered with noise cancelling headphones I've either auditioned or purchased (again, need to clean house and get rid of things I'm not using). I've been pretty happy with the B&O H8i but there's always that nagging "Is there something better?" I auditioned the H9i but it didn't pair well with my Sony NW-WM1A, and while I wanted over ear, I am totally fine with on ear (as my history will also show).

    Anyway, because I liked the sonic signature of the VK-1 and its real weakness was isolation and I saw that the VK-X addressed a lot of my concerns (over ear and noise cancelling) plus you could do a made to order custom color combination ... well, you know what happened. It was a plus that it had bluetooth (5.0 at that!) and supports LDAC which is a nice pair if I want to use the WM1A wirelessly.

    The VK-X arrived this morning as part of Batch 3. I will try to upload pics at some point but right now I don't have time. The packaging was nice, and it included a nice note from Aedle that was addressed to me.

    It comes with a case designed for it, a USB-C to USB-A cable, a USB-C to USB-C cable, a USB-C to 1/8" cable, and an airplane adapter for the 1/8" cable. The only cable input is a USB-C going into the bottom of the left earphone. Let me talk about the cables Aedle included for a moment: they are really nice. They are thick, have metal (not sure what kind) ends, and are not cheap/chintzy. The USB-C to USB-A/C cables are SuperSpeed, and the USB-C to 1/8" is flexible (similar to what the VK-1 one was I think), but seems to have minimal microphonics in my limited testing (more on sound in a minute).

    The VK-X has a DAC in it, but it can be used passively (it's how I'm using it at the moment) with the power off. To use bluetooth (which cannot seemingly be turned off) or noise cancelling (which can be on or off), the power has to be on.

    After charging it up, i gave it a quick sonic test. First, let me talk about charging. The LED will indicate where you are which is better than other headphones I've owned which generally only indicate on/off or charging, but it's not perfect. Why?
    • Red (< 5%), Orange (< 15%), Normal (15 - 90%), Green (> 90%) is again, better than I've seen but 15 - 90 is a wide range. I'd sooner see some intermedate steps.
    • The battery colors flash on USB plug/unplug and if you power on the headphones. The color blinks on and off the whole time as to what battery level it is which is a plus. For the USB plug/unplug, I found that a bit wonky. It worked most of the time.
    To get to green took a few hours. I had to be patient. It was blue when I got it, so as you can see by what I put, it could have been at 15% or 75%. I don't know ... hence my gripe.

    Passively (USB-C to 1/8") sounds great out of the box. I've just thrown a few things at it, but it's much more detailed and open than the H8i. It's got a wide soundstage, but not too wide. The bass can go nice and low (I tested with some tracks that have prominent 5-string bass guitar), but the highs, mids, and lows seem pretty balanced. I threw a bunch of different rock and jazz tracks at it - the VK-X didn't bend or seem to be better for one genre than another.

    For fun, I then plugged the H8i in. Wow ... what a difference. It sounded like a wet blanket in comparison. The clarity of the VK-X can't be understated here. The soundstage is narrower and overall the sound is more "boxed in" for lack of a better term. The bass definitely sounds more goosed on the H8i and has definition, but is definitely muddier. I'm not saying the H8i sounds bad, but the VK-X is that much more of an improvement. It was what I was hoping for when I auditioned the H9i. A good A/B of how much the VK-X was better was on the song "Before the Lobotomy" from Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown - just listening to the acoustic guitar on the VK-X was crazy. Hank Jones' piano on "Have You Met Miss Jones?" from The Great Jazz Trio - July 5th is the best I've heard it sound in awhile from my portable devices. John Pattituci's acoustic bass sounds right. The ride cymbal of Omar Hakim has just enough sizzle. The thing I noticed myself doing with the VK-X that I didn't with the H8i is bob my head to the music. It's definitely a musical headphone.

    Turning it on and then trying to use bluetooth, it was easy to pair with my WM1A. There is no app, so you're getting the "sound" of the DAC as it was tuned at Aedle, which is pretty good. The WM1A's EQ does not work over BT, so that won't affect the sound. You're just hearing the headphones, if you will. I have the WMA1 set to LDAC, and it seems to work. One note: I accidentally had the 1/8" cable still plugged in when I turned on the VK-X and tried to use BT. Unplug the cable to get full sound. User error there. Whoops!

    The BT controls are pretty simple: turn the knob on the button at the bottom of the right earpiece for volume, quick double click of the right earpiece button to fast forward a track, and same on the left but go back. Even I have to admit it's not as fiddly as what you get on the B&O the one time I tried BT.

    In my brief listening tests, I prefer the cabled passive sound to BT. Turning on the headphones, I noticed very little difference between passive, on with noise cancelling off, and on with noise cancelling enabled. That's no mean feat.

    The only sonic oddity so far that I noticed is that when using BT, on the Rush song "Tom Sawyer" there seemed to be a bit of "pumping" in certain spots which didn't happen when cabled (VK-X on or off). It was heard in the parts with the OB-X sweep, the kick, the guitar, and the hi-hats when the cymbal crashes occur. I'm going to e-mail them and ask. That is a tuning/software/BT thing to me, not hardware.

    When using a cable (which would be my default with these), I sometimes enable the EQ on my WM1A to tweak the sound (vs. Direct) if necessary, so the lack of any kind of EQ controls via an app or anything else is fine by me. I could see if you like to tweak your sound and you can't do that in your device if it transmits raw data, until such time as Aedle implements an app, you may not want these if their sound did not agree with your tastes.

    The default for noise cancelling when the VK-X is powered on seems to be off. I will not be testing noise cancelling at home; I have a business trip starting Sunday so I'll put the noise cancelling through its paces on some plane rides.

    EDIT: So far comfort seems spot on, but I reserve judgement since they just arrived today. A six hour plane ride separates the adults from the children :)

    That's about it for now. More as time goes on. Feel free to ask questions!
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
    WBJM likes this.
  2. FenderP
    Update #1 - I paired the VK-X with my cel phone (again, it was easy) and made a call. The call quality on my end was excellent. The person on the other end asked if I had a cold, but the quality was totally usable.
     
  3. mutik67
    Early bird VK-X backer here, much the same story as yours. Thanks for the first impressions! Looking forward to getting my hands on my pair; they’re out for delivery as we speak!
     
  4. FenderP
    What color combo did you get? I went with the green leather and the bronze housing. If the blue was more of a navy/midnight, I would have done that.
     
  5. FenderP
    Here are some quick pictures. The green was suprisingly hard to capture but it's green ...

    L1011711.jpg L1011712.jpg L1011713.jpg L1011714.jpg L1011716.jpg L1011717.jpg L1011718.jpg L1011719.jpg L1011720.jpg L1011721.jpg L1011722.jpg L1011723.jpg L1011724.jpg L1011725.jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
  6. mutik67
    Just the Classic legacy brown and chrome. Best looking out of the lot in my opinion.
     
  7. mutik67
    Just received mine, and trialing/enjoying them right now. First impressions: absolutely stunning looking, and Apple-like in build quality. Very, very clear highs and mids, great soundstage (almost out-of-your-head, which is pretty amazing for over-ears!) but lacking in bass. The response to <60Hz is almost non-existent, despite the claimed 20Hz - 20kHz response. Boosting the 36Hz band in Audio Hijack makes a barely audible difference. This is ok for most songs, but for the ones where the low frequencies really deliver a solid thwump, it is pretty lacking. I know that I prefer bassier songs than most, so this is just my personal preference. Quite pleased overall though, and I’ll post my further impressions as I use them over the next few weeks.
     
  8. mutik67
    Emphasis on looking absolutely gorgeous.
    IMG_1666.jpg
     
  9. WBJM
    Ah, finally some user reviews on the VK-X. Mine are in batch 5 and can't wait to receive them.

    Have any of you tried out the anc in a morning subway commute/airplane/cafe yet?
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  10. FenderP
    Read my first post :p
     
  11. WBJM
    haha, let's say my question was directed towards the ones who haven't posted yet :L3000:
     
  12. FenderP
    That's why I was glad they had MTO. I honestly didn't love the stock stuff.

    YOu can get there, it's just not the default tuning. When I listened with a cable and using the EQ on the WM1A, you can get that sub-bass.

    For the default tuning of the headphones, they worked well, but the bass is not goosed like, say, the H8i. I play bass, so I do like a fair amount, but I like definition over goosed.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  13. FenderP
    Fair enough. My hope is it's good enough. I tend to sit in the exit row right near the engines so I'll tell easily if it is halfway decent or crap.
     
  14. FenderP
    I'm on my first plane flight with the VK-X going from the East Coast of the US to the West Coast. It's the first time I've had to try out the noise cancelling. For me, it might be a fatal flaw. Let me explain.

    First of all, three hours+ into the flight, the comfort of the VK-X is great. I put them on nearly from the moment I sat down. I fell asleep for a bit, and I do not have any top of the head rubbing/annoyance nor does the area around the ear feel warm, etc. Kudlos to Aedle at least for my head for getting that right.

    When I first got on the plane and put the headphones on, I plugged it into my WM1A. I turned it on, and like above, tried to get noise cancelling to work. It did not. I then unplugged the cable, connected via bluetooth and viola! I could enable noise cancelling. I verified this behavior with both the WM1A and my laptop.

    This to me is unacceptable for such an expensive pair of headphones and I've e-mailed Aedle to tell them just that. Every pair of noise cancelling headphones I've ever used can be used wired or wireless. This shouldn't be "a thing". This has two immediate impacts:
    1. If you are using a source and want the best sound quality, you can't get it if you also want noise cancelling.
    2. If you want to use, say, a plane's in flight enterainment system - arguably one of the reasons they included said cable - you can see where I'm going here. You can't use noise cancelling.

    So how is the isolation? It's OK - I've definitely experienced much worse. It is not going to fully compensate for what noise cancelling brings to the party. This explains the behavior I found initially since I hadn't thought to try noise cancelling with bluetooth since it's not how I intended on using it.

    The next question you may have is "How is the noise cancelling?" It's not bad. It's not Sony or Bose-level, but it does eliminate the low rumble of he engine drone. You can still hear what I like to call "white noise" so it does not eliminate all of the plane sounds. These won't close you off which is good or bad depending on your viewpoint.

    From what I can tell, the sound of noise cancelling on versus off is VERY close. That is the tradeoff for not being best-in-class for noise cancelling. If I had to rate it, I'd say it's solidly middle of the pack. If it worked with the cable, it would be acceptable because the VK-X has so much else going for it. Instead, it's a very strong mark against the VK-X.

    Hopefully Aedle gets back to me and says this is a bug or mine are defective. If this is by design, I will be extremely unhappy to say the least.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019 at 12:01 PM
    jeffreybowman2k likes this.
  15. FenderP
    Confirmed: the VK-X turns off if it gets no bluetooth signal after a period of time. That isn't a bad thing - it ensures the battery won't drain unnecessarily.

    I've paired it with three devices (WM1A, laptop, and phone). I have not tried to use more than one at once.

    UPDATE: I'm paired to the WM1A and my laptop right now. It can't play both at once but I can stop one and start the other.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019 at 12:21 PM
    jeffreybowman2k likes this.
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