Say hello to Edd, a video game 3D artist who happens to maintain a headphone review blog called Noble Hi-Fi (http://noblehifi.blogspot.co.uk/). I know that a lot of people have been asking for us to do a review on the popular VModa M-80, but I’ve yet found the time to do that. I thought Edd’s review is excellent and aside from the difference in personal preferences (me still a bigger fan of the HD25-1), Edd did a really good job of describing how the headphone sound. Ed also takes great photos and I thought that’s a nice thing to have on reviews. Anyway for the V-MODA M80 we’re just re-publishing the original article from Edd’s blog, but I hope that in the future he’ll be able to write other articles for Headfonia.
With the explosion of digital audio in recent years high-end headphones are taking a real boost in popularity. VModa comes rather late to the party but with a fresh perspective. Their M-80 model has made a big impression since it’s launch in August 2011 but if the looks make you sceptical please read on, unlike a lot of new designer headphones their beauty isn’t just skin deep. Let’s take away the great looks, the awesome customisation options, the military grade durability and focus on what’s really important for a moment – the sound…
I’ve heard people describe the M-80’s sound character as neutral and I can see where they’re coming from but this doesn’t paint quite the full picture. The sound is not neutral compared to a professional monitor headphone and for most people’s music listening this is probably a good thing. They are neutral compared to a bass heavy headphone like a Dr. Dre Beats, VModa LP/LP2, compared to some they are neutral enough to make them feel well balanced, clear and uncoloured but there is a little more excitement in the mix.
The bass is nicely pronounced but fast, punchy and with reasonable depth but most importantly it doesn’t feel bloated. The upper midrange gets a similar treatment, very slightly forward giving vocals a subtle but noticeably enjoyable push. Both of these deviations from neutrality only aid in creating a more pleasant presentation. They feel carefully tuned to be more about an enjoying listen than scrutinising. This balance of neutrality and subtle ‘v-shape’ enhancement seems to have a positive affect on genre versatility too but I will come back to that later. The treble is also very impressive in that it’s rarely painful, it’s well controlled without sounding restrained.
The M-80’s detail resolving capabilities are great, instrument separation is also good and keeps up with the competition well (something like the Sennheiser HD25-1 II). The subtle porting in the metal cups help give a nice airy sense. Soundstage is impressive for a closed back design, a little isolation is lost in this process but this trade off with soundstage is probably a nice balance for a majority of listeners. They would still be a good choice for use on public transport. Although better isolation can be found they will most likely not touch this balance of great sound characteristics and certainly not at this price.
Plugged directly in to any portable player they perform admirably. With a low impedance of 28.5ohms they’re unlikely to have volume issues with any source. The iPhone 4 was loud at 60%, the Samsung Galaxy S at about 75%. They are also quite forgiving of compressed music but more so when listening to a non-amplified source. Connected to a portable DAC & headphone amplifier all of the M-80’s many strengths get a healthy boost but even getting used to this boost in quality didn’t ruin the experience of running them directly. I connected them to an iBasso D7 for a whole week while I was working and it has been a real joy. The sound got a tighter and more textured bass, being more detailed, faster and even more enjoyable.
I wasn’t expecting much more from the M-80s than when connected to the iBasso portable but when I put them with the desktop sized Yulong D100 mkII it propelled the music enjoyment to a totally different level. This combination showed a level of power and poise to the presentation that I wasn’t hearing with the cheaper DAC/amp and certainly didn’t expect from such a small and relatively low cost headphone. It’s not something that I can see many people doing since the machine is twice the price of the headphones but it did add a huge amount of value to the sound quality, it was a lot of fun!
When deciding how a certain headphone performs with different music it’s usually pretty easy to find some genres that perform better or worse than others but in the M-80’s case this proved really difficult. I have described headphones as versatile before but after hearing the M-80 it makes me want to withdraw my previous statements and crown these as the new king of versatility (at least for their category).
Nero’s ‘Welcome To Reality’ sounded pleasantly energetic whilst feeling neither boosted nor constrained. The bass impact is quite impressive without feeling muddy but it might lack some bass extension for the dubstep crowd. VModa’s own LP2 could step in here although I wonder at what cost to versatility. I’m really curious to try this music with the LP2 because I find it hard to believe that it could be generally better than it is here already. The M-80’s bass, although not big as some, is just so nicely presented. Pop music is not exactly my forte but it sounded nicely balanced – bright and bold, good separation on the vocals / instruments, generally lively and a lot of fun.
The heavy industrial metal guitar and energetic female vocals of Velcra’s ‘Between Force and Fate’ were displayed with a healthy dose of power and aggression. The bass and energy on display was especially impressive given the M-80’s small size. The guitar from Tool’s ‘Lateralus’ album was similarly satisfying. Nicely detailed for such a densely musical rock track, it can be difficult for this kind of music to sound engaging on closed headphones but the M-80’s do a commendable job.
John Williams’s classical orchestra in ‘Tin Tin’ does a great job at conveying a lively and dramatic energy. There are many deep and powerful sections to this album which are presented very well considering the M-80’s size / price, only headphones much larger and more expensive can take the edge off the slight congestion and add some deeper bass while keeping the control on offer here. Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s live (in Japan) latin album really shines for it’s detail and fast rhythm but there is also plenty of heavy influence from their roots in Metal music so is a great test for any headphone. There are some heavy guitar thumping moments that are deeply impressive and rhythmic but also soundstage gets a good workout and treble articulacy is on top form.
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