For this section I will mostly be comparing the VModa M-80 to the Sennheiser HD25-1 II because these headphones are aimed at a very similar audience: Both are small, have great build quality, good isolation, versatile signatures and class leading sound quality. The HD25 (I’ll use this truncated name now for sanity reasons) was a favourite of mine at work and on the move for the past 5 years. Then along came the M-80 and completely won me over. To improve on an iconic headphone such as the HD25 is really something quite special as this is a lot of people’s favourite.
The M-80 feels faster and more detailed, the bass kicks harder and is more textured. The upper midrange sounds nice and forward like the HD25 but despite this the M-80 feel less sibilant (a common complaint of the Sennheiser). The ‘v-shaped’ response feels less apparent with the M-80 but that still makes the mids a little recessed. Personally I like this approach but it makes the M-80 feel more neutral / less bright by comparison and that could disagree with some people’s preferences. Generally speaking I think the M-80 improves on pretty much everything over the HD25 but apart from the subjective mid presentation there are a couple of small areas where the HD25 has the edge. The first is comfort, the HD25 feel a bit nicer on the ear for slightly longer periods being a little larger headphone but it’s still an on-ear so the difference is not huge. The second aspect is isolation, the HD25 wins here too because of the M-80’s porting but this is a double edge sword because it also provides a nicer soundstage. That’s not to say the isolation of the M-80 is poor, far from it, they’re just not as good the HD25.
The build quality of the M-80s could easily be described as ‘tank-like’ and maybe the military grade durability is influencing me there but it’s a fair statement. There is a lot of metal used in the construction, both in the cups and the headband. This shows when you pick them up as they feel considerably more dense / heavier than say the Sennheiser HD25 but that’s certainly not a criticism. They don’t feel too heavy and are generally pretty comfortable (albeit not for long periods – see above). VModa do make a larger over-ear headphone in the form of the more bass-heavy LP2 and are rumoured to be planning a combination of the LP2’s size with the M-80’s sound signature (M-100?). I for one really hope this is true.
Apart from being strong and aesthetically pleasing the large screws you see on all VModa headphones are also for customisation of the metal shield plates on the cups. New plates can be ordered in several colours but you can also have a set design (or any monotone image you send them) laser engraved to the surface. Given the already great looks and build to this design this is a wonderful way to increase the desirability factor even further for people who want to show them off. For the first time people can be just as proud of the sound quality as the style.
Although the build quality could easily withstand being thrown in to a bag every day there is also a nice, tough, moulded case provided. Removable cables are a nice touch too (especially the standard 3.5mm plug on both ends). Two are included and both are kevlar reinforced with a button/s and a mic for use with a phone. I had some compatibility issues with these cables due to them seemingly being aimed at Apple users. It seems to be related to the buttons, mic and connections at the device end (I know of at least 3 other people that reported the same issue). Apparently they will work with some other devices but they didn’t work properly (audio distortion) with my phone, computer or my DACs. This meant I had to buy another cable but at least it was cheap, easy and possible. In case anyone would like to know which one I used in the pictures: It’s a ‘QED Profile’ cable (99.999% pure copper). It was fairly cheap, worked well and it matched the VModa styling quite nicely.
If you are looking for a neat, sturdy, good looking, fairly neutral, well isolated headphone with absolutely stunning sound quality then I highly recommend them. Their performance and versatility is extremely impressive and a good DAC/amp pushes that quality even higher.
The relatively neutral response yet great bass & mid tones, the good isolation yet surprising sound-stage, the durability yet customisation… This is an amazing example of balanced features that not only works but puts it on top of my recommendation list for this category.
They might be difficult to try before you buy but if you are aware of their minor shortcomings I don’t think you can be disappointed. The fact that they do all this and with such aesthetic styling just seems too good to be true. The competition should be very concerned indeed – this newcomer is making the headphone business look easy.