Monday, May 27, 2013

It's On Amazon: V-MODA Crossfade M-100 Over-Ear Headphones

I've had several contenders in my quest for my perfect set of headphones:  AiAiAi TMA-1s and TMA-1 Studio (the former now eBay'd; the latter returned), California Headphone Company Silverados (my current work headphones), and Audio-Technica ATH-M50s (returned due to sibilance with my PC's stock audio - it might have done better with a FiiO E17 "Aspen" portable amp / DAC).  The current titleholder is V-MODA's M-100, a stylish, durable, and well-designed set of cans that, for me at least, hits the headphone sweet spot.

The first criterion in my headphone search was the over-ear form factor; I'd learned from the TMA-1s that on-ear is often less than comfortable for prolonged listening or gaming sessions.  This was the TMA-1 Studio's Achilles heel:  neither set of earpads made for a comfortable seal that at the same time preserved audio fidelity.  The ATH-M50's earcups were so shallow that wearing them felt like donning an oversized on-the-ear headset.  The CHC Silverado is perhaps the most comfortable headset I've owned - with spacious earpads that full encompass my ears - but their audio quality is middling at best.  So it was with lessons learned from these $100-$250 cans that I searched for a new mainstay set.

Consulting fora like, I eventually narrowed the field down to two contenders:  the Sennheiser Momentum and the V-MODA M-100.  The headphones' respective sound profiles lead me to lean toward the Momentum at first - I've liked Sennheiser's sound in the past and have never been much of a bass head - but a review from Tyll Herstens of InnerFidelity lead me to the conclusion that the Momentum's smaller earpads might leave me with the same crushed-lobe fit that made the ATH-M50 a nonstarter.   That, coupled with Tyll's enthusiastic treatment of the M-100 led me to purchase a pair from Amazon.

The $20 (and free shipping) that I saved quickly evaporated when I discovered that the M-100, much like the M-80 on-ear model, had the option of swapping out the stock "shields" for custom colors and engraved monotone images.  This option is included free with a direct purchase from V-MODA, but is also available for purchase separately for $45.  With my set already en-route, I laid down the extra cash, uploading one of my character sketches for the engraved design.  I think it turned out pretty well:

Aesthetics is definitely a factor in considering the M-100.  It incorporates V-MODA's signature hexagonal design, which is a subtle touch that doesn't hit you over the head with its uniqueness; it's there if you care to take note of it, but doesn't get in the way of the M-100's performance.  Materials are solid and feel well built, if not quite to battleship-like metal-and-leather-only specs of the CHC Silverado.  Finishing, though, is a touch above any other headphone I've owned.  A great example of the M-100's fusion of sleek design and solid functionality is in the hinge mechanism that allows you to fold the headphone into a more compact shape for travel.  The hinge could have easily been a structural Achilles' heel if not done right; instead, it's both sleek and sturdy, giving you the impression that other parts of the M-100 - such as the cord (which is removable and replaceable) - will wear away long before it will.

The M-100 comes with two cords of differing length; one is a 3-foot cord with built-in cellphone mic, the other is a 6-foot cord with a built-in audio splitter.  For me, these two cords are purpose-built for the two primary uses I have for my headphones:  as a set of cans for portable media devices like my cellphone and tablet, and a gaming / media headset for my desktop PC.  The mic on the shorter cord means I can answer calls while wearing the M-100, or even use it as a dedicated hands-free option.  The splitter on the longer cord allows me to keep the M-100 and my desktop speaker plugged in concurrently, eliminating the need to swap between the two as the need arises.

All these amenities are useful, but the ultimate criterion of any set of headphones is, of course, how they sound.  Compared to the "dark" profiles of the two AiAiAi TMA-1s, what I found to be an overly sibilant treble on the ATH-M50, and the OK-but-not-great sound of the Silverado, the M-100's sound profile is like a breath of crisp fresh air.  The added bass doesn't inhibit a non-bass-head's enjoyment; if anything, I'd agree with InnerFidelity's assessment that it makes the overall listening experience more fun and enjoyable.  If you've found other headphones with sound profiles aimed at studio reproduction too flat or tiresome, the M-100 may be the set you've been looking for.  Good looks, solid design, customization, and excellent sound make for a solid buy for anyone willing to pay a little over $300 for auditory satisfaction.

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