V-MODA M100 Master Around-Ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jul 19, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Youtube review:

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone_XsMax/Headphone_Vmoda_M100_Master_01.jpg

    Sources: iPhone XsMax/iPad Pro 11-inch with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt DAC-amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the V-MODA M100 Master headphone ('Master' hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (Full-size closed-back), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the Master (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    Users who've followed the M100 since the early days (late 2012), and its progress to becoming the ultimate Amazon headphone at one time, tend to be possessive about its sonics (not to mention physical quality) and rather sensitive about changes to its design. I'll get right to the point: Compared to "classic neutral" headphones like the Sennheiser 600/800 series and Beyer Teslas, I found the M100 to have a ~10 db emphasis in the upper bass, and a slight recess in the mid-treble around 5 khz. After reviewing headphones like the AudioQuest NightHawk and Focal Elear (just two examples of many), I came to realize that their large mid-treble recesses were becoming popular, probably due to the Loudness Wars and the boosted "presence" in those recordings, and thus I no longer consider the M100 or M100 Master treble to have any recess.

    Naturally, I stick to the High Fidelity standard** rather than the fashion standard, and so I simply adjusted the M100 bass down a bit and enjoyed hi-fi sound from their superbly engineered drivers and acoustically-correct earcups. Since then, the V-MODA Wireless continued the M100 signature, the Wireless-2 trimmed the bass emphasis to about 6 db, and the new M100 Master drops that emphasis to approximately 4 db. First impressions score big with me, and right out of the box playing some familiar tracks, I was amazed by the Master's clarity, dynamics, and detail - particularly the superior bass detail compared to the popular brands sold at (for example) the Apple Store.

    **When your headphone and music sound like the real thing, you're on the right track. Also note that while every headphone benefits from some period of burn-in, the better quality headphones are closer to their final sound right out of the box.

    The new M100 Master is "High Res Certified" (or something to that effect), and due to the large dual-diaphragm drivers with the new Roland-designed voice coils etc., you'll really appreciate the difference with lossless and higher-resolution music tracks. Every popular headphone has some individual quality that leads to its popularity, but I'm more than convinced that there's nothing within twice the Master's price that can compete with it on fidelity - clarity, dynamics, detail, tonality - the whole deal. I've purchased all of the headphones I've reviewed in the past couple of years, and so naturally I tend to like what I purchase, or send it back. The striking difference with the M100 Master is the detail, which is more obvious at the lowest frequencies since most headphones lose clarity there.

    I won't spend more time on the M100 Master's sound for now, for these reasons:
    1) The music tracks listed below, which were included in my tests of the Master, feature a wide range of music tonalities that highlight any sonic weaknesses in the headphone.
    2) The sound is better than I expected, and far better than competing brands anywhere near this price level.
    3) The history of the M100 and its attention to both build quality and sonic quality are a good heads-up that this Master edition is building an even better future on exactly those qualities.

    The M100 Master comes with high-quality pleather-covered earpads, which are my favorite because they don't tend to accumulate sweat and oils that can change the sound over time. The soft squishy foam inside these earpads make for an extremely comfortable fit, assuming a user's ears aren't unusually large. The openings in my Master earpads measure 1.5 x 2.25 inches, or 3.8 x 5.7 cm. Both Left and Right earcups have a 3.5 mm socket for the headphone cable, and V-MODA supplies small rubber plugs to protect these sockets when not being used. The padded headband's size adjustment range is slightly over an inch, and given that my average head fits the middle of that range, it should accomodate a wide range of head sizes. I bent my headband forward slightly to give the earcups a slight toe-in, and users can take advantage of that to better fit their head shapes.

    The M100 Master is currently matte-black only, which is rather elegant a la stealth aircraft and other high-tech electro-mechanical products. Custom shields are available in various colors, designs, and 3-D printed metals. My current shields are the "Croc" design, included free with the headphone. Previous shields I've had include 3-D printed spikes and the laser-engraved "Immortal Angel" motif. I've had headphones with shallow earcups, and worse yet - spiky protrusions on the driver covers inside the earcups. Neither of these occurs with the M100 Master.

    The Master's isolation is good - average or better for a circumaural closed-back design - good enough for most home use and outdoor use where it's not extremely noisy, but probably not good enough for public transport for critical listening. Leakage is very low - enough that playing music loudly in a quiet office might work, unless someone sitting very close-by hears the sound faintly and objects. The Master comes with two cables: a ~4 ft black cable and a much longer red/black cable with an extra headphone "share" socket. The classic V-MODA zippered hard case for their compact CliqFold designs is also included.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the M100 Master compares with each individual track. These tracks were evaluated without any EQ settings.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has great detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Master plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the Master.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the Master.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Master plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the Master.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Master plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are bright, crisp, and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Master reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Master renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Master plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sounds realistic - better than what I hear with most headphones.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Master reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed, and the upright bass is amazing.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Master plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates an excellent deep-bass response. Overall, the Master plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The Master plays this track extremely well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce pretty well with the Master. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Master provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the Master plays those extremely well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Master plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the Master is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is impressive with the Master.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Master renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Master's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is near-perfect.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Master conveys that experience pretty well. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Master renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Master's reproduction is excellent, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The Master delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    What would a V-MODA review be like without a selection of EDM music tracks? Incomplete is what, and so we continue with with the best of that genre here:

    Above & Beyond - We're All We Need (feat. Zoe Johnston): A very nice tight but impactful bass with crystal clear vocals - the Master plays this with great ambiance.

    Anamanaguchi - Planet: A complex mix of percussion sounds and hummed vocals. The bells and other high-frequency percussion are highly detailed, the bass line has average weight, and the bass detail is excellent.

    Armin van Buuren - J'ai Envie de Toi (Orig Mix feat Gaia): Good bass impacts, breathy vocals, lots of fun noise - the Master plays this perfectly.

    Avicii - Feeling Good: Classic female vocal in movie-theme style - the Master brings this to life like few other headphones I've heard.

    Carl Kennedy-Tommy Trash ft Rosie Henshaw - Blackwater (Original Master): Nice strong tight bass impacts, female vocal, rendered delectably by the Master.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God: Atmospheric tune with vocal sound effects and strong bass line, plus some unique treble percussion sounds. The Master brings these unique sounds to life.

    Digitalism - Pogo: A driving beat with a detailed bass synth and great vocals ("There's something in the air...") - the Master makes this very enjoyable.

    Dino Lenny-Lino Di Meglio - We Will Make It: Atmospheric tune with mixed vocals - the female vocal is a special treat with the Master.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt: High-pitched tones and strong deep piano chords with a hummed female vocal - ultra-cool with the Master.

    Fairmont - Poble Sec: Awesome detailed bass impacts with some nifty pingy guitar/synth effects. I discovered this tune at the time I purchased my 3rd v-moda M100 - the Master makes this even more enjoyable.

    Giuseppe Ottaviani - Lost for Words (On Air Mix feat Amba Shepherd): Strong bass impacts behind a female voice - a large-scale sweeping sonic image reminiscent of epic adventures in an exotic land. The Master is playing on a whole new level here.

    Hecq - Enceladus (With Skyence): Prodigious deep bass and clean at that. This tune's melody is more abstract than most of the others here, but the Master makes it a real adventure.

    Katy B - Crying For No Reason (Tom Shorterz Remix): Oh myyyyy, I love Katy B. The vocal mix here is awesome and the bass is solid. This is the Master at its best.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch: I first heard this in The September Issue film and soundtrack, as the backdrop for the opening catwalk (watch Andre grinning at 1:51 - all you need to know) - the Master plays this amazing tune perfectly.

    Lee and Malinda - Truth Will Set You Free (V-Moda Mix): Lee Kalt is the master, this is the masterpiece. The drum (or tom-tom) hits here have a very realistic skin-tone, the female vocal is seamlessly integrated into the driving beat, and the synth effects also blend well - the Master just owns this.

    Markus Schulz - Mainstage: The granddaddy of bass is in this track, and the Master plays it smooth and clean.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Continuing my review with a few additional music samples, the following are some of the "odds and ends" I've picked up in the process of reviewing headphones. The sound of most of these tracks is good enough to complement any decent headphone, but they show off the Master's sonic qualities as well as anything I've heard. Some of these may be hard to find, particularly in the exact mix/remix listed here.

    One thing to be aware of when evaluating these music tracks (or any music tracks) is that the lower bass is easily drowned out where there is a lot of ambient low-frequency noise. For example, I would walk city streets with the original M100 using the latest iPod Nano (no EQ with the little square Nano), and the sound was perfect for those walks. Playing the same music at home, my perception of the bass was completely different.

    Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Soundtrack to a hand-painted color movie. A terrific variety of sounds that show off the excellent audio qualities of the Master.

    Muse - Madness: Awesome bass line with mass vocals. Clearly delineated by the Master.

    Mylene Farmer - Desenchantee: French vocal over a driving bass beat. Very enjoyable with the Master.

    Robyn Hitchcock - Autumn Is Your Last Chance: Acoustic/electric guitar with compelling vocal. Pure class as reproduced by the Master.

    Samantha James - Amber Sky: Reverberant instrumentation and ethereal vocal. Dreamy stuff that sounds amazing on the Master.

    Satchmode - Best Intentions: Atmospheric vocals over a very decent bass line. Exquisite reproduction by the Master.

    Sneaker Pimps - Underground (Nellee Hooper Mix): Slow-paced club music with female vocal and subtle but very effective bass impacts. The bass in this track will be fully appreciated only in a quiet listening spot.

    Soliquid - Shibuya (Paul Keeley Remix): Eight minutes and 50 seconds of heavenly beats and awesome musical synth effects as heard with the Master.

    Stones and Bones - Love Lockdown: Ibiza 2014 track with a very spacious atmosphere and a bit of contrapuntal vocal. Outstanding on the Master.

    Susanne Sundfor - Accelerate: High-ambiance noise with decent bass impacts and reverberant vocals. The Master makes this track come alive.

    Third Sex - Monster Snack: One of the best of the Goth/RiotGrrrl genre, available on the Free To Fight CD. Somewhat primitive sound with aggressive vocal, but there ya go - as good as it gets with this headphone.

    Three-11 Porter - Surround Me With Your Love: Pleasant male-female vocal mix against a big-ambiance backdrop. Lush presentation by the Master.

    Visage - Fade To Grey: Atmospheric and reverberant recording supported by a luscious synth line. The Master plays this perfectly.

    When Saints Go Machine - Love And Respect: Super-energetic music with reverberant vocal counterpoint. Strong bass impacts delivered cleanly by the Master.

    Yaz - Situation: Bright pop-EDM music from the past. Played exquisitely by the Master.
     
  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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