V-MODA (White) M-80 headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Aug 14, 2012.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Sources: iPhone4 alone, iPhone4 with FiiO E17 using LOD, various computers using Audioengine D1 DAC and the D1's headphone out.

    First impressions: Strong, solid bass. Clear mids, with no coloring of the mids by the bass. From the mids up through the high treble, as smooth as water on a plate. I can remember the last 10 headphones I purchased, since those were all in the past 10 months. I remember my first impressions with all of those: In a couple cases, big bass. A couple other cases, weak highs. And in a few cases my first impression was: Huh? That's odd - it may take awhile to get used to this. And with most of those headphones, I did get used to them, so I had maybe one disappointment out of 10 purchases. This new white M-80 was unique for a first impression though, since there were no uh-oh's - the sound was excellent right out of the box. I can't imagine that there's going to be a major burn-in factor, since I don't detect anything loose or edgy in the sound after playing 100-plus tracks. The M-80 is also very efficient - all the more remarkable for having such a smooth response.

    I don't feel I should just offer my impressions of the sound and let it go at that, because it doesn't give people much to go on. For instance, bass that's strong for me might be weak for someone else. So I like to compare the sound to other headphones I have or had recently. Comparing to the ATH M50, the bass is comparable, although the M50's bass increases slightly on the very deep end. Still, 15 hz fundamentals can be heard clearly on the V-MODA M-80. 20 hz sounds a few db weaker than 30 hz, but all of my headphones are that way including the M50. So I'd say the M-80's bass extension and impact are among the best I've heard. My Philips L1 has a strong bass, but it's emphasized quite a bit in the upper bass, so the real impact and extension is no better than the M-80. In summary, I'd put the M-80 in that category of best possible bass for a non-bassy headphone.

    Mids are very difficult to judge because the bass, treble, soundstage and other factors all interact with the mids to create the sense of presence or detail that separates the better hi-fi headphones from the ones that are limited to certain genres only. I don't want to claim that the mids of the M-80 are perfect since it's too small and doesn't cost enough to be that good. At least that's the rule. But, I've been playing jazz, hip-hop, classical, metal, house, vocals of all kinds, and I don't hear anything amiss in the mids. They're not forward or recessed to any noticeable extent, and instruments and vocals sound right. The limitation you get with the M-80 is the earcup size and the closed design, so the soundstage or sense of a large space is less than with the big headphones, or especially the open-back headphones. If I were monitoring an important recording session, I could use the M-80 for that task, since the balance is good top to bottom and there's no lack of detail.

    The highs of the M-80 sound softer to me than headphones such as the Shure 940, 1440 and 1840, or the Sennheiser HD600, 650 and 800. Those six headphones have served as my usual references, since I've had the Sennheisers since the 1990's and the Shures since 2011. However, my reading of current opinion among music fans is that most of the hi-fi enthusiasts are leaning toward the M-80's type of sound, because they feel it's a better match for modern digital recordings. So I'm going to make a prediction: If you listen mostly to jazz or classical music, one of the brighter-sounding headphones might be acceptable, otherwise the M-80 or a similar-sounding headphone is more likely to fit the bill.

    The new V-MODA M-80 looks pretty much the same as the V-80 I purchased a year ago, although this one is white, and I think they made some subtle improvements since the first edition. I'm not sure what the differences could be, but this new one looks and feels like a luxury item. Beautiful, excellent build, great bling factor. On my head it feels feather-light, and has very little clamping pressure for a sealed headphone. The headband is adjustable with click stops, and has some soft padding under the top. I can't tell if the M-80 is mostly metal or all metal, but whatever plastic there might be is minimal. This is a very strong, yet lightweight headphone.

    The cables are single-sided, detachable on the left, and the connectors are standard miniplugs on both ends. The cable end for the headphone jack is angled 45 degrees and has the extra connection for iPhones and iPods etc. One cable has a single button and the other has 3 buttons for Apple i-device control. I really like the fabric-covered cables that come with the M-80, since they don't tend to stick to clothing like rubber-coated cables do. The M-80 also comes with a small hard-shell case that gives good protection and doesn't take up too much space in travel baggage. The case for the white M-80 is also white. One more thing: V-MODA offers customizable metal side plates for the earcups, and you can choose your own logo in several different colors.

    In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples 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 other reviews and see how the M-80 compares with each individual track.

    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 very well by the M-80.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can feel the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well here.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the M-80.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the M-80.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds very good on the M-80.

    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 M-80 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The M-80 plays this perfectly.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The M-80 plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 20-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the M-80 delivers the full experience of this music.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the M-80.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The M-80 provides very good reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the M-80 aces them.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds great with the M-80.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the M-80 plays it superbly.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're no problem with the M-80.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Just a quick note about the M-80 review: I had the V-80 since a year ago, and while the V-80 and M-80 are supposed to sound the same, I think there may have been some slight improvements in the meantime. So I wrote this one from scratch and didn't use any text from the old review except the music examples, and the comments there are also new.

    Video review:

    Last edited: Aug 16, 2012

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