V-MODA XS 'CliqFold'(tm) Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Mar 27, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: V-MODA 'XS' CliqFold(tm) Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Gm1/Headphone_Vmoda_Xs_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Gm1/Headphone_Vmoda_Xs_02.jpg

    Sources: iPhone5, iPhone5 with V-MODA Verza and Beyerdynamic A200p DAC/amps, various computers using the Microstreamer and FiiO E07k DAC/amps.

    Review note: I haven't been apprised of any connection between the new XS CliqFold** style headphone and the other similar-sized V-MODA headphone - i.e. the M80. Rumors abounded that the earcups (and thus the sound) are essentially the same as the M80, and holding them now side-by-side they do appear to be very similar, excepting the most obvious differences - the CliqFold hinges and the second earcup jack (input jacks are in both earcups). The XS earpads feel softer than my M80 earpads, but that may be just a natural evolution of the earpads that V-MODA is using now. My XS headphone is matte black, and the exterior earcup plates are the usual replaceable type with 6 hex fasteners. The fit is much the same as the M80 - lightweight and light clamping pressure, and the technique of bending the M80 headband for a more precise fit applies here as well.

    **CliqFold(tm) is the folding-hinge mechanism used with the M100 headphone that until now was not available on the smaller headphones.

    The XS headphone sound is similar to the M80, but like the earpads and a few other subtle touches, things have gotten better over the past two years. I have an M80 and V80, and have said previously that they have a very warm/neutral and smooth sound that catches people by surprise when a strong and impactful bass passage plays - these little headphones pack a punch, and they do so without a noticeable bass emphasis. There is no loose bass, no mudiness, no bloat etc. - just a warm/neutral bass with great impact. Has the XS improved on the M80 then? Playing the M80 and XS side-by-side, I'm getting better low-bass impact and clearer highs with the XS, so it could be that the special driver membranes they use in this design have been improved. Whatever the case it sounds good. Summing up the XS sound based on a long listen plus comparisons to other headphones, the bass is as described above, the midrange is clear and very slightly forward, and the treble is clear and clean and perfectly balanced.

    The XS headphone has a good soundstage for a small closed headphone, but the recording has a much bigger impact on soundstage than the headphone does. Considering that treble response is critical to a proper soundstage, it's not surprising that the soundstage suffers with a lot of today's headphones which are touted as having a "relaxed" treble. The XS treble isn't relaxed, but it's also free of peaks and other anomalies that would be irritating if they were to coincide with sharp treble spikes in the music. Reiterating the bass response issues, users who are looking for an extra bass impact for certain gaming apps, or who require a heavier bass when riding on public transport (to compensate for the typical heavy bass frequencies in those environments), might want to consider the V-MODA M100 or a similar headphone instead. Like most quality headphones, the XS improves noticeably with a good DAC and/or headphone amp as compared to driving the headphone with just a low-cost portable music player or cellphone.

    XS isolation is average - about 10 db at high frequencies and less at the lower frequencies, as it is with all non-noise-canceling headphones. Leakage is low, but if used in a very quiet office next to other cubicles, the people in those cubicles might hear faint sounds if the XS is played at loud volumes. The XS earcup side plates are removable and replaceable with different-color plates that can be laser-etched with various patterns and logos etc. When the earcups are extended all the way down, the XS can be worn around the neck all day long when not listening, with no inconvenience. Basic construction is all metal and extremely durable, and the CliqFold folding-hinge mechanism allows the earcups to fold up into the headband area, making a very small package for transporting when the headphone is placed into the included hard case.

    The XS headphone is supplied with a single-entry fabric/Kevlar cable that has a standard 3.5 mm miniplug on the earcup end, and an Apple-style 3.5 mm miniplug on the other end which provides the extra connector for the cable's microphone. The cable is 4.5 feet long and has two boxes - one small box near the earcup containing a microphone, and a larger box 9 inches further down containing the start-stop button and another microphone. The zippered carrycase measures about 5x5.7 inches and appears to have great impact resistance. The case has room for the headphone, the cable, an airline adapter, 1/4 inch plug (not included), and possibly a few other very small items. For many of the smaller headphones that do include hard cases, those cases usually fit into airline carry-on luggage OK, but the XS hard case will fit into probably any backpack as well.

    The music tracks below have been listed in several prior reviews, and are a random sample selected from the 400 most recent tracks I've acquired. Since these tracks cover a wide range of genres, and were selected when I was using several different headphones, there won't be a bias toward the XS headphone with this music. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to the prior reviews and other reviews as they get posted, and see how the XS compares with each individual track.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    V-MODA XS review part 2 - music samples.

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has great detail and tone with a decent weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The XS plays this very 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 very well by the XS.

    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 XS plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

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

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The XS 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 crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The XS reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    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 XS renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

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

    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 sound is as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

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

    Fairmont - Poble Sec (Electronic/House): The bass synth is detailed and tight and the drum impacts are very clean. The upper synth chords have a great tone and ambiance, and the perfectly-measured decay makes a great listen with the XS.

    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 XS plays this music perfectly.

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

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has very good detail, and the voices and ambiance have a you-are-there quality that's rare in early 1980's pop music. Played extremely well by the XS.

    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 well with the XS. 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.

    Human League - Keep Feeling Fascination (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's bass line is very detailed, but the somewhat forward voices don't have quite the "you are there" quality of the Heaven 17 track noted above.

    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 XS provides excellent 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 XS plays them very well.

    Katy B - Crying For No Reason (Tom Shorterz Remix) (Dance/Pop): The deep bass impacts are reproduced very well here, and the overall ambiance and reverb work perfectly with the voice, making an ideal listen for the XS.

    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 XS reproduces some of the fundamental tone here, but not as well as the larger M100.

    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 XS reproduces these sounds faithfully.

    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 XS reproduces that experience in a subtle but convincing way. 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 XS renders the tones and transients clearly.

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

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass is not very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with the XS.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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