A Basshead's Delight: The V-Moda Crossfade M-100
V-Moda M-100 ($310)
Please forgive me. I try to be even-keeled and objective when I write headphone reviews. I try to draw a careful balance in describing the beauty and the warts of a particular headphone. But in this case I might not be able to be quite so objective. In this case I might not quite be able to keep my shit together. Because in this case, I'm in love. The V-Moda M-100 is the coolest, sexiest, grooviest headphone I've had the pleasure of reviewing...as long as you're okay with listening just for the fun of it.
V-Moda's CEO Val Kolton is an unapologetic fashionista. That's usually a big red flag for me, as I typically find products made by such people more style over substance. I don't like that at all.
But Val's not like that...not one bit. He's totally true to himself and to his products. He digs style for sure, but he loves music, and he loves his gear to play music well. My benchmark for headphones is, "Do they do honor to the music?" I can honestly say that Val gets it, at least for youthful, exuberant electronic music. Moreover, he's insanely driven to put products into the hands of people that work well in every possible way. His operation, it seems to me, is built upon the rock of truly delivering incredible value for money...and deliver he does.
While I feel some of his earlier offerings were sub-par in terms of sound quality, I've got to say his latest efforts have nailed it. The build quality and styling are simply out-freaking-standing! While I'm just about exactly opposite from Val when it comes to style (a Hawaiian shirt is dressed up for me, you'll usually find me in t-shirts and sweats), we're like brothers from other mothers when it comes to our passion for headphones, great sound, and the worthiness of music. I'm honored to review these cans.
Pure sex. Of course, matters of taste are various, but I think these are great looking cans. The thought occurs to me that, say, Apple products have very broad appeal due to their minimalist design. The M-100 is far from a minimalist design, it's flashy, and sexy, and hip (if you can even use that word anymore), but it's done very tastefully. The M-100 is available in three basic color schemes: Gloss black, matte black, and pearly white, and in each of these schemes the M-100 looks badass.
The gloss black version is flashy like a Lamborghini. High-gloss black plastic capsules have brushed aluminum "shields" covering the outside. Headband endcaps are gloss black with a bright red "V" accent. The matte black version has matte plastic capsules covered by a bead-blasted black anodized shield; headband endcaps are likewise matte black with a back glossy "V" accent. The pearly white M-100 has very sensual off-white color on the plastics, and clear anodizing on the aluminum with satin finishes throughout, with a few chrome features tastefully highlighting the look. Yes, the design is bold and tight, these are great looking cans.
Another very cool aspect of the styling is the ability to customize the shields of these headphones. For a small up-charge (~$25) you can have custom artwork etched onto the shields of your cans. This is a laser engraving process, and your art needs to be one color only. The laser etching system then "writes" the image onto the shield by bleaching the anodizing to near white. So the best images will be against the darker color background colors. Full instructions can be found here.
The M-100, like all V-Moda cans, are built like a tank. At a recent trade show I had a great conversation with Val about his cable stress testing systems...he has two! (See video here.)Val is obsessed with durability and the M-100 will easily survive willful abuse with ease. He claims the cable will survive a million bends, the headphones can be dropped 70+ times on concrete from 6 feet, and the headband can be bent flat 10 times without fatigue. I'd bet a six-pack those are conservative claims. If he made these cans in olive drab he'd get a military contract.
The M-100 hugs your head with a firm, secure fit. Earpads are cozy, but comfortable. If you have large ears though, they may be a tight fit. Headband padding is about right and the curvature distributes the weight nicely across the top of my slightly large noggin. While these headphones are a tad on the heavy side, I felt the comfort was good. The compromise here is always between a sense of security and the sense of weightlessness. The Sennheiser Momentum I'll be reviewing shortly were certainly more comfortable for long listening sessions, but don't feel nearly as secure on my head. I suspect the fit and comfort of the M-100 is spot on for their youthful and energetic target audience. Feel free to throw your pinky and index finger high in the air as you violently bob your head, the M-100 will remain nicely positioned as the tunes modulate your brain.
Features and Accessories
In the photos of the styling section above you can see how these headphones fold up into the span of the headband to make a small package for storage and transport. I've seen numerous headphones that articulate in this manner, but almost always they use large plastic hinges that give the headbands a bulbous look. Not so with the M-100.
I spent about a half hour searching the web for this dandy little detent elbow hinge without success. I had a chat with Val, and the reason I couldn't find this part is that V-Moda engineers designed and built it specifically for the M-100. One side of the hinge provides the end stops, and the other side is a really cool spring loaded detent assembly where, it seems, the spring effort is provided three pairs of domed washers. The hinges are securely affixed to the headband and bail with Allen head cap screws, and appear to be lubricated with a tiny dab of silicon grease.
Now if all this talk about the hinge seems silly, you have to understand it's because these cans fold up into a more compact form than any full-size headphone I've experienced, and that's important. As a motorcyclist, I'm extremely appreciative of tight packing. When Val gave me these cans for review I told him I was on my bike and wouldn't have room. Then he showed me the case.
You'll really have to look at the video at the end of this review to get a sense of how small it is, it looks deceptively large in the pictures. Not only is this case small, it's very sturdy. I could break a bowling ball in a padded room, but I felt perfectly fine packing this dandy case in my side-bags. Very, very nice.
The cables provided with these headphones are simply bullet proof. Two cables are provided: one 4.5 foot long with one-button Android remote, and a 6.5 foot headphone listening cable. (Apple three-button remote cable optionally available for $20 here.) Both cables have unique features. Both cables are fabric covered with Kevlar inner casing to provide significant strength and durability. Both cables are terminated with a straight 1/8' mini-plug to insert into either the left or right ear capsule, and a 45 degree angle 1/8" mini-plug on the end inserted into your player. I really like 45-degree angle plugs as they provide better strain relief for the jack of your player than either a straight or 90-degree angle plug.
One of the problems I consistently find with the mic/remote pod on headset cables is that if the pod is located too far enough away from the headphones to be easily accessible for handy finger control, the pod will rub against collars and zippers creating noise for the listening parties. If the pod is high on the cable it gets more difficult to reach. V-Moda has solved this problem by having separate pods for the mic and buttons. Fabric covered cables are more prone to cable noise, and I did experience some excess mic noise with my M-80. This cable seemed to work much better, though some cable-born noise was heard by the listeners of my phone calls.
And then there's the "SharePlay" cable. It's got a built-in splitter on the 45 degree plug of the cable that allows you to share music with a friend. The body of the jack has a groove in it that snaps to the cable when not in use. A new idea to me, and very nicely executed. Using the SharePlay cable and the connector on the other ear capsule you can hook-up two other people for shared listening, making this headphone an audio distribution center for an entire three seat row on an airplane. May get a bit tangled up trying to go to the bathroom though.
Lastly, this little innovation is pretty cool. Called the "V-Cork", this little gadget acts to seal the jack on the unused earpiece and prevent the acoustics of one side from being different from the side with the cable plugged in. I've had inklings this might be a problem in the past with headphone having jacks on both earpieces but never really looked into it. So I decided to take a couple of measurements. Here's the frequency response plots with and without the V-Cork in the right ear. It makes about 3dB difference at 500Hz. Pretty cool, it works.
Also available are a coiled cable for DJs, and a Boom Pro Mic cable with a boom microphone that looks really cool. Unfortunately they were unavailable for review at this time.
'Nuffa that, let's get on with how they sound.