Practically Perfect in Every Way: The V-Moda XS Page 2


Sound Quality
I was a bit worried when I heard the tuning of the XS was changed from the M-80—I liked that headphone quite a bit. It deserved its place on the "Wall of Fame". Fortunately the folks at V-Moda seem to have a nuanced hand and, like with a lot of things about this new headphone, they've done a very good job of making some subtle but beneficial improvements without any other unintended negative consequences.

Overall tonal balance of the V-Moda XS is a treat. Matching fairly closely the Harman target response curve, the XS is slightly warm and quite smooth sounding. Mid-bass response is somewhat elevated elevated, moderately lacking in tight punch, but bass extension is good. Good bass is tricky in an on-ear, sealed can, and I reckon bass quality of the XS is on par with some of the better headphones in this category. As an example the XS has slightly less low frequency distortion than the Sennheiser Momentum On-ear, but the Beyerdynamic DT 1350 and Sennheiser HD 25 Aluminum are quite a bit better.

Midrange can sometimes seem a tad withdrawn given the somewhat excessive bass, but I think that's a bit of an illusion. Other than being a little uneven, the bass-mid-treble balance of these can is actually quite good.

One area where headphones often have a difficult time is the transition from mid-range to treble most commonly seen as a lack of energy between 1kHz and 5kHz. The XS doesn't suffer this problem at all, doing a great job of leveling out this region. I'd say it's probably class-leading in this regard, delivers a wonderful balance to voice and acoustic instruments.

Treble response on the XS is very well balanced and not harsh or bitting in the least, in fact, this is quite a smooth sounding headphone to me. Too smooth maybe. I heard some treble information a bit indistinct; "sh" sounds tended to be a bit too "th" sounding to my ears. This somewhat inarticulate treble seems to cause poor imaging, and to my ears the XS doesn't image particularly well. The good thing about the XS treble sounding a tad blurry is it tends to make harsh recordings less so. That's actually a great thing for the average consumer listening to low-rez, poorly mastered music. So, while the audiophile in me might yern for a bit more resolution, the realist in me is digging streaming my Spotify.

In comparing the XS to the V-Moda M-80 I hear the M-80 as a bit cooler sounding with slightly less bass and slightly more emphasis on mid-treble snap...though it does not extend as well into the top octave. When compared to the Sennheiser HD 25 Aluminum I find the XS better balanced and more satisfying overall, but the HD 25 does a better job with treble resolution, bass tightness, and imaging. Against the Beyer DT 1350 the XS balance shows through again with my particular DT 1350 (they seems to vary quite a bit) the treble is somewhat rolled-off relative to the XS, on the other hand bass was tighter and more impactful with the Beyer. Comparing to the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear, I find them quit similar in bass response—a little thick and slow. The better balance of the XS in the low treble region does a substantially better job on vocal overtones than the Momentum On-Ears, which tend to make vocals sound a little withdrawn in comparison.

All told, the V-Moda XS is an excellent headphone in this category. It strong suit is a great sense of balance—best balance in this category of headphone, I think. On the down-side, its somewhat loose bass and fuzzy treble response may have some listeners looking elsewhere.

V-Moda has another hit on their hands, the XS is a sexy little headphone in a whole lot of ways. Build quality? Spectacular. Styling? Gorgeous. Comfort? Ahhh. Compact? It would fit jacket pocket. Sound quality? Impeccably balanced...umm...maybe I'm coming on a bit strong for the headphone enthusiasts out there. Yes, the bass is a bit too loose, and yes, the treble is a bit fuzzy, but for the most part the XS nails the overall balance. Which is a hell of a trick for a sealed on-ear can. For the rest of the world out there the XS will have a big enough bass and be wonderfully gentle on the ears with crappy masters at 64kbps streaming. Plus, it's stylish, well built, and I think very nicely priced at $212. No, even from an audiophile perspective, this is a headphone to buy—for you wife or child maybe, but still, this headphone the reeks of value any way you look at it.

Placing the V-Moda on the "Wall of Fame" as a reference headphone of its price and type is a no brainer. But after revisiting the page for the first time in a while, WoF sealed, on-ear page needs a good hard look. Suffice it to say the XS might shake things up a bit.


V-Moda home page and XS product page.
Head-Fi reviews and threads here and here.
Previous InnerFidelity reviews of V-Moda M-80 and V-80 True Blood.


Heretix_Aevum's picture

I found the M80 to be the most uncomfortable headphone I've ever owned, and I see little reason that the XS would be different. Shame because both this and the M80 are great headphones. I'll have to stick with my PX100ii for my portable headphone.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The ergonomic changes to the XS may make it worth having a second fitting. It seems quite a bit better.
Jazz Casual's picture

Not doubting your review of this headphone's build quality and performance Tyll, but I find V-Moda's brash styling aesthetically unappealing and the XS is no exception.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Strong design is like that, you either love it or hate it. Looked back through the article and it does seem that I've missed saying that. Thanks for the comment.
Impulse's picture

But eventually ended up with the M-80 for all it's other qualities, and it's look kinda grew on me. I like that they're unlike anything else out there, tho that on itself can be polarizing as Tyll stated.

I think the design actually loses a little appeal with the all new all black muted color palette (cable aside), but then there's always the custom shields. I can imagine why they moved away from red/black...

Maybe some orange accents wouldn't have been out of place on the black XS tho. I think Momentums look classier but then they don't fold/collapse and their cable is harder to replace, which is huge for me (as I often use a shorter one with my M80 & clip on BT receiver).

ashutoshp's picture

I currently own a pair of the XS and I think your review is absolutely spot on.
Three questions, sorry:
1)I especially found it interesting that they go really well with (imperfect) streaming services such as Spotify. I think this is critical info. for newbies like myself and in fact, millions others who use such services across the globe. Although I've read about it here and there in your reviews (eg, the V Moda M100) and some others, I've always wondered why more reviewer's don't specifically start listing which headphones work 'better' with such streaming services, if possible of course?
2) Considering the Harman curve and ignoring the technicalities for now, would you say that this headphone is more similar sounding overall to the NAD Visos, Focal Classics or any others that you might have come across (eg, Beyer's Custom One Pro)?
3) Considering the Harman curve again, is it actually suggesting that people want more prominent mids than what manufacturer's like Beats or Sony are marketing these days (V-shaped)?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I didn't directly compare the XS to the NAD VISO HP50 or Focal Spirit Pro, so I'm not sure. Don't think the Beyer COP is very close, they sound quite colored to me. It's not really prominent kids as much as it is filling in some between 1kHz and 4kHz or so on the relatively otherwise flat cans. The V shaped trend is off base, I think.
tom22's picture

hi Tyll, which of these these do you prefer? in terms of both fun and neutrality? does the fc have a tighter bass? how is the treble in comparison? the mids on the xs are gorgeous for vocals does the fc300s stack up? the onkyos can be had now about 100$ (fc versions) so really tempted.

Any favorites in terms of portables for you?

tom22's picture

Tyll, would say that the Xs is an on ear version of the ver smooth mdr1r?

with the elevated midbass forward mids and smooth highs? abeit when last time i heard the mdr 1rs i felt the soundstage was pretty expansive for a closed back. didn't find that with the xs.

thx1000's picture

Thanks for the review, I will be getting a pair for my son's birthday. Will this be on the top of the Wall of Fame list of Headphones: Ear-Pad Sealed?

JML's picture

The XS is FAR more comfortable than the M-80; I could not wear the M-80 for long without experiencing ear pain, and I can forget I'm wearing the XS. The headband change resulted in far less pressure on my outer ear, while retaining the semi-sealed nature of the headphones. Better sounding, too, just as he describes.

And as far as looks go, apart from the stock orange cable, the matte black version of the XS is about as unblingy as it could be (unlike the white one). In fact, I miss the handful of red accents from my M-80, and wish there had been some accenting, such as brushed aluminum or some red.

Impulse's picture

I like the orange cord (I traded my M-80's iPhone cable with an M-100 owner for his OJ), but I miss the red accents too. V-moda is probably trying to move away from the over used black/red motif tho.

My M-80 aren't too uncomfortable and I'm happy with them but I'm totally considering selling them to get the XS, a kind of upgrade I'd normal never consider.

When the M-100's folding mechanism leaked the first thing I said is "adding that to the M-80 would just about make then perfect for me". I wish they had a step up or upgrade program sorta like the immortal warranty!

paul's picture

The closed-back-on-ear headphone has its place - A portable headphone with some isolation. Based upon my experience with the M-80's, I doubt the XS offers anything new.

Unlike other headphones, both the M-80’s and the XS's have a cathedral shaped headphone opening. They result in a hard sealing headphone. They don't isolate.

The XS's are a one piece headband. They don't stay put and shift on the head. They are not very portable.

My commute is in the big-noisy-city. I am surrounded by bass, bass and more bass. I bass heavy headphone is not good for a city commuter. The outside overwhelms the music. For a city commuter, less bass is more.

tom22's picture

Hi Tyll,

First thanks for the review, i recently tried something that might help with that fuzzy treble and the somewhat loose bass on my xs

what i did was take some medical or transpore tape and basically stuck them over the v-port. (not the prettiest thing) this suppressed the width of the soundstage a bit but helps a bit with tightening that bass and help with the treble articulation.

easily reversible. i now moved on to putting it on the underside of the shield. so its out of sight

i haven't tried with other tape but i think it helps a bit. its not world changing but i find it helps.


vkalia's picture

Hi Tyll -

Have you had a chance to listen to the Audio Technica on-ear woodies? I have a pair of ESW9As, which are quite modestly priced on Ebay, and I find them to be more timbrally accurate than the V-Modas with violins and pianos. I got the M80s based on the great reviews they get on Head-fi, but quite frankly, I thinkthe ESW9As are much better. So much so that I am going to get a pair of ESW11s if i can find a pair.

anetode's picture

minor typo on 2nd para on 2nd page: "Mid-bass response is somewhat elevated elevated, moderately lacking in tight punch"

JML's picture

I had the M-80 and ESW9 (same as the 9A, but different sources for the Cherry wood). Replaced both with the XS. The ESW9 phones do sound really good, but they're nowhere as comfortable as the XS. I also preferred the sound of the XS to the Audio Technicas.

Bennyboy's picture

White headphones are like white chocolate - pointless.

Who wears (or eats) those things? Weirdos from planet mental.

tom22's picture

i love the white pearls the glittery pearl all over the earcups are soo nice (haven't seen a headphone that has that, Absolutely beautiful! i love the white headphones in general, black is too overdone and bland, theres too many black headphones (especially studio headphones) IMO! white stands out more and its cleaner looking, easy to accessorize your outfit as well (requires more work to keep em clean though) To each their own

jmm007's picture

I apologize that this is OT, but please someone tell me where I can purchase those headphone stands in the first pic of this article?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Not sure where to get them in the US, but here's the product page.
JML's picture

It is an Auralic Gemini: stand/amp/DAC all in one.

jmm007's picture


JML's picture

Didn't realize the picture was the stand without the electronics!

Basshead11's picture

Hey Tyll, I'm currently looking at the V-moda line of headphones. I currently have Skullcandy Mixmasters (already got a crack in the headband after a few months, don't want to deal with waiting for replacements), and love their sound a lot. Which of the V-moda lineup would sound the most similar to them? Hope you get my message! Love watching your videos

vtiger's picture

reminds me Beyers DT150 - as good example - opposed extreme :)
Well, I like that old /olympics operators/ design/build still.

GBluth's picture

So I've been looking at a lot of headphones and keep gravitating towards the XS. The one thing holding me back is: I mostly used headphones with my ipod while commuting on the (very) loud subway. I want to stop cranking up the volume just to tune everything else out, but something semi-portable. Given that, are the XS good for someone like me or overkill?

Impulse's picture

I love my M-80, so much so that I'm about to get rid of them to step up to the XS (the more compact size will make a big difference given my use)...

Part of the reason that I like them so much is that they're a very good alternative to my IEM because they're less isolating, so for instance I can sit in an airport terminal and still hear (somewhat) when an announcement is being made over the PA yet simultaneously drown out most crowd noise.

I'd say if you wanna completely drown out a loud train you're better off with IEM or even NC headphones tho. The XS will work well against most background noise but not so well against deep rumblings and such.

V-Moda CS kicks ass, I just called in with a question about the Immoral Life warranty (got exactly the answer I wanted) then came back here to re-read Tyll's review before committing to the XS.

Mllump's picture

I've gone round and round. I have QC-15's that, as shrill as they can be, I just can't toss because they're so stinking comfortable for long periods and great for travel. I've had other over ears around the house, and not a fan of IE, so I'm left with more portable pursuits for everyday use. That said, since the QC's are far from reference, I want the best quality I can get. I love the P5's for every reason others do, but the sound is overly warm in my opinion. I haven't tried the XS or the 1350, but lean toward the 1350's, with concern being clamping (in comparison to P5's, which after an hour or so I just need relief). All that said, I'm looking for the best everyday, portable, sealable, comfortable, near-reference cans I can find. Not to much to ask, right? Anyway, any recommendations besides buy them all and try? I love the site. I'm here very frequently and appreciate your input, Tyll.

Zero Decibels's picture

Hey Tyll, I'm thinking of buying a portable headphone in the 200$~ range, and currently I'm eyeing on the V-Moda XS and the Sennheiser Urbanite. Which of these are better, I listen to mostly EDM, and do you recommend any other headphones, or should I buy earphones instead? (Great review BTW!)

knife's picture

Hello, Innerfidelity. I really love your videos and reviews. And I find them very informative and entertaining. However, I can't seem to understand low, mid and highs in music. Since I don't know them I can't visualize how a headphone might sound. I can't find decent articles/videos about this. Can you recommend a website or a book to distinguish low/mid/highs in music?


shapirus's picture

Hi all,

my experience with the V-Moda XS was very different from that of apparently most people who tried them.

After reading and seeing all the positive reviews, including Tyll's, I decided to buy these for my wife as they seemed a near perfect option, and soon thereafter we received a parcel from Amazon.

The headphones' package is very nice as you all know from the numerous reviews. Build quality is excellent and they look beautiful indeed.

But it is the sound quality that was disappointing if not appaling. Bass is nowhere near of being acceptable. I am not a basshead by any means, but these ones have barely audible low frequency response. It was immediately obvious when I compared them to my awesome NAD Viso HP50 (many thanks to Tyll for pointing them out, his positive review on them completely matches my experience). Sure thing it is not quite a correct comparison, since the latter are a circumaural type and more expensive (not by a lot more though -- I got them for C$249 before tax in a local store in Toronto, and the V-Modas were C$209 before tax), but even compared to Sennheiser Urbanites, which are also on-ear, the V-Modas have very poor bass response whereas the Urbanites' bass seems both punchy, clear and detailed, and neither artificially exaggerated nor boomy like I felt, for example, with the over-ear Momentums v.2 when I compared them side by side with the Viso HP50s before buying.

As for the treble response, it also disappointed us both. Vocals, for the lack of a better word, just stand out of the music and sound stridently and very unpleasant, effectively masking the sound of instruments. These headphones need a substantial amount of equalizer adjustment to have a proper (or rather that is pleasant to listen to) frequency response. This is also very unlike the Urbanites (let alone the Viso HP50s) which present a pretty balanced sound picture where the vocals stay in their place.
They say these phones are balanced... no way they are.
Stage? Airyness? Any feeling of the volume of the room where the recording took place? Nothing of the kind.
Yes they sound very clear, the detail resolution is very good, but the bass to treble imbalance defeats all the positives for both my wife and me.

They did not stay put on my wife's smaller head. Just a slight movement of the head, and they tend to fall off. Lean the head backwards or forwards, and the headband slips off. My head is bigger, but on it they did not feel anywhere near secure either. This might be acceptable for home use, but not to take them out; and for home use alone I'd rather get a full-size headphone.

Too bad there was no local place in Toronto to try them out before buying: they wouldn't even have made it onto my short-list if I could see them in person first.

Unfortunately, they are going back to Amazon. I am very surprised with my experience, because most people seem to genuinely like them. Did we get a defective pair? Somehow I doubt that. Amazon is one of V-Moda's authorized dealers, so these are most likely not a fake, and the probability of facing a manufacturing defect is pretty low I guess.

Now we are in search for a better pair of headphones. Absolutely no idea which ones to get now. The Urbanites get pretty close to the desired sound quality given the on-ear form factor, but their overall look and feel is somewhat weird. The new headphones also have to be compact enough and foldable. That's gonna be difficult.

Boostedis's picture

My sentiments exactly! The fit for me was not an issue (they actually are quite comfortable for me). Sound is not where near what I was expecting! I'm hoping that a break-in period is needed for these to quote 'open up'!...

shapirus's picture

I'd return them right away, if they don't meet your expectations.
I personally believe that there is no such thing as the "headphone break-in period" (other than a listener's brain gradually getting accustomed to a particular headphone's sound and interpreting the result as a real improvement). If there is any breaking in period at all, it happens at the factory and/or in the first few seconds of playback. Every single headphone that I've owned sounded right out of the box just like they would always sound thereafter with no change at all.

dennismsimpson's picture

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Boostedis's picture

I bought both of these headphones so I could do a comparison. They are miles apart in price, with the V-Moda being considerably more expensive!! I won't go deep into my impressions of these two (I REALLY think you should do an official review on the MEE's!), because the descriptions have all been covered. I really wanted to like the V-Moda's!! They look fantastic, fit and finish is FAR superior to the MEE's (by a long shot!)! I tried the V-Moda's first and was Ok with the sound until I switched to the MEE's. They trounced the V-Moda's in both lows and highs! The V-Moda's are very POLITE to say the least. I prefer to listen for short periods and I like to hear the extremes of the audio range clearly! The MEE's look like a cheap dime-store Chinese knockoff, but sound fantastic!! I'm looking for a way to switch the cans over! Please tell me that the V-Moda's need a long break-in before they show their true colors?!?!....