M-Voda Crossfade M100 Headphones (with Case)
Great highs, great mids, and great bass with wonderful separation make these the headphones I have been looking for more than a year. That great sound is combined with quality materials, a very compact case, and even great looks if you care about that sort of thing.
For context, I've listened to roughly ten sets of headphones competing in this price range, though only three of those sets were in the comfort of my own home. I've also listened to innumerable in-earphones, scads of less expensive over-the-ear and on-ear headphones, as well as Logitech's Ultimate Ears UE 4 custom-fit in-ear monitors.
I have experience with desktop reference monitors, and I usually can't say enough good things about Audioengine's A5 desktop speakers for listening pleasure. In short, that makes me more experienced (and more of a snob) than your average bear, but I'm far from a high-end audiophile.
Let me interrupt this review by declaring my biases so that everyone knows how I am approaching it: I love Dr. Dre both for being awesome and for reinvigorating the over-the-ear headphone market, but I do not care for his product. Beats Studio are well-built headphones that feel oh-so-comfortable on your ears, but they are much too low-end heavy and muddy for me. Your mileage will certainly vary.
For more on my biases, check out my listening list at the bottom of this review. Note the preponderance of rock and pop tunes that form the foundation of my listening needs.
This is the biggee for me. I want great sounding bass that doesn't rampage all over the music. This year at CES I tried as many quality headphones as I could. Most were muddy and thumpy like a freight train wallowing in a tar pit. A couple had adequate bass that left me wanting more.
What I want is bass that punches through without getting in the way. That's not too much to ask, and V-Moda delivers with the Crossfade M-100s.
Take a song like Nine Inch Nail's "Down In It" with that delicious Akai 808 bass note in the bridge. Through the M-100s, that note rings out clear and glorious, like God knocking on your front door.
I can't stress this enough. I know there are folks out there who think that "too much bass" is an oxymoron akin to being "too healthy" or having "too much money in my bank account." Those people are in luck because there are a ton of headphones catering to them, but the Crossfade M-100 headphones deliver the right amount of bass for people looking for a balanced sound.
Mids & Highs
Let's not forget the mids and highs. These headphones produce very clear and crisp mids and highs, and the separation is fantastic. The balance between all three parts of the sound spectrum is wonderful. Each has its place and each plays its role in making sweet, sweet love to your ears.
I do a lot of writing at noisy coffee shops, and I tested the M-100s for more than 60 hours in that kind of environment. My sessions last as long as four hours, and it's the length of those sessions that made me turn to over-the-ear headphones in the first place.
I have a largish head and medium/large-sized ears for a man. These headphones fit both my head and my ears securely and comfortably. People with very large ears might feel differently about the cup size as I didn't feel like I had a lot of wiggle room to spare.
I also wear glasses when I write, and these headphones still felt very comfortable at the end of a long session.
The Crossfade M-100s are made of quality materials and I couldn't find anything that struck me as a corner cut. The earcups are comfy, and they're held by steel frames. The headband is constructed of what V-Moda calls "Steelflex" that can withstand 10 (plus) flat bends. I didn't test that particular aspect, but I can tell you that when you hold them they look and feel well made.
These headphones are designed to fold up, and the company developed an all-metal hinge it calls CliqFold Hinge for this purpose. You get a satisfying snick both when you're folding them up and unfolding them for use.
The same is true for the extenders. They're made of metal and when you adjust them they feel precise and solid.
All-Metal CliqFold Hinge
One of the nice touches is that these headphones come with two cables, both of which fit in the very compact case. One (black) has a "SharePlay" y-splitter on one end you can use to share your music with another listener. The other (orange) has a mic you can use with any three-button audio jack (for instance, iPhone/iPad/iPod touch) for phone calls, Skype, or gaming.
Black Cable Showing Kevlar Coating and SharePlay Y-Splitter
The cables are reinforced with Kevlar and the company says the plug can withstand 1 million (plus) bends. In my use, they also resisted getting tangled, but that could be a product of how the case makes it easy to wrap the things up and stow them properly.
Another thing I love about these headphones is the case. Every high-end headphone case I've seen has been flat, but wide. Very wide. The M-100s are much thicker than these other cases, but the overall volume appears to be smaller. More importantly, the case is small enough to clip on to a bag (carabiner included) without feeling like you have a big bag attached to your bag.
Case, with Room for Two Cables Jack Adapter
As a test, I asked several people which they preferred, the wide and flat case of a pair of high-end noise cancelling headphones I am also testing or the case for the Crossfade M-100s. Half had no opinion. The half that did have an opinion unanimously chose the Crossfade M-100s. It was a small data set of eight people, but I found it interesting.
V-Moda bills these headphones as "noise isolating," and I wanted to take a moment to make sure that was clear. Noise isolating headphones use analog means of isolating you from ambient noise. In this case, we're talking over-the-ear cups with comfortable padding that serves as a barrier for noise.
That's far different from "noise canceling" headphones that use active electronics to cancel out ambient noise.
I like noise cancelling headphones on planes and other very noisy environments. For listening to music, I want a nice over-the-ear headphone that isolates me from ambient noise without mucking with the signal. Plus, when I'm in a quiet environment, the noise isolating headphones still aren't mucking with the signal.
In my extensive coffee-shop listening, ambient noise was a non-issue for me with the Crossfade M-100s.
To that end, the seal on these headphones is excellent. In public settings I didn't have people giving me annoyed looks when listening at loud volume. When I stuck them on friends ears to see if I could hear, I got a little noise in a quiet environment, but not enough to identify the songs they flipped through.
Odds & Sods
The metal shields on the outside of the earcups are replaceable and interchangeable. The company sells a variety of these shields in different colors. That's not the sort of thing that matters much to me personally, but different strokes...
You also get input ports on both sides of your headphones. You can use either one, use them to mix two sources (V-Moda's roots are with the DJ industry), or even daisy chain headphones. They come with a "V-Cork" to seal your unused port.
The Bottom Line
The V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphones do everything right. They look great and they sound even better. They're very portable, and they're made of high quality materials.
Post Script: Bryan's Testing Listening List (March 2013 Edition)
A note about this list: As I stated above, I listened to these headphones for more than 60 hours before writing this review. Almost all of those hours were under the normal conditions for when I use headphones, which is writing in a public setting listening to music I love, mostly various genres of rock and pop.
I also spent time with the songs below listening for the specific features listed, many of them A/B tested with other headphones and in-earphones. In other words, these songs don't represent my entire test, but are rather my go-to songs for really close listening.
- "Black Grease" - The Black Angels, Passover: Lo-Fi sound with modern recording. Drony, noisy as all get-out, hypnotic.
- "Summertime" - The Asylum Street Spankers, Live (out of print): This track is a live recording of an all-acoustic performance with multiple guitars, stand-up bass, clarinet, and a dual male and female lead vocal.
- "The Loop Closes" - How to Destroy Angels, Love & Rockets, Lift: Bass, layered, complex.
- "Ted Just Admit It" - Janes Addiction, Nothing's Shocking: Clarity, separation, mix.
- "Get Off" - Prince, Diamonds & Pearls: Bassy, complex production. Can sound muddy.
- "At Home He's a Tourist" - Gang of Four, Entertainment- Bass, highs, mids. Separation is key to this tune.
- "Butterflies" - The Atomic Love Bombs, Let It Burn: Feedback, layered instruments, and because I can.
- "Pure Chance" - The Church, Uninvited, Like the Clouds: A song of dynamics and separation.
- "Red Moon Crying" - Phat, Tayutaf (iTunes Japan link): Rock/Jazz fusion featuring a deep, thumpy bass line, with the melody driven by a sax with heavy effects (great separation test).
- "Bach: Brandenburg Concerto #1 In F, BWV 1046" - Karel Brazda: Philharmonia Slavonica, Bach: Brandenburg Concertos #1-3: Classical tune with strings and horns.
- "Ricky's Theme" - The Beastie Boys, Ill Communication: Nuanced instrumental with a solid low end that can easily become muddy.
- "Knucklehead" - Grover Washington Jr., Feels So Good: Lo-fi Motown production. Mids and highs.
- MGG #439: I Defragged My Mac (and I Liked It) - Mac Geek Gab Podcast: You know, a podcast.