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V-Moda Crossfade Wireless

Over the past few weeks I have tried out quite a few over-ear bluetooth headphones in a mad search for the ‘ultimate’ bluetooth headphone.

I have tried the Bose QC35’s, V-Moda Crossfade Wireless and now the Sennheiser PXC550’s (I wanted to also try the new Sony MDR1000x models but they appear to be sold out with a two month waiting list - and I’m the impatient type.

My usual wired headphones consist of the following (all of which are used regularly):

Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 - in ear monitor
1More Hybrid Triple Driver - in ear monitor
Sony XBA H1 - in ear monitor
Apple Earpods - fall out of ear earbud
Audio Technica ATH50X - Full Size Over-Ears (make you look a bit like a Cyberman)

Playback electronics include:

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (an excellent audio player - especially with the inclusion of Neutron).
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 - also quite nice sound quality through headphone out - even with stock ROM
AgpTEK H01 - Micro SD based lossless player with a very powerful amplifier on-board.

My music tastes are beginning to vary in my old age - Rush, Pink Floyd, Queen, Bach, Fleetwood Mac, Vivaldi, William Orbit, Hanz Zimmer - you get the idea. Most of my music is well-encoded MP3’s (either 320K rips - some of the older stuff ripped using EAC/LAME (with some cool psycho-acoustical filtering applied) and some downloaded FLAC files. In other words, perhaps not the best in the world but certainly a significant step up from entry-level.

My criteria in order of importance is:

Sound Quality
Volume
Ability to pair with two phones
Reliable Bluetooth connection
Battery Life
Facility to use wired connection
Comfort

I can tolerate some discomfort as I am frequently having to remove my headphones when working but they’ve gotta sound good and loud.  I normally like a sound signature that’s neutral (with perhaps just a hint of deep bass) normally. I don’t tend to mind a slight dip in treble as I’m quite sensitive to shrieking upper mids (that’s what happens when you’re married). The ideal sound signature for me normally comes from my Ultimate Ears Triple Fi’s and 1More Triple Driver in ear monitors.

Externals and Bluetooth

The V-Moda’s feel reassuringly solid - this is helped by the metal shields which give the headphones a rather unique look. Whilst smaller than some over-ear headphones I find them reasonably comfortable. They are tight fitting but this actually helps when you’re walking around with them as they don’t shift position at all. You could use them for working out without too much problems but I personally would rather use wireless earbuds for something like that. I can bend over to stroke the cat without them slipping off.

The buttons are situated at the top of the right hand earcup and are a little mushy in operation. Whilst they may not have the technical wizardry of the touch controls found on the Sony MDR1000x’s and Sennheiser 550’s, they do have the advantage of not being accidentally activated every time you move or remove your headphones. Double and triple tapping for track switching can be a little tricky but at least it allows the volume buttons to be dedicated rather than multi-function.

The cushions are soft and comfortable and I have no problems in wearing them on and off pretty much all day without problems. I must admit I’m tempted to get the larger pads although I'm not sure what sort of difference they will offer and whether I would even like the changes that they could make to the sound quality.

The power/bluetooth pairing switch leaves a little to be desired as well - although it's not quite as flimsy as the switch found on the Bose QC35's, it's still a little loose and feels somewhat cheap. One thing I really do like about these headphones though is that they don't have a really bright bluetooth status light - this is something that really annoys me with other bluetooth headphones. The status light is nicely dim - but just as informative.

Bluetooth operation is excellent with these headphones. They connect pretty quickly to your device and tend to maintain a good solid connection as long as you don’t go too far out of range. I typically find that with the inexpensive bluetooth sports earbud type headphones, you can lose connection by simply putting your phone in your trouser pockets whilst walking - there’s no problem in this regard with the V-Moda’s. Double tapping on the MODE button to change tracks does have a small delay but it’s not really that much of a problem once you get used to it. Volume changes take fairly big steps when using the headphone controls - this is something that thankfully can be compensated used the volume controls on your playback device for fine tuning. This is something that I find with virtually all bluetooth headphones though and the V-Moda’s are no worse than many of the others.

The headphones also come supplied with a nice nylon covered heavy-duty cord for wired listening. This cable is designed to only be used one way and features a simple single button remote and microphone - a welcome addition. Unlike many bluetooth headphones which offer this feature, the sound quality differences between wired and wireless use are fairly subtle - more on this in the sound quality section. Needless to say, the differences are nowhere near as profound as the changes found on many active noise cancelling headphones - which can sound truly dreadful when used passively with a cable.

Sound Quality - Wired and Bluetooth

As mentioned in the opening paragraphs I have had the chance recently to try out a few of the top-end wireless headphones recently and have been somewhat surprised by my findings. The Bose QC35’s are a very competent headphone with a very nice, warm and comfortable sound quality and superb active noise cancellation. I must admit I was very tempted to keep these - however I found the sound a little bit boring and felt that they didn’t quite go loud enough for my tastes. Don’t get me wrong, I almost never listened to music at their full volume but found that I was usually only a couple of steps below max. I wasn’t at all impressed with the Sennheiser PXC550’s. I found the sound quality to be a little too bright, brittle and fatiguing to listen to. Their biggest failing though was their utter lack of volume. I found I was listening quite comfortably to my music literally at full volume all the time. Sorry Sennheiser but no amount of clever bells and whistles and active noise cancelling can make up for that. They went back within a couple of days.

The V-Moda Crossfade Wireless doesn’t feature active noise cancelling. And to be honest I can’t help thinking that this was a good move on their part. The Moda’s have a bass-heavy  sound - but not really in a bad way. I must admit it did take a little getting used to but the sound signature of these headphones are pretty addictive.. Bass is deep and punchy. Really deep notes still maintain their pitch and make it easy to follow. The mids are slightly recessed but still show a lot of detail. Strings resonate nicely and there is a sense of depth which you don’t get with earbuds. Treble is slightly recessed but this does make for an inoffensive and non-fatiguing character.

There is a difference between wired and wireless when it comes to sound quality. When using the wire, bass is tighter and less ‘boomy’ and the sound becomes a little less congested. That’s not to say that the wireless performance is shoddy - far from it. Wireless performance is excellent - the headphones have plenty of meaty volume and they sound excellent with some of the more vintage rock albums in my collection. I have a fairly broad taste in music and every genre played well with these headphones - rock, trance, folk - even classical. Range was good - comparable with the Bose QC35’s and Sennheiser PXC550.

One thing I feel like I should point out is that i am using Android devices (and dedicated mp3 players - the excellent Agptek H01 and Benjie players specifically) and I don’t have a problem with the fact that the headphones don't use the aptx protocol for bluetooth - having tried the Sennheiser PXC550’s that do use aptx, I definitely prefer the sound quality of the V-moda”s. Whilst I have to accept that the V-Moda’s are likely to produce better sound quality when used wirelessly with the Apple iPhone rather than Android devices because they have compatible high speed bluetooth protocols,  I’m still more than happy with the sound quality from my Android devices.

I have just purchased the XL Earpads for the V-Moda’s. To be honest I didn’t really have a problem with the earpads supplied with the headphones - I was simply curious as to how these pads would improve both the sound and comfort. Obviously something like this is a personal thing (size and shape of your head and your personal sound preferences). I noticed the bass went a little deeper and the transitions from bass to treble seem to be a little more seamless and they were slightly more comfortable. Interestingly I found that the larger pads let in a little more external sound than the default ones - only a little bit though, and I’m hoping they will soften up a little more with use as they feel a little stiff.

To sum up. In case you haven’t noticed I really like these headphones. They tick pretty much all my boxes - good sound quality, loud volume, fun sound signature, pretty comfortable, very well made, good battery life, non-fiddly controls that don’t get triggered accidentally, nice case and cable and they can pair up to two phones simultaneously - something I definitely needed. They also sound really good when used with a cable - and can be easily driven to very high levels when driven from my phone - again, something the others I tried really couldn’t do. I was planning on trying out the new Sony MDR1000X noise cancelling bluetooth headphones but Amazon didn’t have them in stock at the time and, after extensive listening to the V-Moda’s, I decided that I didn’t want the compromises to sound quality that active noise cancellation tends to bring into the mix.

They’re not perfect though. Top end is recessed, upper mid range is recessed, low mids and bass are enhanced/boosted and they’re expensive. Much of the bluetooth technology employed by V-Moda could have been improved on but the amplification section is wonderfully powerful and the drivers definitely offer a nice full sound. No buyers remorse here at all - I’m quite confident I’ve made the right choice - even if I am 250 quid down.

I hope this review helps people when trying to make a choice regarding bluetooth headphones. Remember that one man’s meat is another man’s poison - but with Amazon’s excellent returns policy why not try them out and see what you think. For rock, hip-hop (ughh - spit) and that sort of modern bass-heavy genre they’re great. For classical, string quartet and perhaps jazz - you might want to look at something else.