V-Moda XS on-ear headphones
Customisable plates allow these headphones to be tailored to all tastes
- Mid-range performance
- Customisable plates
- Overall design
- Fatigue during long-term use
- High frequencies struggle
- Clarity at high volumes
The V-Moda XS on-ear headphones produce above average sound, but do carry pitfalls. They thrive at the low end of the mid-range delivering some genres near perfectly, but can struggle when highs compete with lower frequencies. Sound aside, the custom twist adds a true personal touch.
Price$ 299.95 (AUD)
V-Moda is one of the less known audio brands in Australia; the manufacturer doesn’t have the reputation of Sennheiser or the social hype of Beats down under. Unlike its competitors, though, the V-Moda XS on-ear headphones aren’t just about sound; they offer a unique touch by allowing you to customise the metal plates which sit on the outside of the earcups. But while they offer a twist to conventional design, the XS’ custom element isn’t enough to overshadow some of the pitfalls in their sound.
Note: this review unit was supplied by Busisoft, V-Moda’s exclusive distributor in Australia.
Design and comfort
The XS headphones might appear flimsy at first, but V-Moda has ensured they are a solid pair while maintaining enough flexibility for comfort. The headband is tough, but can be stretched to fit around larger heads without issue. Each earcup is joined to the headband by two pieces of metal, which connect by way of a hinge that allows the headphones to be folded inwards. The XS headphones are comfortable for mid-length listening sessions; you’ll have no trouble keeping them on for an hour or so. After that, fatigue sets in by way of pressure on the ears and top of the head.
The headphones’ only vulnerability is the audio cable that carries sound to the earcups via the headband; the design of the device forces this cable to be exposed. It isn’t a major flaw as we doubt it will be damaged unless the headphones are handled recklessly. That said, V-Moda could take an alternative approach to hide the cable; the XS headphones already have an input in each earcup (only one is used, but they are there to allow you to choose whichever side is more convenient), so introducing a cable which splits in two could work.
The upside of the on-ear fit is that it creates a seal to reduce external sound interference. It’s far from a perfect enclosure (it certainly can’t match over-ear headphones), but it helps especially because the headphones do not use active noise cancelling technology.
We should mention that V-Moda ships the XS with a kevlar-coated auxiliary cable, which unlike the standard rubber kind does not cling to clothing or other materials and will therefore not tug at the headphones and cause them to slip out of position.
The cable also has an in-line microphone and controller, but the latter only has a play/pause button which doubles as a pick-up/hang-up feature for phone calls; no volume rocker to be found here. V-Moda sells a dedicated microphone extension for $49. It is too expensive for what it offers, but gamers (particularly those with desktop replacement who frequent LANs) may find value in this more portable option when compared to traditional headsets like the Sennheiser G4ME Zero headphones.
The custom touch
Like with the other over- and on-ear headphones in V-Moda’s product range, the hexagonal plate which sits atop the XS’ earcups can be customised. V-Moda offers a series of colour options, and you can also opt for text or a logo/design to be engraved on the metal.
If you are Australian and want custom plates (without ordering directly from the US Web site), you need to contact Busisoft and specify which colour and/or logo/text you want. The custom plates are priced at $30, $70, and $100 depending on the level of customisation.
We must note the headphones do not ship with a tool to unscrew the plates, but V-Moda does include these if you order a custom set.
The XS headphones are ideal for users who prefer sound that leans towards bass but isn’t altogether obsessed with the low end of the spectrum. The headphones’ strong point is the lower end of middle frequencies. They are somewhat typically modern in that sense; using 40mm Dual-Diaphragm High Fidelity drivers, they pack a punch without going straight for the knockout blow, which in turn keeps them open to being used for various genres.
“Edge of the Earth” by metal band, Volumes, is an example of this. The XS’ powerful delivery of mids brings electric rhythm guitar, bass guitar and vocals to the fore, followed by the bass drum, tom tom, and cymbals, in that order. The tail end almost struggles to keep up as highs wash about depending on how busy the song is at any given moment.
This is really the headphones’ main weak point; they are unable to maintain sound segmentation and detail during high-traffic songs, which in this case causes highs to suffer. This occurs across all volumes, and becomes slightly overbearing at maximum volume. We recommend keeping your source at about 85 per cent to avoid losing clarity.
What makes the XS headphones really enjoyable is their ability to flawlessly manage volume levels, providing a multi-directional feel. This is most evident in slower songs in which instruments, samples, and vocals aren’t clustered. The Chrome Sparks song “Marijuana” demonstrates this perfectly. The first minute of the song plays with your ears and mind as notes jump from left to right consistently, coupled with migrating vocals; the movement can be tracked as volume balance transitions across from one side to the other.
The XS headphones do the same with Andrea Roma’s “Sorority Sisters,” but not quite as well due to the faster pace of the tune. This effect does mostly rely on the production of each individual song, but the headphones’ ability to deliver sound in this way reflects its attention to detail within electronic music.
The XS’ bass itself is interesting. It can cause a rumble without producing static, but isn’t powerful enough to keep bass-heads satisfied. The bass build-up in “Under the Influence” by the Chemical Brothers demonstrates this; the bass starts slow, then ascends to its peak at which it becomes punchy, but not quite dynamic. The headphones’ delivery isn’t effortless. Whether this is a good or bad thing is solely up to you, but nonetheless, bass is rich and far from flat.
On the flipside, songs which weren’t produced with low frequencies in mind become crisp at the hands of the XS. Take “Goddess” by Chrome Sparks as an example. There is plenty going on, but the subdued bass production allows for high notes to sound intricate.
The area in which the XS headphones left us underwhelmed was while listening to acoustic- and vocal-driven songs. City and Colour is one such artist we couldn’t truly enjoy with this pair, and this is due to the preference for mids, which left us wanting more from the acoustic guitar, piano and at times even vocals, all of which would be monetarily flustered by inconsistent lower tones.
Your experience with the V-Moda XS headphones will depend on your preferences. We believe they are worth the investment, but they are definitely not for not everyone. For example, those who prefer electronica (and its plethora of variations), rock, hardcore, metal, and even blues will find good value in these headphones, but those who prefer a more balanced sound should look elsewhere. That said, the XS’ value doesn’t lie solely in their sound; the headphones are intended to be customised, and with the potential to truly build a unique set with the lingering V-Moda style, they can be an excellent investment, and potentially a great gift idea thanks to their customisation.
Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.
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