V-MODA continues to raise the bar in the headphone market. The company's high attention to detail has produced the $212 XS supra-aural (on-ear) headphones. Durable, stylish and highly customizable, the on-ear cans are a visual showstopper. More importantly, they sound great, producing balanced, defined audio. Plus, you can share the music with a friend using the dual analog ports.
V-MODA continues to make gorgeous yet sturdy headphones. Like the Crossfade M-100 headphones before them, the XS utilize a visually appealing mix of leather and metal. The headband is wrapped in supple matte-black leather, with a soft, breathable mesh underside. A semiglossy black V-MODA emblem gleams across the top of the band. The XS are also available in white leather with silver accents.
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The cans' ear plates feature a sturdy matte-black metal shield. Fashionistas can purchase additional custom shields in other colors. Like the headband, the XS' ear cups are swathed in soft, buttery leather, which helps enhance the bespoke look.
When folded, the XS fit into a small, hard case that can be stowed in a small purse or messenger bag. We like how the CliqFold hinge folds upward with a loud, satisfying click.
There's a port for the bundled 24-inch audio cable located at the bottom of each ear cup. If one port is not in use, an included pair of audio plugs ensures both ear cups are delivering the same audio quality.
If you're looking for a more colorful presentation, you can purchase custom metal plates for an additional $25. The shields are available in 11 colors, including red, tangerine and green. There's also a special blood-red shield laser engraved with a Fangtasia logo, in honor of the "True Blood" series. Modders can send the company a design or personalized text to have laser etched into the shields at no extra cost.
Not to be outdone, Monster offers its $199 DNA headphones in 14 color schemes, including black on laser blue, silver on neon green, and black on black. Some DNA models can be further customized by choosing one of 11 optional skin overlays (such as cheetah skin) for an additional $29.95. We definitely appreciate the variety of colors and designs, but we still prefer the XS' luxe materials.
V-MODA is also planning to trick out the XS hard case, offering consumers a choice between an attachable strap or a chain. The accessories would hook on to the case via a pair of small cloth loops. At the time of our review, the company had yet to release pricing for this option.
Comfort and Durability
The XS have a smaller headband than competing headphones, which creates a more tailored fit by eliminating the gap between your head and the band. V-MODA claims that the tighter fit reduces a potential wind gap that could affect audio quality.
Despite the snug fit, wearing the XS is a comfortable experience, due, in no small part, to the leather-wrapped memory foam on the ear cups. We wore the on-ear headphones for over 2 hours without a hint of discomfort.
The XS weigh an extremely light 6.87 ounces; the Monster DNAs, in comparison, are noticeably heavier, at 9.8 ounces.
Unlike most headphones on the market, the V-MODA XS can take a beating. We twisted the SteelFlex headband, even bending it backward, and it quickly snapped back into place. The XS have also been MIL-STD-810G-tested to withstand more than 70 drops onto concrete from 5 feet. The cans can also tolerate extreme temperature, humidity, ultraviolet rays and salt spray.
The XS ship with a tangerine-colored, 24-inch cable that terminates in a 3.5mm plug. The cord is reinforced with Kevlar and can handle over 1 million bends, according to the company. The cable features an in-line remote, along with a microphone module.
The remote has just one button that tasks listeners with learning a somewhat complex set of inputs to control their smartphone. Answering a call is a single press; ignoring a call involves holding the button for 2 seconds. Skipping a track forward requires two quick presses, while skipping back takes three clicks. A traditional three-button setup would be easier to use. We're glad that the remote is compatible with Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
Powered by a pair of 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers, the V-MODA XS headphones managed to deliver balanced audio quality with warm bass, and bright highs and mids. The Monster DNAs gave us loud audio with rich bass, but on certain tracks, the highs and percussion were harsh and sometimes grating.
Both sets of headphones were well matched on Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," delivering bombastic guitar with sharp percussion and brassy vocals. When we played Beyonce's "Flaws And All," we heard a clean acoustic guitar with a restrained hi-hat. As the track progressed, a crisp piano and soft vocal were added. During Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing," the XS delivered the full, accurate bass with a clear vocal.
The first thing we noticed about the DNAs was that they were consistently louder than the XS, despite having the same volume setting on our Nokia Lumia 928. The opening of "Flaws And All" was clear and accurate, but the cymbals were particularly grating, distracting from the remainder of the song. The harshness continued on Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing," transforming a usually punchy cowbell into an overbearing anvil strike.
It's always nice to share. With the headphones' dual audio ports, XS owners can share their music with a friend using V-MODA's SharePlay technology. We had a listening party with a colleague by simply plugging the Monster DNAs' audio cable into the XS' empty port.
From there, we simultaneously jammed to the tunes provided from Xbox Music on our Nokia Lumia 928. We listened to a number of songs, including Lil Mama's "Lip Gloss" and The Isley Brothers' "Between The Sheets" without any deterioration in the audio.
The DNAs also allow musical daisy-chaining via their dual audio ports and MusicShare technology. Setup is identical as with the XS: Just plug, play and go.
The V-MODA XS headphones delivered an excellent voice-call experience. Both ends of our test call were loud and relatively clear. However, because the headphones aren't noise-canceling, our caller reported hearing a horn or two while we were walking in downtown New York City.
Call it bespoke on a budget. The $212 V-MODA XS headphones offer a sturdy yet stylish foldable frame and excellent audio that can be shared with a friend. The $199 Monster DNAs also offer a bevy of color options, as well as audio sharing. However, you'll have to contend with harsh highs with less-defined audio. Overall, the XS headphones are an excellent choice for music lovers who want a pair of headphones that sound as good as they look.