Review: V-Moda Crossfade M-100 Headphone Page 2

Performance

Kolton has told us in the past that V-Moda's goal with the M-100 was a more audiophile-friendly sound than the company had gone for with previous headphones; something that would scale well with amplification (like V-Moda's own VAMP), but would provide good reproduction with any portable source of reasonable output - iPhone, Android, portable media player, game console…whatever. And after listening to the M-100s constantly for a couple of weeks, I'd say that the company has been successful.

Compared to the LP2 (and even to the M-80), the M-100 has less forward bass, and an audibly smoother midrange, with more top-end detail - it's a brighter, less bassy signature overall. The overall sound signature is more reminiscent of the M-80 than the LP2, thought the M-80 sounds noticeably dark by direct comparison (listening, in this case, was done via my Rane HC-6S 6-channel headphone distribution amplifier, at matched levels, fed by my Macs through a Musical Fidelity V-DAC II 24/96 DAC).

So far as portability goes, this seems to be a somewhat less efficient phone than the M-80, but certainly not unreasonably so (I had no trouble driving it directly from my Macs, from various portables, include an iPad, HTC and Samsung Android phones, and a Samsung Galaxy tablet; it also did just fine with the aforementioned AudioQuest Dragonfly, a Musical Fidelity V-CAN, and a CEntrance DACport; all devices we could easily see the M-100 paired with in daily use.

Having always been a big fan of (and close listener to) the production work on Roxy Music's recordings, I turned to some early and late exemplars: On the intro to Avalon's "Take a Chance on Me," the drum hits aren't overwhelming, which they can be on the M-80 and LP2. In the M-100's presentation, there are much better atmospherics; everything's in a lot better balance - there's still plenty of bass weight here, but nothing that competes with the guitar, vocal, and FX textures. Tone and articulation of the slapped bass is clear. Eno's synth on Roxy's earlier "Re-Make/Re-Model" sits perfectly; it can sound harsh and intrusive (well, more than intended) on lesser cans. On Stranded's "Mother of Pearl" you get both satisfying bass and a tangible sense of air around the incidental percussion that's not quite present on the M-80.

I then cued up the title track of Material's Memory Serves and found I could clearly hear every winding on the strings of Bill Laswell's Fender Bass VI and Sonny Sharrock and Fred Frith's skronking guitars on this no-wave/avant fusion semi-classic helmed by future production all-stars Laswell and Michael Beinhorn (here on keys). Laswell's instrument comes off a lot boomier and more overwhelming in the mix on the M-80. Now, before this I'd quite enjoyed this challenging tune on the little V-Moda, but the M-100 puts the low-end in much context. George Lewis' trombone is a bit dull and laid back on the M-80s; his tone's still dark, but brassier and more tangible  on the M-100.

"Jes Grew" From Kip Hanrahan's Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed (a 24/88.2 FLAC from HDtracks), made the M-100's low-end limitations are a bit clearer - and demonstrates some strengths. The M-80 makes the Jamaladeen Tacuma/Steve Swallow double bass assault more exciting, with greater low-end weight. The M-100, however, while it lessens the collective impact, makes their individual tones more distinct, and the soundstage is perceptibly wider - Taj Mahal sounds like he's whispering in your ear on the M-80, but he sits better in the mix on the 100s.

The M-100s had no trouble reproducing the sub-bass intro to Holly Cole's take on Tom Waits' "Train Song" (from (Temptation), and her vocal was equally well-served, as was the arrangement's varied percussion, which had a nice sense of air, space, and placement across the soundstage. The M-80s sounded a bit boomy and dull, by comparison, with a significantly narrower stereo image.

Playing in the big leagues?

I liked the M-100 so much on this track, that I decided to compare it to some other nice-sounding, very slightly bass-forward, audiophile-friendly closed-back phones I had on hand - the Denon D7000. And you know what? It wasn't a totally unfair comparison.

The D7000 is definitely less bass-heavy than the M-100, but that comes at a bit of a price. On the Holly Cole track, the Denons provided a bit wider stereo image, and perhaps a little truer reproduction (the upright bass occasionally sounds a tad electric on the M-100s by comparison) - but it's not a hugely significant distinction. Treble is not as extended on the M-100; but that means the higher-pitched percussion on the track was actually somewhat grating in the D7000's presentation, something that wasn't at all troubling on the V-Modas. The M-100s really do deliver, and both headphones provide a good picture of Cole's vocal tone.

Going back to the Material track, Laswell's bass had less authority on the D7000; the guitars got a little more detail, perhaps, but the overall balance of this admittedly fairly rocking track was better on the M-100. And I didn't feel that the M-100 was all that much less revealing of sources, but it provided a lot more enjoyable listen. Maybe I wouldn't want to mix music on the M-100 (I got the feeling it might be a little too bass-forward to avoid ending up with thin mixes, but from a listener's perspective it has an edge).

Turning to some even less likely program material - trio music from the 17th century - Fantasticus' reading of John Jenkins Fantasia in D Minor (in a 24/96 FLAC from HDtracks) simply had more air on the M-100s. The M-80's presentation wasn't at all bad, but the M-100 opened up the space between the viola da gamba and the harpsichord, providing a far better sense of the room, and the harpsichord itself sounded more natural. The viola da gamba had, perhaps, better punch on the M-80, but overall I'd give the nod to the M-100 in this atypical application also. Certainly the Denon is a headphone I might typically turn to for classical and baroque music, and it definitely delivered superior detail, provided an even better sense of space, and had a brighter, more realistic tonality overall - but the M-100 is not at all a disappointment by comparison (and it's better isolation and portability might make it an interesting choice for classical music fans on the go).

On something like Photek's "Totem" (from Aviator), the M-100 can deliver the impactful subtonics that the Denon doesn't - not that it was designed to - but the fact that the V-Moda can do a reasonable job with classical music, and still rock out and deliver a good sense of bass weight on club music really just underscores its versatility.

Now, don't get me wrong - the M-100 isn't a giant killer. The Denon's comfort and lightness is still unbeatable, and it's got, hands down, better stereo imaging and more detail. . . but comparing it to the M-100 just highlights the sorts of diminishing returns one gets from spending more than 3 times as much, especially these days when the state of the headphone art is obviously so high. And the M-100 is a pretty great example.

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