Review: V-MODA XS - Tiny On-Ears a Big Success?

The latest release from V-MODA, the XS are designed to be on-the-go headphones for the person who dislikes in-ears. They’re ultra-compact on-ears, and V-MODA have streamlined the shape of the earcups and headband to lay as close to the skull as possible. You have to give V-MODA credit: they are impressively small. The included case is barely taller than an iPhone. The XS are hinged and collapse down to about 4.5”x 5”x 2.5”. But are they more than just teeny tiny?

First of all, while I’m unsure whether this was just something that V-Moda rolled out for the press, or whether this is what you can expect when you order direct from their site, the packaging on the XS was bananas.* My review pair arrived in a tupperware box covered with a rainbow of stickers shouting buzzwords (eg: celebrity, plastic, gap, fugazi) and filled with those plastic balls you expect to see in a pit at a kids’ play room. Once I dug the actual headphone box out, I found they were wrapped in a sheet of orange leather, tied with twine, and included a wax-sealed note that said, “Mind the gap bespoke fit you spoke sound.” Um, okay... Bizarre Medieval-Times-meets-Chucky-Cheese marketing aside, the XS look and feel extremely well designed and built. From the hard-sided and zippered clamshell carrying case to the fabric wrapped cord, you really get the sense that V-MODA took time designing the XS to be not only portable for travel but durable. The metal hinges feel sturdy, the narrow headband plush and flexible.

V-MODA says they designed the XS to be “wind tunnel worthy;” meaning, I suppose, that there is an economy of materials and lack of superfluous space around your cranium. They did a darn good job of it too. The headband snuggled my head and the earcups sealed against my ears without being uncomfortable. Now, full disclosure, I have Kate Hudson style ears that stick out a bit, so after over an hour of wearing, my helix needed a break. But if you have closer hugging ears than I, I’ve heard they are very comfortable long term. The removable cord has a single button remote and microphone. And, in what can only be called one of the most genius design elements in the last few years, V-MODA has an optional removable boom mic for when you want to game, Skype, or make important calls. I can’t state strongly enough how much I love that option. You can also decide to remove the metal plates on the side and swap them out for a design of your own choosing which you can order through the V-MODA website.

Now, about the sound. The overall profile has a few distinct peaks. By my reckoning, there’s a boost in the low end, to be sure, somewhere around 45Hz. There’s another boost in the female vocal range, and then again midway between 2-3 kHz. The added emphasis isn’t a negative, but for folks who like a flat signal response it takes a bit of getting accustomed to. That said, these aren’t designed to be studio monitors, and I could see how carefully placed bumps could actually enhance the ability to hear music clearly in a noisy area like a subway or crowded sidewalk. Overall, despite the emphasis being noticeable, it’s not detrimental. For the person who likes a little oomph to their frequency profile, the XS might just be the exciting sound they’re looking for.

The only real downside of the V-MODA XS is the price: they retail for $212 on V-MODA's site. While $200 headphones are far from uncommon in the marketplace today, I realize that not everyone will want to spend that much on headphones that could get lost while out and about. However, they are built to last, so if you factor in buying $50 headphones that break every year for 4 years, the XS’s price tag suddenly doesn’t seem unreasonable. Add to that the fact that the XS come with a 2 year warranty and V-MODA's unconditional 50% off-your-next-pair-deal (if yours get destroyed, for any reason, you can get new V-MODA's half off) you can tell these are headphones in it for the long haul.

With all the attention to detail, customizable options, the compact size, and exciting (if not balanced) sound, the V-MODA XS are a great investment for someone who likes to have their headphones with them wherever they go. For a teeny tiny on-ear headphone, they cast a long shadow on the marketplace.

*After contacting the fine folks at V-MODA's press agency, it turns out the fantastic crazy-pants packaging was only for the press’s benefit. Bummer. Sorry guys. You’ll just have to appreciate my personal ball pit from afar.
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