Review: V-MODA VAMP Portable iPhone DAC and Headphone Amp Page 3

Bottom Line

There's nothing quite like the VAMP out there right now - it's the only high-performance portable we've seen that integrates so seamlessly with the iPhone and so transparently preserves your Apple device's other functionality. That's a real plus in our book - it may well save many headphone audiophiles from carrying around a dedicated digital audio source device in addition to a phone, and for that audience, it may well be worth the cost of admission on those grounds alone.

The only serious competition on the US market in terms of feature set is the equivalently priced Fostex HP-P1, another battery-powered unit which also incorporates a made-for-iPhone DAC and a high-quality headphone amp, but that device requires the ol' rubber bands if you want to "integrate" it with your phone. Plus, it's bulky to begin with and it won't charge your iPhone. 

With a new Apple handset on the way, the VAMP's iPhone 4 specificity seems a bit of a risk to us (though with the 2012 WWDC Keynote safely behind us now, that bullet has been dodged for a bit). In the event that the iPhone 5 is a radically different device in terms of form factor or connector, Kolton is betting that those who pick up a new handset will dedicate a decommissioned iDevice to media-player only use, with a permanent home in the warm embrace of the VAMP. A VAMP paired with an iPhone is a tad less bulky and not that much more expensive than, say, a HiFiMan HM-801, and if you're going to carry a second dedicated listening setup, it certainly beats the pants off strapping a DAC and a headphone amp to an iPod Touch with a pair of rubber bands. 

A note for the highly motivated: you could seek out the OEM version of the VAMP, VentureCraft's charmingly monikered Go-Dap Unit 4.0, which was shown in prototype back at this year's CES. It's a bit cheaper than the VAMP at around $425, but given the difference you get a smaller battery (1,500 mAh to the VAMP's 2,200) and a cheaper complement of op amps in the output stage, as well as a somewhat different EQ (said to be more mid-forward). And since you'd be buying outside of its supported region (V-Moda isn't selling the VAMP in Japan, by the way), you don't get V-Moda's 1-year warranty either. Caveat emptor!

Overall, the V-Moda VAMP is a highly intriguing device, its somewhat high price compensated for by the fact that there's just nothing else on the US market that performs all of the tasks it does so well. I can't imagine that it's the kind of thing that'll chalk up big sales numbers, but among the expanding ranks of headphone audiophiles - especially those committed to using high-impedance cans as daily drivers - it's almost sure to find favor.