Review: V-Moda Vamp Verza Page 2

The sound

I got a chance to try the Vamp Verza with numerous headphones, including the M-100, but spent most of my listening time with the HE-500 and the new AudioTechnica ATH-AD900X, a large, open-back dynamic headphone. The M-100 sounds pretty good driven by my GS3. The ATH-AD900X, not so much. The HE-500, not at all. I compared the sound to that of the GS3 on its own and to that of the $249 HiFiMan HM-601 portable player.

There is one downside of using a high-end audiophile 'phone with the Vamp Verza, though: Many such headphones have 6.35mm (1/4-inch) plugs, which won't fit the Verza's 3.5mm jack without an adapter. The adaptor I (and many other headphone enthusiasts) use is the Grado Labs mini adaptor cable, but unfortunately, this adaptor's 3.5mm plug didn't sit well in the Vamp Verza's 3.5mm jack. By pushing the cable around some and making sure there was absolutely no tension on the cable, I was able to get a good connection, but this is the first product in which the Grado adaptor didn't work well for me.

The sound, though ... that worked really well for me.

The HE-500 is the second hardest-to-drive of all the headphones I've had around here in the last couple of years, but with the gain switch in the High mode, the Vamp Verza had no problem keeping the HE-500 under control. The bass sounded impeccably tight, but even more impressive were the highs, which made the GS3 sound positively cheap and crummy, and made the HM-601 sound ... well, like a $249 product instead of a $549 product.

What I most loved about the highs was that the Vamp Verza didn't seem to emphasize them (well, OK, maybe just a hair), but merely seemed to bring them out. With the HE-500, I heard all of the detail and ambience that this headphone is capable of-which is to say, an incredible amount of detail and ambience, at least comparable to (and probably even better than) what I've heard from my usual headphone listening combo: the Firestone Audio ILTW DAC and Musical Fidelity V-Can amplifier.

Great example: the English Beat's "Twist and Crawl." In this tune, the snare drum and the high-pitched chords of the guitar sounded much more lively, and the reverb much more apparent, than it did with either the GS3 on its own or, to a lesser extent, with the HiFiMan music player. Meanwhile, every bass note sounded tight, punchy, and perfectly defined.

I noticed that the Vamp Verza could drive the HE-500 to loud, but not screamingly loud, levels. With the gain set to High and the volume on the amp and the phone all the way up, the sound was loud but not so loud I couldn't listen to it fairly comfortably. Out of curiosity, I used the AudioTool app (get it if ya ain't got it yet) to shoot a 1 kHz tone out of my GS3 to the Vamp Verza, then measured the Vamp Verza's output into a 32-ohm load resistor using my Clio FW audio analyzer. With the volume all the way up, I measured 0.81% total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) at 13.2 mW of power. Considering I measured the HE-500 at 89.2 dB sensitivity with 1 mW, the total output should max out at 101.4 dB SPL. For my taste, that's just the amount of headroom I need. But don't go getting any wild ideas about using a Vamp Verza to power your HE-6.

The ATH-AD900X's highs, while great for the price, don't sound as smooth as the HE-500's, and I did notice that the Vamp Verza made the AudioTechnica sound just a tad edgy sometimes. Still, I never for a moment felt like going back to the GS3 on its own.

Perhaps the best thing about the Vamp Verza is that it inspired me to spend a lot more time with the HE-500. Instead of being tied to a desk to listen to the big headphone, I could carry it around with me to different parts of the house. Even sitting outside on my front porch, sipping a scotch, I could enjoy sound quality that's competitive with almost any audio system out there. Pretty cool, huh?

Bottom Line

So here's the rub: The combo of the Vamp Verza and the Metallo costs $700. That seems like a lot to pay when with most headphones I can get pretty good sound straight out of my GS3. But jeez, audiophiles often spend a lot more than that on things like cables, phono cartridges, and other accessories that they might well get a lot less use from. And I'd rather listen to the $1,400 Vamp Verza/Metallo/HE-500 combo than to the majority of audio systems I've heard.