Review: V-Moda Vamp Verza

As an Android fan, it's been frustrating to me to see how many audio accessories have been made for the iPhone, but almost none for my phone of choice. As a Samsung Galaxy S III owner, it's been even more frustrating, because the GS3 has sold more than 40 million units to date, with the GS4 coming in a couple of weeks to keep the trend going. Finally, though, someone's come up with an audio accessory for the GS3. Not some tacky little plastic dock, either. It's actually the coolest portable headphone amp I've ever seen: the V-Moda Vamp Verza.

Loosely based on the concept of V-Moda's original Vamp, which clipped onto an iPhone 4, the $598 Vamp Verza combines a headphone amp, a USB DAC, and a rechargeable battery, all housed in a beautifully designed extruded aluminum case. It comes with large rubber bands that allow you to attach the Vamp Verza to pretty much any smartphone, to make a nice, clean package for traveling.

But here's where the cool part comes in. V-Moda's $101 Metallo anodized aluminum case for your GS3, the case comes with a plate that screws onto the Vamp Verza. You can now attach the GS3 directly to the Vamp Verza. When your phone's inside the Metallo, you just slide the back plate of the Metallo off and replace it with the plate attached to the Vamp Verza. The two are then joined into a rugged duo that you can safely toss into a briefcase. You will, however, have to interface the two with a short micro USB to micro USB that's included with the Vamp Verza.

Don't worry, Apple fans. Not that you deserve yet another cool accessory for your phone, but V-Moda's coming out with a Metallo for iPhone 5, too, as well as models for the Samsung Note and GS4. All of these will work with the Vamp Verza.

The guts

The Vamp Verza is very much not just another little headphone amp. According to the press release, it's got a six-layer printed circuit board; two high-quality digital-to-analog converter (apparently a Burr Brown and an AKM, one for USB and one for iOS); a 2,200 mAH battery rated to power the unit for 7 hours; and a headphone amp rated at 150 mW in USB mode, 130 mW in iOS mode (impedance for those ratings isn't given). Nope, the DACs aren't compatible with high-res files such as those from HDTracks, but given that the Vamp Verza is designed specifically to work with smartphones, which are high-res-unfriendly devices, I don't see that as a downside.

While you can use it to power headphones like V-Moda's own M-100 (a recent S&V Editor's Choice award winner), that to me seems like an only semi-exciting application, because the M-100 runs just fine off my iPod touch. What was more exciting to me when V-Moda's Val Kolton first showed me the Vamp Verza was that it held the promise to be able to drive big audiophile monster 'phones like the HiFiMan HE-500 and the Audeze LCD-3. Thus, those who spend lots of time away from home-a retiree who spends the summer in an RV, say, or an oil industry worker stuck in Kazakhstan for a month-could easily haul a true high-end audio rig with them.

The features

This isn't just an amp/DAC, though. It has a couple of other cool aspects that you might find useful.

First is the ability to recharge your phone-always a good thing, 'cause most smartphone batteries are drained after a day of heavy use. The implementation of this for Androids is a little kludgy, though. You have to disconnect the micro USB to micro USB cable and substitute an included shorty micro USB to standard USB cable to charge the phone. And while you're charging, you can't use the Vamp Verza.

Second is that the Vamp Verza's 3.5mm headphone jack doubles as an optical digital output, so you can use the Vamp Verza as a nice, clean digital interface between your smartphone and your home audio system.

The Vamp Verza also has two processing modes, neither of which I found useful.

One is a 3D (ambience enhancement) mode intended for use with home and car audio systems. It really doesn't work through headphones;  you lose much of the L+R (center) content, such as lead vocals. But while most of the audiophiles I know are open to the idea of some decent 3D processing (such as Dolby Headphone) in their headphone amp, I don't know a one who wants to be messing around with that sort of thing in a home system.

The other is bass enhancement, which, bizarrely, works only with iOS devices. Huh? I'm sure there's some technical reason why V-Moda found the bass boost mode too difficult to implement with Android devices connected through USB, but when Fiio can do it in a $49 mini-amp, it's hard to forgive.

The last feature is my favorite: a frigging volume control. I mean a knob, not some dumb up/down pushbuttons. In this day of digital volume controls, it's so lovely to be able to just grab a volume knob, turn it, and get the volume you want in an instant. A recessed high/low gain switch (accessible with a toothpick) assures that you'll get a useful range of volume adjustment no matter what the sensitivity of your headphones.

Oh, and here's a shallow little upside for you: The Metallo looks really cool when it's on your phone sans the Vamp Verza. I got the Metallo only a couple of days before I wrote this review (for most of the time, I rubberbanded my GS3 to the Vamp Verza), but the look was striking enough that a couple of people asked me what that thing I pulled out of my pocket was. Too bad V-Moda sent the black one instead of the orange one. (It's also available in red or white.)