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Old 11-07-2006, 10:23 AM
Jackonicko Jackonicko is offline
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Default New V-Moda Vibe bass rich and funky, coming soon



I received an advance pair of pre-production Vibes on Monday morning, free, gratis, and for nothing, so my thanks go to V-Moda for supplying them.

The production units ship to the warehouse on Wednesday, and will be on sale in eight days time (14th November). The last time I received early gear from V-Moda it was a similarly early model of the Bass Freq, which I rated slightly behind the Sennheiser CX300 (I was subsequently puzzled that many Head Fi threads tended to place these two in the opposite order, rating the V-Moda top dog of the two).

It is only now that I have experienced the revved Bass Freq that I realise that V-Moda do refine and 'tweak' the sound after sending out the prototypes that many reviewers receive and before despatching the production model.

This means that the production model may have subtly different sound and might be better or worse than a pre-production or prototype unit. In the case of the Bass Freq, I prefer the sound of the current production model.

So I'd strongly caution anyone that what I'm talking about here is a pre-production Vibe. V-Moda say that the changes in the production unit won't be detectable by most people, but that wasn't the case with the Bass Freq.

Before praising the Vibes, I'd point out that a pair of free headphones is not nearly enough to buy an easy ride from me. If they had stunk, that's exactly what I'd be saying, as I've said about other freebies I've received over the years. But they didn't.

On the basis of these pre-production Vibes that I've been listening to yesterday and this morning, I have to say that I am really very impressed, and I have to say that they sound notably warm and have really strong bass.

I would re-emphasise that these don't sound anything like traditional 'audiophile' faves like the ER6i, however. If you're looking for clean, clinical, cold accuracy, then move on, because there's nothing for you here!

That clearly wasn't V-Moda's intention, either - on their site there's a Q&A interview with the CEO describing the Vibe's 'philosophy' (it's a California company, dude, and they rock, sorry ....... 'Rawk', and so have no embarrassment about having a 'philosophy'!).

Val Kolton said that: "It is notable that a few other high-end companies brag about making headphones for professional studio monitors, but V-MODA is kind of the opposite – DJs (me), rockers (one of our engineers), and musicians*designing headphones for our everyday use to experience music on the “go”.

He goes on to say that: "On the plane home listening to DJ sets from a “research” trip to the white isle of Ibiza, I frustratingly came to the sad conclusion that I could not reproduce the experience of the clubs with any headphone I tried.* *Extreme withdrawal turned into a panic by not hearing my music as it should be heard.* I feverishly bought every hi-end headphone and a hi-end home system - but I could not find the nirvana of audio at any cost outside of the club or a concert as even my home speakers do not sound optimal because of the room accoustics.** All the high-end headphones looked like medical lab equipment, fit too deep in my ear for optimal comfort, had too flat of sound for my tastes of music, and most importantly would not stay on while at the gym or jogging because the cables were too heavy and they had to be “wound” around my ear which does not work well with my long hair as well as requisite sunglasses (needed often in Los Angeles)."

The fact that the company view the Club experience as a holy grail should give an idea of how these differ from other offerings. And the sound is more than merely subtly different.

The mids are surprisingly good (they're not overwhelmed) and cymbals and high hats are crisp and accurate. The overall feeling is dark, deep, chocolatey warmth, but with surprising detail and a very, very powerful bass. Not powerful like the cheap Sony Fontopias (which deliver a loud but crude thump) but with enough definition to reproduce a rapid double beat on the bass drum as two beats (Bm Bm) and not as one (B-bm) and which can accurately deliver a sliding fretless bass line (it delivered Japan's Nightporter, Ghosts, Sons of Pioneers and Talking Drum impeccably).

But loud. As loud as the Panasonic HJE70 but over the low part of the mids, too (the Vibe has more clarity, more detail, but slightly less balance than the HJE 70). Compared to the SuperFi 5EB, there is rather less oomph at the very bottom end, and rather more detail and balance.

I am not a teenage heavy metal basshead, and if I drove past you you wouldn't hear a heavy beat from my car stereo, nor is the balance on the Hi Fi set to +11.

I find the SuperFi 5EB almost unlistenable for long periods with the Gen 1 iPod Shuffle or Nano, and a bit bassy with a Gen 4 iPod, whereas the Vibe is pleasant with all of those players. (Sorry, guys, I used the iP word!)

Listening to the new The Good, The Bad and the Queen track, Back in the Day with the Vibes, it was suddenly obvious that this was a collaboration between Damon Aalbarn and Paul Simonon - a bass guitarist! With the EX90, it was just a new direction for Gorillaz.

Ride's 'Leave them all behind' always sounded a bit thin on CD, to me, but these phones help raise it to a new height.

To my surprise, some classical music sounds great with these, too - Handel's Sarabande, for example, Beethoven's Allegretto from Symphony No.7, Faure's Requiem, Mozart's Lacrimosa, Siegfried's funeral music by Wagner, Carmina Burana, Fanfare for the Common Man (and the trumpet high notes are magnificent with these), Vivaldi's Summer, Prokoviev's Dance of the Nights, Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem (very Hollywood) - the usual 'heavy rock' end of the classical spectrum.

Sitting analysing Barber's Adaggio to see whether the violins still soared enough to raise goose bumps is perhaps not the best way to appreciate the piece, but I have to report that despite the Vibe's bassiness, the neck hairs went about two minutes in (before the soaring passage) and, if anything, the piece did its work just as well as it does with more balanced phones, and I really didn't expect that. I expected it to sound as bad as it does with the SuperFi 5EB (who in their right mind..... right?) and thanks to the good mids, it really didn't.

I expected failure, to be honest, and I went looking for music that sounded worse with these phones, starting with the tracks that are uncomfortable with the SuperFi 5. I wanted some music that I could say sounded bad through the Vibes.

Elgar's Nimrod? Great! Parade ground stuff rather than an orchestra sitting in some studio. Lily Allen's sugar-sweet vocals? No problem. Puffed up pop by Girls Aloud - just became listenable with more of an obvious beat and an indie edge.

There were some pieces for which I would choose a different phone - Bach's Air on a G string was a bit over-dominated by the bass line, with these, and Pachelbel's Canon in D Major just sounded odd, while Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was never, ever meant to be heard this way!

The only problem (and I'm not sure that it's really a big problem for me, personally) is that it makes almost any music a bit moving and visceral - perhaps there's a little bit of Blue Whale in all of us, responding instinctively to really deep frequencies?

And of course not all Vibes will definitely sound like this. The sound may be tweaked to something different in production phones.

They also sound very loud, and I had to turn my iPod down below the level I'd set for my Sony EX90s. That's a provisional review, and I may come back and add more impressions of the sound when I've had more chance to compare them 'back to back' with other phones.

Anything else I might say about the sound might change in a few hours! The rest of my comments aren't likely to change, however!

The Vibes are extremely light in weight, despite the metal bodies, and as such do not 'drag' in the ear in the way that some of the heavier metal earphones can do. I have not gone walking with them yet, so can't tell how well they stay in the ear when moving, but they don't seem to 'stick' in the ear as well as the EX90s do, though they're a better fit than the EX51/70/71 - which is pretty good. They are very small and can be worn under a helmet (don't try that with SuperFis or the Frankenstein bolt EX90s) and you can lie with the side of your head on a pillow, just about comfortably.

They have a symetrical cable arrangement, without the 'short left hand cord' you find on the latest Sonys. They do not have a 'sliding adjuster' either, like you find on Shure E2C, for example. The cable arrangement will be a matter of taste, of course (I prefer the asymmetric arrangement).

Cable quality is easier to assess.

All of the 'furniture' (cable, Y-joint, plug) seems to be of high quality, with a braided cable inside a transparent sleeve. The cables are about the same guage as the cable on the EX90. I'm just shy of 6 ft 2 in tall, and with the buds in my ear, the plug reaches just below my knee, where the EX90 reaches my ankle. The cable is about 34 1/2 inches from plug root to divider, and each phone cable then adds a further 14 1/2 inches.

The left/right divider is a straight polished metal tapered tube, inside which the cable divides into two. It seems well anchored, and does not seem to represent the potential failure point that the EX90's 'back on itself' arrangement does. (I speak as someone who as broken two sets of EX90s.....)

The cables go straight into the earbud bodies, anchored by a circular rubber grommit. This seems fairly secure to me (and has been proven to a 20-kg pull test, if memory serves), and any concerns I might have are allayed by the fact that these are V-Modas - and thus I would be confident that replacement would be straightforward and simple if anything failed. The phone is fitted with a straight plug, which has a grooved section for improved purchase.

The buds themselves are polished (or chromed?) alloy, with some semi-gloss black detailing on the mid section and driver housing. This gives a classier appearance than most plastic buds have, though they're not quite to the same finish standard as the EX90 and HJE70. The metal bodies did provide me with yet further evidence to support my hypothesis that metal earbuds often sound warmer (HJE70, EX90, ATH CK7, etc). The only way of distinguishing between Left and Right buds is by a small L (or R) engarved on the narrowest barrel section.

The Vibes came with three sets of clear silicon sleeves (the smallest are fitted when you open the pack) and with one pair of black (small). V-Moda sleeves and Sony sleeves are interchangeable, and previous owners of EX51/70/71s will be interested to know how much more co-operative V-Moda are about providing replacements!

My Vibes did not come in retail packaging, so I have not seen the gold pouch that will ship with production models. From photos, I'd say that it lets down the phones, which are worthy of the classy titanium box that ships with HJE70s or the leather box that ships with EX90s! It's a bit 'Scissor Sisters' for my tastes - but at least it's not in hot metallic pink.

I did not receive a Moda wrap cable manager, either, though I understand that one of these banana shaped rubbery cable wraps will be included in the retail packaging, as well as a V-Moda card that will give customers access to various privileges.

Finally, it's perhaps worth emphasising that they come from V-Moda, so a pretty bulletproof warranty and good after sales service can be taken for granted.

If the production version sounds like this, and if the quality control is tight, these really will be a great alternative to phones like the EX90, the HJE70 and the SuperFi 5EB. And they will cost $101 - a price chosen to echo the Route 101 that passes V-Moda's office door, apparently.

I'm expecting a set of production Vibes in retail packaging, and if and when they come, I'll report back on any differences.
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