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TechnologyTell Review: V-Moda Crossfade M-100 & Coilpro

Sections: Accessories, Audio, Communications, Headphones, Mobile, Portable Audio, Reviews, Smartphones

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I’ve had my eye on V-Moda for a while. Not only have they received some recent awards, but the trend of melding fashion with wearable tech puts a bullseye right on the company. The thing is, V-Moda hasn’t been doing anything different since their humble beginnings. People have finally caught on to the notion that tech should look as good as it performs.

Though V-Moda’s edgy design isn’t for everyone, it’s certainly for me. But looks aren’t everything, right? Read on to see if the Crossfade M-100 impress more than just sexy styling.

Design & Comfort

Some serious props go to V-Moda’s design team, who went beyond the headphones to engineer a purposeful, quality package. You could reuse this box for household items, easily. I’m sure they would have gone the lengths to include a personal, headphone butler to crown my temple with the M-100 had the technology existed. That’s the kind of experience you feel as you’re opening up the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphones.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphone box contents

All you need, right here in the case

While the majority of headphones have the accessories buried under a separate layer of packaging, V-Moda does it the other way around. They show you the compact, closed case first, which you have to unzip. This subtle yet powerful statement is no accident; V-Moda wants you to see and admire everything leading up to the Crossfade M-100 headphones themselves.

Most headphone manufacturers don’t provide a case, let alone a custom-fit, exoskeleton hard case. Some consumers feel lucky to get a drawstring bag with their headphones. V-Moda doesn’t leave its users wanting.

The inside of the case contains all the included accessories, placed where they’re meant to be stored: a kevlar-reinforced audio cable with in-line remote, a kevlar-reinforced audio splitter cable, extra v-cork, and a ¼” headphone adapter. They’re all tucked within the elastic bands of the case. Oh, and the interior is totally fuzzy to keep everything clean and scratch-free.

Although the cables are high-quality, they have some memory retention and stay kinky. I’m sure the kinks can undo themselves over time, but only if you don’t re-wrap them to tuck back into the case when you’re done. While I don’t like the kinkyness, I can deal with it.

The convenience of a complete, compact carrying case far outweighs cable condition (alliteration, booya!). The cable ends are thin, long, and rubberized, which should make them readily compatible with practically every smartphone case out there. Personally, I can’t stand when manufacturers overlook their cable plugs, designing them to be too thick and/or short to work effectively with smartphone cases. (I just take a knife to those to trim, but that’s kind of ghetto.)

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphone case

It’s one seriously bitchin’ headphone case

What great about the Crossfade M-100 design is how audio cables can be connected on either (or both) side. It’s like having a headphone splitter built right in. Someone else can tap into your music by jacking into the opened (after removing the v-cork) end. Or, for fun, you can stream two sources of audio at the same time. With the included splitter cable, a total of three headphones can be hooked together in a pinch. The only complaint I have is that the button for track control is too finicky.

As for the headphones (finally, right?), they’re one of the most compact, portable over-ear ones you might  ever get. The metal hinges form a z-shape as the cups fold right up into the neoprene-covered headband. The ear cups can swivel out, making it so you could listen to music while wearing the Crossfade M-100 around your neck. The bottom ends of the cups need to touch, else the headband itself closes up and puts light pressure around the neck. Some might consider these too big to wear as such, but that in itself is entirely subjective.

I really like the use of metal in these headphones. They’re thin, flexible, durable, and as artistically styled as they are functional. As you extend or retract the ear cups, the Crossfade M-100 emit a solid click with each adjustment. The feeling is an indicator that these headphones are certainly designed to last. The sound is almost like an announcement of “locked in and good to go, boss.”

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphone top

Good-sized for over-ear headphones

All of this lightweight metal and plastic come together for a really lightweight product. I’ve had some cans that sit on my head like a rock and/or grip my skull like a vice. But not with the V-Moda Crossfade M-100. These headphones don’t have/need much headphone padding because of how lightweight they are. The pressure exerted by the ear cups are even, which minimize fatigue increase over time. For those who find the grip to be too much, the band is made to be flattened out to ease the clamping force. Contrarily, you could squish the band to make it clamp more, too. Either way, the Crossfade M-100 were designed with this kind of adjustment in mind.

There is a little bit of natural, lateral play with the ear cups to conform to head shapes. The metal can be bent, gently, to offer more of a customized fit. These headphones are advertised as the over-ear kind; they are, but just barely. I have to (ok, it’s more of a preference) tuck my earlobes in to get a complete seal all the way around. It’s a close fit even with average-sized ears. Those who have larger ears, or simply want more room with less touching, can purchase the XL memory cushions sold at V-Moda.com. I’m entertaining this idea myself.

The combination of memory foam-filled cushions with even pressure on the sides of the head is what makes the Crossfade M-100 a pleasure to wear for extended periods of time. The soft, protein leather neither slips nor adds an excessive amount of heat or sweat. I haven’t had any problems, and I wear these like musical earmuffs. The 2.5-hour mark is when I start to hit some fatigue around the tips of my ears. After a 10-minute break, I’m refreshed for another 2-3 hour marathon. I could probably wear them longer, but in the end fatigue is fatigue. However, at no point have I felt the need to rip the headphones off, or had any sense of dread to put them back on.

Audio Quality

First thing I noticed about the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 was zero line noise coming from the cable. Even while sitting at a desk, I’ll move around, or just get up and stretch. I can’t stand when a cable brushing against my neck adds garbage sound to the music I’m listening to. The cables included with these headphones are golden. I’ve smacked them around and am perfectly content with their silent reaction.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphone closed

So much easier to handle with the way it folds up

The Crossfade M-100 are closed-back (sealed) headphones, so they offer a decent amount of noise isolation. It’s not going to completely shut out the sounds of street traffic or nearby conversations, but it can hold its own respectably well. Car rides? No problem. Trains and planes? Not so much. Unless you get a high-end set of active noise-cancelling headphones, expect to hear some roaring about you. Personally, I like to be semi-aware of my surroundings, and I feel that these present a good middle ground.

So long as you have a good seal with the ear cups, you won’t leak much sound out. You have to be blasting music with someone sitting next to (or on) you in order for them to hear anything. But I’m talking about a volume level above 70 percent, where the 50 percent mark might easily put you on a cruise ship headed toward deaf island (depending on recording quality and music genre). My comfortable listening range has been between 25 and 60 percent.

As far as I’m concerned, there is minimal (if any) distortion with the V-Moda Crossfade M-100. So many speakers and headphones under the $500 price tag exhibit distortion as volume reaches toward maximum levels. It’s usually not very hard to hear it. With the M-100, I feel pain long before being able to hear and pick out distortion elements (I never built up any kind of tolerance). If there is distortion (which could very well be), someone else can risk bloody eardrums and tell me (haha)

Throughout all the music I have been and continue to listen to, clarity of sound is a recurring theme. Instruments and tones have space and room to breathe and flex. It’s easy to focus on a particular instrument and follow it through to the end of a song. In Buena Vista Social Club’s self-titled album, you can hear the distinct pluck of guitar strings or piano notes behind vibrant vocals. It doesn’t matter that a variety of other instruments are tapping and scratching around the soundstage edges. The detail is there, unmuddled.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphone ear cup

Good cushion, quality hinge

While listening to “You’ll Be Under My Wheels” off The Prodigy’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned album, I am able to hear lighter background elements that tend to be drowned out on so many other audio devices. The Crossfade M-100 lets you pick up on backup vocals in The Cardigans song, “Carnival”, which, again, is easily lost through other headphones or speakers. These small details add to the overall performance. You can feel it before you (logically) identify it; It’s like audio umami for the brain.

There’s some very snappy movement as sound moves from left, right, and center. The clean definition helps to add to a sense of soundstage as a whole. The soundstage within the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 is a curiosity, in that it’s narrower than average. This slight difference doesn’t take long to pick up on, especially if you know your music well. Also, the soundstage is far more deep than it is wide. While this allows layers of instruments to have their own space, it does throw perception off a bit. It doesn’t take much to get used to, though some people might find it awkward.

The Crossfade M-100 headphones deliver more emphasis on the highs and lows. The mids are, well, just there (getting to that soon). Too many headphones and speakers suffer from tinny highs, but not these. You’ll get lots of shushing (“shhh shhh”) and virtually no sizzling (“ssss ssss”). Sometimes cymbal crashes develop more of a “thh thh” sound, which isn’t terrible, depending. Either way, there’s no mistaking the sound of cymbals and hi-hats being brushed versus being hit. The metallic texture is there too. For example, tambourines shake and ring distinctly instead of coming out as flat or monotone.

I love the sound of trumpets and brass instruments in the highs. The V-Moda Crossfade M-100 delivers them tart and burnished with a great tone. You get an earful of this sound in “Pueblo Nuevo” from Buena Vista Social Club self-titled album. This continues down into the mids, although it starts to lose presence beyond the high-mids.

Glenn Morgan’s album, Southwind, is one of my go-to favorites for instruments in the upper registers. The string instruments, especially, are like silky, precise little pinpricks. Notes are individualized with a good decay. Lesser-quality headphones tend to create a blended sound from these fast-paced intricate notes. Even at the highest volume level I can tolerate, the notes don’t turn sharp. Loud, yes, but without that piercing, lack-of-control sound.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphone open

Not much headband padding is needed at all

Overall, the highs sound good. Sometimes a little too good. The highest parts of the highs, although brief here and there, tend to sound a tad sweet, tad glittery, tad synthetic. It’s subtle and elusive, yet still noticeable with the Crossfade M-100. The delivery and quality of tone and texture throughout the entire sound spectrum leads one to pick up on it.

Despite the clarity of vocals in the highs, I find them a little pushed back from the front. The vocals are good, absolutely, but not as forward as typically like to hear. Bruno Mars is one example of this. Matisyahu, too, though some of his songs show how vocals recess even more as they dip further into the mids.

There’s no arguing that the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 have withdrawn mids, especially when compared to the highs and lows. When listening to The White Buffalo, the vocals sound an inch or so behind the lead guitar. Normally, Jake Smith’s powerful voice leads the instruments. One important aspect of these headphones is how it handles the mids you can hear. Recessed? Fine, but the M-100 doesn’t lack in the nuances and vocal fluctuations as Jake Smith transitions from gruff tenderness to tender gruffness and back. Vocals come off a little warm, but they’re smooth.

Despite the power of the lows, the mids hold their own and avoid much coloration. Instruments don’t come off as shouldered out of the way by the lows and highs, like with many other headphones. You just have to (mentally) lean in to pick up on the clean guitars, trumpets, and percussive instruments. They sound detailed as they remain right behind the veiled shadow of bass and drums from the lows. Being able to hear individual elements clearly, especially when it’s dual lead guitar, helps to get past having less emphasis on the mids. Background and lighter-volume instruments aren’t lost either, but you’re forced to listen more intently.

Not all vocals and midrange instruments will seem so recessed. If the music type has more focus on mids and lows (e.g. death metal), the perceived separation narrows some. Although Dethklok’s vocals are laid-back, it’s not so noticeable since they’re nestled within metal guitar riffs and heavy drumming.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphone worn

Want to customize? The shield plates can swap out

The lows that come out of the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 is what makes these headphones a basshead’s dream. Bass and drums come lush, deep, and rich, like chocolate mousse for the ears. But they’re also punchy, potent, and maintain great control. While many headphones can hammer out low-end sound with the strength of an ox, the Crossfade M-100 does so with the quickness of a mongoose (or something like that). If you wear headphones in noisy environments, you’ll appreciate the power to stay above the din.

I love the depth of the hits. You can hear and feel the mid- and sub-bass layers, especially when you crank the volume up. These is a little coloration of the mids, but it’s not that bad unless you’re a stickler. The Crossfade M-100’s dual-diaphragm design separates the lows from the mids/highs, which helps to minimize the effect. The highs go toe-to-toe with the lows, so at least there is proper power at both ends.

Naturally, the lows are going to come across as excessive (or more) for a lot of music: classical, rock, jazz, acoustic, folk, etc. There’s too much low-end oomph, even if a track doesn’t have much going on down there. While it’s not terrible, it will throw songs off in that unbalanced kind of way. Who knows, you might not even care. But if you want to pair the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 well, you’ll gravitate toward dubstep, jungle, trap, practically most EDM, hip hop, etc.

The song, “Electric Pow Wow Drum”, by A Tribe Called Red is perfect example that plays to the Crossfade M-100’s strengths. You get big lows, yet retain glittery highs throughout. Not only are the background bells not drowned out by the low-end power, they also maintain minor detail. Nothing is muddled or messy. These headphones make it as if I’m listening to the album again for the first time.

If you really want to treat yourself, listen to Lindsey Stirling’s self-titled album or her latest release, Shatter Me. The pairing of danceable dubstep beats with a vibrant, passionate violin is what the Crossfade M-100 is practically tailor-made for. You get drawn in with deep lows that expand around you, which is a perfect, complementary contrast to the violin’s epic timelessness. Who needs mids, right? (Kidding.)

Coilpro Extended Cable

The cable that comes with the Crossfade M-100 gives you about four feet of maximum, usable length. This is more than enough for most consumers connecting to mobile devices (could be too long for some preferences). But if you’re a musician, DJ, or someone who just needs extra cable length while listening, the V-Moda Coilpro extended cable is pairs well with the Crossfade M-100 headphones.

The Coilpro features a good thickness and soft exterior. The coils are tight, but not crazy-tight. The end that plugs into the Crossfade M-100 has a twist-lock so the cable won’t yank out. It might snatch the headphones off your head at max distance, sure, but at least the plug will in. Although the Coilpro can extend up to 12 feet, I’ve found the comfortable stretch distance to be between four and nine. The tension is good – maybe too much for some. It’s springy, not gummy, and does a fantastic job at retaining its shape throughout marathon tugging and stretching. Once you get the feel of it, you know it’s designed to last.

Verdict

Without a doubt, the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 is one of the best over-ear headphones you can get for under $400. Still, some might find it too expensive, but considering that it could be the last pair you ever buy (or maybe buy for a very very long time), it’s well worth it. You’re also getting quality cables and a case along with the headphones. On top of that, each unit comes with a 2-year warranty and a 50% off lifetime replacement. That’s passion and dedication right there. V-Moda’s excellence of design and construction is matched only by audio output.

The Crossfade M-100 are totally fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re a basshead or audiophile or not, so long as you want music that is going to sound great. If you have higher quality music, it’s going to sound even better. These headphones deliver the excitement of big lows with the energy of crisp highs, all while maintaining great tone and clarity. Sure, the mids aren’t as prominent, but something has get traded, right? Although the mids may be recessed, they don’t lack in overall sound quality.

If you want to go the extra step for customization, you can order additional cushions and/or metal shields in a variety of colors. The shields can have personalized designs laser-engraved in them too. Can you tell I’m impressed? You should be too. If you like everything about the Crossfade M-100, yet want headphones that are more balanced and universal, check back soon for my review of the V-Moda XS. But in the meantime, give the M-100 a listen; V-Moda even offers a 60-day test drive guarantee.

 

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