V-Moda Crossfade M-100 Headphone Review

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V-Moda Crossfade M-100 White Silver sideYou guys may remember the custom Wookiee the Chew Crossfade LP headphones that V-Moda so kindly made for me at last year’s CES. To say that I loved them is an understatement, but I have to admit, they really didn’t work for most of the music in my collection. Throw something like Fatboy Slim or Beastie Boys at the Crossfade LPs, and you can really hear what they were designed for: banging bottom end, with a very club-like sound and a lot of impact. But with the rest of my musical collection, the strong emphasis on bass and especially the pronounced, muddy midrange made Abigail Washburn sound a little nasally, Andrew Bird a bit brash and sloppy, and Van Morrison somewhat more incomprehensible than he ought to be.

All of which sounds way worse than it probably should. If you’re mainly into the sort of music that would send you reaching for a pair of Beats on the store shelves, the Crossfade LP headphones sound infinitely better and are better built to boot. I merely mean to convey that, when reaching for a pair of mobile on-hear headphones myself, I’ve often overlooked my V-Moda Crossfade LPs because I tend to prefer a more balanced, less bass-heavy headphone that works well with virtually any genre of music I might happen to be in the mood for.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 CliqFold featureWhen V-Moda announced the M-100, though—well, my ears perked up. Compared to the V-Moda Crossfade LP, the M-100 sports virtually the same design, aside from its compact folding hinges. It works with the same accessories, sports identically shaped shields (meaning I could re-use my Wookiee the Chew shields!), but came out of a re-design process in which V-Moda “tapped the collective intellect of artists, editors and audiophiles to design, develop and vote on the first units to go to mass production.”

All of that work definitely paid off, because the V-Moda M-100 delivers such a beautifully balanced, immersive, tonally rich, open and detailed sound experience, it’s a little hard to believe that it’s a mobile headphone.

Soon after unboxing the M-100, I started putting it through its paces with so much of the music that just didn’t work for me on the Crossfade LP. Abigail Washburn’s “City of Refuge” from the album of the same name was an instant noticeable improvement. Washburn’s delicate voice sounded hauntingly natural, and the pluck of the banjos precise and exactly where they ought to be in the mix. The weighty bass line that kicks in at about the 1:25 also sounded like an instrument, not a sound effect, giving the track a lovely weight and depth without overpowering the rest of the instrumentation or vocals. If anything, it’s exactly the opposite; with the M-100, the bass provides a gorgeous bedrock that supports the rest of the music, just as it should. The only other headphones in my collection that really deliver the same effect nearly so well are HiFiMan’s HE-400 and the Audeze LCD2, both of which cost a whole heck of a lot more, and neither of which is mobile in any sense of the word.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 with iPhoneNeither, to be quite frank, sounds nearly as good via my iPhone’s internal amplifier, for that matter. Which isn’t a tick mark in the minus column against either of those cans, but rather one of the things that makes the M-100 such a special headphone. After getting Emotiva’s XDA-2 USB DAC/Digital Preamp/Headphone Amp, I used it to feed the M-100 for a bit, and to my surprise found that headphone sounds virtually identical, tonally speaking. More detailed, to be sure. Cleaner, absolutely. But a shift from the iPhone to a high-quality headphone amp generally changes the tonal characteristics of a headphone (especially an over-ear headphone) a noticeable bit. Whether I plug it into my iPhone, the XDA-2, or the headphone output of my Anthem D2v processor, though, the M-100 sounds like the M-100—tonally balanced, with rich bass, smooth midrange, sparkling high-end, wonderful imaging, and a delicious sense of space.

Other changes from the Crossfade LP include a second audio input, in case you want to listen to two sources at once (I have no idea why), an included SharePlay cable so  you and a bud can listen to the same source with two different headphones (that makes a bit more sense), and compatibility with V-Moda’s new CoilPro DJ cable. The M-100 also supports the company’s new BoomPro cable, which turns your headphone into a really high-quality gaming headset. It also features the same Kevlar reinforced cabling as its forebears, but in this case with a one-button SpeakEasy microphone that pauses tracks just fine on my iPhone, but oddly doesn’t include volume controls. I also found the cable to be just as microphonic, unfortunately, but on the upside, it’s wonderfully tangle resistant (and removable, of course).

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 with BoomProAs I said in my unboxing post, I also find the M-100 to be much more comfortable than the Crossfade LP, especially when worn for long periods. It’s not the single most noise-isolating headphone I’ve ever heard, but with tunes playing at a comfortable level, it does an admirable job of blocking out the outside world. I still hear vehicles approaching when I’m out jogging, but I’m going to put a checkmark in the plus column there, especially after getting nudged by a car I didn’t hear coming last summer.

As curious as it may seem, I’ve spent roughly two months with the M-100 now and just realized as I was writing this review that I hadn’t tested them out with any of the music that sounded good through the Crossfade LP. No rap. No R&B. No Fatboy Slim. It’s especially odd given how much I tend to work that sort of stuff into my regular listening rotation. But I sat down this morning for one last round of comparison tests, and almost at random queued up “3-Minute Rule” from Beastie Boys’ remastered Paul’s Boutique. The track sounded just as delightful as I remembered through the Crossfade LP—big, bold, bassy, with plenty of impact—and I almost expected it to sound weak by comparison when switching the M-100. And yes, I’ll admit, the move did result in a loss of bass. but not nearly so much as I might have expected. The M-100 still drops the beats and drops them hard, but the bass is more refined, more musical, and really opens up the track much more satisfyingly. The same held true with N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself,” with “Change Clothes” from Danger Mouse’s Grey Album—the more reliant on bass a song was, the more it actually seemed to benefit from the M-100’s more reserved, more controlled, more even-keeled, more neutral bottom end.

I had actually all but written a conclusion in my head suggesting that the V-Moda Crossfade LP may be a more suitable headphone for those tastes lean toward the dancier end of the spectrum, with the Crossfade M-100 as the clear winner for those how enjoy a variety of musical styles. But after throwing every danceable track in my collection at the new model, I can honestly say it’s the superior choice for anyone seeking a truly versatile audiophile-caliber with a rugged design that you can bring with you anywhere you go, and that sounds fantastic with virtually any source and any style of music.

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