Headphones: Back to the Basics

Von Wolfram Saringer
Permlink: Plak.at: Headphones: Back to the Basics

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After quite a journey spanning diverse models between classics like the Beyerdynamic DT770 (robust, cheap, iconic looks), various AIAIAI variants (ingenious building blocks concept, repairable, minimalistic design), AKG K812 (a worthy good-bye from the premier Austrian manufacturer), the Abyss (unmistakable looks, sound and handling far behind its price aspirations), the Pioneer Master-1 (excellent execution, though a bit large and heavy), the Sennheiser HD-800S (artificial soundstage, anemic bass, picky on sources and recordings) with associated electronics and several partially failed exit strategies (even a Beats Studio 3 was in play...) I think I've found The One (c) that's going to keep me connected to music for the years to come: the veteran V-Moda M-100 (plus its wireless variant Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition.

It's not my first encounter with either V-Moda or the M-100: while I did not order it during the pre-sale (the VTF-100 model) I acquired it shortly after the official launch, going for the Matte Black version with the orange cable -- an ingenious color spot to the otherwise anti-flash design. Shortly after getting the M-100 I actually met Val Kolton at a show in Berlin, talked to him about the M-100 and upcoming accessories (e.g. the XL pads) and really came to like his enthusiasm.

While I never really liked its comfort (it was always a bit on the edge for me, with the pads sitting partially on my ears, limiting long-term comfort), I liked its sound so much I ignored this aspect. I did get a pair of XL pads as soon as the became available, but never mounted them due to fear of ripping the original pads while prying them out of their holding mechanism. This was in 2012, 9 years ago. I kept the M-100, though I only actively used it throughout 2015/2016, when I switched to the Crossfade Wireless (CF) and many others.

Simplifying these 9 years by focusing on the various V-Moda models, the CF had a similar fun factor, but similar comfort problems. With the Crossfade 2 wireless and its new pads (which looked like the accessory XL pads, but were actually smaller and less deep) time seemed to have solved my problem for me -- this assumption proved an error though: the new pads managed to be even more uncomfortable than the old ones. I still liked the sound very much, plus this version had inherited the collapsing mechanism from the original M-100 (which the CF lacked). Later I proceeded to the Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex (CF2WC) to get AAC for connecting to my iPhone

After V-Moda was acquired by Roland (2018 I think) two bad things happened, at least in my personal assessment: first the M-100 Master came along. This in itself was not as disastrous as my misguided decision to use the Eternal Life guarantee to get this model: cut up the original M-100 for a rebate on the new version. In hindsight not that bright...

Not that the M-100 Master was/is bad in itself, it offers a more linear frequency response, while still keeping with the basic V-Moda sound. It also came with the new pads, so... quite uncomfortable. Had I had the direct comparison to the original M-100, I might have also noticed the fun factor mostly gone... It's still a solid model, robust and good-looking. The replacement of the mesh on the headband with pleather is most welcome.

Then came the really bad thing: the M-200. from looks alone a very valid advancement on the M-100 design, with magnet mounted pads (at last) large enough to be really over-ear (at last). Unfortunately much too shallow (and no XL version available to date), with a tuning that is robbed of all excitement and just sounds bland and wrong. The case is also less sturdy. This one was a severe disappointment. So much so that I decided to skip its wireless variant -- Active Noise Cancelling? In a V-Moda headphone? Gotta be kidding.

The only upside is rather unrelated to the M-200 itself, but has to do with my frustration about its tuning: normally I don't modify my headphones, but instead sell models I don't like. With the M-200 I decided to play around a bit, maybe because I would not (yet) accept, that I would ever dislike a V-Moda brander model that much. One thing was getting out my old XL pads after all these years, and putting them on the M-200 (they don't fit, both size and holding mechanisms changed from the M-100 series). This finally led me to put those old XL pads on my CF2W Codex -- lo and behold, that comfort! They went from bearable to comfortable.

After thinking through my utter frustration, together with long-running efforts to reduce my collection, I first acquired two more color version of the Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex (yes, I like my AAC with my iPhone): first the Matte Black, then the white one. I initially bought the Rose Gold, which odes look nice, though the white one is even better. And the stealth black one is as good as ever. Each set got its own XL pads of course, now that I finally knew how to correctly remove the old pads without damaging them.

After enjoying my color palette of CF2W models, I mourned by destroyed M-100 (remember that upgrade to the M-100 Master?). I loosely started looking for a new M-100... and finally found one in stock at the webshop of a local instrument shop. That proved an error (they had entered three M-100 Master models in black as original M-100 models in white...), but it had made my decision final: a new M-100 is to be found. In white.

A German instrument store finally was able to deliver -- I got two, just to be on the safe side. One still has the original pads mounted for sentimental reasons, the other one got its XL pads already on and receives audio through an EarStudio ES-100. Fat sound as ever, especially when driven through my old Hugo (1. generation, I did not like the second version). Together with my spare M-100 and the parts from the old one (screws, shields etc.) I hope to be able to keep them alive for quite some time. I'm very much looking forward to that time with one of my absolute favorite sound signatures: at last having just fun again, not comparing, not looking for replacements, looking for better/newer/whatever. Just enjoying my music.

A few other models such as the K812, the DT770/80 and of course my custom in-ears from 64Audio (the N8) will stay with me, the rest will have to leave. Yes, this includes the Pioneer Master-1 and even the Shure KSE1500, the best headphone I've ever heard (I did hear the Sennheiser HE-1, it did most definitely not talk to me). The recently purchased Denon D-9200 might stay, though I don't have a final decision here.

Re-reading Tylls review of the M-100 reminded me, why I appreciated his articles so much: he finds a perfect balance between hard facts and enjoyment of music. And his emotional review of this model more than validates his motives to me -- contrast that with all those faceless commentary coming out of those uncountable self-declared review outfits that often lack moral integrity (I stop reading at the first mention of "while receiving the item free of charge, we will review them honestly" and its variants) and/or technical understanding (such as the one ranking Bluetooth codecs by the transmission bit rate -- say what?), most often both.

Lets cut this short: I'm more than happy with my double purchase of a 9-year old headphone, and I intend to follow this circus from a greater distance in the future. And I think this is a Good Thing (c).