Val Kolton's V-MODA announced a new addition to its stylish range of headphones in October 2012 which, by the time of actual release in mid-December, had managed to attract a good many positive comments from the critics and enthusiasts fortunate enough to get an early listen. The Crossfade M-100s were developed in collaboration with over 200 audiophiles, editors, artists, DJs and Grammy-winning musicians ... and it shows. Gizmag has spent the last few weeks with our ears snuggled up to the 50 mm drivers to find out what all the fuss is about.
Unlike some other audiophile-pleasing headphones I could mention, the Crossfade M-100 over-the-ear (circumaural) cans won't make you look like you're trying out for the role of Princess Leia in a Star Wars remake. That said, to be honest, the overall styling is perhaps a little more high fashion than I would normally accommodate, but it's the performance that really matters. With that in mind, let's be off, shall we?
Though the Crossfade M-100 headphones have the appearance of the excellent supra-aural M-80s, they stand apart in a number of important respects. First, and possibly most obvious, is the ability to fold the M-100s into a tight bundle courtesy of the metal hinges, and stow them away in the provided hard shell carry case. Then there's the fact that the new flagship cans are over-the-ear, rather than on-ear. You won't notice the change in sound signature until you surround your ears in memory foam.
They have a frequency response from 5 Hz to 30 kHz, a sensitivity of 103 dB at 1 kHz / 1 mW, and a 32 ohm impedance. In the hands, the M-100s feel as though they can withstand more than a few knocks, drops and scrapes in daily use. There's a SteelFlex headband that's been bent flat more than 10 times during R&D testing. This ends in CliqFold hinge mechanisms that hold the hexagonal ear pieces and, as the name suggests, caters for folding in/out and clicking in place.
V-MODA has also put them through MIL-STD-810G environmental testing, exposing them to high and low temperatures, humidity, salt spray and UV – a far cry from the world of fragile plastic in which some contemporaries dwell. The carry case (which includes elasticated storage areas for holding onto the cables) offers even more protection while not in use.
Dual-diaphragm 50-mm drivers feature inner and outer rings that separate the bass from bleeding into the mid-range and highs. The ergosoft memory foam ear cushions offer passive noise isolation which, as you might expect, doesn't cut you off completely from the world around you, but I found it effective enough to get pretty much lost in the music. On the down side, the faux leather pads can cause heat to build up, and the slim profile does mean that some users may experience cramps after prolonged use (although, happily, I didn't).
If you don't like the look of your M-100s, you can spruce them up a little by removing the supplied aircraft grade metal shields and replacing them with optional custom varieties (your own design can be laser-engraved into the shield color of choice). As well as letting air in, the V-shaped grooves cut into the outer shields do allow some sound to escape, though I'm reliably informed that it's not enough to spoil the subway journey for fellow passengers.
Like the new Marshall monitor headphones, the M-100s sport a 3.5-mm audio input on both ear pieces, and either can be used. If you feel like getting your mix groove on, you can also feed two music sources into the headphones, or daisy-chain with fellow users. The stylish cans come supplied with two Kevlar-reinforced cables that V-MODA says have withstood over a million bends during testing.
The orange cable has a single control button for smartphones and tablets (compatible with iPhone/iPad/iPod, as well as Android/Windows/Blackberry devices) and a built-in microphone for taking calls. Playback control is limited to play/pause and track forward or back. The black cable features a short audio sharing cable ended by a 3.5-mm input connector that allows others to plug in and enjoy whatever you're listening to, though unless your friend's cans are of similar quality to the Crossfades, the experience is not going to be quite the same.
During the review period, I listened to music sourced from an iPod, a Cowon media player, an Android smartphone and a Blackberry, my laptop and my living room Hi-Fi system – all with flattened EQ. This is something that the company recommends anyway, adjusting only if needed to match personal tastes. V-MODA's M-Class (Modern Audiophile) sound signature is claimed to provide precision bass, vivid mids and crystal clear ultra wide highs across an immersive 3D soundstage.
I found the M-100s to pack quite a bass thump, not quite with the same force as the Beats range, but much more evident than the somewhat neutral HD600s from Sennheiser, for example. It's clean and punchy and doesn't drive the rest of the mix right out of the room like some modern headphones do.
In the wrong hands, the extremely powerful bass drone running through Late Nite Tip by Three 6 Mafia can bleed over everything else and make this sub-bass reference track a pain rather than a pleasure. Not so with M-100s, which do a fine job of spacing everything out so kick, vocals and keys all come through loud and clear, while the low end does odd things to your chest and stomach.
Though the M-100s don't particularly punish poor quality recordings, they do reward high quality. Eric Johnson's A Change Has Come To Me is a good example. The song features a number of different guitar tones and sounds that are each given room to breathe, even when moving from one side of the stereo image to another and back again. This is quite a busy track which benefits from the kind of separation offered by these headphones, treating the listener to excellent detail and clarity.
Oh by Dave Matthews is a good imaging and soundstage workout that's sure to satisfy lovers of acoustic guitar and catchy percussion. The M-100s offer quite an impressive wide, open soundstage for something designed for the portable music player market. The gorgeous warm bass is positioned slightly to the right, the vocal takes center stage and percussion fills out nicely both left and right. While some reviewers have said that listening to music through the M-100s is like listening to the band at a small venue, for me, it's more like sitting in at a studio rehearsal. Most enjoyable.
Thanks to the solid bin bashing work of one Philly Joe Jones, Blue Train by John Coltrane is a particular good track for testing the mettle of any headphones when dealing with cymbals. In this sweet bop/jazz outing, they proved both crisp and clean. The exceptional performances from Coltrane, Morgan and Fuller are given justified weighting in the middle ground, with a realistic live feel to the music.
While I can't detail all of the tracks I listened to during the review period, I will mention just one more. The title track of Clutch's latest album, Earth Rocker, is as good an advertisement for how the M-100s handle driven rock as any, so that's where I headed. The Crossfades didn't disappoint. Played at volume, which is only right and proper, everything from the chest-pounding kick to the vintage distorted guitar hook to Fallon's excellent Screamin Jay moments were delivered with the kind of powerful presence and clarity that this anthemic monster richly deserves.
I know that I'm being picky, but the Crossfade M-100s did prove a little heavy on the bass end for my personal taste (though the Beats generation might think otherwise). I also felt that lower mids were occasionally lost to a particularly strong kick/bass combination on certain tracks. Overall though, these are a very capable pair of performance headphones. The soundstage is huge, the detail and clarity stunning, and the rich Modern Audiophile signature impressive.
At 280 g (9.8 oz), the M-100s are no lightweights but long-haul comfort was not an issue. Cable noise doesn't appear to be much of an issue either, being only really noticeable when bounding toward the train station at a speed not becoming of someone of my years.
While the M-100s are said to be capable of surviving repeated drops onto concrete from a height of 6 ft (1.8 m), V-MODA also runs something called the Immortal Life Program, where you get 50 percent off the price of a replacement should the unthinkable happen and your Crossfades fall from a 21-storey window or get run over by a truck the day after the 2-year peace of mind warranty runs out.
They're available now for a recommended retail of US$310, in a choice of matte black, gray or white. Highly recommended.
Product page: Crossfade M-100
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