Review: v-moda Bass Freq Earphones
Available in eight colors, v-moda's new Bass Freq is designed as a competitive alternative to Sony's popular MDR-EX70/71 series earbuds, with three sets of silicone rubber tips and a focus on low-end (bass) response. Not surprisingly, the white and silver version is an especially good visual match with white iPods, but the fashion headphone maker is focused on providing options for different tastes.
Though we’ve opted not to do a full review of v-moda’s new Bass Freq earphones ($50), we wanted to offer a few thoughts on their performance, as they were interesting enough to catch our attention in a pile of other, less exciting headphones. And that wasn’t just because v-moda offers them in eight different colors (black, red, orange, green, white, blue, and pink, each with silver accents, plus orange camouflage, which has green accents); the phones themselves sound quite good, though your appreciation for their audio balance will depend on your taste in equalization.
Essentially, Bass Freq is v-moda’s answer to Sony’s popular MDR-EX series of low-end, in-canal earphones - a design we’ve loved in the past on comfort, but found uneven on sound quality, ranging from great to muddy depending on the model in question. We’ve previously noted that we were especially impressed with the MDR-EX81 model - one we continue to feel today is one of the better-balanced low-end headphones we’ve tested - and have become less and less enamored with the MDR-EX71, an even more universally comfortable model that regrettably is flat and muddy, with a decided bass bias. So instead of duplicating Sony’s pros and cons, Bass Freq borrows the best comfort features from the EX71, and drivers from the more recent Philips SHE9501, a similar earbud that’s less stylish. The goal, as we understand it, was to create a headphone that bassheads would appreciate, as well as one that looked cool and fashionable.
As our rating might suggest, Bass Freq does a good but not great job on both counts. Visually, the all-plastic headphones aren’t quite as standout or eye-catching as the company’s earlier Remix M-Class (iLounge rating: A-), but they’re still nice, and obviously afford potential buyers many more color options than the typical pair of plastic in-canal earphones. On audio, v-moda’s come up with a design that “pops” more than both the EX71 and EX81 - as if the iPod’s equalizers were simultaneously set on bass boost and treble boost (aka Latin or Rock settings). There’s clearly a bit of added response and detail in Bass Freq across the spectrum - particularly a bit deeper and cleaner bass, and a bit crisper and sharper treble, the former more pleasant than the latter. The treble enhancement effect actually leaves some music sounding more artificial than we’re accustomed to, at some points lacking the smoothness we’ve come to expect from competing phones in its price range. It’s also not trivial point that it’s not as crazy of a bass producer as we might have expected - you actually notice the treble even more than the bass, not because the bass is lacking, but because the treble is so sharp.
Overall, our feeling on Bass Freq is a bit nuanced: on one hand, we think it’s a very legitimate alternative to the best Sony and its many competitors have to offer in the $30-50 MSRP range, and we’d be inclined to pick it over the MDR-EX71 phones without any question. Especially because of its exaggerated treble, it also offers apparent detail greater than that of many in-canal phones, but at the cost of a slightly metallic, less “real” sound. Those seeking balance in their phones will either do better with the MDR-EX81, or need to really play with the iPod’s equalizers to bring Bass Freq closer to more natural response, but if you’re looking for earphones that deliver punchy, interesting sound without much tuning, Bass Freq is worth checking out.