Review: V-Moda Crossfade LP
V-Moda has spent the last four years making a name for itself with fashionable earphones, most of them with a decidedly bass-heavy sound signature. The release of Crossfade LP ($250) expands that legacy for the first time to full-sized, earcup-style headphones, and from the largely metal designs of earlier V-Moda in-canal earphones to a new mix of leather, metal, plastic, and fabric that is aesthetically true to the company's Hollywood heritage while varying in small ways from version to version. If you love your headphones bassy and are seeking the sort of comfort that allows for multi-hour, uninterrupted listening, Crossfade LP is a solid pick, but fans of neutral sound should steer clear of this new offering despite its impressive fit and aesthetics.
Though V-Moda has impressed across a number of different design and engineering categories over the past two years, its biggest innovations have been physical rather than sonic, and Crossfade LP benefits from many of them. Even putting aside the cool packaging—a matte-finished, metallic inked hexagonal box with a leather-like strap and snapped tab on top—the remainder of the contents all enjoy enviable attention to fashion and visual detail. The headphones are bundled with a cool sculpted hard carrying case and a detachable carabiner hook, two different types of fabric-covered headphone cables, a 1/8” headphone port adapter for receivers, and a cleaning cloth to keep the headphones looking sharp. Twin elastic and Velcro inserts hold all of the parts in place inside the case, while the carabiner attaches to the outside if you want to hang the case from a bag or belt loop.
Unsurprisingly, the Crossfade LP headphones look really sharp straight out of the box, and stand up pretty well to extended use, as well. Each set of headphones has a leather-covered plastic and metal headband with a mesh fabric padded layer inside, soft padded leather earcups, and a set of custom-built 50-millimeter dual-diaphragm drivers behind a thin layer of fabric. It’s important to note that V-Moda’s new headphone design has been extensively tested by professional DJs, which is part of the reason Crossfade LP’s headband is flexible—capable of being worn comfortably and stably on one ear at a time, with the other ear exposed to the outside world—yet equally viable for use on both ears for hours at a time. We’ve used Crossfade for extended listening sessions and consider it to be one of the most comfortable full-sized headphones we’ve tested, causing little in the way of ear sweat or physical fatigue.
Notably, the headphones actually differ cosmetically between the three colored versions currently offered: a “phantom” black chrome version has an ostrich-like leather headband, mirror-finished metal and black plastic earcups, matching chrome and black plastic adjustable frame parts, and jet black cables, while a gunmetal version gives up all of the polished parts for matte metals and plastics, swapping the cabling for a gray and black weaved variation, and the ostrich-styled leather for a flat, simple texture. There’s also a white pearl version that we haven’t seen in person or tested, with gray and white ostrich leather alongside chrome and gray metal accents. Some of the cosmetic differences are obvious from photos, and others only when seen up close and in person, but each set of headphones looks distinctive and sharp—though some users might prefer softer, more neutral curves to these angular arms and earcup designs, we really liked what V-Moda has come up with in this design.
Also of note are the two detachable headphone cables, each 4.5 feet long with a straight 3.5mm connector at the headphone end and a raygun-shaped connector at the iPod, iPhone, or iPad end, the latter previously used in V-Moda Vibe II and Remix earphones for superior strain relief. In addition to featuring the company’s specially tested and Kevlar-reinforced wiring, which is designed to withstand many times the abuse of competing products, Crossfade LP’s second cable has a three-button remote control and microphone system that’s fully compatible with iPhone 3GS and 2008 to present day iPods, with its central play/pause/call button working on earlier iPhones, as well. Though our initial testing suggested that the microphone wasn’t performing fantastically—an issue that we suspect might have been due to a poor, one-time connection between the cable and the headphones—we repeated the tests several times and callers told us that Crossfade’s mic sounded virtually indistinguishable from Apple’s current Remote and Mic headsets, so long as V-Moda’s remote and mic capsule was turned to properly face our mouths. You can ditch this cable for the remote- and mic-less one that’s in the package if you don’t need the volume and track controls or an in-line microphone.
As important as the aforementioned factors are in establishing Crossfade LP’s fashion and functional appeal, the quality and balance of the headphones’ sound output are ultimately where this headphone will succeed or fail—and it’s here that the controversy typically begins with V-Moda’s products. Some users absolutely love the company’s standard (but not universal) sound signature, which is outrageously bass heavy, flooding your ears with low notes while distracting you from whatever’s going on in the highs and mids, but we’ve never liked this sonic approach and find it to be less and less appealing as the price of a pair of headphones goes up.
Putting on a pair of Crossfade LPs instantly evokes one word: engrossing. Because the earcups surround your ears, they naturally offer passive isolation from outside noises. When music starts to play, the bass and mid-bass are so significant that the sense of isolation increases, wrapping your ears in the lows while offering just enough treble that higher-pitched sounds don’t sound completely absent. This bass-heavy balance can be a good thing if you’re listening to dance, techno, or rap music and want to be wrapped up in the beats, but it’s less positive for users who prefer more balanced or detailed renditions of music, and those who want voices to stand out from their music rather than blending in. Though V-Moda’s drivers are a step above typical $100-$150 headphones we’ve tested in the detail department, we never felt like we were hearing all of the distinct layers of our favorite songs, and they’re not going to impress really critical listeners. Once again, the company has produced equally fashion-forward and bass-forward headphones; they have much the same skew as Monster’s Beats lineup, and were expressly designed to appeal to the same crowd.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having used Crossfade LP in prototype form since January, and shared their sound with fans of V-Moda’s canalphone designs, we’re convinced that people who like the company’s prior, smaller earphones will find these to be every bit as enjoyable, albeit with a different form factor and commensurately higher price tag. That tag is higher than we’d initially been told to expect—$250 rather than $200—with the earlier price striking us as so aggressive that Crossfade LP would have felt like a great value on build quality and design, if less so in the audio department. At its current price, this is a good but not great pair of headphones that will wow bassheads, fashion-focused users, and some DJs; we continue to hold out hope that the company will produce a more sonically balanced version as an alternative for those of us who love the look and feel of its designs.
[Editor’s Note: It’s worth mentioning that V-Moda still has a smaller on-ear version in the works, featuring nearly identical styling in a form factor that may appeal to those who dislike the engrossing feel of full earcups. This version was shown for the first time in our 2010 Buyers’ Guide, and was designed with 40mm drivers rather than the 50mm ones in Crossfade LP. It does not have a final name, and there’s no release date other than when “it’s perfect,” according to the company.]