Review: v-moda Vibe Duo Earphones with Microphone
As with past iPods, Apple's iPhone has inspired new and unique accessories specifically designed to match its looks and features. Listening devices are no exception; in fact, thanks to Apple changes to the iPhone's physical and electronic components, brand new earphones and speakers are now all but necessary. While several companies have released adapters to let old earphones work with the iPhone, v-moda has released Vibe Duo ($101), a somewhat familiar pair of earphones with several new iPhone-specific features.
v-moda’s original Vibe earphone was one of the most intriguing premium listening devices we’ve tested. Cool-looking and -feeling thanks to its use of a metal, ear canal-sized enclosure, Vibe used quality audio drivers that had been tuned to provide more aggressive low-end detail than similarly-priced competitors. Though we found Vibe’s performance to be somewhat inconsistent based on different silicone rubber tips shipped in different batches by the manufacturer—some users got thin and less bass-retaining clear tips, while others got thicker, bass-enhancing ones—we felt that the sound and aesthetic design would appeal strongly to bass lovers, assuming they got the right tips in their boxes.
At its core, Vibe Duo is Vibe—read our original review for all the pros and cons there—but with three new features: an in-line microphone that lets you take phone calls when they come into iPhone, new fabric-coated cables, and a plastic clip to keep the cables and microphone close to your neck while you’re moving. v-moda has also reshaped its headphone plug to fit the iPhone’s uniquely recessed port; the new connector also works on past iPods without an issue. The company still includes a nice leather carrying case, now in neutral black rather than flashy gold, as well as six total sets of silicone eartips, half in black, and half frosted clear. Gone is Vibe’s rubber headphone cord manager, which was our least-used part of the prior package.
As of today, you can get Vibe Duo in black (“Nero”), which is a mostly black metal earbud with bright metal accents. v-moda promises a chrome version for the near future, as well as an update to both the black and chrome versions to add one feature—a button, like the one on Apple’s iPhone Stereo Headset, to play or pause songs, accept or end phone calls, and skip one track forward. It’s unclear as to when the revised versions of Vibe Duo will appear, but our unit and those in stores at the time of this review were only the black ones without the buttons.
The good news about Vibe Duo is that it’s as competent a pair of earphones as its predecessor, with the added benefit of the microphone, without costing you anything more than before. And as good as Vibe looked, we actually like Duo’s design even more, as v-moda’s serious, iPhone-ready colors, carrying cases, and new fabric cabling are even more sophisticated than Vibe’s. We also found Duo to be consistently comfortable in our ears, and the lapel clip prevented the earbuds from falling out during occasional iPhone tugs and jostles.
Vibe Duo’s problems are a mix of the predictable and unpredictable. As we’ve seen in other earphones with fabric cables, Duo’s tend to make “swish-swish” noises in your ears when you move around while wearing them, an issue known to headphone enthusiasts as “microphonics.” Thankfully, you can limit the microphonics by using the lapel clip, and they’re not terrible on an absolute scale, at least relative to some of the thick rubber cabled earphones we’ve tested in the past.
v-moda’s included microphone isn’t bad, but isn’t phenomenal, either. It’s obvious that the company tried to make the most of a quality component; callers reported that it picked up our voices well, but also brought in a tremendous amount of ambient noise from our surroundings at the same time. We tested Vibe Duo outdoors, in airports, and in quiet rooms, and the results were always the same: it did a somewhat better job than the iPhone’s built-in and cabled mics of acting as a speakerphone-style microphone for multiple conversation participants, but generally, that’s not the sort of mic you want to have with a personal headset. All of our callers told us that they preferred the slightly less crisp, but also more individually focused sound of Apple’s free headset instead. That said, we will note that we did enjoy the way Vibe Duo sounded to us during phone calls. Because the silicone tips provide superior isolation to Apple’s pack-ins, it’s easier to hear callers, and details in the callers’ environments.
Our only other issue was one that carries over from the prior version of Vibe: the sound signature for music. When you use the included silicone rubber eartips, which in our review sample were of the thicker and thus more bass-heavy variety mentioned above, Vibe Duo’s sound skews very heavily towards the low-end—a type of sound that some users will like more than others. Unlike neutral or more dynamically balanced earphones we’ve tested, if you’re using the tips that fully fit your ears, you’re most likely to hear the lower notes in songs, with less apparent detail in the highs and mid-highs. Users who really like bass, and those with musical tastes for which bass emphasis is beneficial, have the best chance of liking the way Vibe Duo sounds; we still prefer headphones with less bass skew.
Overall, Vibe Duo is a very good example of an earphone made to appeal strongly to certain people: on looks and comfort, it’s a great option, and though we weren’t completely thrilled with its outgoing or incoming sound, both are well-executed enough to largely satisfy many people. Going forward, we think that premium iPhone headsets will need to offer both definitively superior mic and earphone performance to what Apple includes in the box, as well as equivalent button functionality, but Vibe Duo is a good start and a more than solid offering right out of the gate. We look forward to seeing whether the updated version improves upon the formula.