When V-Moda released its first over-ear headphone Crossfade LP last year, the company left a long-standing story partially unfinished: another, smaller model had been in development at the same time, but disappeared from the company’s lineup as it focused on the larger version. This month, V-Moda has finally released the smaller model in two versions called Crossfade M-80 and V-80 ($230 each), and both have made significant enough sonic improvements to the prior model to be worthy of a higher recommendation. The two new Crossfades are essentially the same as one another, with M-80 serving as a mainstream model, and the “V-Moda for True Blood V-80” version offering customizations for fans of the HBO TV show True Blood.
From an aesthetic standpoint, there’s very little to say about M-80 and V-80 that hasn’t already been said about Crossfade LP, and that’s a good thing: Crossfade LP was one of the sharpest-looking headphone designs we’ve ever seen. The smaller versions feature almost the exact same metal, plastic, and fabric styling as the larger model, but with smaller ear cups and headband components that are designed to keep the earcups on your ears rather than around them. Once again, V-Moda has chosen very comfortable foam pads for your head, creating a headset that manages not to feel physically fatiguing—no easy feat for an on-ear design, which is far easier to get wrong than right. On the other hand, the initial M-80 and V-80 models have suede-like microfiber fabric on the headband rather than the leather in Crossfade LP, the only design touch that feels like a downgrade. If history is any guide, V-Moda may well produce versions of M-80 with different materials in the future; we’re hoping that it does, but our rating is based on what’s currently available for the asking price.
Differences between the M-80 and V-80 versions of Crossfade turn out to be minor; M-80 is almost entirely black with small red accents, while V-80 has additional red inside its headband. Each comes with fabric- and microphone-laden remote control cables; the M-80 version has a 3-button and 1-button remote, V-80 includes 1-button remote and non-remote cables. They also come with one of the company’s special form-fit hard carrying cases and a carabiner hook so that you can attach the case to a bag. V-80’s carrying case is modestly customized with a plastic faux blood vial zipper pull, while the headset has True Blood branding and the option to replace the metal plates on the headphones’ sides with custom branded versions—sold separately by V-Moda. The versions installed on the V-80 ear cups look just like the M-80s. While True Blood fans will prefer the V-80 variation, it wouldn’t have hurt to include a set of swappable themed metal plates in the package to promote their customizability right out of the gate.
Moving on to sonic considerations, we want to start by commending V-Moda for evolving the sound signature from Crossfade LP—a headset that was easy on the eyes but relatively harsh on the ears. The new version is definitely better. Crossfade LP used 50mm dual-diaphragm drivers, and was pitched as a listening solution backed by professional DJs, but to this day, we can’t put on the otherwise beautiful headset without feeling as if our ear canals are being flooded by the deliberately clubby, overwhelming sound. It was isolating and engrossing, but sometimes too much to handle, sonically.
Crossfade M-80 and V-80 preserve the passive noise isolation capabilities of LP, but they’re sonically different from LP, shrinking to 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers without compromising in depth or staging. While V-Moda hasn’t given up on pushing the mid-bass and bass above their natural levels, the treble and midrange aren’t completely drowned out with these headphones, so there’s a greater sense of being able to hear the original details in your songs. Every genre of music and all of the videos we tested with the new Crossfades sounded pretty close to great right away.
On the other hand, the microphone issues we mentioned in the Crossfade LP review persist here—the mic remains directionally dependent and, depending on how it’s positioned, may sound considerably muddier to an iPhone user’s callers than just using the speakerphone mic built into an iPhone 4. V-Moda has focused a lot on the resilience of its now Kevlar-cored fabric cables, but not enough on the sonic implications of wrapping its microphones in heavy-duty plastic enclosures. As with the microfiber suede-like headbands, we’d have expected a little more at this point in Crossfade M-80’s and V-80’s development, particularly given their price tags. Premium headphones shouldn’t perform worse in any regard than the free earbuds Apple includes with most of its products, and in the mic department, these fall somewhat short.
Overall, V-Moda has gotten most of the key elements right in Crossfade M-80 and V-80: we were thrilled to see that the company has moved in the right direction with the sound signature for these headsets, and the continued comfort and good looks of these smaller headphones further advances them as decidedly superior rivals to similarly fashion-forward products such as Monster’s Beats Solo HD. While the $230 MSRP is, like Crossfade LP, higher than we’d originally expected for this model, there’s no question that these are the sort of very good headphones that are worthy of a design premium, and we offer our strong general recommendation to both versions. Our hope is that V-Moda brings mic and material improvements to a near-term update, and uses the sonic signature from M-80 and V-80 as the inspiration for future headphones.
Company and Price
Model: Crossfade M-80 / V-80
Compatible: iPhone/3G/3GS/4, All iPods, and iPads