V-Moda Crossfade LP Review

The excellent Klipsch Image One headphones I reviewed last year have been my default headphones since I bought them. At $150 I feel that these headphones are the best option around. However, what happens when a $200 headphone drops to $100?

The retail price for the V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones is $200, a $50 premium when compared to the Klipsch option. But with the V-Moda Crossfade LP2s on the market, the originals are going for a song! With a drop in price that drastic, I figured it was time to see if these guys are worth the rock bottom $100 street price.

V-Moda markets the Crossfade LP as a top quality headphone, both in sound quality and in build quality. This interested me as my limited experience with V-Moda earbuds was that they were low quality in every respect. In fact, the first response I got when I shared on Twitter that I was planning on reviewing the Crossfade LPs was a friend commenting how much he loathed V-Moda headphones.

After a few months with the V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones, I am pleased to say that they have proven to be a solid set of headphones. Quality sound, unbeatable durability and a style all their own. It didn’t hurt that they came in one of the coolest packages and headphone cases I’ve experienced to date.

But it wasn’t all good. My initial thoughts on the Crossfades were not good. In fact, after fifteen minutes of listening to them, my ears were so fatigued that I nearly gave up on the headphones entirely. Luckily, things turned around, read on to find out how.

Looks

These headphones look awesome. Simple as that. They come in a variety of colors and have customizable metal shields on each ear cup. V-Moda will even print your company logo on the shields for $25.

They guys aren’t as bulky and rigid as the Beats by Dre headphones. Considering their incredible durability, the Crossfades are light, though not as light as the Klipsch Image One headphones which weigh practically nothing.

Accessories

A zipped tight, hardshell headphone case not only is home for set of V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones but two headphone cables, a 1/4 jack adapter and a carabiner. I had a general idea what to do with the cables and adapter, I’m still a bit confused on why I need a carabiner for headphones, but I digress.

Your probably wondering why a headphone would come with two cables. I was too at first. Turns out V-Moda has designed these headphones to work as standard headphones as well as a headset for Apple devices with a microphone and remote control on the second cable.

This is pretty fantastic. While having two cables isn’t really necessary (the smartphone cable will work with a standard headphone jack anyways) it does mean you can completely remove the cables from the headphones. No more buying entirely new headphones just because your cable has worn out. Broken cables and jacks are the number one cause of headphones dying.

As an added bonus, when I hop into a rental car, I unplug the cable from the V-Moda and plug it into the auxiliary jack on the car’s radio. This is one of those small things that really matter to me.

Build

Turns out you can order just about any part for the V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones you might need. I was told by one V-Moda representative that you can even change the drivers out on your own if necessary.

Luckily you will probably never have do that. These headphones come with a fantastic two year warranty and a lifetime warranty reminiscent of the BoomBotix warranty. Basically, if they break, share the story and they will replace them or give you a credit for a new set or upgraded set of headphones. Pretty sweet.

Though I’m not sure what you’d have to do to reasonably break a set of V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones. These things are built like a tank and exceed military requirements for durability. The headband can be twisted like a pretzel and laid flat at least ten times before any damage occurs. Do that to pretty much any other headphone on the market and you’ve just shattered the headband. Connecting the headband to the ear cups are bands of rigid steel.

The kevlar-braided cables do a good job of not tangling or kinking and are just the right length. Gold-plated tips ensure a good connection between your audio source and the headphones. One of my pet peeves with headphone cables are straight plugs. These are prone to shorting out or breaking when used with devices kept in your pocket. Like an iPhone.

I have expressed my disappointment that Klipsch insists on using these types of plugs and if you read any complaints about Klipsch headphones, this and the cable build quality are the only complaints you’ll find.

V-Moda opted for a hybrid plug that shoots out of your iPhone at a 45 degree angle with an ample cable stress relief. I do not see these plugs or cable wearing out any time soon.

Comfort

When I first put the Crossfades on I was a little concerned about the vice-like grip they had on my head. I was pleasantly surprised to notice this subsiding after wearing them for a few days. The headband is incredibly flexible and stretches out to fit comfortably.

The soft memory foam pads press on your skull not your ears and provide a surprising amount of sound isolation. The combination of the larger, sealed ear cups with leather-wrapped memory foam can sometimes get a little too warm but the only time that they became uncomfortable was when I was rushing through a warm airport. Other than that I’d say these headphones are quite comfortable.

The remote control sits on the left side of the headphones about three inches down the cord. It’s easy enough to find for use but the buttons are hard to discern by touch. Contrary to the manual, holding down the volume buttons will not scale the volume up or down. You have to manually pulse each time to go up a level. Not a big deal but worth noting.

V-Moda places the microphone on the back of the remote putting it at a great level for having a conversation. However, the conversations I had using the Crossfade mic weren’t as clear as I would have liked. The mic seemed to pick up the environmental sounds around me. In a quiet environment it works as good as any other microphone. In a coffee shop or walking down Market Street in San Francisco though, the noise was just too much.

Sound Quality

I have a handful of songs I use to test headphones. I use the same songs with every headphone review so I can compare their performance. After inspecting the Crossfades I fire up my iPhone and begin listening. About four songs in I have to give up. My ears are aching from some of the most fatiguing sound I’ve heard from such an expensive set of headphones.

Hearing fatigue happens when a headphone or speaker outputs sound with certain frequencies significantly boosted over others. This can be in anywhere in our spectrum of hearing but most often happens in mid-bass (think Beats by Dre headphones) and high frequencies (think Grado).

Disappointed and distraught, I hit up Google and did a little digging. Turns out I’m not alone, dozens of people write of similar experiences and nearly as many recommend burning in the headphones as a fix.

Burning in headphones and speakers is something I have always looked at as a little silly. It’s pretty rare, if ever, that I have heard a speaker or headphone increase in quality after use. The theory behind breaking in a speaker is that they come from the factory stiff. The surrounds need to be stretched and exercised. Having nothing to lose, I put my iPad on play and let the headphones sit for the rest of the day and over night playing music at a regular volume.

The next day I gave them a second try and was wowed at the difference. In this case burning in worked. I spent an hour listing to an assortment of music without the fatigue I experienced the day before after only a few minutes of listening. While the highs were still a little too much for me, the sound rounded out for a much more enjoyable experience.

V-Moda markets these for DJs and the sound signature is clearly best suited for club music. These aren’t headphones I’d recommend for the symphony lover with a discerning ear. That isn’t to say that these headphones are sonically disappointing, just that they show off their chops when playing hip hop, pop, rap, electronic and other synthesizer-rich music.

As you can see from the below graph, lower frequencies are relatively flat which is good. However there is an unexpected dip and the rise in the midrange followed by some erratic high frequency responses.

(Graph courtesy InnerFidelity)

Their large 50mm drivers have no trouble pumping out the bass without flatulence and distortion. It isn’t the boomy bass you get from headphones advertising “MONSTER BASS.” Thank goodness for that. One interesting thing I noticed about the bass was while the Crossfades has no trouble hitting frequencies as low as 20 Hz, maintaining the notes isn’t as easy.

(Graph courtesy InnerFidelity)

Ideally, this graph would show long vertical lines with a nearly flat top and bottom horizontal connecting lines. Instead you see short vertical lines and awfully curvy horizontal lines. This isn’t horrible but it explains why I felt the Klipsch Image One headphones did a better job at low frequency performance.

This wouldn’t have been noticeable had I not been doing A/B testing with the Klipsch Image One and Klipsch X10i headphones. Both of these headphones do a better job at maintaining extended periods of low frequencies. Whenever I want to show off this effect, I use the song I Eat Dinner (When the Hunger Comes) by Rufus Wainwright and Dido as well as a fantastic album by the Dallas Symphony, Pomps & Pipes.

These are very difficult tracks to reproduce, most speakers and headphones fall to pieces trying to keep up with the action. The Crossfades do an admiral job with I Eat Dinner but begin to show their weakness in playing extended periods of bass coupled with piano, vocals and percussion. Not a bad showing but not the best I’ve heard.

Pomps & Pipes is a brilliant symphony and pipe organ album that can make any speaker system bow down in submission. I don’t know if you can even buy it anymore, but if you do see it somewhere, definitely pick it up. Woodwind instruments accompany trumpets and some of the most glorious timpani movements with a pipe organ that can absolutely rattle a home to pieces with the right subwoofer.

Once again the Crossfades do a great job on this album, even when the low beats of the drums clash against the bassoons and trumpeting of brass instruments. It isn’t until the pipe organ gets going that things start to fall apart a bit.

Let’s not dwell too much on this though. These are $100-180 headphones. The only headphones I have that can accurately play this sort of music to my level of pure satisfaction are my Sennheiser HD600s with a dedicated desktop amplifier and even they find themselves in a bit of trouble at times.

Comparing the sound of the Klipsch Image One to the V-Moda Crossfade LP was interesting. Overall I think I prefer the Klipsch sound to the V-Moda. It is a slightly more balanced, on the high end with none of the surprisingly harsh vocals you sometimes get with the Crossfades. On the David Guetta and Usher song Without You, Usher’s high notes become jarring and verge on unpleasant. Lower down on the frequency range, Klipsch proves to be a little a little more colored/warm/bassy which I certainly didn’t expect.

By the way, it is worth noting that with a headphone amp like the Headroom Total BitHead, some of these issues are eliminated while others are decreased. It is also worth noting that the Crossfade LP2, which is the new version of the LP, is said to address some of these issues. If I can get my hands on a set, I’ll definitely write an updated review.

They are both headphones with some coloration for their intended audience and source material. Fun and playful listening experiences leaving very little real aural issues to complain about. Luckily the added coloration isn’t to the level of the Beats by Dre which can become downright muddy.

Summary

The V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones were a pleasant surprise in the categories that matter; performance, comfort and value. They have looks that stick out, but not like a sore thumb, build quality second to none and come with a plethora of accessories.

V-Moda Crossfade LP with Case

Compared to the Klipsch Image One, which would I recommend? That’s hard to say. I prefer the Klipsch sound, smaller and more portable design over the V-Moda’s sometimes harsh midrange and treble and their significantly larger build. The Crossfades hardly fit in my everyday bag, no way they’d fit while in their case.

What has me conflicted is the build quality between the two. While my Klipsch headphones haven’t broken on me after years of regular use, compared to the V-Moda headphones, they feel like cheap. The removable headphone cable is a life saver, the fact that it only goes up one side of the headphones is a welcome addition.

I feel I could throw the V-Moda Crossfade LP across my apartment and they’d be fine. I’d even feel OK dropping them down from my fourth floor balcony without too much worry. Not that I would do that but…

They also do a significantly better job at blocking out ambient noise and the microphone is placed in a much more logical spot on the cable than the Klipsch mic which falls down to my stomach (which is no where near my mouth thank you very much).

Everyday I leave the house, I’m torn on which headphones take out. I recommend you hit up an Apple Store or Best Buy and listen to both. At $100, the V-Moda Crossfade LPs are a given purchase, if you don’t have a good set of full-sized headphones.

Physical Sound
Comfort: 10/10 Bass: 9/10
Build: 10/10 Mids: 8/10
Remote: 10/10 Treble: 8/10
Mic: 8/10 Soundstage: 8/10
Overall: 9.5 Overall: 8.25

In the next few weeks I’m going to have a handful of friends do A/B testing of the Klipsch Image One vs these V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones to see who really is the best. Check back here for the results.

If you do choose to purchase any of these headphones, be so kind as to use one of the links in this article. Amazon is my favorite place to purchase just about anything and they give me a few shillings every time I send someone their way. Helps me afford making future purchases. In fact, these headphones were paid for by those of you who clicked on my links to the Klipsch Image One headphones. It all goes right back to you guys.

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