Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis
Crossfade M-100 or XS? Better figure out this first world problem.
Reviewing audio devices require extensively trained ears and lots of experience. Even for audiophiles, it may prove challenging at times to obtain an accurate evaluation of a product without a thoroughly familiar product to use as a simultaneous reference. While I am not going to even try to claim that I am the only trustworthy or best reviewer for sound, it is fact that most computer review sites have editors who are insufficiently trained in reviewing audio equipment. Give them practically anything and all you will read about goes along the line of "good bass, nice midrange, awesome treble, really clear sound, 10/10". While there are many knowledgeable audio reviewers at various respected online media outlets, they are by far the minority.
As I have mentioned in my past audio reviews, there are really no true objective measurements for speaker sound quality. As the reviewer, however, I will put it through a series of subjective tests to try to come up with the most objective rating possible (Yes, it is quite a paradox haha). The tests were conducted primarily with the SilverStone EB01-E dedicated external digital to analog converter (XMOS XS1 TQ128 USB decoder, TI PCM1798 DAC, TI NE5532 OpAmp) and amplified with the SilverStone EB03 headphone amplifier (THAT 1646W 16-U monolithic audio differential line driver, THAT 1512S14-U preamplifier). Some tests were conducted with the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD sound card as well (Creative CA20K2 DSP/APU, National Semiconductor LME49720NA OpAmp, JRC NJM4580 signal buffers, Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, Nichon MUSE ES capacitors). For portable tests, I used an Apple iPhone 6. These are some of the best consumer sound equipment out there in the market today, and will reduce its potential to be a limiting factor in our auditioning.
After over 50 hours of break-in time -- well above typically required period -- we put the V-MODA Crossfade M-100 to the tests. All tracks were uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher.
The V-MODA Crossfade M-100 was quite a bit different in audio characteristics than the XS. Although they both use M-class dual diaphragm drivers with a rated frequency response of 5Hz to 30kHz, the 50mm units on the M-100 was clearly tuned differently. There was still a lot of shared characteristics between the two, so be sure to read my analysis in the XS article. The V-MODA XS' frequency response curve was close to being completely flat, while the M-100 has better bass extension for a V-shaped DJ style sound signature.
Starting off, the bass was more forward compared to the XS. It thumps with authority, and those who like a little more bass will definitely enjoy the Crossfade M-100. With a minimum response specified as low as 5Hz -- well beyond the human hearing range -- I found the bass to be always present and well defined went called upon. It was deep, solid, round, smooth, and articulate; giving a satisfying dose of pulse and depth for tracks heavy on the deep end. At no time did it feel overwhelming, which kept audiophiles like me happy.
Compared to the forward sounding bass, the midrange was more laid back. The XS produced some of the widest and fattest midrange I have heard in a pair of headphones, and after testing the Crossfade M-100, this statement still remains true. Overall, the V-MODA XS had more balanced bass with more forward sounding vocals and percussion effects. Voices and everything in this area was still very natural and clear on the M-100, but it was not as rich and full in saturation. That said, the Crossfade M-100 was not too far behind; making it still a strong performer against the competitor products. A degree of warmth combined with its strong bass and generally smooth midrange gave the headphones a distinct signature for hours of enjoyment without listening fatigue. The XS had a little more midrange harmony though.
The Crossfade M-100's treble was also a bit more laid back compared to the XS, as it was with its midrange. Again, extending upon the V-MODA Crossfade M-100's tuning characteristics, the treble was sharp, clean, wet, and clear without question. With frequency response up to 30 kHz, again, it is well beyond the human hearing range. On the other hand, I found the output to be a bit on the dark side, creating an atmosphere that lacked a bit of excitement and immediacy. I have said the same thing in my XS review, but this property was a little more noticeable in the V-MODA Crossfade M-100. I cannot say this is necessarily a detrimental aspect, however. I am simply describing its character. Whether it is preferred or not by you is a completely different issue.
I have said in my V-MODA XS review that its primary weakness was soundstaging. The Crossfade M-100 shared a bit of this weakness as well. Without resorting to artificial tricks, I think, to some degree, was contributed by physical limitations. The M-100 has drivers 10mm larger in diameter compared to the XS, and unsurprisingly, its soundstaging was slightly wider than the XS. Now, thinking about it, we need to look at a few factors too. The perception and direction of everything was present beyond a shadow of a doubt, but this can be partially contributed by its more forward sounding bass and relaxed midrange and treble. Combined with its larger drivers, you will definitely get a little more dimensional perception, but the M-100 carries more depth than width. Do not get me wrong; the V-MODA Crossfade M-100 does not necessarily lack width, but as the saying goes, there is always room for improvement.
Closing off with the auxiliary auditioning results, the imaging of the V-MODA Crossfade M-100 was quite realistic; staying true to the original production or recording, as we would expect from the M-class drivers. Please note imaging is different than frequency response, where the Crossfade M-100 had more forward sounding bass and laid back midrange and treble. The layers were precisely produced with a high amount of detail. The resolution was nearly perfect across the range, as it picked up practically everything and anything in a quality encoded track. If you think you know your music, ladies and gentlemen, listen to the tracks all over again with the V-MODA Crossfade M-100, and you will simply find it a totally new experience.
Deriving from this, the frequency separation was excellent. Again, every detail was very well reproduced, thanks to its clear, high definition, and clean separation. At the same time, the entire spectrum was cohesive with no transition effects, making it sound exactly as it should. I was also very impressed by how clean the sound comes out to be. As I have said in my Audioengine A2+ review, if there was a better word for "clean" that roughly carries the meaning of "super duper clean", I would use that word.
The V-MODA Crossfade M-100 are great headphones. I would personally prefer something a little more neutral -- especially when it comes to the bass -- and a thicker, better saturated midrange like the XS, but generally speaking, it is a pair of fun headphones for those who are not looking for technically perfect, flat responses.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis