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Gear We Love: V-moda's XS portable headphone gets everything right

Dan Frakes | April 29, 2014
Outstanding full-size, on-ear headphone is impressively rugged and truly portable.

v moda xs white opened 580

There's a lot of gear out there for your Apple devices, but how do you know which are worth your time and what's not worth your money? In our Gear We Love column, Macworld's editors tell you about the products we're personally using--and loving.

As the headphones guy on staff, I see a lot of audio gear. But unless a product is really special, once I'm done testing I go back to my old favorites. V-moda's new XS on-ear headphone is one of those special products.

Over the past few years, V-moda has released a number of great headphones that offer the company's "modern audiophile" sound signature: overall accuracy, but with a bit of bass emphasis for a toe-tapping kick. In addition to great sound quality, these headphones have all been impressively well built, and they've had designs that are--at least to my eyes--much more stylish than the typical higher-end headphone. But the XS just may be my favorite of the bunch.

The XS essentially takes the acclaimed Crossfade M80 and improves on it while making it truly portable. The XS has the same sturdy, leather-wrapped headband--which can be pulled and twisted to an astonishing degree without breaking it or affecting its shape--and the same compact earpieces with soft, memory-foam earpads. The metal hinges are rugged, and though the entire package weighs less than seven ounces, it feels like it should be able to handle a good amount of trauma.

(V-moda says the XS has been tested to withstand over 70 drops onto concrete from 1.5 meters, and that it can survive extreme temperatures, humidity, salt spray, and UV rays--in other words, as long as you don't drop the XS in the pool, it should last a while. The company provides a two-year warranty, and V-moda's "Immortal Life Program" promises that if you ever destroy your XS, regardless of the cause, you can get a replacement for half price.)

But whereas the Crossfade M80 is only moderately portable, the XS is specifically aimed at portable use: The earpieces fold up into the headband, allowing the XS to fit into the included hardshell travel case, which is compact enough to fit in even a small laptop bag or backpack. Alternatively, you can use the included carabiner to clip the case to the outside of your bag--the case is sturdy enough to protect the headphones from most reasonable abuse.

Another big improvement over the M80 is the XS's unique headband design. Whereas a traditional headband rests most of the weight of the headphone on the crown of your head, with gaps on the sides of your head, the XS's headband is shaped to remove those gaps so the headphone's weight is distributed more evenly along both the sides and the top of your noggin. The result is both an aesthetic improvement (the headphone looks less bulky) and, more important, a noticeable increase in comfort. With many full-size headphones, the crown of my head eventually gets sore due to the weight resting on that single point; with the XS, I'm able to listen for hours at a time without discomfort.


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