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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.

An interesting feature of the XS is that it includes two inputs. At the bottom of each earpiece is a 1/8-inch jack for the included headphone cable, so you can choose to have the cable connected on the left or right. But these jacks can also serve a couple other purposes: You can plug a second audio source into the unused jack--the XS mixes the two inputs--or you can connect a friend's headphones so that you can both listen to the same source. (The XS ships with two "V-Cork" plugs to cover the extra jack when not in use.)

Speaking of cables, the XS includes a cloth-covered, Kevlar-reinforced, 4.5-foot headphone cable with inline remote and microphone modules. V-moda says the cable can withstand over one million bends, but my favorite feature here is that V-moda separates the mic and remote, placing the mic closer to your mouth for better audio pickup while positioning the remote module farther down the cable to make it easier to reach (and see). I am disappointed, however, that the cable offers only a single-button remote, instead of the company's nicer three-button version. (You can purchase the three-button version separately.)

As for audio performance, V-moda says the XS improves on the M80, and though the differences are subtle, I agree. You get treble and midrange that are clear and well balanced (a bit more so, to my ears, than with the M80), along with bass response that's tight and deep, but emphasized just enough to get your head bobbing without sounding boomy or bloated. It's, as V-moda has appropriately named it, audiophile-grade sound with a modern kick.

Noise isolation, on the other hand, is only moderate. It's good enough to block out a decent amount of external noise, and to keep your music from bothering others, but it's not as good as with a set of closed, over-ear headphones, or with B&W's on-ear P5, another on-ear favorite, which uses a unique leather earpad that excels at isolation.

However, I came away liking the XS better than the P5 in many ways. The XS folds up into a more-compact travel configuration; it feels more rugged; and though the P5 has a smoother overall sound and better isolation, the XS is a bit more, well, fun to listen to thanks to better top-end detail and that extra kick at the low end.

In our review of the V-moda M80, R. Matthew Ward called the M80 "the best pair of sealed, supra-aural [on-ear] headphones I've tried." I think the XS sounds slightly better, its improved headband is more comfortable, and its fold-up design makes it more portable. If you're looking for a great headphone--great sound, great looks, and great fit--the XS is tough to beat among on-ear models.


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