- Review Price: £24.99
It amazes me that manufacturers bother to include headphones with digital music players these days. After spending months and possibly years developing their products, attempting to persuade consumers that their player is best, coming up with innovative navigations systems, including masses of memory and adding video capability, 99 per cent of them then go and hobble their products by giving little or no thought to the headphones they include.
Why not be honest, I wonder, and not include them at all? The manufacturers could make a tiny bit of extra profit, would save on landfill (which is where most of this rubbish will inevitably end up), or better still, sell the product at a slightly lower price and allow the consumer to make the choice.
I suppose there’s little chance of that right now, given that there’s still a significant majority of people who don’t seem to care that they’re listening to the height of technology through the equivalent of a small plastic drainpipe. But, if you’re reading this, then there’s probably a good chance that you’ve at least started on the path to enlightenment. Are v-moda’s £24.99 Bass Fréqs a good place to start?
Well, for this money, you’re not going to be getting anything approaching audiophile in sound quality. But what you do get is surprisingly good. The Bass Fréqs are a semi-noise cancellation design of headphone – they’re inserted into the ear canal, but not as deep as some other noise cancellation headphones, such as my now-venerable Shure E2Cs or our current mid-range faves, the Shure SE210s.
The result is that they’re a little more comfortable, but don’t cut out quite as much extraneous ambient noise. It’s a good balance if you want to have some awareness of the outside world while walking down the street, for instance, but they do require an extra twist of the volume knob in noisy environments such as the London Underground.
At this sort of money, surprisingly, you’re not short-changed on extras either. The headphones come with three sizes of silicone flanges so you can get the best possible fit, and a v-shaped silicone cable tidy – which v-moda calls a Modawrap. The latter is particularly useful if you’re frustrated by cables that dangle out of the bottom of your jacket – you just wrap any loose cable around the silicone stick and lock it in place using the notches at each end. Simple yet effective.
Moving onto the phones themselves, they’re not earth-shatteringly good-looking with their light weight and plasticky construction. But they’re still more attractive than most bundled efforts, with their spherical driver housings and curved tails, and you can get them in eight different colours if the understated Bling Bling Black version reviewed here isn’t to your taste.
That light weight does have its advantages, though. The Bass Fréqs are very comfortable in the ear and, despite the insubstantial feel, they’re built well enough to take a bit of abuse. They’re also clearly targeted at the workout and exercise market with a much shorter cable (around 110cm) than with most after market headphones. This means there’s less to get tangled up as you pound out the miles on the treadmill and there’s also less to untangle after they’ve been stuffed into a pocket.
In terms of sound quality, these headphones have a clearly defined target audience – bass fiends (in case you hadn’t guessed from the name). And they certainly come up with the goods on this front, providing deep throbbing, overbearing, thumping low notes that make you think you’re in a nightclub rather than sitting at your desk at work or on the tube. The bass is something you can really feel in your head rather than simply hear, which is not normally the case with ear canal phones.
Firing up Biffy Clyro’s ”Puzzle” really got the Bass Fréq’s motoring: bass guitars and grungy notes really hit the eardrums hard, with pressure and impact, and moving on to Nitin Sawhney’s ”Broken Skin”, which has some truly gut-rumbling stuff, sees the performance repeated. A short session with a touch of psychedelic electronica from Aphex Twin’s double album ”Drukqs” really shows off the capabilities of the Fréqs, delivering bucketloads of high-pressure, well-defined bass.
According to the specifications, the Bass Fréqs can go as low as 8Hz and deliver 20Hz frequencies at 122dB at 1mW, which explains the performance outlined above. This is easily low enough to cope with the range of sounds a CD or compressed audio file can pump out and a lot lower than the physical limits of most human ears. Just to have a little fun, I decided to give them a more intense workout using a tone generator to see how low they would go. And they certainly live up to their claims: I could clearly hear a sine wave tone at 20Hz and even a little below this.
In an effort to wrong foot them, I next loaded up Wynston Marsalis’ ”Root Groove”, which is littered with ear-splittingly high notes and loads of difficult, transients from the percussion. Sure enough, middle notes sounded a little muffled, while highs lacked the zing I’d associate with a really high quality pair of headphones. If you like to listen to a lot of classical or acoustic music, these headphones won’t be for you. In jazz, I found that the big bass sound tended to unbalance the rest of the music, favouring the double-bass and causing vocals to fade a little from the foreground. Shure’s E2C’s can still be had for around £50 if a flatter response is needed and a more natural sound, while its excellent SE210s can be had for not much more than this.
There’s no doubt that spending a little on a pair of after market headphones will realise a lot in terms of improved sound quality, and these headphones from v-moda prove that you don’t necessarily have to spend big bucks. They won’t suit anyone for whom balance and clarity is a priority and there are headphones for not much more that are better for classical and acoustic music.
But for electronic music and dance they knock anything I’ve heard into a cocked hat for the money. In terms of bass grunt and weight, there’s not much that can compete with the high-pressure lows that the Bass Fréqs can reproduce, and this bass is not as overbearing or ill-defined as you might expect.
Given that this is the area most bundled headphones are completely lacking in, and that it’s the area that iPods’ output tends to be light on, I think v-moda is onto a good thing here. They’re not perfect, but they are a very good deal indeed.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7
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