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V-MODA, as a company, seems to be very focused on fashion. It should come as no surprise, then, that these headphones certainly look well-designed. They have far more aesthetic flair than many in-ear headphones on the market today, which is tough to do, given how tiny the canvas is. Our review unit's coloration was called 'Gunmetal Rouge,' which is fashion-speak for 'red'. Really, if you're looking for an in-ear set that looks nice and separates you from the iPod In-ear Headphones crowd, the Vibe Duo headphones are a good choice.


About our testing:

Our testing rig consists of one part hardware and one part software. The hardware is HATS, a head and torso simulator. HATS is our 'Golden Ear': it wears the headphones like a typical user would, only its hearing mechanisms are highly-sensitive microphones. Our software is SoundCheck, developed by Listen, Inc. It's a professional-grade electro-acoustics analysis program that's used by many manufacturers when they tweak their products. For more information on our tests, read this article.

**Frequency Response**    *(4.31)*     

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How the test works:   

This test sees how much emphasis (in decibels) the headphones assign to each frequency between 100 Hz and 20 kHz. What we look for is underemphasis, overemphasis, or quick changes in emphasis -- none of these are good. On the graph, the decibel level is on the left side, the frequencies run along the bottom, and the dotted black lines represent the limits the headphones should stay between. The green line is the left channel and the red is the right. If you'd like more info on this test, click the orange information icon to the right of the section header.

What we found:

Well, if you like bass, the Vibe Duo headphones are more than willing to oblige. You'll notice that the bass frequencies are actually emphasized right off our chart -- the line extends up to the 105 decibel range for 100 Hz. Once the frequencies settle down a bit, there are two spikes that barely peek above the top limit. This area might sound a bit strange, as that range might sound a bit inconsistently emphasized. Also, towards the end of the limits, the response plummets below 60 decibels quickly. The sharp drop means two sounds that are relatively similar in pitch might be emphasized differently. This can lead to instruments sounding like they're dashing toward and away from you, which is plain unnatural. In this particular instance, spoken sibilance or cymbals might be affected.

To summarize, the bass is off the charts, there are few sharp slopes, and high-pitched sounds might seem a bit muted. For the most part, however, the Vibe Duo headphones performed well.

How the Vibe Duo compares:

Below we have a chart comparing the Vibe Duo's frequency response performance to five other sets of headphones. In this case, the comparison headphones are all focused on portability as well, and with the exception of the iGrados, they're all also in-ears.

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In terms of a rout score, the Vibe Duo was about average. They had the most absurd bass result by far, with the Denon AH-C351 headphones, which come in a distant second for loudest bass. The middle and high frequencies were similar to the Apple In-ear Headphones, since both featured a few minor peaks and valleys before the decibel level gradually tapered off.

**Distortion**    *(1.99)***     

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How the test works:

Distortion refers to the difference between the original sound wave and the sound waves actually produced by the headphones. We simply use SoundCheck to produce a known original sound wave -- in this case, a frequency sweep from 100 Hz to 10 kHz -- and HATS listens for any deviation from the original. Then HATS tosses the data back at SoundCheck, which measures the distortion as a percentage off from the original, and outputs some fine-looking graphs. If you want to know more about our tests, click the orange information button by the section title.

What we found:

The Vibe Duo headphones showed a small amount of distortion throughout the lower and middle frequencies: distortion hovered at the 1% level consistently. Typically 3% is noticeable and annoying. If you listen to music on the Vibe Duo, then listen on a pair with close to 0% distortion, you could probably tell the difference between the two. While we've had worse distortion scores, the Vibe Duo really didn't perform all that well. If you're a non-audiophile who's listening to MP3s on an iPod, however, don't let this score scare you: they'll play back your music just fine.

How the Vibe Duo compares:

As you can see from the scores alone, the Vibe Duo had a problem with distortion: it's on par with the $30 Apple In-ear Headphones. The higher scores all hover around zero, then maybe spike up slightly at a few parts to about 1%, while the Vibe Duo operates pretty consistently at the 1% mark.

**Tracking**    *(5.81)***     

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How the test works:

Tracking refers to the difference in volume between the left and right channel. Perfect tracking would yeild an equal decibel output from each ear bud. Perfect tracking is just about impossible, since something as variable as placement can affect tracking by a few decibels alone. For the first step in this test,  HATS listens to a frequency sweep from 20 kHz to 20 Hz. SoundCheck then analyzes the data and figures out if either channel was playing louder than the other and, if so, by how much. Click the orange 'i' above to learn more about this test.

What we found:

For the most part, the Vibe Duo had mediocre tracking. It starts out a little right-heavy, then moves to slightly left-heavy. Towards the high end of the middle frequencies, however, it starts to become a bit erratic. Towards the high end, it's typical to have tracking go a little haywire, but the Vibe Duo starts to oscillate at a lower frequency than we typically see.

The main area of concern is the first sharp, downward slope and the following peak. If you're listening to an instrument that straddles this frequency range, it might sound as though the musician is pacing back and forth while playing. The total decibel difference, from the lowest point of that valley to the top of the subsequent peak, is about 11 decibels. While this won't make for a stark shift, it will be perceptible.

How the Vibe Duo compares:

Even though the Vibe Duo's performance wasn't bad, it performed the worst out of all the comparison headphones. Many of the other headphones have a relatively flat frequency response for quite a while, then get slightly erratic towards the high end. Though the Vibe Duo's tracking graph contains less sharp lines, it also spends less time at an even kiel than other headphones. Again, while this performance isn't bad, isn't nothing audiophile-worthy.

**Maximum Usable Volume**    *(8.85)***     

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How the test works:

As the volume of your playback increases, so does distortion (again, distortion is the difference between the original sound wave and what the headphones actually output). This test gradually increases the volume until the distortion levels hit 3%  -- an annoyingly noticeable amount. The score for this section is based on the maximum decibel output the headphones can achieve while staying the 3% distortion mark. For more info, click the info button above.

What we found:

The Vibe Duo was capable of outputting 115.16 dBSPL (decibels of sound pressure level). This is a good level of output. Anything above 120 and you're pushing hearing loss, so 115.16 is a good level if you want to stay away from hearing loss.

How the Vibe Duo compares:

Out of all the comparison headphones, the Vibe Duo mustered the least decibel output. Again, while some users will definitely appreciate the louder outputs, once you get above 120 decibels you're in the danger zone. If you're looking for loud, however, the Denon AH-C351 and the Shure SE210 are on the stronger side -- just don't come crawling back with complaints of tinnitus.

**Isolation**    *(7.79)***     

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How the test works:

For the isolation test, we place the headphones on HATS, with a speaker set up a set distance away. We then play pink noise (all frequency octaves at equal energy) through the speaker at a set decibel level. HATS listens, and SoundCheck figures out how many decibels of each frequency were blocked out by the headphones. If a set has active noise cancellation, we test that as well. If you want to find out more, click the information button above.

What we found:

The trend on the Vibe Duo headphones' isolation test results is typical: the higher the frequency, the more sound is blocked out. The Vibe Duo doesn't block out much bass, which means it might not be the best option for an airplane. In an office environment with buzzing fluorescence and high-pitched electrical whines, the Vibe Duo should shine.

How the Vibe Duo compares:

The Vibe Duo was able to block out an above-average amount of noise for in-ear headphones. Typically in-ear headphones receive good isolation scores since they're basically ear plugs. The only headphones below that didn't receive a good isolation score were the iGrados, which were on-ear headphones with open backs.

Since the curves on all the in-ear headphones are similar, it's easy to compare exactly why the Vibe Duo is better or worse than any of the comparison headphone. The Duo was able to block out more higher-pitched sounds than the AH-C351 and the Apple set, but blocked out slightly less bass. The SE210s and the 6isolators blocked out a bit more of everything.

**Leakage**    *(6.85)***     

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How the test works:

For our leakage test, we put the headphones on HATS and play some pink noise (all frequency octaves have the same energy) through them. There's a microphone set up six inches away from HATS's ear, which picks up any pink noise escaping from the headphones. To learn more about this test, click the information button above.

What we found:

The Vibe Duo headphones, relative to other in-ear headphones, are downright terrible. Though the Duo's score is slightly above average, all our other in-ear headphones have received perfect 10s on this test. While no one on the bus would be able to hear your music, you should keep your Vibe Duo playback out of a library or other quiet location.

(6.00)

*Battery Dependency

*These headphones require no sort of auxiliary battery power, which is a nice feature these days.

*Microphone

*The microphone dongle is on the right ear bud's cord, before the neck split. The microphone itself consists of three slits in the top half of the dongle, while the button is on the opposite side of the lower half. The button is a bit small, but it's easy enough to find without looking down. The button does provide good tactile feedback, meaning you'll definitely feel when you've pressed the button.

(6.00)

Typically fashionable gadgets put a huge price on their aesthetic value. In this case, however, V-MODA really doesn't. At $100, the Vibe Duo headphones are attractive, yet still priced appropriately for what they offer. The only thing to keep in mind is that they're also a headset. If you plan on using this feature, awesome, but if you're not it could potentially screw you up: older media players won't play back music correctly through microphone-equipped headsets. Also, no one wants a useless microphone dongle weighing them down.

If you're checking out in-ear headphones and aren't a stickler for audio quality, the Vibe Duo headphones should definitely wind up on your list of potentials.

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Denon AH-C351 - The Denon AH-C351 headphones don't have the aesthetic flair of the Vibe Duo headphones, but they did have slightly better audio quality. They also require the use of the included extension cord -- the headphones themselves are less than two feet long, to allow them to connect to an arm-worn media player with minimal slack. This feature, while useful for joggers, might be annoying for some. The Denon AH-C351 also costs $50 less. Basically, both are good deals, the AH-C351 is just a better one. It offers more value for every dollar, with the possible exception of aesthetic appeal. This match-up ultimately comes down to your own personal taste in aesthetics, how much you dis/like the AH-C351's mandatory extension cord, and how frugal you're trying to be.

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Apple In-ear Headphones - This battle is more about aesthetics than the first, since the difference in audio quality between these headphones is even more negligible. The Apple In-ear Headphones are the status quo at the moment, and the Vibe Duo headphones are the chic alternative. Really, we don't see this choice coming up much, since each have their own, very different audience. Here we think we'd go with the Vibe Duo, since it's still not a drastic money investment, their overall usability is better, and they don't look like the Apple headphones. If you have no ill will towards the Apple In-ear Headphones or their aesthetic, however, then they are a better deal in terms of what you're getting for the price you pay.

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Grado Labs iGrado - The iGrado headphones are relatively inexpensive, but they look dirt cheap. They're also uncomfortable, bulky, not very portable, and have worse audio quality. If you're looking for inexpensive and good, you should go for the Denon AH-C351 anyway, not the iGrado. V-MODA vanquishes Grado Labs in this challenge, hands down.

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Shure SE210 - The Shure SE210 headphones are interesting, since they basically offer about the same as the Denon AH-C351 headphones, but they cost $179.99. We're not sure if the SE210 headphones are overpriced, or if the AH-C351 headphones are a great deal (it's probably a little of both), but in any case we think the Vibe Duo headphones win here. This battle comes down to value. You pay an extra $80 for the SE210 headphones, but you don't get much for your money. In this case we prefer a the Vibe Duo's abundance of style to the SE210's handful of substance.

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Etymotic Research 6isolator - This comparison asks the age old question: are you willing to pay more for higher quality? The 6isolators have much better audio quality for only $40 more. The catch? They don't look as fancy -- they certainly look like they cost less than they actually do -- and they don't appear to be as durable. Both are about the same value in terms of what you're getting for every dollar. Like the comparison to the Denon AH-C351 headphones, this one is too close and too dependent on your own personal taste for us to call. To summarize: the Vibe Duo costs less, is prettier, and has worse audio quality.

Conclusion

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The Vibe Duo headphones are a solid pair of mid-range headphones. They're priced well, based on what they offer, and they have some interesting aesthetics as well. Like many in-ear headphones, the Vibe Duo is aimed at the portable media player market. The generic iPod-toting consumer won't care all that much about audio quality, since their music is overly compressed to begin with. Audiophiles typically won't bother with in-ear headphones anyway, since their compact form makes creating a soundscape a near impossible feat.

In any case, if you fit into this audience, the Vibe Duo will provide everything you're looking for. They're portable, have that mediocre audio quality that'll get you by (and a ton of bass -- do you like bass?), and they're also quite handsome as well. If you're looking for to replace your iPhone headset with something less ubiquitous than the iPhone headset, consider the Vibe Duo.

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The Vibe Duo headphones don't have good audio quality, which is really what audiophilia is all about.

Portable users will love the Vibe Duo headphones, since they're small, in-ear headphones. They also come with a handy case for keeping everything together.


There are headphones out there with far better isolation than the Vibe Duo, including most other in-ear headphones and on/around-ear headphones with active noise cancellation.


These headphones have neither the audio quality nor the cable connectivity to be a feasible choice for a home theater user.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer

@markbrezinski

Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

Checking our work.

We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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