Known for quality design that incorporates metal over plastic, V-Moda also insists that headphones should be fashionable as well as functional.
In the case of the XS on-ears, the company delivers on that promise. These sleek, angular cans are extremely durable and portable, but still manage to deliver a full, satisfying sound. They aren't quite studio quality, but they definitely deliver well-crafted sound to suit a wide range of listeners—from beginners to hobbyists.
If you're looking for a set of headphones that have a ton of positive traits and will last through rain or shine, we highly recommend the XS on-ears. At $199 online, they're a solid deal.
To measure the way a set of headphones responds to the full frequency range, we slap them on a head-and-torso simulator. Silly as he looks, he's never wrong, and he had good things to say about these on-ears.
The first few sub-bass frequencies—20, 30, and 40Hz—are underplayed, but the higher bass range of 50Hz through 500Hz maintains proper, even volume. Thus, bass underpins the soundscape without covering or obscuring the more subtle details in your music. Sounds from 600Hz through 1.5Khz will sound out slightly louder than bass, giving the meat of the midrange more emphasis. Higher pitches drop around 4kHz, but only slightly, before picking back up and peaking at 8kHz.
Unless you prefer a soundscape that exaggerates bass, these V-Modas are likely to please your ears.
For having such a focus on fashion, the V-Moda XS—available in matte-black metal or white silver—are some of the most durable on-ears available. In fact, V-Moda claims "military-level quality" right on the box.
While I can't confirm that, I do know that the ear cups on my black test sample are supremely solid. Each speaker back is even reinforced by shield-shaped back plates (you can swap these out for more colors/styles). The band is flexible and lined in light pleather padding, but it's no less sturdy. If you need a set of on-ears that can take some punishment, the XS are a terrific choice.
Despite the tough metal design, these headphones are actually quite comfortable. I'm not usually a fan of on-ear style headphones, especially as someone who wears thicker spectacles, but the XS have a surprisingly gentle clamp for being so durable, and wield cushy-enough ear pads for most people.
My one complaint? Over time, the comfort level drops a bit—after wearing the XS for a couple of hours, my ears started to ache.
Alongside the essentially indestructible band and cups is a removable cable, carrying case, and two tiny plastic objects that V-Moda calls "V Corks." Essentially, you can plug the cable into either cup, and the corks serve to stop up whichever jack you aren't using.
The 3.6-foot orange cable features reinforced black plastic at the flex points. Wrapped in a pliable kevlar, it resists tangling and is suitably sturdy. A single-button, in-line remote lets you skip/pause songs, or take/hang up calls. Best of all, the XS cable is compatible with Apple, Android, and Windows devices.
Finally, the ultra-sturdy V-Moda XS cups fold into the band for serious portability, allowing the whole product to be zipped away in an angular black carrying case that's reminiscent of a Batman accessory. The case is small and light enough to be clipped onto a keychain, but is also quite resistant to crushing force.
Truly, no detail was spared in the design and construction of these headphones—and that's not as common as it sounds, even at a $200 price point.
Tastefully balanced sound
For such heavy-duty cans, the V-Moda XS have a light touch. Time in the lab revealed an expertly balanced sound profile, with no marked areas of over- or under-emphasis throughout the bass, middle, and treble ranges. The response isn't completely flat, but it's very well-managed for a set of on-ears.
Users who want big, booming bass may be at a loss here—there's actually a little less bass emphasis than a good majority of consumer headphones (a very positive quality for anyone wanting to mix or else tailor their own EQ).
In fact, mid-tone and very high-pitched sounds, such as plucked guitar strings or soaring sopranos, are a little louder than sub-bass and bass altogether—but not by much. Overall, however, nothing is lost in the mix: Expect a full, balanced sound from tuba to piccolo.
It may be a good thing that sub-bass sounds are relatively quiet, as things get a bit distorted at louder volumes. Fortunately, none of the distortion is highly audible, as it tapers off prior to the heart of the bass range, and stays low throughout middle and treble notes, too.
If you plan on taking these cans on the go, you'll be glad to know that they're pretty good isolators, too—since they press right up against your ear, they have a way of naturally blocking outside noise.
While the XS have nothing on a good pair of active cancelers, and won't shut out the world like some snug in-ears, many sounds—especially high-pitched ones like screaming babies and ringing phones—will be greatly dampened.
For more test results and some fun colorful charts, head to the Science Page.
Issues with distortion and sound pressure are these headphones' only drawback. Our total harmonic distortion (THD) test measures the total distortion—unwanted sounds, clipped harmonics—produced by a pair of headphones, as well as the maximum volume output the headphones can handle before THD reaches 3%.
While higher amounts of distortion are common in the sub-bass range, the XS's distortion persists around 3% into the bass range (60Hz through 800Hz). A drop-off around 200Hz, however, ensures that almost none of this will be audible. It's enough to give purists some amount of pause, but most listeners will never notice a thing.
The XS also tested with a lower maximum SPL (sound pressure level) than normal. Listening to music louder than 109.36 dB will result in markedly more distortion—but you shouldn't be listening at that volume anyway.
Have your cake and eat it, too
Finding the right headphones can be tricky. If you go for something more fashionable and portable, like in- or on-ear types, do you sacrifice the quality that's generally easier to achieve via the larger speaker drivers of over-ear headphones?
Well, fear not—this entry from V-Moda makes the choice for you. With the XS on-ears, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
When you combine their high-quality sound with great extras and a form factor that might outlast the car you bought last year, the $200 price tag feels very fair—especially considering the closest competition is over $100 more expensive. If you're looking for a great combination of sound quality and sturdy design, give these cans a try.
Isolation, or attenuation, refers to how well (or how poorly) a set of headphones blocks or reduces outside, ambient sounds. While on-ear headphones aren't always the best choice for this kind of thing, the XS headphones do a decent job of it.
Testing revealed that these V-Modas won't block much in the way of sub-bass or bass frequencies—so you'll still hear things like truck horns and rumbling engines clear as a bell. You won't hear actual bells, fortunately: Midrange frequencies are reduced by about 10 dB, meaning they'll sound out at half their original volume, while higher pitched frequencies are reduced by as much as 30 dB—that's 1/4 the original loudness.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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.Shoot us an email