High portability a plus
On-ear headphones are notoriously difficult to get to fit right, but the vFree allows the cups to have a certain range of movement that will conform to your ear—more or less. The overall construction seems adequate to get knocked around a little bit, but don't let the plastic exterior fool you: Velodyne offers "skins" to change the look of the vFrees, so that featureless exterior is a good thing if you like to swap skins on a regular basis.
On the back of the right ear cup is a series of buttons meant to control the finer points of the headphones. Because they're not textured, it can take a bit of getting used to hitting them based on muscle memory alone, but there are only a few buttons you need to know about:
Anyways, these cans were designed with portability in mind. Not only are they much lighter than they look, but also fold down so they can be stowed in a pouch (included). I should point out that just because these headphones can go just about anywhere, it doesn't mean that they work well everywhere. Because these have no active noise cancellation unit (and less than stellar attenuation), you'll find that these headphones won't really isolate well in high-noise environments. If you do take these on a plane, expect masking issues to make your music sound worse than it normally would.
Decent range for bluetooth headphones
Breaking free of the smartphone leash is such a liberating feeling. No more getting caught on door handles, no more accidental tugs, and probably best of all: No more accidental damage to your cans when you let yourself go. While it's a drag to rely on a battery for your headphones to work, the vFree in particular have a microUSB cable that can be used with most electronics, and there is a 1/8th inch to 1/8th inch cable if you run out of juice. Editor's note: I managed to break my first set of headphones by ripping the cord out of the ear cups. I won't confirm or deny if I was headbanging or not.
It's true that on-ears are a tough fit most of the time, but the pliable ear pads on the vFree seem to do their job well. However, that doesn't mean that you'll like these unconditionally: If you really don't like anything touching your ears, these aren't the cans for you. How comfortable they are largely relies on this perception—they don't put much clamping force on your head (in some instances, it can get too loose), but they will need to put their pressure on your pinna in order to stay on your head.
Because the vFree uses Bluetooth 2.1 to connect to your media player, these headphones have a few quirks to them that you should be aware of. For starters: The battery is a bit of a drag to recharge (a full charge takes about 1.5 hours), but we were unable to exhaust it in the lab over a few hours of continuous listening. If you need to set your smartphone down to do something else, you can pretty much wander around the room with no strings attached as long as you stay about 15 feet away—bluetooth may be a bit overhyped, but it's still pretty cool from a functional standpoint.
The features come at a price
If there's a draw to these headphones, it's more likely to be the ease of use and portability than its audio quality. It's not bad, but it's not quite what you'd expect for ~$300.
If this is your first set of high-end cans, you're not going to notice the imperfect audio quality, really. Most of the shortcomings in this department are really centered around things that most entry-level consumers are used to: Some sounds are louder in the right ear than the left, there's an imperceptible level of distortion, and an ever-so-slight level of added noise in bass notes.
Additionally, these headphones reach an audible level of distortion fairly early on. This won't be a problem if you're listening at a reasonable volume, but you're probably going to crank the levels a bit to drown out unwanted noise from the world around you if you're going outside. Be careful when you do that as well, because these will also leak a bit—if you listen to music cranked to eleven, people close to you will hear it.
People will spend good money on headphones that may not appeal to audiophiles for many reasons. For example, there are some special headphones out there that will justify that high sticker price with practical applications of proven technology, and the Velodyne vFree comes close.
Its audio quality may leave something to be desired, but cutting the cable is a valuable feature that greatly reduces the frustration associated with taking headphones around with you. That being said, being forced to rely on a battery charge is a bit of a drag, but it's the nature of the beast.
If you're looking for a set of cans that is highly portable and can send tunes from your smartphone to your ear with no strings attached, the vFree may be for you. If you're looking for headphones that can get loud or work well on an airplane, however, you may end up avoiding these even if it's technically permissible to use bluetooth devices in the air now.
While their portability and comfort are their main selling points, the audio quality leaves something to be desired. There aren't any horrible flaws, but in general the vFree doesn't do much to impress in any category. There are often tradeoffs for wireless use, and it seems to be the case with these Velodyne cans as well.
Not bad, but could be better
Somewhat resembling an exaggerated equal-loudness contour, the frequency response of the vFree is actually a bit better than it looks. If you're listening to pop or older rock music, you should notice that most sounds will be about as loud as others to your ear, even though they aren't the same exact power in this chart. The wild swings in emphasis are to be expected with headphones that target entry-level consumers, as they usually gravitate towards a more dynamic response. In fact, the bass emphasis on these headphones definitely looks more like it was intentionally made to conform to newer interpretations of the ISO 226 standard.
However, notes in the 2-5kHz range will be underemphasized in loudness by about 10dB (those notes will sound half as loud as they should). Really, that covers the last octave of a piano, and not much else—these are high-pitched notes we're talking about here.
Ouch: You're gonna hear this.
The scourge of the wireless headphone, there is so much that can go wrong with a transmission of data that is often hard to control for, but the vFree does seem to control its distortion for most notes. However, there is a bit of distortion in the low end that is just barely audible, even to an untrained ear. If you have a somewhat smaller library of music that you listen to often, you'll notice the difference right away.
While there's a spike in the Perceptual Harmonic Distortion chart, it doesn't even come close to 15-20phon, so you're not going to hear any added noise.
This would normally be a good thing, but this isn't the case with louder volume, however. The headphones can only reach 85.89dB(SPL) before they hit a 3% level of total harmonic distortion, which is not as loud as you might think: It's only about as loud as an alarm clock or hair dryer. Still quite loud, but it does make these unfit to blast.
Poor isolation has consequences
On-ears typically don't block out a lot of sound, and the vFree is no different. Only blocking out 8.2dB on average, outside noise—cars and other low-frequency sound in particular—will disrupt your music listening experience. High-frequency noise will be all but shut-out, however. These sounds are less common, unfortunately.
If you keep your volume under control, these cans corral their own sound acceptably well: at a distance of 6 inches, they only leak 24.72dB of sound, so while you will annoy people close by you in quiet environments, you might not bother people on the subway. Just keep that volume down.
Meet the tester
Staff Writer, Imaging@cthomas8888
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.
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