Expanding on our recent bout with celebrity-endorsed headphones, here we go one step further (back?) with a TV-show-endorsed headphone.
Maybe "endorsed" isn’t the right word. “Branded” perhaps, which is more than appropriate given the subject matter of Showtime’s vampire-themed soap opera.
Given that preamble, the V-MODA True Blood Maker headphones turn out to be something of a surprise.
Like the V-MODA Crossfade M-80 on-ear headphones I reviewed in August, the Makers are solidly built. Their frames are made from zinc. The “Kevlar-reinforced” cables are nearly impossible to tangle, though are slightly microphonic (transmitting physical sound from the cable rubbing on your clothes to the earphones), and they contain a single button nodule with built-in microphone that’s said to work with iPhone, Android, and even Blackberry, for those still so inflicted. Where the two cables from the meet, you'll find a black metal “coffin” pendant. Cute.
Inside the smallish frames are 8 mm “V-MASQUE” drivers. Knowing a solid fit is crucial to in-ear 'phone sound quality, V-MODA includes eight different sizes of silicone tips, plus “ACTIVE FLEX” (they love naming things in all caps IT MAKES IT SEEM IMPORTANT) detachable over-ear hooks. I found a size that fit my ears perfectly, and the Makers fit snugly.
Despite the significant True Blood marketing and design flourishes, the Makers aren’t actually that overt. Wearing them, you’ll just look like you've got red and black headphones. The mic nodule has the TV show’s logo on it, but in general somebody would have to know what the Makers are to have any idea they’re not just another pair of cool headphones. In my mind, this is an overwhelming positive. It means those not into the show could conceivably buy them and not feel like wannabe vampire hipsters.
My first test track was “Hurts like Heaven” from Coldplay’s newest, Mylo Xyloto. The Makers have surprisingly good stereo separation for in-ears. The soundstage sounds like it extends a bit wider than your ears. The tonality seems fairly flat, with no frequencies overly accented. There’s a bit of mid-range push, giving them a some sonic punch that works to their advantage. The high end is open, reproducing all the synths and other sonic mush typical of Coldplay.
My go-to headphones are an aging pair of Denon AH-C751 in-ears. They’re small, comfortable, and admittedly a little bass heavy. Their successors, the AH-C710 match their sonic characteristics. Comparing these $150 earphones to the Makers find the latter lighter in the bass. This is probably technically more accurate, though I generally prefer a slightly warmer sound.
To test the bass response better, I cued up “End of Line” as remixed by Boys Noize from the amazing TRON: Legacy Reconfigured album. Sure enough, the Makers just don’t have the low-down thump of the Denons. This isn’t to say the V-MODAs don’t have bass — they do, just not a ton of deep bass. This is odd given the predominance of bass in the M-80s.
Switching genres a bit, next up was “Tenuousness” from Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast album. The opening bass line is strong, and the string plucks are open and detailed. The trebley percussion never grates on you, even at high volumes.
I finished up with some straight-ahead rock: “Same Mistake” from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Hysterical. The drums had an energetic drive, and this track sounded less muddled than I’ve heard it sound on other gear.
With a variety of content, the Makers lacked any significant vices. Highs were clean, mids had punch, bass had some rumble. I, and probably some others, might want a few more dB of the latter, but it’s close enough I’d chalk it up to personal preference.
Our conclusion reached with the celebutard headphone roundup was that you were paying for name and branding, at the expense of sound and design quality. Of course, any product with this kind of marketing is, by its nature, seen in the same light. What’s interesting about the Makers, though, is that they’re a great sounding headphone that competes solidly with other $150 headphones. Brand association aside, I’d bet more than a few people would like them better than my beloved (if bass-heavy) Denons. So here we have an interesting product that — because of its stylized branding — may be overlooked by those just wanting a decent set of headphones.(Of course, those people can turn to V-MODA's Vibrato — a similar, if coffin-pendant free, zinc-framed in-ear model.)
Only 400 of the limited edition True Blood Makers will be made, so if you’re a fan of vampire melodrama — or, as in my case, not — best to check these out soon.
Though if V-MODA makes a version of these with some Walking Dead -branding, I’d personally be on them like zombies on brains.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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