Of all of the personal electronic products, earbuds are one of the most intimate items that a person could buy – at least from Best Buy. Let's admit it, it's just not natural to stuff miniaturized speakers into your ear canal. But there's a reason why we use them and when a set of earbuds are done right, there's a reason why we can actual enjoy them.
When we were contacted to take a look at V-Moda's Vibe II's admittedly, expectations were not high. With few exceptions, earbuds typically have weak acoustics combined with an uncomfortable fit.
To test out these tiny earphones, we ran a comparison against the stock iPhone earbuds, the Vibe II and for higher end fidelity and a noise-cancelling test, the Bose Quiet Comfort 3.
When we first got our hands on the Vibe II’s the thing that strikes you immediately is the packaging. Little foreign people with even smaller hands toiled for months to package these things. The well-engineered boxing was designed to give buyers a good look at the headphones and convey a sense of style that’s the hallmark for V-Moda.
The box even came with a magnetic coupling to allow people to open the box to get a better look without disturbing the contents.
While good packing is always nice and gives buyers a good feeling about the quality of their purchase, it comes at a price as good packaging is normally a pain to open. This was the case with the Vibe II’s and there’s a reason why this review is coming well over a year after the release of the product – it took us that long to open the box with our teeth.
After wrestling open the thick plastic with our product editor’s three remaining teeth, it was time to get on with the test.
Right out of the box, the Vibe II’s come across as well constructed thanks to the weight of the earbuds and thick and seemingly sturdy fabric cord. The buds make a distinctive “tink” when knocked together making it clear that these metal alloy beans of acoustic joy aren’t playing around.
On the 45-degree mini-jack, there is a label covered the gold-plated plug that reads, “Rock Safely.” We pondered that for a minute. Fifty-five year-old Volvo drivers “Rock Safely.” If we’re spending $100+ on little metal things to cram into our ear holes, we want to straight up rock with dangerous abandon – and then hope that no one noticed.
Before the comparison began, we cheated, cleaned our ears and passed around the Vibe II’s to get a first listen. It didn’t go well. Most of us noticed that the Vibe II’s had no bass. It couldn’t be right. After going back to actually read the product manual, we swapped out the silicon fittings to match our individual sizes and like magic, V-Moda’s Vibe II’s came alive.
APPLE HEAD TO HEAD
After getting an initial feel for the Vibe II’s over the Dark Knight soundtrack, we popped in the stock iPhone earbuds.
The cultish white earbuds were muddy in comparison to the Vibe II’s distinctively clear high and surprisingly rich lows.
For most iPod or iPhone owners, the stock earbuds work fine and they don’t notice the sound quality issues – mainly because they have not had the chance to experience something better.
In regards to fit, there was no comparison. The Apple earphones are a one-size-fits-all hell and can be painfully uncomfortable for some. In stark contrast, the Vibe II’s were unexpectedly comfortable.
Make no mistake, you know the Vibe II’s are in place due to their heft – they weight-in at .9 of an ounce compared to Apple’s .35 of an ounce. Being stainless steel alloy and industrial in appearance, our testers were expecting a sharp-edged fit but that wasn’t the case. They secured in place lightly and without any noticeable hot spots.
Both the Vibe II’s and the Apple iPhone earphones are dual use having a microphone and multifunction button to accept and drop calls and control music play.
While the Vibe II’s beat the white socks of the Apple earphones in sound quality, they were about the same for phone use. Both sets had diminished sound quality through the microphone in comparison to the handset. Additionally, we felt that the Vibe II’s noise cancelling capabilities somehow muted the mid-tones of the person on the other end of the call and it definitely turned all of us into loud-talkers as we could not hear our own voice with the Vibe II’s in place.
BOSE HEAD TO HEAD
Because we didn’t have any other noise canceling headphones around the office, and because we love our Bose QC 3’s, we had to conduct what we initially thought was an unfair test against the Vibe II’s
It turns out that, in the end, it was a fair comparison. While it’s hard to beat the low-end rich bass from Bose’s QC 3’s, V-Moda’s stylish set of earbuds held their own. The Bose set were clearly better in the low end in comparison to the Vibe II’s but the earbuds put up a fight and proved that a little set of in-ear phones can produce rich bass.
While mids were about equal, on the high end, the results were reversed. The Vibe II’s produced ridiculously crisp sound with exceptional tonal range. The Bose on-ear headphone’s sounded muted in comparison.
While this does have to do with in-ear being tested against on-ear, the high-end sound quality was superior with the Vibe II’s in overall sound quality.
For noise cancelling, again we thought it would not be a fair test, but it was. The QC 3’s are decent ambient noise killers but allow conversations (or airplane announcements) to pass through. The Vibe II’s however, kill just about all external noise.
The QC 3’s have the advantage of allowing a wearer to sit in silence, countering noise congestion while the Vibe II’s noise cancelling capabilities only kick in when a user is actively listening to a track.
The Vibe II’s noise cancelling features are dangerously impressive and may be the reason for the “Rock Safely” label on the input jack. It wouldn’t be too far fetched for a jogger to be crushed by a semi while rocking with V-Moda’s earbuds.
On top of the metal earbuds, V-Moda threw in eight sets of silicon fittings. The silicon buttons come in four different sizes and in two color sets, black and clear.
In addition to giving buyers a good range of sizes to choose from, they tossed in earhooks that will suspend the heavier-than-normal buds over a user’s ear. The hooks are also comfortable and take a few minutes to adjust for the best fit.
Finally, V-Moda’s included a stylish leather pouch to carry everything. While other manufacturers try to get a bit too fancy with their carriers, V-Moda went old school with a two-button pouch that looks a bit like a Levi jean pocket.
While we had a good experience reviewing the Vibe II’s, other buyers have not been so fortunate. Reviewers on Amazon and on the Apple store reported the Vibe II’s breaking only after a short period of time. One reviewer said the metal bud split in half while in his ear – this guy clearly needs to lay off of the steroids if he can crush metal objects with his ear.
In fairness to V-Moda, earbuds are typically abused out of necessity. We work out with them, commute with them and sometimes use them to tie down Ikea furniture to our roof racks. They have to be sturdy products. That’s probably why V-Moda included a one-year warranty on their Vibe II’s.
Given the exceptionally crisp and well-ranged mids and highs along with the competitive lows of the Vibe II’s we’re adding them to our list of ConCrave Must Haves for iPhone and Blackberry owners with an active lifestyle.
While we caution people not to wear them in traffic thanks to the superior noise cancelling capabilities, the V-Moda’s are worth the price for anyone who want to go beyond listening to music and actually experience their music.