These Sub-$200 Headphones Are Petite And Powerful, But Also Imperfect

V-Moda’s “XS” headphones promise all kinds of interesting contradictions: Diminutive in size but big on sound; thin and sleek, but also extremely durable and collapsible for easy travelling.

After putting two different-coloured models to the test (we tried matte black and white silver), the XS over-the-year headphones live up to most of those expectations, but fall short in a few areas.

First, let’s talk about the design. At first, I was really worried about wearing these headphones. They’re called “XS” because they truly are “extra small” — I thought they’d be unstable on my head and make me look goofy (well, goofier than I already look). But I was pleasantly surprised to see that they weren’t as small as I anticipated, and that they fit quite well over my ears. 

V-Moda says it built the XS model to remove the unattractive gap between one’s head and the headphones themselves. These headphones certainly achieve this feat, as there’s virtually no air space between you and the accessory. Of all the Business Insider staffers that tried on these headphones, nobody looked goofy wearing the XS.

What’s more, you can laser-engrave any name or logo onto the headphone’s outer shields for $US45 — I asked V-Moda to engrave Business Insider’s logo, and the final result looked beautiful on both the white and black models. If you have a logo or design you like, the engraving is well worth your money. 

From a design perspective, V-Moda excels in most areas on the XS. The headphones are inviting enough with leather and soft fabric on the cups and headband, but they’re also rugged enough to withstand any kind of punishment, thanks to military-grade materials. What’s really nice is that you can fold the cups into the band, which makes the XS into the most travel-friendly pair of headphones you can find. V-Moda even ships the headphones in a super slick exoskeleton case, which keeps everything neatly organised and compact, and that, too, is exceedingly small for all your travel needs.

But even if you plan on using these headphones while travelling, just make sure you don’t move your head around too much. The XS headphones are small but aren’t very secure on your head; if you do any head banging, or even if you just look down while wearing them, the headphones will slide towards the front of your crown. This is somewhat disappointing: Headphones, to me, should be able to rest comfortably on your head in any scenario, especially if you want to rock out. A-Audio’s Legacy headphones, for example, will stay on your head no matter how violently you shake.

And then there’s the sound quality. It’s not bad for under $US200, but V-Moda has greatly emphasised the bass on these headphones, as if to say, “Yes the XS is small, but it can produce incredibly deep notes.” The problem, unfortunately, is that the excessive bass tends to drown out some of the mids, and the highs seem a bit quiet, too. 

The sound quality in the XS is still better than what you’d find in a pair of Apple EarPods, but Business Insider’s Jay Yarow lent me his Beats Solo2 headphones, which are exactly the same price, and they sounded much more accurate to me. And they also stayed on my head when I gave them a good shake.

In all, the XS headphones are a very good product that falls short of greatness, simply because of a few details. The design is pleasant but they won’t stay on a moving head. Bass lovers will appreciate the powerful sound, and it cancels plenty of outside noise, but it’s not always crisp or accurate. V-Moda says it built these on-ear headphones for the “modern audiophile,” but frankly, most audiophiles will want to drop an extra $US50 or $US100 to pick up a pair of headphones that offer superior comfort and sound.

It feels like V-Moda is on the verge of an amazing pair of headphones; we look forward to what the company produces in the years ahead as it iterates on this ultra-small, ultra-portable design.

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