Master by Name, Master by Nature
The V-Moda Crossfade M-100 Master headphones are the best pair I’ve ever owned
I’ve realized, in the past year, that I’m a bit of a headphone addict.
I began my love affair with headphones in middle school, when I got my first pair of earbuds included with my iPod Touch. Since then, I’ve gone from Apple to Sony and back to Apple again, burned through three different pairs of Skullcandy Uprocks, and put approximately five million pairs of earbuds through the washer and dryer. (Apple EarPods are surprisingly resilient.)
Now, as someone who recently started producing music professionally, audio is more than a hobby — it’s one of the most important things in my life. If I can’t get a good response across the full spectrum of sound, I might pump out a subpar song that’s mixed like absolute garbage; this has happened before and will happen again, no doubt. And for this, I need a pair of headphones that can do it all. Something I can listen to ambient music and podcasts with on a plane or in the back of my family’s car when we go on a trip, but also, something I can pull out in a studio setting to make sure that my levels are right and my mix is coming through crystal clear.
I think I’ve found that pair in the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 Master.
Before I learned about V-Moda, I was only working with the Sony MDR-V6 — a solid pair that never let me down, until I listened back to my mixes and realized that they had almost no bass. The Sonys are studio monitor headphones through and through — they even have it printed in silver lettering over the top of the headband — but as such, their sound profile is flat as can be.
Sound profile — a term I learned while googling “which headphones are best” — refers to how the spectrum of sound comes through when you’re playing back audio. A good pair of headphones should have a well-balanced profile; the highs, lows, and mids of every sound should be clear, and none of them should overwhelm any of the others. The trade-off with having a flat profile means that everything is equally loud, which can be good for some studio responses, but casual listeners and people like me who have always been terrible at mixing bass frequencies will probably want something with a bit more punch.
Before the V-Modas entered my life, I’d been exclusively using Apple EarPods (the wired kind; AirPods are far from within my usual price point). Their unique earbud structure allows them to deliver a solid response across the whole spectrum — if I wanted bass, I could have it. If I wanted clear treble, I could have it too. What I couldn’t have was long-term comfort for long hours listening back to my mixes in the studio or the isolation a closed-back pair of headphones would give me.
And so, during the summer of last year, I began my quest for the perfect pair. This quest boiled down to “go to a bunch of Best Buys and Guitar Centers and try things on until you find something you like”. I tried everything I could find on best-of headphones lists, from the ultra-plush comfort of Beyerdynamic DT 770s to the incredible noise canceling abilities of the Sony WH-1000 XM3s. From Audio-Technica to Yamaha, I tested out every pair I could find, leaving every time with more and more entries on my list of possible contenders.
Then I walked into Best Buy one day and put on a pair of V-Modas, and I fell in love instantly.
V-Moda was founded by DJ Val Kolton in 2004 with the intent to create high-quality and fashion-forward audio equipment for DJs and audiophiles alike. I hadn’t known any of this going in; all I knew was that I’d seen tons of my favorite musicians and DJs using them both in the studio and on stage. They’re hard to miss with their unique hexagonal design and custom-printable ear shields, and their durability is second to none, according to their own tests.
After trying out a few different pairs at a few different locations, I bit the bullet and spent a whole lot on the Crossfade M-100 Master, and I can tell you from personal experience they are easily the most comfortable and best sounding pair of headphones I’ve ever owned.
Let’s look at the tech specs of these cans, for those of you who need to know. The M-100s have 50-millimeter dual-diaphragm drivers, 5 to 40,000 hertz frequency response, and 32-ohm impedance. I want to talk about the practical applications of these, though, because that’s what I know best.
First of all, they’re comfortable as can be. My giant elephant ears were too big for the included ear pads, but you can upgrade to an XL size from V-Moda’s official store for $20, and the installation is simple enough that you won’t go breaking your expensive headphones. Being made out of metal, the M-100s are heavier than your average casual headphone, but with the plush ear pads and easily adjustable headband, once you’ve got it calibrated to your head, you might not notice the weight — I certainly don’t. You can leave them on for hours on end while you’re composing and editing music, and you’ll never feel like your head’s being squeezed in a really great-sounding vise. (The ears are another story, but as I said, the XL ear pads are an easy fix if your ears are too big for the standard pads.)
If you’re comfortable, but your headphones sound awful, then you might have just wasted a lot of money. Thankfully, the M-100s are a powerful contender in this department as well — when I tested them in store, the demo songs were Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”, and they sounded absolutely fantastic. The basslines on both tracks were clear without getting distorted, and the treble sounds of the funk and disco guitars absolutely sparkle; not to mention Pharrell Williams and Bruno Mars’s phenomenal vocals, which came through at just the right volume.
Having used the M-100s on every genre from old school hip-hop to EDM trap to alternative rock, I know from personal experience that they continue to hold up no matter what you throw at them. Bass-heavy rap like Lil Pump’s “Multi Millionaire” (a guilty pleasure of mine) sounds fantastic, letting the subs kick as hard as they should without overwhelming the lyrics. These headphones give a new clarity to every little sample that makes up the awkwardly charming beat of Len’s “Steal My Sunshine”, and the width of their stereo powers allows the guitars on Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” to sound as chunky and huge as they should.
The acid test, for me, is this: can these headphones handle Danny Byrd’s “Hot Fuzz”? It’s a drum and bass song that runs the whole spectrum from distorted bass to joyful piano and soulful vocals, and any pair that can give this song the clarity it needs while also bringing forth the energy that’s made it a staple in my car stereo is going to be a good pair. The M-100s handle this track with absolute aplomb. The piano and strings sound gorgeous, the drums hit hard, and every instrument that makes up the bassline is punchy as can be.
How about for studio applications? I’ve used these headphones to mix countless songs, and my final products have never sounded better. I can easily hear what frequencies are too loud and might need to be brought down, if an instrument or a vocal track is being overwhelmed by something else in the mix, and whether any samples I use are the proper pitch. I’ve put the M-100s through their paces listening to some of my awful mixdowns, and with them, I’m able to pinpoint all the problem spots within my projects and turn songs from just okay-sounding to well-mixed and from too quiet to loud-but-not-too-loud.
As someone who thought for a bit that you needed to own different pairs of headphones for casual listening and serious recording, the Crossfade M-100 Masters have been a welcome upgrade and a fantastic bridge between those two worlds. They fold up easily for travel with a satisfying “click”, the headband can bend every which way without any sign of breakage, and they just look really cool on my desk with the rest of my audio equipment. I can take them with me wherever I go, and whatever I need them for there, they’ll give me exactly what I need.
These headphones do cost a pretty penny — $250 for a new pair — but for my money, it’s absolutely worth it. They come with a sturdy travel case, a standard cable, a cable that lets you plug another headphone cord in for all those romantic moments where you want to share some music with your significant other, and a two-year warranty in case they ever break. V-Moda also has a wonderful “Immortal Life” program where you can trade in any previous pair of their headphones for 50% off a new pair.
So who are these headphones not for? What drawbacks are there? As I said, they will set you back a decent amount, and you’ll want to upgrade the ear pads if the standard ones are uncomfortable. Casual listeners on a budget will likely not want these on their list, given their price — V-Moda makes less expensive and less fully featured pairs of headphones, but none I’ve tried feel quite as comfortable or sound quite as good as these. They’re also not wireless, which I know is important to a lot of listeners who want to keep cables out of their lives; V-Moda’s wireless Crossfade line costs $100 more. There’s a lot of research to be found on what headphones are right for what people, and my love of the M-100s shouldn’t be the only factor in your decision.
What I do know for certain is I would recommend the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 Master to anyone who makes or enjoys music, is looking for a wired pair of cans, and is willing to spend a little extra money for good quality. I’ve never owned this versatile a pair of headphones; the amount of applications these are good for is absolutely staggering, and the balance between comfort and durability is perfect for someone like me who spends hours on end working on and listening to music. They have tons of optional accessories for any purpose — gaming, serious monitoring, even personalization — but at their core, they’re just a really good, solid way to put sound in your ears.