Apple’s AirPods Max would have ushered in the new standard for wireless headphones for over $500. My arguments in support of this? V-Moda’s new M-200 ANC headphones, sold for $499.99, are, as the name suggests, the company’s first headphones to include active noise cancellation. V-Moda is a well-known company in the DJ world, and older headphones like the original M100s and Crossfade 2 Wireless have won some fans of the audiophile crowd. With the M-200 ANC, V-Moda tries to compete at a higher price point than ever before, but the results are a bit choppy.
If there is one thing the V-Moda hasn’t shaken, it’s durability. Like its predecessor, the M-200 ANC headphones are incredibly strong and provide peace of mind no matter how rough you handle them. These are made like tanks. My old M100 pair would be at least 7 or 8 years old at this point, but the folding joints and other core hardware were never provided. It’s been a long time since the headband material started to wear out and show its age. I still use it as a gaming headset with V-Moda’s extra boom mic.
I think it’s fair to question whether this is the same V-Moda as it used to be. Before the company was sold to Roland, I regularly sat down with founder Val Kolton, who seemed to keep the brand at an obsessive level of quality assurance. But so far, there is no reason to question the robustness of these new headphones.
The M-200 ANC adheres to the general V-Moda aesthetic. Most have a mixture of metal and artificial leather. They also fold into the company’s signature carrying case. However, the size of the shield plate on each ear cup has changed. So, if you have an old custom plate, it won’t fit anymore. The ear pads (filled with memory foam) are now magnetically attached to make them comfortable and cushioned. Previously, you had to buy V-Moda’s aftermarket “XL” ear pads for maximum comfort, but this time it wasn’t. I’m glad it’s so easy to replace. magnet!
At the top of the right earcup there are buttons for play/pause and volume control, where the M-200 ANC starts betraying the asking price. It’s understandable because the buttons are soft and don’t click loudly when listening to music. It can still feel a little cheaper. Apart from this, the position at the top so far can actually be awkward to reach when wearing headphones. Maybe it’s my huge head, but I struggled at times. The buttons at the bottom for power and noise cancellation are much simpler to reach (and more clickable for any reason).
The ready-to-use M-200 ANC leaves the EQ settings intact. So Neutral sound profile. I might call them reference studio monitors, but they are very flat. If you’re switching from other headphones like the AirPods Max or Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless cans, this can make a big difference if you’re trying to show everything that’s of acoustic value right away without any adjustments. In this case, you can instantly browse through the EQ presets (with V-Moda’s app you can do full manual control) to find what sounds best to you. Even if you rotate the low frequency slider, the M-200 ANC won’t shake your brain. However, you can reach a point where EDM and hip-hop are not burdensome. You can do it by sticking to the basic balanced EQ.
If you take your time to EQ, the M-200 ANC sounds great. Although the V-Moda has been shrunk to a 40mm driver (from 50mm on the original M-200), these headphones do a great job of preserving mids with all sorts of EQ tweaks. “$500 noise-canceling headphones with neutral sound” takes me to a strange area, but V-Moda can definitely paint itself with something that stands out here. It supports aptX HD, aptX, AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, making it suitable for wireless audio. It has also been tested in connection with Apple Lossless files and streaming Amazon Music HD, and the M-200 ANC has proven to be incredibly layered and rich. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to pass audio over USB-C, so that port is for charging only.)
I have noticed that V-Moda’s app may be buggy. Sometimes it displays a spinning loading indicator that doesn’t go anywhere. The M-200 ANC also displayed an error “The iPhone can no longer connect to this device”, which required the headphones to be completely re-paired. Roland needs to do more with the software. Most disappointing of all is that the M-200 ANC can only store two paired devices in memory. Adding a third item overwrites the first one. Want to switch between your phone, tablet and PC without any hassle? Sorry.
These headphones don’t have a dedicated transparent mode that you can turn on to hear outside noise. But V-Moda Outright Steal Sony’s tricks. When you touch the left ear cup, the volume of the music drops and background noise is transmitted using the built-in microphone. When released, the music volume and ANC return to normal. This is a useful feature for quick interactions or for listening to announcements at the airport or on the train, but I wanted to see how to enable invisibility mode as much as I want without having to raise my arm for $500.
The M-200 ANC doesn’t have a sensor to detect detachment from the ear, so it doesn’t automatically pause the audio like other premium noise canceling headphones. Again, the $500 extra convenience trick should be part of the experience. Another one is multi-point bluetooth pairing, which these headphones don’t offer. The battery life is 20 hours, which is equivalent to Bose and Apple, but falls short of Sony.
The V-Moda is new to noise canceling and shows it off. The M-200 ANC can’t go up to the AirPods Max level or cheaper options like Sony’s 1000XM4s or Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700. It removes a lot of low-frequency noise, but the overall effect is not comparable to competitors. With the V-Moda app, you can choose from 10 levels of noise cancellation, but even when I made a call, I didn’t feel like I was in the bubble of personal silence that the best ANC headphones have to offer. On the positive side, the V-Moda’s noise cancellation didn’t cause any discomfort, and it didn’t noticeably alter the sound that some headphones might have.
Along with the headphones and case, the V-Moda includes a 3.5mm cable, a USB-C charging cable, and an airplane adapter. I Really I hope the company bundled the BoomPro microphone (sold separately for $35) right in the box with the M-200 ANC. The BoomPro feels like a missed opportunity because it’s a great accessory for gaming and Zoom calls. Apple didn’t even include a headphone cable with the AirPods Max, so you can’t hit the V-Moda too hard, but it would have been the best moment to offer that bonus to its customers. It would also have helped to improve the M-200 ANC in voice call performance. As it is, the built-in microphone is nothing special, and it can be difficult for callers to hear in noisy or windy environments.
I’m really wondering if V-Moda would have priced these things for $500 in a world without AirPods Max. Putting Apple’s can aside, you can see the upper tier of Bluetooth headphones, with options such as the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 and Sennheiser Momentum 3, which cost around $400. (No, I’ve never forgotten about the $800 Beoplay H95, but go ahead.) The M-200 ANC is a rugged wireless headphone and maintains the V-Moda’s fantastic build quality. However, it is impossible to overlook what is missing when a company asks for this amount of cash. A balanced sound signature will definitely be a win for those looking for it explicitly. However, they needed a true transparency mode and better ANC to catch up with the pack and guarantee a significant investment.
Photograph by Chris Welch / The Verge