The scorching-hot headphone market continues to welcome everyone from traditional electronics manufacturers to loudspeaker companies to cabling and even furniture makers. So here comes Velodyne, a company renowned for its subwoofers, to join the fray with a handful of headphone options. I spent some time donning the company’s vTrue Studio Headphones and vFree On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones.
These two models represent the top half of Velodyne’s offerings, at $299 for the vFree and $399 for the vTrue, with pricing that seems consistent for their spots in the market. Velodyne also has the vLeve On-Ear model, which looks similar to the vFree but without the Bluetooth for $199 as well as the vPulse in-ear headphones for just $99. There’s a bit of something at every level of headphone listener, whether it’s an upgraded performance over whatever earbuds were included in their mobile devices, untethering yourself from such Bluetooth-compatible devices, or have an audiophile-type experience where you can sit back and let the music overtake you.
Let’s start with the vTrue, which to the latter’s point, delivers on its aim and performance expectations. These are high-quality, well-constructed personal loudspeakers that extract major levels of musicality and detail from compressed MP3s to high-resolution 24-bit files.
In terms of specs, the vTrue features 50-mm drivers that Velodyne rates with a frequency response of 10 Hz to 20 kHz and 96dB sensitivity. It comes with two 4-foot braided cloth cables, one of which incorporates a control module for adjusting volume, skipping songs and such from your mobile devices, and the blue matches the inner-cup mesh covering the drivers. The overall design is a beautiful combination of rich brown leather and forged aluminum that, like the performance qualities, is on par for what you’d expect at this price level.
As “studio” headphones, the vTrue is meant for doing some serious listening sessions, whether you’re actually in the recording industry or simply plugging in at home (you can use the stereo adapter to connect to your home audio system components). That’s the preface to the one aspect I didn’t like about the headphones, which is that they felt too big and heavy on my head. On the one hand, I loved that slipping on the leather-laden headphones felt a bit like slipping into the front seat of a Jaguar, but at about 16 ounces (the website lists 10.6, but weighing them on my own scale confirmed that maybe the 0 and 6 were transposed) they did seem hefty and I preferred longer listening sessions with the lighter vFrees. The braided cloth cable is a nice detail that I’ve seen more of recently with headphones (including earbuds from RBH Sound and RHA).
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While I found the weight of the vTrues a tad fatiguing, I thought the music emanating from them was anything but. It didn’t take long to see why they’re intended for studio listening, as they produced super-clean, uncolored and well-defined results. And if you think that because Velodyne’s specializing in subwoofers means that its headphones will follow suit and emphasize bass as some headphones do, think again … though there was plenty of it, the bass sounded well balanced in the overall sonic signature and for all its thump it carried that same clarity and definition.
I did most of my listening with the vTrues connected to my PC via Meridian’s USB Explorer DAC to try and squeeze the most out of those files, and because I’ve used the little DAC for a while now as a digital source reference. Velodyne lists a similar USB DAC, AudioQuest’s DragonFly, as a “suggested accessory” for the vTrue on its web page. After seeing some serious audio setups at CES and T.H.E. Show that ran on Macbooks and DACs, the computer-to-DAC-to-headphone chain also seems like a nice, streamlined audiophile approach to this category, especially with the advent of high-res 24/96 and 24/192 downloads.
Rather than jump right into high-resolution recordings, though, I played an assortment of low-res MP3s first. With everything I threw at it, I kept reaching the same conclusion about the vTrues being well balanced and articulate, with lots of punch in reproducing bass and drums. Most of the time I was playing at moderate-to-low volume, but when I cranked things up a bit I was pleasantly surprised that clarity did not drop off and that higher volume levels accentuated the musicality—I’ve heard many other headphones crack under that pressure.
On Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, for instance, I thought the acoustic guitar playing on “Buckets of Rain” sounded lush and Dylan’s vocals—among the clearest of his career—very enveloping, while “You’re a Big Girl” produced a really warm-sounding tone that somehow culled every little detail from what seems like a roomful of musicians sitting right in front of me. At the same time, the drumming on both tracks is rendered appropriately gentle and nuanced yet with enough impact to serve as a solid foundation in the mix.
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Being familiar with the stage setups at live performances for Phish and guitarist Trey Anastasio’s side-project band, I thought the vTrues provided spot-on imaging while listening to live soundboard recordings from both groups. Here too, they delivered well-rounded prominence to seemingly every musician, including Phish keyboardist Page McConnell’s playing that I’ve found gets lost within the quartet’s recordings through other speakers but with the vTrues was a force coming out of the left channel during “Undermind” (from Aug. 31, 2012, Commerce City, Colo.). In a live cut of “Scabbard” from the eight-person Trey Anastasio Band, the resolution of instruments was impeccable, especially Cyro Baptista’s array of percussion jingling through the right earcup.
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.