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November 2013
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 167
Vamp Verza Headphone And Amplifier
Article By Bill Gaw

 

  Boy, it is tough being retired! Since I was 16, I've worked just about every summer and vacation from school, and usually 60 hour weeks as an obstetrician-gynecologist. And I still found time to write an article a month for the last 12 years for this rag. Then all of a sudden, I'm retired and can't find an hour or two to write. Between going on a month-long trip to Europe, entertaining friends we made on our trip, and going in for knee replacement surgery, the days have just flown by. Of course, during that time I did spend many hours listening to my system, with which I, for the first time in 32 years, am completely happy with its ability to reproduce the qualities of sound which I hear in the concert hall. Whether that's due to finally achieving the "absolute sound" in my media room, or just old age that allows us to mellow and be happy with what we've got, or a combination, I'm uncertain. But, as a consequence, there have been no changes made to it since the Pure Power+ 1500 AC regenerations units were placed. Thus, no review products were asked for or received to evaluate.

Then, this month, while recovering from the knee surgery, I realized that my wife and I will be doing more traveling and will be away from my system for several months at a time. While at our winter retreat in the Caribbean, I'll be able to use a computer, Stax headphone and the Smyth Realizer, which will allow emulation of my home system, but during traveling, a decent reproduction system will be needed. I had been using a set of Etymotic Research in-ear headphones with a Toshiba android tablet computer, which did allow reduction of ambient noise from airplane engines, the wife's discussions of this and that, and other distractions, but the sound was not up to audiophile standards, both due to the computers poor D/A converters and weak amplifier.

Thus the search was on for a proper method of travel entertainment. A way was needed to improve on the computer's and headphones' failures at fairly reasonable cost, at least by audiophile standards. The system had to be compact to allow it to be brought on board without filling my carry-on, be able to remove the distracting noise, be compatible with my tablet computer, be able to last an entire flight, and deliver audiophile level sound.

Until several months ago, fulfilling all of the requirements would have been impossible as most of the portable systems failed at least one of the criteria. While there are many high quality headphones out there, most are too expensive, too bulky or too uncomfortable for travel. The sources, either portable phones, laptops or digital playback units, had poor D/A converters or amplifiers which mucked up the sound. Several companies brought out portable amplifiers, followed by combo D/A converters and amplifiers, but most had either inferior chips or were bulky and heavy. Then there was the problem that when they finally began producing very compact units with very good sound, all were compatible with Apple i-phones, but not with both Android and Windows systems used by competing tablets. Of course, I owned a Windows Netbook and a Toshiba Android Tablet, both incompatible with the units out there. After several weeks of searching on the net, a possible system was found.

Headphones

V-Moda, a United States company begun by a musician, Val Kolton and designer Joseph Bucknall have produced the Vamp Verza D/A Amplifier and Cross Fade M-100  headphones. The Vamp Verza kit consists of an i-phone sized battery pack-D/A convertor-150 mW headphone amplifier in a variable colored metallic case, 3.75" Tuono Lightning cable, Micro USB cable, 3" Apple 30-pin cable, 4" Micro USB to Micro USB cable, and 2 V-MODA bands to secure to MP3/smartphones for devices without a Metallo case, all for $598 direct including shipping. For $100 it can be supplied with a Metallo Case built specifically for each type of cell phone, surrounding it with metal and attaching it to the Vamp.

The headphone kit consists of the over-ear metallic cased foldable headphones called the Crossfade M-100, Exoskeleton carry case, carabiner, Kevlar reinforced SpeakEasy Microphone control cable, Kevlar reinforced SharePlay audio cable, 1/4" pro adapter, V-CORK (2), instant six-star support code, and V-MODA Sticker, for $310. One of the cables allows two persons to attach headphones, while the second cable has a button which allows one to switch between the music and a phone call. At a total cost of $908, expensive for Joe Sixpack, but less than I've spent on one interconnect! except for a special optical digital cable for use as a USB to S/PDIF converter, I couldn't think of another accessory that one would have to purchase. The headphones have a two year and the DAC/amplifier a one year warranty, a 60 day no questions asked return policy, and both have a guarantee that after that time they can be returned for a 50% fee reduction on the next unit you buy.

The headphones body and strap are all metal and well padded, fit comfortably on the head and ears and remove as much ambient noise as the sound mufflers I use with my tractor. They have a 50 mm diameter dual diaphragm sound reproducer, much like KEF and TAD speakers and supposedly they were tested by audiophiles for sound quality. The Vamp Verza has a 2200 amp-hour lithium ion battery which has a five hour charging and seven hour playing time. It has two converters, a Burr-Brown PCM 2902 for Windows and Android systems, and an AKM 4353 DAC for iOS Apple products. Since the two systems use different charging and digital transmission methods, there are separate micro and USB 3.0 pin power-digital inputs with appropriate control switches, and a combination mini headphone jack-optical digital output for attachment to a home music system.

Enough of the statistics. How do they work and sound? I first listened to the headphones on my home system through the analog outputs of my HTPC, Burson solid state and Electraprint 300B SET Headphone amplifiers, using both two channel and surround with the Smyth Realizer. Sound was compared with my Audeze LCD-2, Etymotic Research and typical Sony inexpensive portable headphones. While they didn't quite match the Audeze units at three times the price, they sure beat the other three for sound that surprised me with its tight bass, clean and clear midrange and high frequencies. Using the Realizer, I got a very close to a perfect match with the sound coming from my 7.7 surround horn speaker system.

Even more surprising was the sound quality coming from the Vamp Verza. It was recognized without flaw by my three Windows computers, Android Tablet and cell phone, and a borrowed Apple i-phone 5. It powered all of the headphones with plenty of room to spare in its low gain mode, and combined with the M-100 headphones, produced the best portable sound I've heard. It compared favorably with the more expensive Burson and Electraprint headphone amps, with an advantage in that its so-called 3D spacializer did add some realism to sound-staging on two channel recordings. So what were the negatives? First, the web site, while having excellent information on the innards, has no manual, and the unit comes with only a small so-called QuiqCard rather than an instruction manual. There is both a call-in and web based question answering, but a web or written manual would be great considering the complications of setting up this multi-purpose unit.

Second, the supplied unit would not switch on its bass boost function just to try it out on the Etymotic earphones which have too little bass and too much high end for my present tastes, a small matter. It turns out that the bass boost only works on i-phones, but this was not mentioned anywhere that I could find. Third, there was no supplied cord for the optical S/PDIF output so I was not able to hear how the unit functioned as a USB S/PDIF converter, also a small matter. Fourth, using my Windows computers, the computer sound panel only allowed 16 bit 44, 48, and 96 kHz decoding when the chips in the unit should be capable of 24 bit at 88, 176 and 192 kHz decoding. Other USB D/A units have software programs that allow Windows to decode these frequencies. Unhappily, the unit is only able to decode 16 bit at 44 and 48 kHz. Finally, and most important to me, when the Vamp Verza was plugged into the Android tablet, the computer would of its own volition shut off and reboot after a few minutes, which did not occur when the Vamp Verza was not attached. Hopefully there'll be a software change for the Vamp Verza to prevent this.

Are the headphones, and Verza worth their price? To me, if they fix the android shut-off glitch, yes, as they are the only portable units out there that work with both the Windows and Android systems, and sound great to boot. I'm sure there will be others in the near future, possibly at lower price points, but for now V-Mode leads the pack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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