Apple’s AirPods Max may have just introduced a new standard of $ 500 plus wireless headphones. My argument in support of this? V-Moda’s new M-200 ANC headphone, which sells for $ 499.99 and, as the name suggests, is the company’s first headphone to include active noise cancellation. V-Moda is a well-known company in the DJ world, and previous headphones such as the original M100s and Crossfade 2 Wireless have earned fans in the audiophile crowd. With the M-200 ANCs, V-Moda is trying to compete in a higher price group than ever before, but the results are slightly uneven.
If there’s one thing V-Moda has never wavered on, it is durability. Just like previous models, the M-200 ANC headphones feel phenomenally strong and reassuring, no matter how hard you handle them. These things are built like tanks. My old pair of M100s should be at least seven or eight years old at this point, but the voucher connections and other core hardware never went out – even long after the headband material started to wear and show its age. I still use them as a gaming headset with V-Moda’s add-on boom mic.
I think it’s fair to ask if it’s the same V-Moda it was; before the company was sold to Roland, I would regularly sit down with founder Val Kolton, who apparently kept the brand on an obsessive level of quality assurance. But so far I see no reason to question the robustness of this new headphone.
The M-200 ANCs adhere to the usual V-Moda aesthetics: they are mostly a mixture of metal and artificial leather. They also still fold in the handbag of the business. However, the size of the shield plates on each ear cup has changed. So if you have old, custom boards, it will no longer fit. The ear cushions (filled with memory foam) now attach magnetically and feel nicely cushioned. You used to have to buy V-Moda’s “XL” ear tags for the best convenience, but not this time. I am also glad that they can be replaced so easily. Magnete!
There are buttons at the top of the right ear cup for play / interruption and volume controls, and this is where the M-200 ANCs start betraying their asking price. The buttons are flat, which I can understand, because that means they do not click hard when you listen to music. It can still feel a little cheap. Apart from this, their location so far at the top can make them uncomfortable to reach if you wear the headphones. Maybe it’s just my huge head, but I struggled sometimes. The buttons at the bottom for power and noise suppression are much simpler to reach (and for some reason it is also more click).
Out of the box with EQ settings untouched, the M-200 ANCs have a extremely neutral sound profile. I do not know that I would call them reference studio monitors, but they are very flat. It can make a scary change if you switch from other headphones like the AirPods Max or Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless cans, which try to show you everything it’s worth without any adjustments. In this case, you want to immediately examine the EQ presets (with the V-Moda app you can take the complete manual) to find something that sounds best for you. Even if you turn the low frequency shift pads, the M-200 ANCs will not roar your brain. But you can get them to a point where EDM and hip-hop are not underperforming, which they can if you stick to the standard, balanced EQ.
If you take the time to nail down the EQ, the M-200 ANCs sound very good. V-Moda has switched off to 40 millimeter drivers (from 50 mm in the original M-200), but these headphones do an excellent job of conserving the device through all sorts of EQ adjustments. ” A $ 500 noise-canceling headphone with neutral sound ” seems to me like a strange zone to play in, but V-Moda can definitely paint itself as a standout here. They support aptX HD, aptX, AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, so they are well-rounded for wireless audio. I also tested it with my Apple Lossless files and the streaming of Amazon Music HD, and the M-200 ANCs were wonderfully low and rich. (Unfortunately, they do not seem to transmit audio via USB-C, so the port is just for charging.)
I noticed that the V-Moda app can be buggy; sometimes it will display a turn indicator that never goes anywhere. The M-200 ANCs also gave me ‘errors’ iPhone can no longer connect to this device’, requiring me to reconnect the headphones. Roland needs to do more work on his software. Most frustrating of all is that the M-200 ANCs can only store two connected devices in memory. If you add a third, the first one will be overwritten. Do you want to switch between a phone, tablet and computer without much fuss? Sorry.
These headphones do not have a dedicated transparency mode that you can turn on to hear outside noise. But V-Moda has blatant steal a trick from Sony: you can hold a hand on the left ear cup, the music will decrease in volume and the ambient noise will be applied using the built-in microphones. Once you have removed your hand, your music volume and ANC return to normal. This is a useful feature for quick interactions or to listen to an announcement at an airport or train, but at $ 500 I would love to see a way to keep the transparency mode working for as long as possible – no arm levy not required.
The M-200 ANCs do not have sensors to detect when removed from your ears, so they will not automatically interrupt sound like other premium sound-suppressing headphones. Again, for $ 500, these extra comforts should be part of the experience. Another way is to be multipoint Bluetooth pairing, which these headphones do not give you either. The battery life is 20 hours, which is equal to Bose and Apple, but less than Sony.
V-Moda is new to noise suppression, and it shows. The M-200 ANCs cannot rise to the level of the AirPods Max or even cheaper options like Sony’s 1000XM4s or the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700. They will cut out much lower-frequency noise, but the overall effect is not quite at the level of competitors. With the V-Moda app you can choose between ten levels of noise suppression, but even completely turned on, I never felt like I was in that personal bubble of silence that offers the best ANC headphones. On the plus side, the V-Moda sound suppression does not cause any discomfort, nor does it significantly change the sound, which can happen with some headphones.
Along with the headphones and case, V-Moda includes a 3.5 millimeter cable, USB-C charging cable and an aircraft adapter. I really wishes the company had sold its BoomPro microphone – separately for $ 35 – along with the M-200 ANCs. It feels like a missed opportunity because the BoomPro is truly an excellent accessory for games and Zoom calls. Keep in mind that Apple did not even include a headphone cable with the AirPods Max, so I can not beat V-Moda too hard, but it would have been an excellent moment to give customers the bonus. It would also have helped raise the M-200 ANCs with the call of voice calls. Like the built-in microphones, they are nothing special, and callers may find it difficult to hear you in loud or windy environments.
I really wonder if V-Moda would price these things at $ 500 in a world without the AirPods Max. If Apple’s cans are set aside, look for a top-of-the-line Bluetooth headset with options like the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 and Sennheiser Momentum 3 that cost around $ 400. (No, I did not forget the $ 800 Beoplay H95s, but come on.) The M-200 ANCs are solid wireless headphones and they maintain the fantastic build quality of V-Moda. However, it is impossible to see what is missing when a company demands so much cash. The balanced audio signature will be a definite victory for people who are explicitly looking for it. But it had to have a real mode of transparency and a better ANC to keep up and justify the substantial investment.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge