Crossfade is the act of fading one song out as you fade another in, resulting in continuous music with little or no break in the sound. Its something that club DJs do to keep the dance floor crowded and the mood electric. It is in this vein that V-Moda has developed the Crossfade LP headphones. They certainly do look electric. They are also the polar opposite of the last headphones I reviewed, the starkly designed Aiaiai TMA-1. Polar in looks, anyway.
The Crossfades are an over-the-ear design, meaning that they cover the whole ear. This has a couple of benefits. Over-the-ear headphones usually have a better soundstage because the audio is projected on the entire ear as opposed to directly into the ear. Music sounds more spacial this way. This over-the-ear design also offers more isolation than on-the-ear, but that much isolation may be too much for some. It’s a matter of preference. The Crossfades can leak sound, but mostly at punishing volume levels. Other commuters won’t hear what you’re listening to in a noisy environment, like a bus or train. They are also generally more comfortable than headphones that sit on-the-ear, but the Crossfades can feel a bit too tight at the temples after a few hours of listening.
The Crossfades have a warm, forgiving audio quality that leans towards bass, but I wouldn’t recommend them to bass addicts. They’re too accurate for that. However, if your musical tastes are more club and techno than older rock, the Crossfades may be what you are looking for.
These phones are not cheap and yes, there are headphones out there that cost far more and sound better. But, so what? The Crossfades are a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns: The higher the price, the smaller the improvement. In other words, if you are willing to pay just a little more to avoid really cheap headphones, the improvement in audio will be substantial.
The Crossfades come with a few extras. There are two cloth-wrapped tangle-free cords to choose from: A longer cord for relaxing and a shorter one for mobile use. The mobile cord comes with a remote switch/mic for controlling volume and taking phone calls on any compatible phone with a 3.5mm jack: v-moda/Compatibility. The volume/pause buttons should work on newer iPods, but I could not get them to work on my older iPod Classic. Also included is a 1/4” adapter. The remote/mac switch is located closer the left earpad port making it closer to your mouth for speech but because it’s so close to your ear, you can’t actually see it. It’s by feel only and for me, that feels clumsy.
The Crossfades come with one of the best cases I have seen on any headphone. The fit is snug and perfect due to its vacuum-formed shape. The case is rigid enough to withstand just about any abuse. Even though you can’t actually stand on it, it feels almost sturdy enough to do just that. It’s lined in a very red felt to help prevent scratches. There are four color choices. Well, it’s more like white and three choices of black, otherwise known as Phantom Chrome, Gunmetal Black and Nero, which is what I have. All color versions come with the same black with red trim case.
Lots of metal and plastic with leather accents, chrome and dramatic angles scream “Look at me!” These are not headphones for shy people and they certainly don’t pretend to be snobby, audiophile phones. However, they are more than the sum of their parts.
I might have issues with their somewhat urban-inspired looks, but I have become a fan of how the Crossfades sound. These headphones were made to handle the hot and loud mastering techniques so popular today. It’s the older recordings with their wider dynamic range that suffer. Quiet passages seem muffled. It’s only when loud passages (or just loud volume) hit that the Crossfades are truly happy.
As I said before, the Crossfades are not bass monsters, but they do give a well-rounded bassy feel to those type of recordings. For instance, the heartbeat that leads off Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” thumps with power, but it won’t make your brain hurt like other phones I’ve heard. Conversely, really bright recordings are just that… really bright, sometimes unpleasantly so. Early Byrds music from the 60s is almost painful.
Mids and vocals are where the Crossfades shine. Enya’s “Water Shows The Hidden Heart” from “Amaratine” features her voice beautifully. And when she hits the high notes toward the middle of the song, many phones just plainly distort from the dynamics. Not the Crossfades, because I have them hooked into the NuForce uDAC-2 amp (to be reviewed soon). Let me explain. My iMac’s sound output is just flat-out awful, so the NuForce has become a necessity. If you are an iMac owner, I strongly suggest you look into getting a separate headphone DAC/amp. The difference can be dramatic.
Another example of pronounced vocals is Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” Producer Brian Eno’s love of the bottom end is unmistakable on this wonderful album. Chris Martin’s vocals are heart felt and in your face. It’s all good with these phones.
I sampled a few tracks that were ripped at very high bit rates (1411 kbps) and some that weren’t (128 kbps). Was there a noticeable difference? Oh, yeah. But not as much as you might think. The Crossfades are forgiving in this regard. Sure, higher bit rate songs contain all kinds of detail that is simply discarded in lower bit rate versions, but the Crossfades are not geared to squeeze every last bit of detail from a recording much like high end armature in-ear monitors can. So if your library is more on the lower end of the bit rate scale or even all over the place in song quality, you will appreciate how the Crossfades tend to even out the audible playing field.
But if your collection is full of huge, high bit rate sound files and you feel the need to differentiate every instrument in that favorite classical piece, then you will probably not appreciate what the Crossfades can do for lower quality recordings.