Recently, I reviewed Velodyne’s fun vPulse earphones. They stood out for their accurate bass – and why not? Velodyne became famous for subwoofers, so if they can’t get the bass right, who can? When I had to chance to review Velodyne’s full-sized vTrue headphone, I was curious to find out if bass is handled as well as with the vPulse.
Immediately noticeable are two things: The vTrue are Velodyne’s flagship headphones; i.e., their best. Plus, they are expensive. While one might say that the vPulse earphones could be an impulse buy at $100, that can’t be said of these $400 babies. Are the vTrue headphones 300 bucks better than the vPulse earphones? The answer is more complicated than simply yes or no. Let me explain.
First, to compare earphones to headphones is not fair to either. It’s apples and oranges. Headphones have distinct advantages over earphones and vice versa. It all depends on what your listening habits and requirements are. Having said that, there are valid comparisons that can be made, based on audio quality and plain old subjective judgement.
The vTrue headphones are more visually stunning than even the good looking vPulse. They could be called the Ferrari of headphones, but Ferrari actually makes headphones, so scratch that. A more accurate description would be Rolls Royce of headphones (speaking visually, of course). The ear-cups are a brushed aluminum tear-drop shape with a Velodyne “V” inset. The ear pads and headband are made of a soft, elegant brown leather that feels good and is comfortable for long periods of listening. I do wish the adjustment would allow for larger heads, though. When wearing them, I constantly wanted to pull them a little farther down on my ears, but couldn’t because they were already at the maximum setting. These are not small headphones, as they completely cover the ear (known as circumaural). I’m confused why they feel a tad too small for my head, because they shouldn’t. Even so, it didn’t interfere with overall comfort. Another reason for the vTrue’s comfort is that they are light for their size. They appear to weigh much more than they do.
Accenting the brown leather and aluminum is a bright blue used in the speaker covers and cloth cord. At first, the blue seemed all wrong, but over time, I’ve begun to like it quite a bit. There are two (blue) removable cords included: One with a control module and one without. Both have a 90º connector. A 1/4 in. adapter is also included. The vTrue headphones are not portable – they don’t fold – so the usability of a control module with smartphone mic is limited. Velodyne states that the playback, volume, and phone control functionality varies by media device. It worked as advertised on the iPhone. I can’t say if it works on Android devices or not.
There are a couple of surprising issues. First is the clumsy fit on some of the aluminum parts, looking less refined than it should in this price range. Then there’s the case, or lack of one. Velodyne does include a nice, embroidered bag to keep the vTrue phones dust-free, but at $400, there should be a protective case included.
The packaging, however, is very cool. The vTrue headphones are encased in a formed, plastic lid that is reminiscent of Star Wars, where Hans Solo is frozen in carbonite. You get a sense of how the headphones look without really seeing them. In fact, all of Velodyne’s packaging uses this interesting carbonite approach.
As visually compelling as the vTrue headphones are, it’s how they sound that’s just as impressive. As I said earlier, Velodyne is in the bass business, and the vTrue phones don’t disappoint. The bass is more noticeable and potent than on the vPulse earphones. It should be, if only because of the physics of larger speakers.
What’s most interesting are the layers of bass that can be heard. Johnny Cash’s early classic song, “Daddy Sang Bass”, has bass percussion that compliments the bass guitar. The vTrue keeps it distinct and separate, resulting in an almost 3D sound. That’s especially impressive because this song was recorded 45 year ago.
Bass is certainly a selling point for the vTrue headphones, but it’s not used as an audio battering ram. Its prominence is not at the expense of the mid (where most vocals lie) or high frequencies. The overall sound of the vTrue is cozy and warm, which simply means that they are not taxing on the ears. They can easily be used for hours with little to no discomfort, either from the fit or audio. And while the vTrue may be more accurate than many headphones, Velodyne doesn’t swap the fun of listening for accuracy bragging rights. A good example of this is the song, “Essence of Now”, from the 60s psychedelic San Francisco group, It’s a Beautiful Day. The production of this song is far from perfect, and smoothing out potentially harsh parts can make everything a bit muddy sounding. A more accurate headphone would allow those harsher high frequencies because it’s more “real.” However, that would also make the song more unlistenable. The vTrue headphones allow the essence (pun intended) of the song to come through without overdoing it.
Soundstage is the ability to mentally place the musician’s location during recording. Closed-back headphones will – by their design – limit soundstage. The vTrue can’t compete with the spaciousness of open-backed headphones, but they do exhibit more soundstage than expected.
When listening to “Crazy On You”, one of Heart’s earlier hits, I’m struck by the individual acoustic guitar strings being plucked, along with the squeaking of fingers on strings. The VTrue headphones give depth to the intimate, live feel of the song before lead singer Ann Wilson begins exercising her now famous vocal chords. As the song abruptly changes direction, so do the vTrues.
The insipid pathos of The Monkees’ tacky “I Wanna be Free” from their 1966 debut album is a hoot, complete with extreme stereo: vocals in one ear, instruments in the other. The vTrue headphones can’t make this song any less sophomoric or its blatant effects less obvious, but they sure help make the song a guilty pleasure. Davy Jones’ vocals are clear and about as forward as you can get. The above average production values are exploited nicely.
The 22+ minute 1997 ambient song, “Antartica,” by Windy and Carl is a slow, deliberate and chilly trek through a musical landscape of droning guitars, bass, and synth sounds. It’s overlaid on an incessant and grainy fake analog beat that sounds like a dirty record skipping at the end before the needle picks up. There are layers upon layers in this “song” that the vTrue headphones have no problem keeping aurally separate. It would be so easy for all of this to get mixed into mud, but it doesn’t happen. Each time I listen, I hear something different. That’s exactly what makes headphones like the vTrue so special.
The Velodyne vTrue headphones are not called “True” for nothing. They are comfortable, extremely upscale looking with all the brushed aluminum and leather, and are fun to listen with for hours. They are also very expensive. I only wish Velodyne would offer a hard case and allow for slightly larger head sizes, especially in this price range.