As I do more and more earphone and headphone reviews, I’m struck by the sheer volume of new models becoming available almost daily. Not only that, but companies that have never offered personal audio before are now jumping in big time. One such company is Velodyne. Anyone familiar with high end home audio will recognize the Velodyne brand of subwoofers. But now – you guessed it – Velodyne has entered the crowded headphone market with an impressive selection. In 2012, they released the vPulse In-Ear Headphones and followed with the vFree wireless and vTrue Studio headphones in 2013. I will be reviewing the vTrue and vFree soon, but I will begin with the vPulse.
The design of the vPulse earphones is not striking, but is classy in a subtle way. The all-aluminum construction is extremely lightweight and tough. Each earpiece is a largish tube with an angled tip that feels quite comfortable in the ear. This angling makes it easier to distinguish between the left and right earpiece. There are three color choices: Silver with black accents, electric blue, and hot pink. Thankfully, I received the silver model. Also included is a protective drawstring bag.
The cables are flat which helps reduce, but not prevent, tangling. Attached to the cable is a mic/in-line control. You can make and receive calls as well as control playback and volume on the latest iPhones and iPads. Currently, there is no Android support. There’s also a good selection of ear tips to choose from – and here’s a rarity for me – they fit my ears! Well, one pair fit, anyway. I didn’t have to search for my go-to tips to get a decent seal. As I have said many times in reviews, no seal means no bass, Velodyne or not.
The driver housing contains tiny holes, which Velodyne claims is a pressure-relief system that produces precise, low-distortion bass. I’ve seen similar holes in other earphones, so maybe there is something to that. Speaking of bass…
You might expect that a company known for subwoofers would obviously make any headphone or earphone lean towards bass in a big way, and you would be correct with the vPulse. Given the right song, these earphones send a wallop straight into the brain. Velodyne has tuned the 10mm dynamic-styled speakers to deliver strong bass, yet it’s controlled and tight. There is no sloppiness to the audio, a glaring issue with many other bass-heavy earphones.
Note: the vPulse are dynamic earphones. This simply means that inside the housing sits a tiny speaker, much like what you have in any living room setup. This is the more popular approach to earphone design. The other is an armature design, which is derived from hearing aid technology. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Dynamic designs usually are warmer sounding with more bass.
While Velodyne has paid much attention to the bass in the vPulse, they haven’t forgotten the other frequencies. Vocals – which usually reside in the mid frequencies – are pleasantly forward, meaning that the vPulse will handle pop, rock and country effortlessly. Classical and Jazz music is less successful. The bass in hip-hop and electronica is overdone. It’s just bass on top of more bass to my ears. But then, that’s exactly what many listeners are craving, so who am I to say that’s bad?
The higher frequencies are the vPulse’s weak link. It’s not a major problem unless you desire accuracy above all else. If that’s you, look elsewhere. For the rest, the weaker highs provide a more comfortable sound that can be enjoyed for hours, especially on a commute or in a noisy environment. The vPulse also has excellent noise reduction – again, partly due to a good seal from a proper fit.
On older songs with little or buried bass, the vPulse’s warmer sound keeps the highs from becoming brittle or harsh, which can easily be heard on some earphones. “Little Child,” from the first Beatles album has that wonderful extreme stereo so prevalent in the 60s. The instruments are in the left ear with vocals in the right. The vPulse lets a slight echo in Lennon’s desperate phrasings come through. On speakers, this subtlety can be lost in ambient background noise, but the vPulse’s seal prevents such distractions.
Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles work contains much more prominent bass. He is a bass player, after all. “Mrs. Vanderbilt,” from “Band on the Run” has a throbbing bass line that the vPulse pushes to the front. There is some slightly harsh guitar in the mix, but it’s minor. Vocals are somewhat recessed, also – but I think this is a production and not earphone issue.
The artist Moby is no stranger to using mega-bass. “Downhill,” from the “18 B-Sides” album, distorts quite a bit on many speakers. The bass goes deep, and while it’s a bit much for me, there is no distortion to spoil the effect. Bassheads will love this.
And that’s exactly the point. The vPulse earphones are made for artists like Moby, plus other musicians who live for bass. My gripe is that many earphones accentuate bass when what they should do is just let the bass – heavy or not – be what the artist intended, with no artificial boosting. The Velodyne vPulse In-Ear Headphones get that part exactly right.