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| 03-20-13, 09:03 PM
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Velodyne vTrue Studio Headphone Review
Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details. Go to the Velodyne vTrue Studio Headphone Review discussion thread. Introduction
Breaking news for Home Theater audio lovers: your headphones have arrived. More on this later. (If you can't stand the anticipation, you have permission to skip down to the Scene Hopping section for the details, but you have to promise to come back and read the rest of the review.)
Tearing into a shipping box containing a new set of headphones, just received for evaluation, is always a fun time for me. As the Velodyne vTrues were being extracted from their container, I was first struck by the product packaging. The upper plastic cover, molded to snugly fit over the shape of the headphones underneath, almost seemed meant for quick access, being easy to grasp and then sliding open like it had power assist. Product packages usually don't work so smartly. This one was working with me, what a nice way to start.
Then came the vTrues themselves. Sometimes I grow impatient with having to stop after each step of the unboxing process to take photos, but not this time. With the vTrues, I was rather enthralled by their design and visual aspects and felt none of that usual impatience. My thought upon getting them into my hands was, "Someone had FUN designing these headphones." Description
The Velodyne vTrues are full-sized headphones, closed design, with large pads that fit against the entire surface of each ear. The ear pad pressure feels about right at first, but after awhile ends up seeming tight. I suspect they could loosen up over time, hopefully easing that pressure. The padded headband is smooth, and the amount of padding is moderate. I think it could have been made a bit thicker and softer.
They have a unique appearance, showing off brown leather and gleaming aluminum. They definitely make a style statement, and being priced at $399 are meant to be top-sounding headphones as well. I admit here that I am not the least bit bothered by clunky-looking headphones that are comfortable and sound great, so a flashy look alone will not be enough to have me going crazy over a set of headphones. But the Velodyne vTrues seem to have more going for them than just flash. There is a touch of elegance about them, with the form follows function
design philosophy clearly in evidence.
The outer body of each earpiece is made from forged aluminum. That makes them look a little heavy, and they do weigh an ounce or two more than your average full-sized headphones, but this was never a problem for me in use. The brown leather covering the head band and the inner earpieces is quite luxurious. The removable cloth-covered split cable feels sleek and strong, yet lightweight. Quality plugs and jacks, color coded, are used where the ends of the split cable plug into the bottom of each earpiece. The color of the fabric covering the inner part of each earpiece matches the bright blue of the cable covers. The sliding size-adjustment mechanisms are simple, somewhat bendy but durable, and provide adequate tension to hold the vTrues in place. On first inspection, everything about the vTrues really does say Elegance.
In a phone conversation with the Velodyne Acoustics head office, I was told that the target market for the vTrue includes the portable user. As more and more media viewing is being done from tablets, smartphones, and laptops, Velodyne's headphone offerings are intended to deliver their trademark subwoofer-class bass response to the movie and music fan on the go. Not just more bass, but better bass, really good bass, along with a top-class full-fidelity audio presentation.
Better bass, a refreshing concept. The "more bass" idea has been driven into the ground enough in recent years to make many a headphone lover weep. If a leading subwoofer manufacturer could pull off the feat of bringing "better bass" to headphones, this might be real progress, if all the other qualities of good 'phones are addressed with the same level of care. Which leads one to the thought: "How does a sub manufacturer make the jump to making top quality headphones?" I asked that very question, and it turns out that, while relying upon their in-house engineering for many parts of the design, Velodyne did turn to outside expertise for the detailed aspects of the transducer design. Not a big surprise, the kind of resource required to engineer a top-notch set of headphones from the ground up is nothing short of mind-boggling.
The vTrues are big for portable use. No folding, twisting, or collapsing, they are their maximum size all the time. Okay, you see more and more listeners throwing a large set of 'phones into a backpack to use on a flight or in a coffee shop. Public headphone listening used to be more discrete, mainly with small sports or in-ear models, but the fashion 'phone trend has made public headphone use more acceptable, even with BIG HEADPHONES. Surprise, full-sized headphones are suddenly the new portable. Here are links to the Velodyne Acoustics website, and to the vTrue User Manual
From Velodyne's Web Site:
- "vTrue raises the bar for studio headphones, combining Velodyne’s legendary audio technology and unrivaled design to bring a true sound experience to the most discerning of music lovers."
- "A forged aluminum design complements our supple leather headband and over-ear cups. Velodyne’s signature shape lends unique styling and beauty."
- "Accurate sound is produced through a 50 mm driver tuned to the exacting standards of Velodyne’s trademark low-distortion bass reproduction."
- "The vTrue features 4 foot standard & 4 foot Apple compatible, tangle-resistant braided cloth cables with dual 3.5 mm gold connectors. A 1/4" plug adapter is also included for convenience. In-line controls are compatible with iPod 3rd generation and newer, iPhone 3Gs, 4, 4s, 5, and iPads only."
With portable users in mind, the vTrues are not as sensitive as they could be, only 96 dB per mW. Their low impedance, 24 ohms, certainly helps make them easier to drive, but the 96 dB sensitivity is way below what most portable 'phones weighed in at, typically above 100 dB and more commonly in the 104 to 106 dB range. How Do They Sound? - YouTube Demo
You can hear for yourself how the Velodyne vTrues sound relative to a flat response. The following YouTube demo lets you hear seven "before and after" pairs of music samples, each sample first untreated and then treated with the vTrue frequency response curve. General Impressions
The frequency response profile puts them in the Emphasized Bass category. Not a big surprise, and that does not work against them. The frequency response seems smooth through the bass range, with some emphasis in the mids, but then the upper mids and high frequencies seem weak. The bass sounds clean. Overall sound quality is good, but not great. Being careful not to allow these impressions to gel too firmly, I jumped through various tracks for a half hour, then hooked up the vTrues to pink noise for burn-in. Individual Test Scores Listening Tests
Imaging: 8.0 - The vTrues did fairly well when it came to imaging. The higher frequencies, although weak, were audible enough to be able to hear occasional smearing of the image in those ranges. Their ability to image in general is good, a bit soft, but steady for the most part.
Soundstage: 8.0 - The soundstage for the Velodyne vTrues was wide and comfortable, although never fully convincing. Normally, you can put on a set of high-end headphones and within a couple of minutes (if not immediately) feel you are in the room with the band. This never quite happened with the vTrues. But being able to use the terms "wide and comfortable" about the soundstage for a pair of headphones is in itself no small thing, so the vTrues get a solid score in this category.
Clarity: 8.3 - The vTrues scored well on clarity, but not stellar. It is commendable that the transducers could usually deliver clear high frequencies while working hard to drive strong low-frequency content. A new test involving two high-level bass tones along with various cymbal and bell sounds revealed distortion as low- and high-frequency tones interacted at high volume. But in typical use, the vTrues play pretty clean.
Speed: 6.0 - There are some new testing methods here, the details of which will be covered in a separate article. One involves single square wave pulses covering the frequency range from 16 Hz to 7 kHz. With the vTrue headphones, ringing can be heard at two frequencies during this test. Another test involving fast sequences of short tone bursts reveals muddiness in the low-mid frequencies. Overall, the vTrues did not score very well in these tests; their ability to handle fast complex passages is only fair.
Frequency Response: 8.4 - The frequency response profile for the vTrue model is Emphasized Bass. Low-frequency response is strong well below 50 Hz. Looking for a smooth overall response, the vTrues score well until they reach the higher frequency ranges, which are very weak. That weakness leaves these headphones somewhat deficient in delivering detail, especially for vocals and acoustical instruments.
There is also a mid-frequency boost just below the point where the high frequencies start to fall off. Because of that falloff, the boosted range does not stand out negatively. On the contrary, it lends extra clarity to dialogue, a definite strength for cinema applications.
Consider the Velodyne vTrue headphones as being voiced for home theater or movie listening, where the emphasis is on dialogue and the sounds of human activity and action sequences, including loud effects with lots of bass. Movie and TV soundtracks are rarely mixed with the amount of high treble you will find in a good music recording.
Scene HoppingOverall Listening Experience: 8 - With a few areas of weakness, the vTrues scored well but not in the stellar range that you would expect for $400 headphones. I favored their home theater strengths, and in that context they are very good performers.
I discovered my favorite application for the vTrues by accident. Having missed the most recent episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, I was looking online using my Samsung Galaxy Tab GT-P1000, which is my dedicated music server remote, for a place to catch up and view it. Since AMC had the the full episode available for viewing directly from their website, I started it up on the Tab on a whim. A few seconds in, I was wanting better sound, and reached for the vTrues to see how they would do.
The Galaxy Tab has a weak headphone drive level compared to most portables I have used. With the volume all the way up, I was barely able to reach a decent listening level. The 96 dB sensitivity spec was not impressing me. I have a tiny portable FiiO E06 headphone amp for just such occasions, with 6 dB of extra boost, about 1.5x the volume.
That made the listening level just right. While not a sound-effects laden series, The Walking Dead does have its share of gunfire, explosions, gates and doors being slammed shut, some zombie stomping, and a deep, booming drum that punctuates dramatic scenes, plenty of sounds that would call upon a good subwoofer in a typical home theater setup. The bass signature of the vTrues immediately reminded me of being in a theater with a good sound system. In fact, the voicing quality of the entire frequency range seemed tailored for just this kind of use.
My DVD of Starship Troopers does not have near the LFE activity I expect it would, but the footsteps of the giant bugs and starship maneuvers made the vTrues work a bit. There is plenty of chaotic dialogue over battle sounds all backed up with full orchestra, and it was all clear and well balanced. Dialogue was always easy to follow.
I started the Director's Cut of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner anticipating a deep and resounding ambient thump on the opening credits and was not disappointed. The movie contains lots of deep low-frequency audio, all very satisfying with the vTrues, but now the high frequencies were missing. Deep abdomen-punching percussives, scene noises, delicately balanced musical ambient effects, and Vangelis's haunting electronic score are layered seamlessly throughout this masterpiece and it is mixed to include more frequencies above 8 kHz than most movies. All this makes the soundtrack a challenge for any headphone or speaker. The high end was muted and seemed left behind by the vTrues. Runaway replicant Leon first approaches the Tyrell Corporation accompanied by a deep rumble, a low bass tone - both powerful - and soft tinkling bells which by comparison are washed out and left for dead. I reached for other headphones several times throughout the movie to be sure I was remembering what those rich synth tones and high bells should sound like. The vTrues simply could not deliver them.
The dance club scene from Collateral contains gun shots, screams, frantic footsteps, breaking glassware, loud voices, all underscored by a pounding music beat, and on the vTrues they all came across sharp and clear.
The Fifth Element is a musical and auditory feast. It opens with deep, organic-mechanical tones, a never-fails way to get your attention from the first frame. As Professor Pacoli barks, "Aziz! Light!" and the flood lights of the Mondoshawan spaceship switch on, a low sweeping electronic tone dives all the way down to your toes, pretty good for headphones. I also watched from the beginning of the Ruby Rhod show - those camera flashes have PUNCH! - through the destruction of Fhloston Paradise, with Korben Dallas leading the epic battle scene highlighted by Chris Tucker's girly screams. It is all there, dialogue, music, low-frequency effects, opera, orchestra, martial arts kicks and punches, and high explosives, and the vTrues were not at all shy on delivery. Rhuby Rhod's best show ever never sounded so good.
I had to hear a few good music tracks through the vTrues, but continued with the video theme. The even tones of Moby's video for "We Are All Made Of Stars" were given a pleasing bass boost. The live recording of "Big Blue Car," from Reverend Horton Heat's Live and in Color DVD, did not fare so well. Jimbo's standup bass and the bass drum took over the mix completely through the 'phones. And the bass guitar level on Porcupine Tree's live "Way Out Of Here" from their Anesthetize DVD was just barely OK. For these recordings, the missing high frequencies were not obvious.
On "Fletcher the Mouse," by Electrocution 250, the Velodyne vTrues again treated the bass guitar a little strongly, but it was not distracting. Minneapolis guitarist Todd Duane, the fastest shredder you never heard of, takes great pride in his guitar tone and it suffered from the vTrue's lack of brightness.
Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony" (Reiner, Chicago Symphony) sounded alright if you like your orchestral music dark and heavy. Instruments were clear and distinct, though.
"Fete d'Adieu," from Deerhoof's recent Breakup Song, with its electronic bass line, was perfect.
I had looked forward to hearing Plastic Beach by the Gorillaz on the vTrues, and was not disappointed. These headphones handle music with electronic bass much better than that with standup bass or bass guitar. Acoustical bass instruments usually have enough volume variation note-to-note that certain notes will boom with this kind of accented bass. Electronic bass lines tend to be pretty even, and sound more natural. "Rhinestone Eyes" and "Some Kind Of Nature" were a fun way to finish off the listening session, just right through the vTrues.
Overall Performance Score: 8.0 out of 10 Other Factors - not part of the Overall Performance Score
Comfort: 7 - The vTrues had to be stretched out to their maximum size for my head, which is an average-sized head. Most headphones have extra room and expandability available for me. They also were tight enough across the top and against the ears that after an hour I needed to take them off. I suspect that with use they will loosen up a bit and become more comfortable.
Design: 10 - I love the visual aspects of the design of these headphones, right down to the cord and connector. If I was a showoff, I would be tempted to use these as my travel 'phones even if they weren't my favorites sound-wise. And the look is not pure flash, like spoiler and fins on the back of an economy car that will only do 70 miles per hour. Every part of the design serves a purpose and looks good doing so. I like that.
They are easy to handle, easy to put on and take off, the cables detach easily for storage or travel, and they are easy to fit into their travel bag. Even the box they come in is nicely designed. If you lift them up by one side, the thin steel headband extenders allow them to flop around a little, but the construction feels strong and I was never concerned about breakage or damage. The vTrues will probably take a pretty good beating before falling apart on you.
I like the detachable cables and the connectors that were chosen. Even the design of the color-coding inlay on the handle of each cable plug shows caring attention to detail. One minor annoyance, however, was that the connectors extended down far enough to rub against my collar when I turned my head while listening, and that noise was conducted straight into the 'phones. Those connectors are also exposed and potentially vulnerable to damage if dropped upon, something to watch out for. The chords are purposely short for portable use, so for use around the home you will want a good extension.
As stated by Velodyne, the remote functions built into the optional cable assembly are designed specifically for recent Apple products. Only a few of the functions worked with my Galaxy Nexus phone, so if you are an Android user hoping those remote functions might just happen to work for your device, do not count on it. No points taken off for this, of course.
- $100 reference headphone: No
- Drivable with portable media devices: Yes. Barely. They actually fell 1 dB short of the test standard on one of my devices (90 dB SPL with -12 dB RMS pink noise), but I will give them the benefit of the doubt considering possible measurement inaccuracies. I should not be too harsh about the 96 dB sensitivity spec. With their 24 ohm impedance, their drivability is not all that bad, easy for any A/V receiver and just fine for the majority of portable players at medium levels. But Velodyne did choose to go after the mobile listener market, and there are bound to be a few disappointed users wishing for more volume.
- Usable without equalization: Yes
- Isolation (if closed design): 3 out of 10 - The vTrues, while a closed design, appear not to have been designed for extreme isolation. This score represents roughly 10 dB of isolation.
I sense a minor identity crisis for the Velodyne vTrue Studio Headphones. Their heritage with Velodyne Acoustics, a maker of fine home theater subwoofers for many years, would have you thinking they are targeted for home theater use, and their voicing - their frequency response profile - seems to bear that out. But their name hints at sonic fidelity and studio accuracy, and that is a category where they could have difficulty finding acceptance with their tailored sound signature. While they work fine for some kinds of music, they do not fare as well where rich upper harmonics and tonal accuracy are called for.
The Velodyne vTrue Studio Headphones stand tall when it comes to home theater and movie watching. Except for occasionally missing the highest frequency range, the voicing and strong, smooth, extended low-frequency response of the vTrues make them an excellent choice for the movie lover on the go, for grabbing a movie on a laptop or tablet in a coffee shop or dorm room, or for good private movie sound when loud volume through speakers is not possible. Even the owner of a nice home theater setup might enjoy having a pair of vTrues handy for cranking up a movie when the family is asleep or when close neighbors might be bothered.
Did the Velodyne engineers accomplish their quest for better bass
in these headphones? Focusing on home theater use, the bass response is smooth and well-balanced and distortion is low, so I am going to resort to a pass/fail grading approach here and say they pass.
A couple of resonances contribute some muddiness that prevents them from getting an "A."
At $399 MSRP, the Velodyne vTrues are up against tough competition from the big names in the audiophile headphone industry, and big, smooth bass response alone is not enough at that price point. As of this writing shortly after introduction, most sources appear to be offering the vTrues at close to their MSRP. One source had them briefly listed at $250, a more realistic offering, but that price was short-lived. If the vTrues become readily available in the $250 range, I see them as a good buy for the movie-loving headphone listener.
For electronica, dance, hip hop, and pop music where bass lines are emphasized and well controlled, the vTrues are fun headphones, and if a style statement is desired, they certainly stand out in a crowd. The listener who appreciates detail, sharp imaging, and full-range frequency response, especially for instrumental or symphonic music styles, will probably look elsewhere.
Bottom line, the Velodyne vTrues are great
'phones to reach for if you want to duplicate good home theater sound. The Pros:
- Great looks, elegant design.
- Powerful, clean bass.
- Home-theater-ready voicing, also good for pop/electronic music.
- Good build quality.
Performance Summary and Overall Performance Score
- Weak high-frequency response.
- Tailored response not ideal for instrumental/symphonic music.
- Driver resonances that add some muddiness.
Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details. Go to the Velodyne vTrue Studio Headphone Review discussion thread. by Wayne Myers
- Imaging: 8.0
- Soundstage: 8.0
- Clarity: 8.3
- Speed: 6.0
- Frequency Response: 8.4 (Emphasized Bass Profile)
- Overall Listening Experience: 8
- Comfort: 7
- Design: 10
- MSRP: $399.00
- Street Price: $399
- Overall Performance Score: 8.0 out of 10
Last edited by AudiocRaver; 03-20-13 at 09:34 PM..
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