Review: Velodyne vBold headphones

Does the execution of the Vbold headphones match the design? (November 29th, 2013)

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Product Manufacturer: Velodyne

Price: $349

The Good

  • Great design
    - NFC works without a hitch
    - Easy to use controls

The Bad

  • Bluetooth has problems at 10 feet
    - Cups do not seal on ears
    - Collapsibility interferes with all aspects of use

Headphones make a statement. Whether the listener is an unabashed audio fiend or someone that cares more about the outer coolness than the quality of the sound, there are a lot of considerations to put into a product. Velodyne has created a line of headphones that looks great on paper and in design across all of their offerings. The vBolds, the newest to hit the market, continue to carry Velodyne's stylish yet simple design. As great as the vBolds look on the outside, will the sound quality and everyday use match the meticulously sleek design?

On the outside, the Velodyne vBold headphones look spectacular. The design is pleasing to the eye without distracting "bling," obnoxious branding or other silly adornments. The headphones have a smoothly-finished plastic shell with minimal branding, with only a logo at the very top of the headband. President of Velodyne Marta Hall, a sculptor of over 30 years, actually designed the unit -- and it clearly shows. Not only does the vBold look good, but it is designed in a way that you don't even see the screws and seams in most places. Even the controls are designed to blend in to the overall design of the headphone set.

The controls of the vBold are easy to use as well. Without reading the reference card or the included manual, all the controls can be figured out without a guess once the power button is discovered. In a half circle, the play/pause/call button sits on the bottom of the cup, with track forward and back buttons above it.

The power/pairing button sits right above the track back button enough that it can't be pressed on accident. All of the buttons can be navigated using a right hand, including the volume controls accessed by a thumb. In addition to the volume buttons on the edge of the ear cup on the right, the left side offers a 3.5 mm plug for wire-based use and a micro USB charging port.

Comfort is adequate when it comes to wearing the vBolds for a few hours. The ear cup and headband padding are memory foam with a fair amount of stiffness, but in a good way that keeps ears from sinking into the cups. While they are comfortable, the problems with the vBold begin in those ear cups themselves. The most significant of the problems has to do with the adjustability of the unit and the fact that it can be folded up for travel. Rather than having a pivoting cup with a large range, Velodyne restricted the travel distance by having them fixed inside the cups. It is true they have some pivotability, but it is less than 20 degrees either way. Also, there is a piece of padding glued between the speaker and cup that restricts travel further.

One would think that perhaps the band would be flexible enough to overcome the issue, but the fact is it isn't. The only change it offers is the standard length to compensate for head size. The ability to fold up the headphones becomes a hindrance the further the band is extended. An arm swing in a light jog can cause the hinges to break free into their folding mode while in hand.

If one goes to power on the unit while extended, the same thing happens. It is surprising that just using the controls while wearing the vBold doesn't cause the hinge fold. Including the folding hinge was a smart move, but unfortunately it causes issues at the basic functionality level. A user can become overly cautious when using the pair, thinking that the hinge may be triggered.

Unlike many high-quality headphones, the ear cups don't seal around the ears in the vBold. Not only does this mean that the headphones do not offer much in the way of noise isolation, but also the quality of the sound suffers. The 40mm drivers don't offer as much power or brightness as many other high-end headphones, but something more about the sound output is lacking.

Bass is the predominate sound element that is experienced, but it occurs in a way that takes over the mids. This leaves the highs mixed into the mids at the upper range, leaving everything feeling suppressed by the bass. It isn't that the sound signature becomes muddy, but instead it is taking over the majority of the sound range. During the testing of the unit, it displayed an affinity for highly-compressed songs more than uncompressed, high-dynamic recordings. The vBold will favor electronic and rap music, but will be lost with classical or folk pieces. This is most likely due to the headphones using the apt-X streaming codec.

NFC pairing is a good experience overall with the vBold headphones. NFC connection worked without much effort to an Android phone, turning on the Bluetooth and pairing it within two seconds of touching the two together. Velodyne boasts compatibility with AAC, apt-X, and SBC codecs over Bluetooth with what should be a greater-than-30 foot range. During the review of the set, however, problems with connection were discovered starting around the 10-foot mark with a clear line of sight. The vBolds could operate at 30 feet, but the sound wasn't usable with the constant breakup.

Another problem occurred when layering sounds. While Bluetooth has never been strong with having two different sounds playing on top of one another, the vBolds resorted to spitting out ear-piercing squelching at times. The sounds were overall worthless before that happened, but it reinforced the fact that the vBolds are intended for single-source use.

Velodyne attempted to hit all of the right notes when it came to the creation of the vBold headphones. The problem is that many of the features that were attempted for the sake of design get in the way of using the unit. Pair those choices with poor Bluetooth reception and a sub-par audio experience, and purchasing the unit becomes more about the look and less about the sound. At a price of $349, the vBolds aren't serious competitors in this price class considering the flaws. There is no doubt that Velodyne makes a sleek-looking product. It's a shame that core mechanics of the vBold can't live up to what the appearance suggests.

by Jordan Anderson


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