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V-Moda CEO Val Kolton set out on a mission to make a Bluetooth wireless headphone that would sound as good as the company's flagship over-ear model, the Crossfade M-100 , which earned a CNET's Editors' Choice Award back in 2012.
On the surface at least, the Crossfade Wireless looks nearly identical to the Crossfade M-100, but some changes had to be made to accommodate the rechargeable battery -- it's not user replaceable -- in the left ear cup. That battery delivers 12 hours of battery life, which is pretty decent for a wireless headphone.
That said, the headphone's wired mode may be as much of a selling point as its wireless mode. That's because the Crossfade Wireless is designed to work unpowered as an analog headphone (when you plug the included cable in, the headphone automatically turns off) and sound as good as the standard M-100, perhaps even slightly better thanks to some small improvements V-Moda's tuning team has made.
In terms of extra features, the headphone doesn't have dual microphones, so you can hear your voice inside the headphone when you're talking to someone on your phone, but V-Moda says the single microphone is very high quality. I made a few test calls and its sound quality is good, but I preferred using a headphone that has dual mics such as the Beats Studio Wireless or Plantronics BackBeat Sense .
The Crossfade Wireless isn't the lightest headphone at 10.3 ounces (292 grams), but it's very well built, has metal parts, and comes with a protective carrying case. It's worth noting that unlike the Crossfade M-100, the Crossfade Wireless doesn't fold up -- it's missing a second hinge -- and only folds flat, so the cases are different.
The headphones come with a one-year warranty, but if they break after a year, V-Moda will replace them for half price ($150).
At launch, they're available in phantom chrome and white silver colors. Gunmetal black and rouge will follow soon. And if you buy the headphones at v-moda.com, the price also includes an extra pair of custom 3D-printed fiber or laser-engraved aluminum shields. (You can also upgrade to other 3D printed materials including steel, raw metals, plated gold, silver, gold and platinum, but that'll cost you extra -- in some cases, a lot extra.)
They're also compatible with V-Moda's accessories, which include the BoomPro mic for gamers and broadcasters, the CoilPro cable, 1/3-button cables, VAMP DAC/amp and XL cushions.
As part of our review package, we received some of those accessories, including the $20 XL cushions, which I prefer over the smaller ones that you get with the headphones. The XL cushions offer deeper padding and make the headphones significantly more comfortable, putting them on par with the Beats Studio Wireless, though not as comfortable as the Bose's SoundLink Around-Ear II headphones.
We listen to a lot of premium Bluetooth headphones at CNET, and invariably they don't sound as good as premium wired headphones. And while I don't think the Crossfade Wireless in wireless mode sounds quite as good as the wired M-100, it does sound quite good for a Bluetooth headphone.
The headphone's bass and treble are little hyped but not overly so, and we thought the midrange (vocals) sounded pretty natural. On the Arctic Monkey's "Do I Wanna Know?" when the chorus kicks in with some headphones the vocals, verging on distortion, develop a harsh edge. But with the Crossfade Wireless, the vocals managed to come across without that harshness.
The tambourines on Spoon's "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" were a touch forward but didn't overwhelm the rest of the instruments, which can be the case with headphones that push the treble too hard. The bass also had some nice bite and plumpness to it, a V-Moda trademark. Detail was also good for a Bluetooth headphone and I thought they sounded fairly open for a closed-back headphone.
You can notice a difference when alternating between wired and wireless modes. With certain tracks, the difference is very slight, but with other tracks it's more noticeable. Calvin Harris' "C.U.B.A" is a tough track for a lot of Bluetooth headphones to resolve. It's a little grating to begin with in spots and Bluetooth can make it sound even more so. When I plugged a wire into the headphone, the track had more depth and clarity and sounded tighter overall.
As for comparing the Crossfade Wireless in wired mode to the M-100, I had Steve Guttenberg, who writes CNET's Audiophiliac column and reviewed the M-100, to listen to the two headphones. He came away preferring the M-100. He thought the Crossfade Wireless had slightly more bass and less clarity.
"The Crossfade Wireless is worse for overall clarity but better if you want more bass," he reported, and I tend to agree with his assessment, though I listen to more electronic dance music (EDM) than Steve, so there are times when I appreciate a little extra bass.
To be clear, we're talking about the wired mode. Steve avoids reviewing or listening to Bluetooth headphones.
Typically, when a company adds wireless to an existing model, it tacks on $75-$100. But V-Moda made a conscious decision to keep the price of the Crossfade Wireless at $300 or £250 -- the original price of the Crossfade M-100. (It's not yet available in Australia but the UK price converts to around AU$535.) That's about $80 less than the list price of the Beats Studio Wireless , one of our current favorite wireless headphones and a highly popular product with consumers despite its high price, though it's now down to about $275 online.
I can't say that as a wireless headphone the Crossfade Wireless is a better sounding headphone than the Beats Studio Wireless or the Bose SoundLink Around-Ear II. Some may prefer its sound to those models' sound, some may not.
Nor can I say it's more comfortable. It does seem better built, however, and V-Moda does offer great customer service if something goes wrong. I also like that you can customize the look of the V-Modas with a huge selection of shield options -- you can even submit your own design.
The long and short of it is I'm not going to tell you to run out and buy the Crossfade Wireless because it's the best wireless headphone ever made for the money. But it's certainly one of the good ones and should be on your short list if you're looking for a premium Bluetooth headphone.