The Audiophiliac tries on a pair of made-in-France headphones!
As soon as I spotted the Aedle VK-1 headphones on the Web, I just had to check them out. That was early last year; e-mails were exchanged, and there were delays along the way, but now that I have them I'm happy to report they sound as good as they look. Aedle designs and manufactures the VK-1 in Paris, France.
I've had the VK-1 for a while; Aedle's founder Raphael Lebas was in NYC a few months ago and hand-delivered the headphones to me. He's a young guy, but totally focused on the job at hand. Other models are planned, but right now he has just one product, and Lebas is already selling it in two luxury shops in London, and he opened his own brick-and-mortar store in Paris. He's been working on the VK-1 project for nearly five years, and when he unboxed my review sample, I was impressed that it's even more beautiful than it was in pictures. The quality of the machined aircraft-grade aluminum earcups is astonishing, and the real lambskin leather earpads are super-soft. The two included cables' metal plugs are exquisitely finished; I've rarely seen headphones, even $1,000+ models, built as well as the VK-1.
The headphone has 40mm titanium drivers and impedance is rated at 32 ohms. The VK-1 weighs 7.5 ounces, which is a little lighter than average for this type of headphone. It comes with two identical cables, and neither one has a mic or phone controls. The VK-1's US price is $480, which I don't consider expensive for a hand-crafted product.
My review sample was in the natural aluminum finish, but a matte-black version is also available. The VK-1 doesn't fold flat or collapse, but it does come with a handsome quilted carrying case.
Comfort levels are fine, but hardly world-class. The headband exerts a bit of pressure on the top of my head; more padding would have been nice. Earpad pressure is also high, though as I used the VK-1 for a few weeks comfort improved, or I just got used to it. The Beyerdynamic T 51 P on-ear headphones are a lot more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. I'm a huge T 51 P fan, it has a more open soundstage, and a more vivid presentation, but the VK-1's richer and fuller sound seduced my ears.
I also had a pair of Bowers & Wilkins P7 over-the-ear, closed-back headphones on hand. It's a bigger headphone, and it produced a bigger, more expansive soundstage. The VK-1 bests the P7 in terms of tonal balance; the VK-1 is more relaxed and sweeter. I mostly enjoyed the VK-1 without doing a lot of comparisons. I didn't need to; the sound isn't all that neutral. It's rather full and mellow -- but the bass, midrange, and treble balance is smooth, and every music genre is treated well. Vocals in particular sound right, most other competing 'phones sound harder and thinner, they lose some of the full-bodied sound I get from the VK-1.
Up to this point I had auditioned the VK-1 with my iPod Classic, stepping up to the Schiit Asgard 2 home headphone amp ($249) boosted the VK-1's resolution of fine detail and overall clarity. Aphex Twin's pulsing beats firmed up and dynamic punch kicked harder. The band's ambient works' spatial landscapes opened new vistas of sound. The Bowers & Wilkins P7 is definitely brighter and more immediate. If you crave maximum detail, the P7's clarity is better, which is wonderful on great-sounding recordings, but iffy MP3s sound harsh and grating. The VK-1 glides over the rough edges.
You can buy the Aedle VK-1 direct from the company's Web site, and it currently has a few US outlets: Digital Fix, the Ralph Lauren Flagship Stores in NYC; Beverly Hills, Calif.; Bal Harbour, Fla.; and Dallas, and the Rick Owens store in NYC.