This year for christmas, I received a gift from my lovely fiancée that I’m pretty excited about: vPulse in-ear headphones made by Velodyne. These things are an interesting product: Velodyne is almost exclusively a subwoofer manufacturer, and a pretty good one. It’s a bit random that they decided to come out with some headphones. It’d be like if the people who make Swiss Army Knives, a renown and very specific product, were like, hey, let’s make a circular saw. Those guys probably have a good idea about what specific attributes would make a good circular saw, but it takes a different set of expertise to actually manufacture that. Can they pull it off?
I get the distinct impression that Velodyne’s designers had owned and lived with in-ear headphones for a decent amount of time before coming up with the vPulse. I’ve had a set of Etymotic Research ER6i in-ear headphones for many years now and they’re a great set of headphones. But they embody many of the pitfalls characteristic to in-ear headphones: the cables easily get tangled up when you store them, those same cables tend to make noise if they brush against anything (read: your shirt) when you’re listening, the rubber noise-isolating tips can get uncomfortable in longer listening sessions, and of course: the bass is literally absent. Not just crappy bass–NO bass. I imagine two Velodyne engineers having a conversation: “Hey, how do you like those Etymotics?” “They’re pretty nice. No bass at all though. I usually listen to them with my subwoofer running too. Kinda defeats the point of in-ear, but I gots to have them low notes.”
So how did they do?
Amy Winehouse’s voice sounds rich and present on “Tears Dry on Their Own”, a favorite song of mine from her album Back to Black. I can hear some subtle phasing effects I’d never noticed before on the opening synths from Llorca’s “The End”; that’s maybe a simple byproduct of the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever listened to that tune on in-ear headphones before. Different listening setups, without question, will emphasize a different set of nuances in any given recording. I hear the backup vocals a lot more on Eric Krasno’s “Be Alright”. A large number of previously obscured details pop out on “ReEmergence” by Sound Tribe Sector 9. And the elephant in the room: all this stuff has bass! Specifically, the basslines are well defined and full. There’s no bloated resonances of particular notes. Pitches and key changes are distinct. Sometimes bass-heavy setups can sort of smear that low-range into a nebulous barrage of noise, which is not the case here.
Of course the lowest of the lows are still missing, which is only logical. Deep, deep bass is felt more than heard. Bass drum is the most apparent manifestation of that fact. Basslines definitely have the juice in these babies, but the forceful punch-in-the-chest of a kick drum is something that’s intrinsically reproduced only by Velodyne’s main product, a subwoofer. That said, the vPulse are extremely capable. If you’re looking for some noise-isolating headphone with real kick to them, this is IT. These things are going to be heavenly next time I ride an airplane: they’ll totally block out all the annoying kids, the overly loud intercom announcements, and the obnoxious business travelers yapping about synergy.
A few other listening notes for anyone who might be interested in a pair of these:
- For anyone who’s never had in-ear headphones before, note that you will hear NOTHING happening outside of your music. Someone could be sitting right next to you, loudly calling your name and you will be oblivious. You would not want to use these, say, going for a jog down the street. They would be perfect for a quiet office or a loud subway train though.
- I listened with a mild EQ: a dip of maybe -3dB at around 2kHz. Maybe my ears are especially sensitive at those frequencies, but I think anything and everything always sounds better with a small midrange cut.
- The cables on these things are flat and thin, which I like. Only time will tell if they resist tangling or become permanently bent-up like the Etymotics did. I have a good feeling about them. The hard case which comes along will help keep them in good shape I think.
- Best way to avoid cable noise is to use the clip on your cable and hook it on your shirt close to the neck, so that both sides have plenty of extra room to make a wide swing around before reaching the ear.
- I was actually made aware of these headphones by this review. Says something strong if you’ve got a hundred pairs of headphones to listen to but you keep coming back to these…
- The rubber ear tips are comfortable! If I listen to my Etymotic ER6i’s for more than an hour or so, my ears start to feel sort of sore. I’ve yet to experience that with the Velodynes.
- The basslines on “To Feel Good” (accessible in the navigation bar music player from this website, or for download in the music section) sounded authoritive, powerful. Those basslines were some of the most challenging low-frequency material I could throw at the vPulses and they handled it great. There’s some strong sub-bass sine waves in there which simply aren’t present listening back on other systems without the proper bass-response. Color me impressed. Velodyne hooks it up!