I was in Tokyo wearing a consumer hat, in search of my next commuter headphone. The brief: closed back ‘phones that could be driven by an AK120 and iPhone 4 for $300ish. They needed to be able to withstand backpack travel too.
On the previous day in Shinjuku, the Sennheiser Momentum had displayed serious mettle in combat against the Beyerdynamic T70P. Now I was off to the e-earphone store in Akihabara (“Electric Town”).
The e-earphone store isn’t easy to find. It’s tucked away on the fifth floor of a rather anonymous looking building on a side street behind the insanely busy Chuo Dori. The only indication of a headphone store within is the yellow poster out front; it’s written entirely in Kanji but sports a graphic of a young fellow enjoying his headphones. Not being able to read (or speak) the language, the latter provided the only indication that I was in the right place.
Opening at level 5 the elevator puts you directly inside the e-earphone store. Phew.
From hereon in, pictures will speak louder than words.
The number and range of products on show is simply staggering. There are four rows of full-size headphones…
…and four rows of IEMs / earbuds (if you’re game to dance with the associated hygiene issues).
For a little re-orientation I started with the Sennheiser Momentum, firing up the title track from Paul Simon’s Graceland on my AK120, then Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House” followed by LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yourself Clean”.
Time then for a wander. ‘Round the corner is a section dedicated to HiFiMan, Aude’ze and Stax:
At the rear of the store is an extensive range of used headphones, all locked away inside cabinets.
Here’s a cabinet full of Audio-Technica:
And here’s one loaded with Beyerdynamics:
What about Sennheiser? You got it. Each second hand headphone here is priced according to its condition. Several pairs of second-hand Momentum were available for 21000-23000Yen. That’s ~US$240.
Back at the main demo wall I try to get excited about the budget offerings from Grado – maybe they don’t leak too much? I like the pricing and I dig their retro styling. Despite spending 10 minutes with both the Sri80 and Sri60, I concluded that noise leakage from the open-back design was too much for train-and-plane travel. I like the lightweight physicality but they just don’t fit the brief. I was after heftier sound too. Strike OUT.
What about V-Moda? I’d read a little press about the newer Crossfade M100 but had previously been put off by the seemingly fashion-first approach of previous models (also on display). But hey, what the heck…
A(n almost) closed design ticked the first box. There’d be no disturbing fellow commuters. The thick earpads and headband cushioning ticked the second. Super comfortable; more so than the Momentum. Things were looking up for V-Moda.
The Crossfade M100’s seal AROUND my ears put noise isolation above average. However, the M100 were heavier than the German rival. Only one thing to do before moving any further…
You can play this game at home: put on your headphones and bend down as if to pick something up from the floor. If your ‘phones didn’t fall from your head you’re probably not wearing an Aude’ze. You’re not wearing KEF M500 either. The V-Moda stayed put, thus passing my number one test for street life.
So far, so good. How about the sound?
The most noticeable sonic attribute of the Crossfade M100 is the pant-seat kicking bass. In other words, it’s boosted a little. DO NOT PANIC. It works. It works wonderfully; the frequency curve hump bleeds a little into the mid-bass to give those thin 80s masters some much-needed acoustic mass. I’m looking at you Prefab Sprout and Thomas Dolby. Through the M100, From Langley Park To Memphis sounded ripe and fruity.
There’s an inky fluidity to the top end that contrasts Sennheiser’s Momentum as slightly starchy. The M100 are warmer, wetter, swampier, dirtier, grittier and funkier. The V-Moda M100 sound is more physical and – frankly – more fun. Remember fun?
Here were headphones that shook it like a floorstander (as opposed to the more clinical standmount personality of the Beyerdynamic T70P).
Time for a recap before swiping my credit card: the Sennheiser Momentum were the most pipe-and-slippers of the three phones under consideration. If I were to liken to them to a loudspeaker, it’d definitely be something from the Brits: a Spendor or an ATC. The Beyerdynamic ‘phones play closer to an Elac box – and not simply because they share the same country of origin. A ribbon tweeter’s eloquence with transients and layer separation mirrors the T70P’s treble handling.
How about the V-Moda? They had me thinking about something bigger and badder from the US of A: the Klipsch KG-4. They get high in your face on party fun without losing sight of mid-range transparency or other audiophile must-haves, especially elasticity.
More Italian-infused listening. “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar.” On the V-Moda/AK120 combo, details sparkled and twinkled as the bassline bounced me through this Paul Simon classic.
Showing no shortcomings with detail trawl, the textural nuances of the toms and vocal spurts that precede the electro-fuelled mule-kick of “Dance Yrself Clean” were communicated nicely. I noted extra shimmer on cymbals too – the presence region on the M100 is keen but smooth, unlike the Martin Logan Mikros where it’s just KEEN. The V-Moda’s talents with a variety of musical styles soon mounted up to form an (unexpectedly) impressive package.
The M100’s stylized sound get a little rich with simpler acoustic fare. If this kind of music is your main bag, the Momentum’s more organic approach might be the more appropriate choice. The V-Moda ‘phones soaks each song in technicolour widescreen. It’s coloured but it sounds terrific.
Sealing the deal on the V-Moda was the Optimus Prime hinge-ing, enabling them to fold away into a super-compact carry case. The Momentum don’t fold at all; their carry case is almost twice the size of the M100’s. I bought the V-Moda Crossfade M100 and could not be more satisfied. What an unexpected pleasure.
The working title of this article was: Is e-earphone the best headphone store in the world? I’ve obviously not been to every other store but it’s hard to conceive of a place with such an extensive selection of headphones, portable amplifiers and DACs. It almost seems that if it isn’t stocked in this Tokyo hideaway, it doesn’t exist. I’ll wrap this piece with more photos. Sayonara yo.