V-Moda Vibrato the Rugged Friend Your iPhone Never Had [Review]



I have an embarrassing confession to make: I wear out headphones the way most people wear out socks. Whether from Shure, Ultimate Ears, Sony, Koss, or 99-cent Chinatown bootleg, one of the ears won’t be playing sound within the first three months I own them. Fraying cables, rusty headphone jacks from rain, shorted audio drivers from running-induced ear sweat (?!), and many more have kept me from my music collection. I can’t help it; I wear my headphones everywhere. Consequently, I’m increasingly interested in durability as a key design consideration beyond just audio quality and a comfortable fit.

And I might have finally found the ideal iPhone headset for the active, occasionally irresponsible urbanite: V-Moda’s Vibrato headphones.

What is it?
The Vibrato in-ear headset, which was provided to me by V-Moda earlier this week, was designed from the ground up for durability. All cables are coated in braided fabric reinforced with Kevlar, which lends the headset a pliability and strength uncommon for in-ear audio. Moreover, the earbuds are housed in a zinc alloy casing and the jack is at a 45-degree angle to the main audio cable to reduce tension on the connection. A three-button remote with microphone are provided for hands-free phone calls, volume adjustments and playback controls.

Is it any good?
Absolutely. The sound is crisp and full for all ranges. If I have any criticism of the audio quality, it’s that the treble isn’t as flawless as the bass and mid-tones. They aren’t the best headphones I’ve ever owned from a sound perspective (that’s a tie between Shure ec2’s and Ultimate Ears 700’s), but they are very competitive with other headphones in the $99-$150 range and quite a bit ahead of the Shure SE-115’s and Apple’s in-ear headphones. The remote works well and is actually a more intuitive design than Apple’s standard remote. Voice calls are clear, if a bit too loud to hear.

The real attraction here, of course, is in the durable design. I don’t know whether they’re bulletproof or not, but I don’t think I could rip the cable apart if I tried, which is a lot more than I can say for most rubber-based headsets. I can’t over-emphasize how confidence-inspiring it is to be rocking these during my morning commute and evening run than a lightweight set that’s slowly being pulled apart by the weight of the iPhone. This is well-appointed if you’re going to exercise with headphones in, and the optional sport clips hold them in place even during vigorous movement.

From the design perspective, a few quirks actually undermine the overall message of durability and strength imparted by the Kevlar and metal. The shirt clip meant to hold the cable in place while you walk easily slips off the cable and is made of flimsy plastic. The sports clips feel nice, but I’ve had a lot of trouble keeping them on — the pinch they use to hold the cable in is inadequate to the task. One last warning is on the actual in-ear sheaths to the headphones. Though it comes with four different sizes for a variety of ears, they run very small. Though I’ve never worn above a medium in Shures or Ultimate Ears, I had to go to large for a snug fit, and I could probably still size up a little bit. If you have gaping ear canals, these aren’t for you.

I can quibble, but this is the best active full-featured iPhone headset I’ve ever used (remote and microphone included). I would recommend it to anyone who uses an iPhone as a primary audio device during exercise and enjoys the occasional run in the rain.

Wear to get it:
V-Moda Vibratos cost $129 and are available from the company’s Amazon. They aren’t carried by the Apple Store online or brick-and-mortar yet, but they likely will be soon.

[xrr rating=8/10]