Meters by Ashdown OV-1: Our first take

Sure it shows volume, but the meter in these headphones is mostly just awesome

Yes, you really will want a pair of headphones with an active VU meter in each cup. Why? Because it’s just so damn cool.

In the same way it’s impossible to talk about a Ferrari without mentioning the engine, or picking up a pair of Nike’s without expecting to see the swoosh on the side, a nostalgic volume unit (VU) meter is the defining aspect of Ashdown Engineering’s highly respected bass amps. They are seen glowing in the darkness on stages occupied by everyone from U2 to System of a Down.

With this in mind, it’s only logical a VU meter should be built into the company’s new headphones. That’s right, the Meters by Ashdown OV-1 headphones — which made their debut at CES 2017 — have a real, working VU meter in each ear cup. And it looks absolutely fantastic.

The needle will bounce along to the beat while you enjoy the sweet sound from these crazy cans.

Why is it there? Obviously once the headphones are on, you can’t see the VU meter’s needle pumping in time to the music. Well, outside of it being synonymous with the brand, it can be used by onlookers to judge whether the volume is too loud. It’s calibrated to EU safety standards, so if it’s in the red zone too much, you’re on the way to some hearing damage. Whether that’s used as a warning for parents to tell kids to turn it down, or as a badge of honor for your friends depends on the situation and your level of maturity.

Justifying its presence like that won’t satisfy everyone. There will be people who think it’s a pointless gimmick, but this is a cynical view, and misses the point. It separates the Meters OV-1 headphones from the hundreds of other over-the-ear headphones on sale, gives unique retro appeal using a feature steeped in musical history, and visual excitement that’s rare on this type of product. Ultimately, it’s just damn cool, and that’s good enough for us.

Anti-Beats sound

Thankfully, the VU meter isn’t the only awesome thing about the OV-1 headphones. They sound superb, and are among the most comfortable headphones around. We wore them for a large percentage of a nine hour flight with no fatigue at all. The head band is covered in thickly padded protein leather, as are the ear cups, where it hides springy memory foam. The body is made from aluminum and plastic. The headphones aren’t heavy, but not incredibly light either, yet remain very comfortable to wear. Some tightness around the head is evident initially, and as with any over-ear headphones, they’re a little awkward for glasses-wearers.

The OV-1’s come with two cables in the box, one with an in-line microphone and the other without, plus a micro-USB cable to charge the active noise cancellation. This feature is activated using a switch on the side of one cup, which is unfortunately hidden behind the ear cup arm when the headphones are on. This design decision gives a cleaner look, but means it can’t easily be turned on or off without removing the cans. It’s the only unfortunate design quirk we unearthed.

We spent a short amount of time listening to standard bitrate music tracks played through both an iPhone 7 Plus and a Huawei Mate 9. The OV-1 headphones were described as the “anti-Beats” to us, eschewing that heavy bass line for a cleaner, more balanced sound without sacrificing warmth. Not what you’d expect from a firm that makes bass amps? Yeah, don’t worry. The bass is strong with these headphones. Jidenna’s Long Live the Chief thumps along, but remains wonderfully controlled. It’s clear the OV-1s have been tuned by someone who understands bass, rather than simply wants their eyes to water. This is also evident in the way it handles BiSH’s manic drums in Hontouhonki.

The beauty of the OV-1’s sound really shines through in Scandal’s Love Me Do. The soundstage isn’t overly wide, with Haruna Ono’s vocals staying central where they belong, with the rest of the band tightly formed around them. It’s intimate, full of energy, and a joyous listen.

Active noise cancelation

The active noise cancellation works well, but does reduce overall volume. Listening on a flight, it minimized engine roar without affecting quality. The battery inside takes about 40 minutes to charge, and depending on use, should return up to 20 hours use before it needs recharging. The battery also runs the VU meter backlight, which can be active even when the noise cancelation isn’t on, but the mode is confusingly labeled EQ on the switch. This is because it also turns on some musical trickery that sounds like a “loudness” feature. It’s a shame, as we much preferred the sound without it, and would like the backlight on without any tuning.

Although this pair doesn’t have Bluetooth, a wireless version will arrive in the near future and the design will be almost identical — just expect the controls to be placed in a more convenient place. Meters by Ashdown OV-1 headphones are going to cost you $350 or 300 British pounds to buy, and when the Bluetooth version comes along, that price will rise to $400 or 350 British pounds. Release for the wired model is set for February.

Sure, if you don’t dress it up with slightly spurious talk about hearing protection the VU meter isn’t very helpful, but it gives the OV-1 headphones a cool visual touch that grabs attention. Give them a listen and you won’t care whether the VU meter serves a function or not, reveling instead in the fact that the needle will bounce along to the beat while you enjoy the sweet sound from these crazy cans.


  • Active VU meter
  • Very comfortable
  • Balanced, warm sound
  • Well priced


  • Quite large
  • EQ mode spoils the natural sound
Product Review

JBL’s Live 650BTNC are a wonderful everyday listening companion

A long-lasting battery, solid active noise cancelation, and vibrant sound make the JBL Live 650BTNC a great pair of headphones for everyday listening. Looking for feature-packed wireless headphones at a low price? These are just the ticket.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our favorites, with all the features you want.

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Home Theater

Run to the beat of your favorite music with the best running headphones

Running is a great source of exercise but isn't always the most thrilling, especially when you're fiddling to keep your headphones in place. Check out our picks for the best headphones for running, so you never have to miss a beat again.
Home Theater

Puro’s kids headphones don’t just sound great, they help prevent hearing damage

Puro Sound Labs' PuroQuiet headphones are a pair of noise-canceling over-ears that are designed for young listeners, allowing them to jam out to their favorite tunes, but limiting volume to avoid long-term hearing damage.
Home Theater

The best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2019.
Product Review

Now that every speaker has Alexa, don't you want the best? Get the Sonos One

To compete in smart speaker space, Sonos could have just made a better-sounding Alexa speaker, but the company has a reputation to uphold, and went much further. Our Sonos One Review reveals how Sonos does Alexa better than Amazon.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Amazon’s free Spotify competitor is here. Just ask Alexa

Just ask Alexa to play your favorite song. Amazon has launched a free, ad-based music streaming service to compete with Spotify's free tier on its popular Echo devices, aiming to bolster subscriptions to Amazon Music Unlimited.

Walmart deal drops the price of the 55-inch TCL 4K Roku smart TV to just $338

Was last weekend's Game of Thrones streaming experience lacking? Look no further than this 55-inch TCL TV, which features built-in Roku functionality, and can be had at Walmart for just $338.

YouTube Red is now YouTube Premium. What's changed, and should you subscribe?

Thanks to Google, YouTube Red is now YouTube Premium. We explain what exactly a YouTube Premium subscription gets you, how much it costs, and break down if it's a good choice for you.
Product Review

It sounds like a Sonos, but the Beam pulls one trick none of its siblings can

Sonos makes really good surround sound speakers for home theaters, but they’re expensive. A cheaper model with great sound would be a win. The Sonos Beam is that speaker, but were too many corners cut to make a more affordable product?

Take a gander at the best deals on 4K TVs for April 2019

There's no doubt that a good 4K smart TV is the best way to take your home entertainment setup to the next level to enjoy all your favorite shows, movies, and games in glorious Ultra HD. We've got the best 4K TV deals right here.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.