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V-Moda M-200 ANC review: Overpriced over-ear headphones

V-Moda M-200 ANC
V-Moda M-200 ANC review: Overpriced over-ear headphones
MSRP $500.00
“An ambitious set of ANC headphones that don't quite deliver on their promises.”
Pros
  • Superb build quality and materials
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Effective transparency mode
  • aptX HD codec for Android
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Weak ANC performance
  • Poor call quality
  • Awkward controls
  • Glitchy mobile app

When V-Moda debuted its $500 M-200 ANC headphones at CES this year, I assumed that they were a wireless version of the company’s $350 M-200 wired studio headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC) thrown in. That seemed like a reasonable assumption — not only are the names virtually identical, but so are the headphones themselves.

As it turns out, just about the only thing these two models have in common is their overall design. The drivers are a different size (50mm in the M-200, 40mm in the M-200 ANC) and their tuning is quite varied as well.

So let’s get that out of the way right now: If you were hoping for a wireless set of the M-200, your wait is not yet over. The M-200 ANC, with their different sound signature and lack of a balanced audio cable option, should be considered as very much their own product — not a set of M-200s with Bluetooth and ANC.

And yet, V-Moda appears to have priced the M-200 ANC as though this were exactly what was going on.

Can V-Moda justify such a hefty price premium for these wireless cans? Let’s check ’em out.

What’s in the box?

V-Moda M-200 ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The M-200 ANC’s box uses a lot of foam and black plastic, which isn’t ideal in terms of recycling. Inside, V-Moda includes everything you need for both wireless and wired operation of the M-200 ANC, including a hard-shell carrying case, a carabiner to clip it to your backpack, a 3.5mm analog cable, an airplane adapter, and a USB-C charging cable.

Design

V-Moda M-200 ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Over-the-ear headphones tend to look and feel bulky, but V-Moda’s designers continue to do an amazing job at minimizing their size and shape. Their instantly recognizable hexagonal earcups are sleek, with a thin profile.

Build quality is superb. The M-200 ANC feel like they’re built to take a lot of abuse.

Despite the fact that the M-200 ANC are wireless and thus need some kind of controls for things like play/pause, track-skipping, etc., V-Moda has managed to incorporate them without interfering with the headphones’ clean lines. The five buttons all sit flush to the edges of the right earcup. At a distance of a few feet, there’s simply no way to distinguish between the M-200 and the M-200 ANC.

In fact, V-Moda has preserved all of the design elements that made the M-200 compelling: A robust and comfortable headband, a clever “CliqFold” folding design that makes them smaller for traveling, magnetically latched ear cushions that are a snap to remove and replace, and removable/customizable aluminum “shields” that adorn the outside of each earcup.

The one feature that didn’t survive the transition to the wireless model is the M-200’s optional balanced audio cable, but given that the M-200 ANC’s primary mission is wireless listening, that’s not really a surprise.

Once again, build quality is superb. Between the shields, the rigid metal sliders/forks, and V-Moda’s “FlexSteel” headband, the M-200 ANC feel like they’re built to take a lot of abuse.

Comfort, controls, and connections

V-Moda M-200 ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Because of V-Moda’s extensive use of non-plastic materials, the M-200 ANC tip the scales at a fairly hefty 11.3 ounces. That’s slightly less than the Apple AirPods Max (13.5 ounces) but considerably more than the Sony WH-1000XM4 (8.8 ounces). The good news is that this weight is really well distributed and the headphones feel much lighter than those numbers suggest.

V-Moda uses deeper ear cushions than those on the M-200, which makes them more comfortable despite the added weight (the M-200 are 10.2 ounces).

The downside to the extra weight is that they are not going to be very good companions when taking part in any activity more strenuous than a brisk walk.

People with small heads should take note: The M-200 ANC has a slightly larger headband than the M-200, which means that at their smallest size, the M-200 ANC have a bigger fit. Though it’s only a few millimeters different, I found the M-200 ANC crowded the tops of my ears while leaving a small gap at the bottom.

The buttons have a bit of a mushy feel, and it can be hard to know if you’ve successfully pressed them.

Another consideration for those who like to wear their headphones around their neck when not listening to music: Without a pivot that would let the earcups sit with their cushions against your body, those rigid metal earcup forks can become a bit uncomfortable — especially for people like me with pronounced collar bones.

V-Moda M-200 ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

I mentioned above that V-Moda has beautifully integrated the M-200 ANC’s controls into the outer shell of the right earcup. As slick as this looks, it’s a bit of a challenge for usability. The buttons all sit flush to the surrounding plastic, which means you’re dependent on the slightly raised icons to find them with your fingers.

This is less of a problem with the three main buttons that sit atop the earcup (which control play/pause, volume, and track skipping), but the perfectly smooth, dedicated ANC button on the lower front edge takes some getting used to. The buttons have a bit of a mushy feel and it can be hard to know if you’ve successfully pressed them.

Curiously, the ANC button can only be used for turning the ANC function on and off. There is no way to permanently engage the headphones’ transparency mode. Instead, V-Moda provides a temporary conversation mode that gets triggered when you place a hand over the lower portion of the left earcup. When that happens, your music is muted (not paused) and outside sounds are let in.

Also absent is any kind of wear sensor to automatically pause music and resume playback when you remove the headphones.

The M-200 ANC’s Bluetooth connection is quite strong — I was able to keep it alive even when separated from my phone by two stories in my house.

After a few false starts when I had to reset the paired devices list, I was able to connect the headphones to two devices simultaneously and switch between them easily.

The M-200 ANC are a great choice for critical listening, whether you use them wired or wirelessly.

However, I had a hit-and-miss experience trying to work with the V-Moda app on iOS and Android. On the iPhone, the app sometimes recognized the M-200 ANC and I could then use it to adjust ANC, EQ, and do firmware updates. But at other times, I’d simply be faced with an endless spinning wheel as the app looked for the headphones. At least the iOS app sometimes worked — the Android app never located the headphones at all.

Also somewhat frustrating was the app’s desire to continually show me that a firmware update was available, even after I had successfully installed it.

The M-200 ANC uses USB-C for charging, but sadly, that port cannot be used as a digital audio connection for computers.

Sound quality

V-Moda M-200 ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The M-200 ANC certainly sound nothing like their studio namesake, the M-200, and I’d argue that’s a very good thing. The M-200 are precise to the point of being almost painful, especially in the higher frequencies. Because they’re wired, there’s no way to tweak the EQ into a more pleasing signature, unless your specific source device lets you do that.

The M-200 ANC, on the other hand, have been tuned with a much more accessible sound signature, and even though they have smaller drivers than the M-200, they’ve got a much stronger bass response.

But regardless of whether you stick with the factory EQ settings or tweak them using the available presets or manual options in the app, the M-200 ANC deliver a clear and accurate sound that brings out the best in a wide range of musical genres.

That clarity really becomes evident when you switch back and forth between these cans and the Sony WH-1000XM4. The XM4 also sound terrific, but compared to the M-200 ANC, they can feel a bit soft, perhaps as a result of Sony’s digital signal processing (DSP). The V-Moda, by contrast, are razor-sharp and they have a knack for maintaining that clarity even as you ride the EQ settings to emphasize or deemphasize certain frequencies.

They also get remarkably loud if you let them — I reached my limit somewhere around the 60% volume level — and they never exhibited even a hint of distortion.

Wired sound quality is very good, and if you connect them to a quality audio source, like an Astell & Kern SR25 hi-res audio player, they sound even better.

When walking along busy streets, I found the ANC hardly compensated for traffic noise at all.

There’s also great news for Android users: The M-200 ANC have Qualcomm’s aptX HD Bluetooth codec, and you can really hear the difference this makes when compared to SBC or AAC — it’s much closer to the sound of a wired connection, especially when playing lossless music sources.

Overall, the M-200 ANC are a great choice for critical listening, whether you use them wired or wirelessly.

Noise cancellation and transparency

V-Moda M-200 ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Active noise cancellation is difficult to do really well. The best ANC headphones — Sony WH-1000XM4, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, and Apple AirPods Max — are the result of years of research and development. So it’s not entirely surprising that V-Moda can’t quite compete in this area. After all, many have tried, but few succeed.

What is surprising is just how far from this standard V-Moda seems to be.

Flipping between ANC on (even at its strongest setting) and off barely eradicates low frequencies, and it does virtually nothing to the higher frequencies.

It can help to mask some gentle and persistent background sounds like the drone of a bathroom fan, but this works best when you’re already sitting quite far from the source. When walking along busy streets, I found it hardly compensated for traffic noise at all.

It’s hard to say if they’ll do a better job handling the white noise of a passenger jet, but I’m doubtful.

Your voice sounds distant, like it’s coming from several feet away.

Transparency mode, on the other hand, is really good. Clap your hand to the left earcup and the outside world is suddenly right there with you. Remove your hand and things return to normal in an instant.

Trouble is, as I noted above, there’s no way to keep transparency on if you need it for more than a very quick chat with the person who’s brewing up your morning latte.

Battery life

V-Moda M-200 ANC
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The M-200 ANC deliver enough battery life for a full day or a very long flight, with a claimed 20 hours with ANC turned on. That’s the same performance you’ll get from the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 or Apple AirPods Max.

Their quick-charge feature, however, isn’t quite as good. Fifteen minutes will get you an extra hour of playing time, a far cry from Bose’s 3.5 hours or Apple’s 4.5 hours for the same length of charging time.

You can’t use the headphones in wireless mode while charging, but a wired connection will still work.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to get a really accurate sense of the remaining battery life. The iOS app only provides a tiny battery meter icon — not much bigger than the graphic displayed for the phone’s power, but without the option of a percentage readout — and the headphones don’t announce the battery level when you power them on.

Call quality

Call quality on the M-200 ANC is a real conundrum. Your voice is captured clearly, with a minimum of compression or distortion, but it’s as though V-Moda forgot to turn up the gain on the microphones — your voice sounds distant, like it’s coming from several feet away.

When I switched between the headphones and my iPhone 11’s built-in microphone, my callers said the difference was night and day.

Until V-Moda figures out a fix, I can’t recommend these cans for anything but emergency phone calls.

Our take

With the M-200 ANC, V-Moda gets the fundamentals right — especially sound quality — but falls short on many of the extra features that a set of $500 wireless headphones must do well in order to justify their price.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. In fact, I can propose three wireless headphones that outperform the M-200 ANC, depending on your priorities, and they all cost less money:

If noise-cancellation, battery life, comfort, and customization matter most, the $280 Sony WH-1000XM4 are the best all-around wireless headphones you can buy.

If ANC and call quality are what you need to get you through the day, the $400 Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are your best bet.

And if sound quality is key, but you’re unwilling to give up decent ANC and call quality, look no further than the $350 Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless Headphones.

How long will they last?

The M-200 ANC are very well built, with high-quality materials and easily swappable ear cushions. They come with a tough, protective carrying case, which, if used to store the headphones when not in use, should keep them from any and all incidental damage. I expect them to last longer than any other headphones in this category, and well beyond V-Moda’s one-year warranty.

Should you buy them?

At this price, no. There are simply too many other great headphones that perform better and cost less. But if V-Moda lowers the price of the M-200 ANC to $350 or less, their excellent sound quality and design might lure those who simply want a great set of wireless headphones for critical listening.

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