Back in 2008, I began making the transition from casual music listener to full-fledged audiophile. This was the year I sort of reached a sense of enlightenment and I began to reevaluate my tastes in music. I stopped listening to the radio and started listening to what I consider to be “good” music (IE anything that’s not on the radio), especially when it came to Hip-Hop, on my Zune whenever I went out. During this time, my Zune and I were inseparable. Any time I was driving, it is always plugged into the car’s stereo and set on shuffle mode and when I was a passenger, I always had my headphones on my ears, a trend that rings true to this day.
Back then, I owned a pair of Sony clip on headphones which had been decent for a while but when I made the transition to audiophile they just couldn’t cut it, especially after I picked up a pair of the full size and great sounding Sennheiser HD280 Pros. So, I had to do some shopping and eventually settled on a pair of $40 (at the time) V-Moda Bass-Freq earbuds that I managed to get from Amazon for $20. Based on reviews I’d read, these earbuds offered good sound quality while also delivering a very strong and deep bass. Being somewhat of a bass-head myself, I decided to order them based on their low price and bass-heavy sound.
After all this time, I’ve finally decided to write down my thoughts on the earbuds that have served me well over the past year and a half or so. Without any further delay, read on for my thoughts on the Bass-Freq earbuds.
Design and Build Quality
The bass-freq earbuds fall at the budget end of the densely populated IEM spectrum so it is expected that the build won’t exactly be spectacular and sure enough, it isn’t. The earbuds themselves are made entirely of plastic and come in a variety of bright and sometimes garish colors and while not the most attractive design I’ve ever seen in an IEM, they’re more appealing than some of the more utilitarian earbud designs. The plastic itself doesn’t seem the most durable but as long as you’re careful with them, they should be fine.
Another area of concern is the cable. This cable is very thin, stiff and tangles quite easily. With the cable being so thin, it doesn’t inspire much confidence in terms of long term durability. Personally, the cable lasted about a year and a couple months or so of regular usage before I began to notice some problems. Initially, I noticed a short in the cable where it terminates in the 3.5mm headphone jack. It was never too big a deal as all it did was cause a bit of distortion if I positioned it a certain way so it didn’t worry me too much but, about a week ago at the time of this writing, a second short developed directly above the y-splitter in the cable that ran into the left earbud. This completely eliminated any sound coming from the left side unless I held it just right and didn’t move. Now, I can’t stand asymmetry when it comes to headphones so this marked the end of my time listening to them. This strikes me as the type of problem that could have been prevented with a higher quality cable.
To assist in cable management, V-Moda includes what they refer to as a “Moda-wrap” which works pretty well in managing the cable. I didn’t make use of the accessory because I didn’t want to add additional clutter to my already messy pockets but in retrospect, I do wish I had made use of it, perhaps it could’ve prevented the damage done to the cable. Then again, I didn’t treat my headphones poorly so saying that I should’ve used the Moda-wrap almost sounds like I’m making excuses for the poor quality of the cable.
Immediately after opening the package, I proceeded to break them in on some pretty bass heavy songs and what I heard pleasantly surprised me. A lot of bass is crammed into such a small space. It was almost a bit overwhelming at first but immediately, I knew that the sound quality was much improved from the cheap Sony clip on headphones I’d been using before. There was warmth and richness to the sound that wasn’t at all present in the Sony ‘phones. Bass response is deep, heavy and full. It lends a very noticeable sensation of warmth to the sound. I wouldn’t characterize the bass as “tight” but it is satisfying, if a little bloated. Simply put, if you’re a bass-head, you’re probably going to find a lot to like here.
The highs and midrange are pretty decent as well. There’s enough treble extension to create a nice “sparkle” and sound crisp but they’re a bit sibilant at higher volumes to the point that some have called it shrill. The midrange is, again, decent at best. The problem here is that it’s almost entirely overwhelmed by the low end, making it a tad muddy and recessed. Strings sound veiled and percussion lacks necessary sharpness.
Another factor in whether or not you will enjoy these earbuds is your taste in music as the Bass-Freqs do much better with certain genres than they do with others. As expected, Rap, Hip-Hop and most Techno sound great on these earbuds, benefitting from the increased bass. Other genres such as Alternative, Classical and Rock are much weaker in comparison.
As a whole, these earbuds aren’t very clear or analytical. On the positive side, that lack of clarity means they won’t be very critical of low bitrate music files. While the lack of transparency leaves something to be desired, the low end is much better than the average inexpensive earbud which is usually too tinny or too muddy to provide any real enjoyment.
After some thought, I now view these as “gateway” ‘phones. They’re good enough to satisfy most listeners interested in a replacement for stock earbuds but will likely inspire many people to upgrade to something better down the line. V-Moda has a very clear idea of what market they are trying to attract with the Bass-Freqs. These are not for audio purists who desire a more realistic and transparent sound. Instead, these are “fun” earbuds designed to appeal to casual listeners. In that respect, the overall sound signature is decent enough to appeal to people who aren’t too concerned with the best quality sound and instead enjoy the warm and deep sounds of an emphasized low end.
Considering the fact that these earbuds are so inexpensive, perhaps I’m being a bit too critical. As far as $20 earbuds go, these are better than average and I could recommend them as an improvement over other, cheaper earbuds. However, even in the range of $20, there are better options and these may be worth investigating if you’re more interested in more neutral sounding and durable portable headphones.