Interview: Val Kolton of V-MODA (Hi-Fi+)

There’s a major misunderstanding in the world of good headphones. Many think that good-looking headphones all sound bad and the genre began when Dre met the Head Monster. In fact, although there have been fashionable cans for as long as there have been cans, the prime mover in quality ear-wear is in fact V-MODA, which has been making headphones that max out on sound and fashion since 2004, and the brand’s models have been wrapped round the ears of the great and the good, with endorsements as diverse as Tom Cruise and Giorgio Moroder

We spoke to V-MODA’s CEO, producer and DJ Val Kolton about the company and its products.

Alan Sircom: What drove you to start V-MODA?

Val Kolton: One of the things V-MODA has tried to do is to become the next generation hi-fi company. I owned B&W Nautilus loudspeakers, Shangling CD players, Classé amps, I soundproofed my room, everything… and do you know what I found? I probably listened to that system perhaps five or six times. And then I started to explore the world of headphones and I thought ‘wow!’

I travel a lot on business to Asia and Europe, and I found myself wanting to listen to hi-fi at the gym or running and I thought ‘Now that audio’s becoming portable, we’ve gradually been able to get higher fidelity file formats for portable use, there needs to be a company that takes it to the next level.”

AS: But is the portable audio experience a truly audiophile one too?

VK: I had a magic moment the other day. I was at the park jogging, and heard this new song I downloaded. So I just stopped and sat there listening. Fortunately, I had my VAMP with me. This is an audio experience, the kind I haven’t heard before… and it happened at a park! That sums up what I feel about this. It’s about enjoying the finer things in life, wherever they happen.

The other thing I really enjoy is when I finally got my Holy Grail of hi-fi, I had to sit in just the right position on the couch to hear it perfectly. I almost had to lock my head in place. For movies, it’s different, but I don’t need to be that rigid anymore.

AS: Which model are you most proud of?

VK: All of them! But we’re really happy with the M-100, because it’s is a good crossover between professional DJ headphone users, the audiophiles and even the lifestyle consumers; it’s the number one headphone rated at Amazon. There’s not been a single bad review of the M-100. They are also the first crowd-sourced headphone, and are hugely popular in the EDM scene. The great thing about them though is people ask me ‘wow! what are those?’ every day about my headphones… and they don’t know I work for V-MODA!

AS: Why did a headphone brand develop a line of electronics?

VK: It all started with the M-80 on-ear headphone (which became the number one headphone on Head-Fi). This made people think of V-MODA as pushing headphones forward for audiophile performance, fashion and durability you can come out of your house with.

People were experimenting with operational amplifiers and DACs, but there are so many different options in op-amps and DACs, and nobody really knows what the combination of the two sounds like. You can’t have one without the other and we found that they work in tandem closely, so when we were trying out the different combinations we were like ‘wow!’ – the little settings you can adjust and the combinations of the two can make everything sound so different.

The audiophile can’t listen to all of them. So, we decided, let’s do that homework for them. Let’s try out 120 different combinations for ourselves. We’ll sit in a room in Japan and just listen by ear, not even go by the specs, and see what happens. We matched the chips exactly, so that we could get the best sound, which was quite time-consuming!

What we came out with was the VAMP amplifier/DAC. Everyone thought, “what the heck is that?” because no one had ever done something like that before. We developed the op-amps, the DACs and the batteries, which are like the Mophie Juice packs for the audiophile!

All content, design, and layout are Copyright © 1999 - 2011 NextScreen. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction in whole or part in any form or medium without specific written permission is prohibited.