AS: What was the motivation for developing the VAMP?
VK: I longed for the days of having my high-end equipment, but taking on the road. I wanted to get that extra level of sound.
AS: Isn’t the built-in DAC and amp good enough?
VK: I have an iPhone 5 and a Samsung Galaxy SIII, and they are great for the common consumer. Great phone, great camera, both have a great DAC, everything. But, they’re not for the person who wants to take things to the next level. That’s where the VAMP comes in! We developed the first USB DAC/amp that can truly integrate with your phone, and that gives you totally different functions than your friends.
The amps built into smartphones are built for earbuds with about 15mW on average. If you see people trying to drive a 40mm driver with that, it’s like trying to drive a 10” subwoofer in your car with a 10W amplifier. And if you have larger or high-ohm headphones (anything above 32 ohms) you need to have a higher power amplifier. The VAMP can deliver up to 132mW, with ‘hi’ and ‘lo’ gain settings. It’s also a battery pack, and can use it with or without the charging function.
AS: This isn’t a new idea, what makes the VAMP stand out?
VK: Audiophiles already had amps to do this, but they were held on with rubber bands and I thought that’s not cool – you look like a Radio Shack guy. So I thought ‘how can I make this into an integrated device for smartphones’, so I developed the VAMP, which has two separate DACs in it; one for USB and one for iOS only. So you can plug it into any PC and it becomes a soundcard and headphone/desktop amp, or you can use it with a smartphone. It also has six-layer PCBs, and has an optical out, so it’s the only way to get a digital signal from your Android phone into your hi-fi system too.
The biggest challenge was how do I make it fit a Samsung and an iPhone. So I came up with a multi-design, starting with a case called Metallo. This has very nice angles, and goes along with the V-MODA ABCP ethos (“Anything But Circles and Plastic”) I hate circles and I hate plastic… that’s the easy way out.
The VAMP comes out of the box with rubber bumpers, and then you put on a plate that matches the smartphone. This back plate is optimised for the Samsung or iPhone. They each have to have a different cable, of course! On Android, it works as a USB DAC, although that depends from model to model; the SIII does support USB Audio, but currently the S4 doesn’t.
AS: Apple or Android… do you have a personal preference?
VK: No, but the great thing about using the Samsung models, aside from having a removable battery pack, is you can have removable SD cards, so you can carry six 64GB cards with you. Which is why audiophiles are starting to move to Android. Plus, you have this program called Poweramp, which is just amazing.
AS: Does feedback from the headphone community help develop products?
VK: One of the things that really helped V-MODA is I spent a lot of time in the headphone community, both online and offline and even hosted some meets at my house. It meant I really got to know the consumer inside out. The M-100 and the VAMP were built by looking at people’s playlists and seeing how loud they listen, what source they listened to… things like that. I didn’t like telling people about this, but I spent a lot of time staring at people’s ears, like an audiologist. This gave us some grass roots knowledge.
AS: Finally, tell us about the Europe/Hollywood connection?
VK: We’ve always designed in Milan and are based in California, but I moved to Milan recently, which gives us a more European base of operation. But we’re a family business. That’s one of the cool things about the hi-fi business; you still get people working out of the family garage. We’re… bigger, but we are still family owned; my dad, my brother and I. So we can focus on quality rather than just quarterly earnings, where some other brands are forced to appease shareholders.