Velodyne vPulse Earphones
(4.5 star rating)
An in-ear earphone developed by the subwoofer experts at Velodyne, the vPulse follows the recent trend of loudspeaker manufacturers applying their Hi-Fi expertise to portable audio. Outfitted with a flat cable, in-line mic, an iDevice remote and tagged with the catchphrase “bring the bass”, the vPulse seems to be a recipe for success. Does it leave anything behind in the quest for bass? Read on to find out.
Packaging & Accessories
The packaging of the vPulse is simple in design but attractive and nicely made. The outer sleeve lists the features of the earphones and other info in several languages while the inner box simply reiterates Velodyne’s promise to “bring the bass”. Opening the box reveals a nice plastic tray again stamped with the logo and slogan. Clearly visible are the earphones and carrying case. The entire unboxing experience is finger-friendly and straightforward.
In addition to the earphones and manuals, the box contains 10 pairs of single-flange silicone ear tips in four sizes – a set each in black and gray with extra medium-sized pairs in both colors – as well as a cable clip for fixing the cord in place and a zippered carrying case. The hard-shell case is rectangular in shape and finished in a nice velvety material. It is also easy to use and plenty large enough to hold the earphones and tips, unlike the frustrating pouch provided by Bowers & Wilkins for their C5 in-ears.
|vPulse Box||vPulse Box Opened|
- Driver Type: Dynamic
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz ~ 20 kHz
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 99 dB/1 mw
- Cable length: 3.7 ft (1.1 meters)
- Input connection: 3.5 mm L-plug
Design & Build Quality
Though the design of the vPulse is hardly novel, it is clear that Velodyne put plenty of thought into selecting parts and materials that work. The flat cable is the most striking feature – smooth and tangle-free, with a sturdy feel and nice matte finish. Like most flat cables, it lacks heavy-duty strain reliefs but the L-shaped plug, included shirt clip, and functional sliding cinch all reveal good attention to detail. Some of the plastic parts show molding artifacts, however, which detracts from the otherwise premium feel of the product.
The in-line mic/remote connected to the left earpiece is a 3-button Apple-style unit. Though Android is listed on the packaging, neither the 3-button remote nor the attached mic work natively with all Android phones. My HTC Desire, for example, will only take input from the middle button of the remote and refuses to recognize the mic. With Apple devices the mic is quite good and the remote is well thought-out, albeit clearly styled after the Monster Controltalk unit. The plastic again feels a bit cheap but the raised middle button makes it easy to operate the unit blindly and the sensitivity is good enough for voice calls.
|Accessories||Inline remote and L-plug|
Fit, Comfort, Microphonics & Isolation
The vPulse uses an ergonomic design with the sound tube positioned at a ~45º angle relative to the housing for easier insertion into the ear canal. Wearing the earphones in a standard cable-down configuration is easy – they are just as comfortable as a Klipsch S4 and the light weight and small size make it easy to forget about them. Wearing them cord-up is a bit trickier due to the flat cable but the cable cinch and shirt clip help.
Microphonics (cord contact noise) are low in the smooth and flexible cable and the included shirt clip can be used to eliminate them completely. Isolation is good for a vented dynamic-driver earphone – not as impressive as with an Etymotic MC5 or other deep-fit monitors but more than reasonable for the typical daily commute.
Testing note: All on-the-go listening was done using a Cowon J3 portable player with a wide range of tracks in mp3 (bitrates ranging from 128 to 320kbps) format. Critical listening was done via an optical-fed iBasso D10 using only WMA and FLAC lossless files.
These days the in-ear earphone market is extremely crowded – a quick glance at Amazon’s headphone section reveals that everyone from big-name home audio brands to accessory wholesalers has an earphone (or ten) to sell. Some offer unparalleled accuracy, others flaunt trendy style, and yet others promise sweat resistance and workout durability. The Velodyne vPulse simply promises to bring the bass – a fairly common theme in a world filled with Soul by Ludacris and Beats by Dre, but one less easily shrugged off coming from the folks responsible for some of the world’s most accurate subwoofers.
The vPulse certainly delivers the bass in a big way, but doesn’t ignore the rest of the frequency spectrum in the pursuit of low-end grunt. The bass is deep, reaching down below 30Hz effortlessly and offering reasonably good texture and detail all the way down. There is significant sub-bass emphasis but not much of a mid-bass hump, which allows the vPulse to avoid the boomy, bloated sound of sets such as the Beats by Dre Tour and Klipsch Image S4. At the same time the vPulse has better note thickness than the Klipsch S4, giving it a fuller, more natural sound in addition to the already-superior rumble and power. Impact is good and though the bass tends to linger, the vPulse is still quick enough for most rock and metal tracks. Worth noting is that the sound quality of the vPulse is more sensitive to the quality of the seal between eartip and ear than with most earphones, so if they don’t sound great, fit just might be to blame.
The midrange of the vPulse takes a step back in emphasis compared to the subbass but sounds clear and detailed, giving up just a bit of resolution and crispness to the clarity-focused MEElectronics CC51 and higher-end sets. On some tracks the bass has a tendency to overwhelm but the lack of mid-bass bloat definitely helps keep the mids clean. Other bass-heavy sets – for example the Beyerdynamic DTX 101 iE – keep the mids clean artificially, by pushing them forward ahead of the bass, but the vPulse manages it naturally. It also sounds very smooth all the way up into the treble. The top end of the vPulse is not at all bright – the balance is clearly skewed towards the lows – but the Velodynes do avoid unpleasant harshness and sibilance, providing a non-fatiguing sound that easily beats out the Klipsch Image S4 for long-term listening. The vPulse is also quite forgiving of lower-bitrate tracks – likely a plus for most iPod users.
All that sounds very good, so what’s missing compared to higher-end eargear? Well, the sound is a little dry and lacks delicacy and refinement, as well as the microdetail and transparency of higher-end sets. Realistically, with the compressed tracks found on the average iPod, the vPulse will be nearly as good as a $200 Sennheiser IE7 or $150 Audio-Technica CKM99 except maybe in one way – the presentation. The presentation of the vPulse is rather wide but the soundstage doesn’t have great depth or layering, resulting in sound that feels a bit ‘flat’. The massive bass helps fill out the stage but a good high-end earphone will make individual instruments easier to pick out and position them more accurately. The somewhat constrained dynamics of the vPulse are partly to blame and also cause the earphones to sound a bit dull and boring at lower listening volumes. However, the vPulse is certainly not alone in having average dynamics – the $180 Bowers & Wilkins C5 sounds more like a $100 earphone for this very reason. The vPulse, however, retails for just $89. Any guess as to which one is the better value?
Velodyne vPulse Earphones
Despite being the first attempt at a portable audio experience from the bass experts at Velodyne, the vPulse is a mid-tier headset done right. While somewhat derivative, its design combines solid functionality and great attention to detail. The flat cables are some of the best I’ve seen – tangle-resistant and noise-free – and the angled-nozzle earpieces sit well in the ear. Similarly, the 3-button remote is convenient to operate and the included carrying case is functional and easy to use, neither of which can be said for the capricious Bowers & Wilkins C5 we reviewed a few months ago.
The sound of the vPulse combines great bass rumble and depth with slightly subdued – but still clean and detailed – mids and highs. The bass can be a touch overpowering on some tracks but normally it is quite well-behaved for such a bassy earphone. Casual listeners and bass junkies alike will be extremely pleased with the performance of the vPulse and even seasoned audiophiles should be impressed with the rumble and power it provides.
Pros: Comfortable and well-designed; deep, powerful bass; good clarity and all-around performance
Cons: Bass can occasionally be overwhelming.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5