The V-Moda S-80 are probably the most difficult product I’ve had to review. There aren’t many headphone-speaker-hybrid products out there. In fact, the only one I can think of is the V-Moda. Of course, there are a lot of great headphones out there. And there are a few – very few – personal neckband speakers out there. But the V-Moda S-80 does both.
Don’t confuse this with a possible replacement of a portable Bluetooth speaker like the JBL Clip 4 though. This is not going to power the music for a small get-together. This is a personal audio device. As such, it covers some strange ground. Some might say “why not just get a standard pair of headphones?” But, some people want to hear some music while working out in the yard or cleaning the house, going from room to room, without the need for a multi-room musical setup a la Sonos or the need for a portable speaker that you have to transport with you.
V-Moda S-80 review: price and release date
The world of neckband speakers is pretty small, with only a few like the Sony SRS-NS7 on the market. But with the launch of the V-Moda S-80 in June 2022, there’s one more alternative on the market.
Maybe because the S-80 covers a lot of the same ground while also functioning as headphones, its surprisingly high price of £349/$399.99 is justifiable. If you do compare it to other neckband speakers and keep its dual-functionality in mind, that price tag makes sense.
While the V-Moda S-80 does come with a stock set of magnetic shields, you can choose from a whole assortment of designs, including uploading your own for a fun customised look. A set will cost you £/$24.99.
V-Moda S-80 review: design
V-Moda spared no expense when putting together the S-80. These headphones are one tough cookie. The earcups might be made of a hard, durable plastic – but they’re protected by removable and replaceable magnetic shields seemingly made of a ceramic-type material. The easily-removable earpads use a comfortable, soft foam covered in pleather. And the headband is made of a combination of alloyed zinc and aluminium and covered in the same pleather used on the earpads.
These headphones come in three colourways – black, rose gold (with black trimmings), and white. And, as previously mentioned, you can further customise the look with magnetic shields that you order directly from V-Moda.
As far as comfort goes, these on-ear cans are not going to be the plushest experience since the headband doesn’t have much cushioning on it. But, they’re still plenty comfortable. The earcups tilt and swivel easily to meet your ears at an ideal angle and it’s easy to extend the headband to fit different sized heads.
Turning the earcups out completely (90 degrees) turns the S-80 into speaker mode. When in speaker mode, the V-Moda S-80 sits perfectly around the neck. In fact, the headband shape is angled specifically for the neck.
V-Moda S-80 review: features
The V-Moda S-80 are not an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of headphones when it comes to features. But, they do offer some essentials.
For instance, you can make and take calls while wearing the S-80. I was able to easily carry on a conversation through it in both headphone mode and speaker mode. The audio quality won’t be as crisp as when using the phone directly (as I’ve found with most headphones and earbuds) but you’ll come through loud and clear.
It does have a tendency to pick up more environmental noise than I would like but that’s also typical, especially when there’s not any kind of background noise rejection feature included. When on a call, I sounded a little farther away than when using my iPhone in its speaker mode in both the S-80’s headphone and speaker mode though the latter sounded even farther away. While not great, it’s a convenience that’s on par with even other expensive headphones.
The other feature worth mentioning is the app. There’s not a lot going on but it does let you know the battery life and codec engaged. You also have six EQ options (well, it's five unless you include “off”), all of which are customisable via a five-band EQ. You can also engage speaker mode via the app, but it doesn’t currently have EQ settings. You can also update the firmware and adjust the auto shut-off through the app.
V-Moda S-80 review: performance
When considering the V-Moda S-80’s sound quality, you have to consider how it sounds when used as headphones and when used as a speaker. You might think they would be the same but just louder in speaker mode. That’s not the case.
When used in headphone mode, the S-80s sound pretty good! You won’t find balanced, neutral audio quality where you hear music or audio as the artist intended, to borrow a cliché. Instead, it’s a bottom-heavy, in-your-face sound signature that’s meant to get you moving and grooving while listening to music. In fact, it’s engineered specifically for “modern styles” of music, so think Hip Hop, Electronica, Pop. Music that doesn’t conform to such mixdowns will sound a bit out-of-balance. For example, Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate is overpowered by that bass response whereas Tierra Whack’s Unemployed hits just right with its massive bass and detailed and somewhat hyped high end.
The soundstage is wide enough for any amount of movie-watching. Even listening to something as subtle as people leaving the office in a show, Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter in this instance, it’s easy to follow footsteps walking to the left and getting farther away. It’s not an incredibly wide soundstage but it’s wide enough and the sound imaging accurate enough that only those looking to nit-pick will find fault with it.
In speaker mode, the sound quality is okay but not at the level of its headphone mode. That massive bass in headphone mode barely registers in speaker. You’re mostly getting the high-end with a little bit of mid-range. It does its job of providing intelligible sound for music and movies in this mode. But, if you don’t care so much about having that neckband-type functionality, the headphone mode is far superior.
Surprisingly, you still get some okay sound imaging and a little bit of a soundstage when using the S-80 in speaker mode. Of course, you need to make sure each ear cup is equal distance to your ears otherwise one side will overpower the other (just like a regular pair of speakers). You’ll still experience directional audio such as cars passing but it won’t be the immersive experience that you’ll find with its headphone mode.
One more note on the speaker mode though: when put into this mode, whether by flipping open the earcups or through the app, the S-80 does get noticeably louder. You will have enough volume on tap to comfortably listen to music or movie audio. But, this is not a replacement for a Bluetooth speaker when you want to share that audio with multiple people.
V-Moda S-80 review: battery
The battery life on the V-Moda stands up to most wireless headphones. In headphone mode, you’ll get 30 hours of use. When tested, I only got the battery life down a third of its charge after 10-and-a-half-hours of use (at three-quarters volume), so you might even be able to squeeze an extra hour or two out of the S-80 if you need to.
Speaker mode will give you 20 hours of battery life, which is much better than that of the Sony SRS-SN7's 12 hours.
V-Moda S-80 review: verdict
The V-Moda S-80 tries to do two things at once. As a pair of headphones, it’s fun if somewhat limited. As a neckband speaker, it does the job adequately though the sound quality is not quite there, especially for the price.
If you’re interested in neckband speakers but would like the idea of an all-in-one audio solution, then the S-80 is an ideal option for you. It will also be your only option. But, if you’re looking for a pair of headphones and find the extra speaker functionality an interesting curiosity instead of a must-have, you would do better to look at the V-Moda Crossfade 3 Wireless or any other fully featured set of headphones.
The Sony SRS-N7 Neckband Speaker is a great premium option for those that want some personal audio without having to use a pair of headphones when watching TV or listening to music. And, it’s about $100 cheaper than the V-Moda S-80. Of course, it doesn’t have that dual-system ability of the V-Moda to be used as headphones as well.
If you want great portable sound and don’t care so much about that neckband-style form factor, then consider the Beosound A1 2nd Gen portable speaker. It might come at a premium compared to other bluetooth speakers, but at $250, it’s still less than the V-Moda. Again, you lose out on that headphone form factor that the V-Moda brings to the table.
If you’re interested in V-Moda’s audio solutions but aren’t interested in the premium price of a hybrid audio product like the V-Moda S-80, then the V-Moda Crossfade 3 Wireless are worth a look. They offer Hi-Res audio and a punchy sound that will not only appeal to DJs but anyone who wants a pair of headphones that will make them dance in their seats.