iPhone-toting audiophiles typically try to get the best sound by using high-end headphones. The V-Moda Vamp is another option. This $650 device docks into your iPhone and uses two built-in digital-audio converters to boost and enhance the tunes coming out of your phone. In addition, the gadget promises to double your battery life. Is it worth the investment?
At 5 x 2.5 x 0.8 inches and 4.8 ounces, the Vamp effectively doubles the size and weight of the iPhone. Still, it integrates well with the handset, which slides into a silicone housing at the top. There's also a cutout section that lets you use the phone's rear camera.
Made of brushed metal with exposed screws, the black-and-red motif gives the Vamp an industrial look. The top has an audio out jack, a volume knob and a three-way switch that's small, but we worried about it snapping off.
The left side of the Vamp has a button that, when pressed, shows how much battery life is left via two amber LEDs; four would be better. The bottom has small switches to change the gain, and to reset the device. A mini USB port also rests on the bottom to recharge the Vamp.
It looks like V-Moda took the hardware from VentureCraft's Go-Dap amplifier--both devices have all the same switches and indicator lights--and put it in a case that better conforms to the iPhone 4S.
Our iPhone 4S slid easily into the Vamp's silicone housing and docked into the connector with a nice click. You'll have to remove any case surrounding your iPhone first, though. Removing our iPhone was a little trickier -- we had to push on it through the rear camera opening to pop it out, which made it feel like we were going to bend the connector at the bottom.
The switch at the top of the Vamp has three settings: The first turns the amp on and delivers power only to the Vamp. The second turns the amp on, but also charges your iPhone. The third setting turns the Vamp off. When in the first two positions, the switch glows green, and it turns red when off.
Inside the Vamp are dual 150mW amps and a DAC processor, which bypasses the iPhone's own DAC. We connected a pair of Logitech Ultimate Ears Custom In-Ear monitors to the Vamp, and listened to a variety of music on our iPhone 4S.
Overall, we found music a bit fuller, and bass more driving, but it wasn't a night-and-day difference. On Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie," the bass line resonated a bit more, the same as on Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," but wasn't earth-shaking. On jazz tracks, such as John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly With Me," and a recording of "Rhapsody in Blue," the boost in sound was even more subtle.
We also listened to the same tracks using a pair of V-Moda Crossfade M-80 headphones, and got similar results--everything sounded richer and fuller, but it wasn't as dramatic a change as we hoped.
We heard a little noise when moving through menus; pressing a button on-screen resulted in a split-second of buzz, which sometimes could be heard intermittently while music was playing. It sounded like interference from the iPhone's radios; putting the phone into airplane mode eliminated the noise.
While no fault of the Vamp itself, it amplifies everything, so white noise and compression is even more prevalent on lower-quality recordings.
The Vamp's 2200mAh battery can be used both to amplify music and to recharge your iPhone. It can provide from six to eight hours of playback. With the Vamp and our iPhone fully charged, we played music at 50 percent volume and with the screen on at 40 percent, and the Vamp lasted five hours and 26 minutes. While the Vamp's battery was dead, our iPhone was still at 100 percent.
At $650, the V-Moda Vamp is just as expensive as the iPhone without a contract. Undoubtedly, serious audiophiles will appreciate the design of the Vamp, and the fact that it essentially doubles the iPhone's battery life. But, if you've already got a serious pair of headphones, the audio upgrade that the Vamp provides will be minimal.