You don't listen to the same music as your friends, so why should your headphones look like everyone else's? Velodyne's vFree On-Ear Bluetooth headphones ($249) let you trick them out using a set of skins, so your headphones can be as unique as you are. But it's not all about looks. Velodyne manages to pack some sizable bass into a sleek, lightweight package that also features controls on the right ear cup. Read on to find out whether you should hit play or pause.
Click to EnlargeThe Velodyne vFrees' glossy black plastic casing conjured images of a futuristic pair of patent leather Mary Janes. And like those iconic shoes, vFrees exude a quiet sophistication that can highlight any outfit. The metallic V at the center of the headband is a small but welcome embellishment. The headphones are also available in white or silver.
Click to EnlargeA pair of aluminum and plastic sliders helps reposition the cans for a comfortable fit, and hinges let you fold up the headphones while traveling. Thanks to the plastic chassis, the headphones weigh in at a light 6 ounces.
Each ear cup forms a delicate V shape, a Velodyne trademark. The bottom of the headband and the interior of the ear cups are lined with leather-wrapped memory foam. The cans fit snugly on our ears and were still comfortable even after two hours of uninterrupted use. However, some people in our office found the on-ear cups didn't create as tight a seal as they would have liked.
Click to EnlargeAs snazzy-looking as the vFrees are, sometimes you want to shake things up a bit. Velodyne created nine skins, which range in price from $39.99 to $89.99. People with an artistic flair will want to grab a couple of Magic Markers and check out the solid white or black skins to create a truly custom skin.
The skins are made up of three flexible pieces and snap over the ear cups and the headband. The right ear cup skin has raised dots so listeners can easily find the controls. Placing the skins on the cans was a snap - literally.
Touch Controls and LEDs
Click to EnlargeThe left ear cup on the vFrees has a smooth glossy black surface, but the right cup has three strategically placed cuts, creating three asymmetrical panels. The visually stimulating panels serve as the controls when using the vFrees wirelessly.
The top panel lets you skip tracks -- the upper part for skipping forward and the bottom for skipping back. The middle panel turns the headphones on and activates pairing mode, while the bottom panel controls play, pause and call answer/ end. Finally, there are two black matte volume buttons on the rear of the right cup.
A LED indicator for headphone status (power on, pairing mode and standby) sit below the buttons along the right ear cup. Another LED indicator can be found on the left side of the headphones for battery life. Here, there's also a microUSB port for charging and an audio input cable for wired listening.
Pressing the power button on the vFrees for 5 seconds activates pair mode, indicated by an LED, which flashes red and blue. The Nokia Lumia 900 and the Samsung Galaxy Note II took 5 seconds to connect. The iPhone 4S was even faster at 3 seconds.
Once paired, it took a little while to get comfortable using the control panels. You have to press down on the buttons to get a solid click. However, making sure we were pressing the right part of the panel to skip tracks was somewhat troublesome. Also, we never got the hang of pairing the headphones while wearing them. We would have preferred a touch panel system similar to the right ear cup of the Parrot Ziks.
Click to EnlargeRemovable covers are cool and all, but it's what's under the hood that counts. Fortunately, Velodyne didn't skimp on the sound, outfitting the vFrees with a pair of 34mm drivers.
When we listened to Marvin Gaye's classic "After the Dance," we heard rich bass and guitar, crisp bongos and cowbells melding with Gaye's seductive crooning. However, we did hear some harshness at the higher end of the track. The same track on the Parrot Ziks delivered a warmer, clearer sound. We're also huge fans of the Ziks' ability to adjust the soundscape via its accompanying smartphone app.
Velodyne is known for its subwoofers, and the vFrees didn't disappoint on bass-heavy tunes. On songs such as Jay-Z's "U Don't Know (Remix)" and Mos Def's "Ghetto Rock," the vFrees outperformed the Ziks. It's not the skull-rattling audio of the SMS Audio Sync by 50 headphones, but the vFrees definitely have some kick. However, there were a few instances where we thought the lows were close to overwhelming the tracks at maximum volume.
Phone calls made with the vFrees sounded fairly muffled on our end. However, many of our callers reported loud, clear sound. The lack of active noise canceling allowed some of the ambient New York City street noise to seep into the call, but not enough to be distracting.
Battery Life and Bluetooth
Velodyne claims that the vFrees' 430 mAH Lithium-ion battery can last up to 10 hours. During our testing of continuous jamming, we saw 9 hours and 30 minutes of battery life. Recharging the battery took about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The company lists the headphones as having a 30-foot Bluetooth range. However, we were able to walk 125 feet away (in a straight line) from our Nokia Lumia 920 before the audio cut out.
Click to EnlargeThe $249 Velodyne vFree On-Ear Bluetooth headphones offer solid audio with long battery life and Bluetooth range. The optional skins add customization for people who want to accessorize their tech. However, the less-than-intuitive touch controls hinder what should otherwise be an easy, breezy user interface.
The $399 Parrot Ziks continue to be the gold standard for Bluetooth headphones, delivering crisp, balanced audio with innovative touch controls and built-in NFC. However, the vFree headphones are a good choice for fashionable types looking for high-quality wireless audio at a lower price.