Aedle VK-1 Headphone Review
How about a little French fancy?
What is the Aedle VK-1?‘If you don’t mind me saying’ said the lady standing behind me at the Sainsburys checkout ‘that is a fantastic looking pair of headphones.’ I didn’t mind her saying it at all. Not only was it the second time it had happened that day - the first had been earlier in the pub - it also gave me a way to start this review. I’ve been wearing headphones out and about as part of the review process for two years and none of them has ever garnered any comment from people around me and in the space of a day, this pair had it happen twice.
Then again, what you see here is not an ordinary pair of headphones. This is not an effort by an existing brand to make something shiny but neither is it a quick project designed to cash in on the current headphone boom. This is the Aedle VK-1 and it is the only product the company makes. It is the singular vision of two men that has taken several years to reach fruition. Instead of being produced in a corner of a giant Far Eastern factory, they are instead made by a small group of workers in Brittany. They are intended to be the definition of what a pair of headphones should be and they are undeniably very, very pretty. Does this beauty translate into something that is any good though?
Aedle VK-1 DesignThe Aedle VK-1 (VK in this instance is short for Valkyrie) is an over ear design that is almost the definitive size of a hybrid design suitable for use on the move and at home. What is notable about this is that when the development of the VK-1 began several years ago, the hybrid category didn’t really exist. Having spoken to the developers, they are adamant that other than a careful benchmark test of the competition carried out right at the start of the development process, the VK-1 has not been a response to what other people have been doing which makes the size and general design impressively prescient.
The VK-1 is built around a pair of titanium drivers that were selected after a lengthy process and then further tweaked to meet Aedle’s specifications. They take up almost the full width of the housings and sit towards the front of them with the earpads putting the gap between them and your ear. The original plan was to make the VK-1 a sealed design but this changed during development to one that vents via two thin vertical strakes at the front of each housing. Interestingly, in use these vents don’t seem to leak much noise to the outside world which makes the VK-1 viable for use in public.
The VK-1 has a detachable 1 metre cord which connects to the left hand housing. This is supplied with a quarter inch adapter but is not equipped with any form of remote or microphone which puts it at a slight disadvantage compared to some of the competition at the price. As Aedle has ensured that the connection on the VK-1 itself is an ordinary 3.5mm one, you could easily replace the cord with a longer example if you needed and I believe there are also ones with inline remotes as well. Nonetheless, you should take this into account if you need to have one out of the box.
The other aspect of the VK-1’s design that is different from a few rivals is that the design is not intended to fold up or even fold flat which means it takes up a little more space in a bag than some other models. This is in part down to the way that the VK-1 adjusts on the head. Instead of building the size adjustment into the headband, the VK-1 is more like the Grado SR60i in that the housings are mounted on a single tube section that can slide in and out independently of the other side which means that that VK-1 would probably fit Sloth from The Goonies if you needed them too. The headband itself is a single piece of manganese steel that has no hinges or mounts. This in turn adjusts to the size of your head over the time that you use them and can resist being quite significantly bent out of shape before returning to the original hoop. The effect in use is quite hard to describe. The VK-1 starts feeling very tight on the head but after a few hours some of the tension wears off and it becomes very comfortable indeed. This is one indicator of the way Aedle has gone about using materials in a different way to the competition to make the VK-1 feel different.
No photo of the VK-1 really manages to capture how lovely they are in the metal
Of course the most visible manifestation of this is the appearance of the Aedle. No photo of the VK-1 really manages to capture how lovely they are in the metal. And ‘metal’ really is the correct term here as the VK-1 is almost exclusively a vision in aluminium and leather. Not any old aluminium and leather either. The metal sections are T6066 aluminium which is derived from the aviation industry and benefits from considerable tensile strength. The leather is lambskin from Argentinian livestock (that produces a very high quality leather free of barb wire imperfections). The VK-1 also comes supplied with a matching leather bag that seals with poppers- a little detail that keeps them looking tidy. The overall package feels absolutely bloody fantastic.
They also look incredible. The VK-1 has almost no visible branding and as a result thanks to the materials involved manages to look somewhere between a piece of retro futurism - like a prop from a Fritz Lang movie - and the equivalent of a concept car that manufacturers bring to motor shows to demonstrate their vision of the brand unencumbered by reality. That everything on the VK-1 works as intended and it is no more demanding in use than any of the other headphones at the price is the clever bit. Like the Sennheiser Momentum, everything on the VK-1 is functional and in practice it works well. Where the VK-1 raises the game is that the Momentum feels like a mass produced object while the Aedle feels like a bespoke one. I am under no illusions that £300 is a fair chunk of money but I don’t know of any piece of audio equipment that costs less than this that manages to create this impression. For those of you who feel that the Venus de Milo would be better with a moustache drawn in magic marker, you can also order the VK-1 in black.
Aedle VK-1 SetupThe VK-1 was used with the standard headphone test equipment of Lenovo ThinkPad with and without a Furutech ADL Cruise headphone amplifier. They were also tested on the move with an iPhone 4 and iPad 3 and also into a Naim SUPERNAIT 2 integrated amp and ND5XS Streamer and Michell Gyrodec as more of an absolute test. Material used included lossless and high resolution FLAC, vinyl and compressed material such as Spotify, Grooveshark, internet radio and general web material.
Aedle VK-1 Sound QualityI’m fairly sure that the VK-1’s arrived run in as there was no change in performance over the time that they were used on review. The good news for Aedle is that there is much to like about this performance. Perhaps psychologically, you expect that something as shiny as the VK-1 might be a bright performer but this is not the case - in fact on first listen the upper registers almost seem slightly recessed. Listen for a little longer though and it becomes clear that the Aedle differs from a number of rival headphones at the price in that it doesn’t seem to have any engineered lift at either end of the frequency response. This isn’t to say, the response is flat - there’s plenty of bass and this helps to make the VK-1 effective on the move - but there seems to have been a concerted effort to make it neutral.
The payoff to this is that the VK-1 is completely unflappable, even when seriously bright material is played at high volumes. Indeed, the harder you push the Aedle, the better it tends to be. With the greater reserves of power available from the iPad and laptop (to say nothing of the Furutech headphone amp and Naim integrated), the Aedle is powerful and impressively real. Listening to the truly magnificent Fink Meets The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Aedle is tonally faithful and able to reproduce the scale of the performance with genuine conviction. For what is a relatively small pair of headphones, the sense of soundstage and presentation is extremely impressive and further aids the sense of believability that the VK-1 is able to create. The weight and scale of the orchestra is conveyed in a way that is extremely successful and given this is one of the acid tests for any hi-fi system, that that Aedle does it for £300 should be welcomed.
The downside is that this potent low end doesn’t have quite the speed and fine detail that the identically priced (and identically French) Focal Spirit Classic can manage with faster and more aggressive material. Active Child’s Rapor EP never feels sluggish or bloated but the Focal manages to produce a greater sense of drive and excitement. The thorny issue of timing rears its head at this point with all the provisos that measuring - or even defining - what that is varies from person to person. There is simply the sense however that the Focal sounds more agile than the Aedle although it can’t match the weight and impact that the VK-1 manages with more analogue low end.
For what is a relatively small pair of headphones, the sense of soundstage and presentation is extremely impressive
The sensitivity of the VK-1 is somewhere near the average for the type. Using it with an iPhone isn’t difficult but there are limits to the absolute volume that these smaller devices can generate. Used with more potent headphone amps, the VK-1 will have a bit more in reserve. Although the VK-1 is sized like a semi portable hybrid headphone, it does behave more like a home headphone in that it responds very positively to a decent headphone amp and you may find that inexpensive laptops and tablets don’t always show what it can do. This can result in the VK-1 sounding slightly constrained although that smooth top end doesn’t highlight introduced noise as badly as some rivals do. Equally, the VK-1 is possessed of sufficiently good isolation to work well on the move although the lack of inline remote is slightly annoying- especially at this time of year when you have to fish into pockets for phones or players to change tracks. That being said, the Aedle makes a commendable job of being an all-round headphone.
- Stunning industrial design
- Rich and refined sound
- Beautiful build
- No inline remote or mic
- Slight limit to sensitivity
- Slightly slow bass response
Aedle VK-1 Headphone ReviewAVForums prides itself on the accuracy and impartiality of its reviews. You only need to look at the measurements that the TV reviewers take when testing a screen to know that decisions are reached on the back of objective measurements. If we recommend something, we do so because it performs in a way clearly superior to rivals at the same price.
As an audio reviewer, I have a slightly greater degree of subjective leeway in reviewing products but even so, the Aedle puts me in something of a quandary. On an objective level, this £300 headphone goes head to head with the Focal Spirit Classic and Sennheiser Momentum. It has a weaker specification than either of them with no inline remote, proper carry case or long cord for home use, the VK-1 is not as complete a package as these two very impressive headphones. Sonically, the wonderful tonality, impressive smoothness and genuine sense of scale are welcome attributes but again, the VK-1 isn’t perfect and doesn’t have an absolute edge over the most talented rivals at the price.
Beyond objectivity though, the VK-1 is something a little different from the norm. I love - and indeed always have loved - beautiful objects. Be they watches, camera lenses, cars or pieces of furniture, I am drawn to examples of striking design and the use of high quality materials and the VK-1 ticks all these boxes and more. Simply put, if you are like me and derive pleasure from the quality of an object as much as the way it performs, the Aedle is too special to be looked at purely objectively. The performance is excellent but the way it makes you feel is more special still. The VK-1 is a little piece of art in a world of science and for many people it will be too special to ignore.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £300.00
Ease of Use8
Design and usability9
Value For Money8
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