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V-Moda Forza In-Ear Headphones Review

chipchickpick1We’re not surprised that V-Moda has stayed away from fitness-focused in-ear headphones for so long. V-Moda tends to emphasize design, materials, and audio quality — things that usually need to be sacrificed to make a good pair of fitness in-ears. Housings need to be lightweight to stay securely and comfortably in ears while running, and usually metal isn’t the best choice for something that’s going to be covered in sweat more often than not. Making the housings lighter also means making the drivers smaller and less complex, which hurts audio quality. Not really V-Moda’s thing!

That’s changing with the Forza in-ear headphones. While all the sacrifices mentioned above have been made, V-Moda has managed to use engineering know-how and accessories to help minimize the losses. By using specially made drivers, V-Moda has managed to create one of the better sounding fitness in-ears yet. While the price is high relative to other in-ears made for exercise, the better audio quality and comfort make them a pretty good buy.

Performance

V-Moda has outfitted the Forza in-ear headphones with 5.8 mm neodymium dynamic drivers made specifically for this new line of headphones. We generally don’t have high hopes for drivers that small, but V-Moda has exceeded expectations. While they don’t sound nearly as good as the larger drivers used on their Zn in-ear monitors, they sound far better than the myriad sub-$100 fitness in-ears you’ll find on the shelf. They’re distortion-free, and while the bass isn’t booming, there’s at least some presence there, even for sub-bass. V-Moda can only do so much with drivers this small, but the soundstage is wide enough to not totally muddle together instruments in more complex tracks. They won’t floor you, but if you’re looking for good fitness in-ears and don’t want to sacrifice sound quality too much, here’s where you’ll want to look.

The Forza in-ears also get pretty loud for their size, and the silicone ear tips do a good job of blocking out background noise — almost too good of a job. V-Moda has included their BLISS 3.0 silicone ear tips, which specialize in noise isolation. That’s not ideal for fitness in-ears — some level of background noise should be able to filter in for the sake of safety. While those tips also help improve bass performance, we would have liked to have seen V-Moda include alternate ear tips that don’t do such a good job of blocking out background noise. I usually run alongside streets and sometimes have to cross intersections — I’d rather sacrifice some bass performance for personal safety. That said, they don’t do that good of a job — if you’re near a train or a heavily-trafficked road, you’ll hear enough to make you aware.

These headphones can be purchased with an Android or iOS in-line remote. We tested the Android version, which has three buttons (volume up/down and a multi-purpose button for play/pause, Google Now, and answering and ending calls). The remote is very light and works well — I was able to use Google Now without any hitches. When I made calls, I was told that my voice sounded clear, although there was a lot of background noise also being picked up. There’s no dual-mic array for noise cancellation, so that’s about what we expected.

Build

V-Moda did a great job here. Instead of metal, V-Moda has used plastic on the housings, which keeps them nice and light. Despite the cheaper material, the Forza still passed MIL-STD-810G testing, which implies resistance to sweat, rain, high and low temperatures, humidity and UV exposure. I would have liked to have seen an ingress rating, too, but after using the Forza on several runs, I haven’t noticed any problems due to sweat so far.

But, the Forza’s forte is fit. V-Moda has included four sizes of soft, flexible inner-ear hooks that fit very well and keep the buds secure in your ears. Thus far, V-Moda has made the best inner ear hooks we’ve used so far. We’ve had some that were too rigid and prone to falling out, and we’ve had others that were softer and more secure, but became a little uncomfortable after a while. With these, I barely felt like they were there at all, but they did a perfect job of keeping the buds secure — I never had to push either side back into place during a run. Outer ear hooks are also included, but those tend to be more uncomfortable, and the inner ear hooks work so well that they’re unnecessary. No Comply foam tips were included, but those aren’t a great match with fitness-oriented in-ears, anyway.

At the beginning, we mentioned that fitness in-ears usually need to sacrifice a little in audio quality and style. To address the latter, V-Moda has prepared something, let’s say, unexpected. They’re selling 3D-printed accessory caps that can be slid onto the housings instead of the inner ear hooks. Those caps, which you can order along with the headphones, have all kinds of designs on them, including a steampunk-inspired one and a lion’s head. The cheaper ones are made of acrylic, but you can get them made out of gold or platinum for thousands of dollars. So, a lot more than what you’ll be spending on the headphones! In fairness, V-Moda is also releasing the Forza Metallo in-ears, which put the same drivers into more premium metal housings — the caps make a little more sense on those, although we still think it’s all a bit over the top.

Read on for the verdict…

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