Good quality sound is very important to me in my media. I can’t enjoy movies or console gaming without my full surround sound speaker setup. I’m more than happy to shell out a couple hundred bucks for quality headphones for my PC.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t really consider myself an “audiophile.” Sure, I’m one of those vinyl record hipsters, but I’m more than happy to listen to them by piping the sound to my aforementioned surround sound setup via a Bluetooth turntable. A fact that’s sure to have some calling me a blasphemer.
In short, I’ll shell out for good audio fidelity, but I don’t live and die by it, and I don’t typically seek out audiophile equipment. However, a couple weeks ago, audiophile equipment found its way to me, in the form of a PC-focused headset from a new startup.
VZR, a company founded by people with decades of audio industry experience, recently released their first product, the aptly-named “Model One.” Billed as an audiophile headset for everyone and carrying a $350 price tag at the time of writing, is this premium set something that should be part of your PC setup, or even just for everyday music consumption?
Now, I’ve stated many times before that I’m not a fan of tech accessories that are too flashy or made to stand out. At a glance, the VZR Model One definitely stands out…but it doesn’t seem it’s been designed so on purpose.
It does have a sleek design, featuring a simple metal frame carrying a couple of rather large white plastic speaker cups. A floating head cushion crosses through the design to finish it out, with some subtle red stitching. The mostly black and white theme continues through the braided cabling as well.
The Model One isn’t flashy. But it ain’t subtle either, especially when it comes to size. The earcups cover my entire ear, and probably a good third of either side of my head as well. Wearing them adds about two inches to both sides of my head too. These definitely feel more like studio headphones than something one would be wearing out and about.
If you do decide to hit the road in a pair of these, though, you’ll be pleased to know that these are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. They don’t clamp too tight on the head, but have just enough grip for a snug fit. The head cushioning auto-adjusts when putting the set on, so there’s no fiddling with getting the right size for your skull. The padding on the earcups somehow finds the perfect median between super soft for comfort and firm enough to stay put.
Now, I can’t say I ever forgot I was wearing them, as I have about some more budget-oriented headsets. What I can say, however, is that I never grew uncomfortable with them on my head. After several multi-hour streams, long personal gaming sessions, and just chilling watching YouTube while eating a meal, I never really thought about having to remove them to be more comfortable.
A Sea of Sound
The first thing you’ll notice when unpacking the Model One from its included hard-shell carrying case is a bit of modularity with the audio cables. There’s the headphone cables themselves, which include an in-line microphone and mute switch, and end with a standard 3.5mm audio jack. Next is a 3′ extension cable, as well as a breakout input/output cable for use with PC. Also included is a 3.5mm to 1/4″ adapter jack, as well as a detachable boom microphone for the headset.
Setting up the Model One for my PC, I included the extension cable in the run for two reasons. First, I needed the extra length as I plugged the headset into the back of my PC for cable management, rather than into the front I/O on my tower. Secondly, I was able to use the extension cable as a breakaway, allowing me to easily unplug the Model One from my PC without having to reach to the back of my tower to do so.
After plugging everything in and setting up my PC to output to the headset, the first thing I did was load up one of my current constant rotation albums: Nurture from Porter Robinson. After listening through the album, my big takeaway was that the soundscape of the Model One was…incredibly neutral. This headset doesn’t seem to favor any particular audio range, particularly bass (as most consumer headphones are wont to do).
On the positive side, this means every bit of the music comes through crystal clear. Particularly on more aurally “busy” tracks like “Unfold,” I was able to pick out every bit of the mix relatively easily. Really, the set seems so well tuned that I could see it being used in audio mixing relatively easily (and I may have to put that to the test myself if I ever find the time to fiddle with audio recording again).
Occasionally, though, I felt like there was something missing when listening to some music, particularly tracks that I usually pin as “emotional.” I think this come from the fact that so many other consumer headsets typically do favor a bit of bass boost; the big drops and swells that typically resonate with me in certain songs just aren’t as present here on the Model One. Not to say this is really a bad mark against this headset, more that the Model One provides a much different experience than what I would call typical “non-audiophile” headphones.
One area where headsets still can’t win though, audiophile as they are, are in their boom microphones. The included boom is a unidirectional mic, and kind of short – the microphone head was barely able to be placed in front of the corner of my mouth. While testing the sound through Discord with friends that hear me weekly on my dedicated USB mic, they noted that my voice wasn’t coming through quite as loud or crisp. It was still functional – they were able to hear everything I was saying – but it was a noted downgrade from using a dedicated mic.
Loading up some games while wearing the Model One was when I was able to hear the main gimmick of this set put to use, the “CrossWave” acoustic lens. CrossWave is a physical piece in each speaker cup, which VZR says “shapes” the audio as it comes out of the speakers to create more open soundscapes and better 3D audio without digitally altering the source audio.
After using the set for a couple weeks, while I wouldn’t say this CrossWave lens is an absolute game changer, the experience is definitely noticeable. Hearing the crowd while walking through cities in Final Fantasy XIV is much more immersive. 3D audio experiences sound much more natural, rather than simply panning the audio around two channels and calling it done. What CrossWave feels like its doing is creating a very open soundstage, one that feels more natural than simulated.
There is one thing missing from the Model One that I have come to take for granted with other PC headsets and headphones – integrated volume control. Every set I’ve used over the past few years has had some style of integrated control, and I’ve become so used to not having to mess with Windows’ volume settings myself. The only switch the Model One includes is a mute switch on the in-line microphone. The choice to not include integrated volume control is confusing to me, as even some of the cheapest wired earbuds out there often have simple volume controls for phone usage.
Finally, while the Model One isn’t really marketed as noise cancelling, it was still something I needed to try. After all, it’s positioned as an audiophile headset and a gaming headset, and I personally believe gaming headsets need to shut out as much outside sound as possible. For this, I loaded up my PS5 and dragged out my trusty Gamo2/DJ-DAO Divaller controller, the Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone arcade replica controller featuring incredibly loud buttons.
I am glad to say that this test proved a rousing success. Setting the PS5’s headphone output volume to around 3/4, I was able to play for a good hour with very little outside sound bleed – just enough to hear that the controller buttons were being hit, without overwhelming the audio. The Model One’s CrossWave lens and flat balancing also helped in some songs where the note charting was based on some background-mixed rhythms, showing the soundstage here isn’t just from PC usage, it’s built into the headset.
Filling a Niche
Overall, the VZR Model One really is an incredible headset. It sets out to be a (relatively) affordable audiophile experience and achieves it for the most part. The flat, balanced response really opens up music and the wide open soundstage really does enhance game audio surprisingly well.
The sticking point, though: is this something that the gaming market actually wants? As I mentioned, I don’t consider myself an audiophile, rather just a fan of high quality music and sound. Removing the typical bass boost present in most consumer headsets took a bit of getting used to for me, and there’s a reason headphones tend toward heavy bass: the consumer wants it. VZR positions the Model One as a gaming headset, as well as audiophile headphones. I just don’t think general gamers are looking for that high-fidelity audiophile quality.
I could be proven wrong on that thought, though. $350 does sound expensive, but for those that are extremely interested in and picky about quality audio, gamer or not, that’s not really all that much money to spend.
The VZR Model One is definitely a quality piece of hardware, and I can see it becoming my daily driver…but it may not be for everyone. I’d recommend trying it out first to see if it is for you in particular.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review unit provided by VZR. Images taken by reviewer.