V-Moda Vamp Lightning Review: Glorious Overkill for iPhone Audio

"Do you really like music, man? Then why are you listening on your iPhone? You're not even listening to music—you're listening to static." Sound like you? The V-Moda Vamp is the iPhone accessory you've been waiting for.

What Is It?

A $650 iPhone case with a built-in digital-to-analog converter and a 150mW x2 headphone amp.

Who's it For?

The guy who absolutely, positively must have an exceptionally accurate and full-bodied listening experience on an iPhone.

Design

The Vamp has a brushed metal back, a satisfying volume knob, and enough bulk to double the size of your iPhone.

Using It

It pulls sound in through a 30-pin connector, pumps it out a dedicated headphone jack, and charges the phone in the process.

The Best Part

The Vamp truly improves music—low-end is beefier, and overall tones are richer and more detailed.

Tragic Flaw

The Vamp won't play music while plugged in. And yet it needs to recharge so often! It's incredibly frustrating.

This Is Weird...

If Apple changes the dock connector or the overall size when the iPhone 5 appears, the Vamp could be stuck using an outdated 4 or 4S as if it's a giant iPod.

Test Notes

Tested over about a month using studio-quality headphones and high-resolution music files in a variety of genres.

Getting your iPhone in an out of the case is tough, and it feels like you'd eventually damage the 30-pin connector.

This thing is way too bulky and awkward to use every day. It doubles the thickness and weight of the phone.

The Vamp's battery is supposed to play 6-8 hours. It lasted for 2-3 hours, max.

A power switch on the top of the case also selects between two equalization modes, Pure Audio and VQ Audio.

Should You Buy It?

Not unless you're kinda crazy about audio. The Vamp is simultaneously awesome and silly. The concept is fantastic, and the audio quality is excellent. Plus, whether you're listening to uncompressed, lossless FLAC files—or even today's iTunes standard of 256 kbps AAC—a device like Vamp can make a big difference over the right pair of headphones.

But at $650, the Japanese gadget is outrageously expensive. Its bulk also makes the phone nearly too big for a pocket. And, most important—a new, potentially incompatible iPhone could be released in the next six months.


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V-Moda Vamp

• Price: $650
• Amp: 2 x 150mW
• Weight: 4.8 ounces
Gizrank: 2.5