People who love their sound like they love their children won’t probably bat an eyelid at spending serious dough for seriously good headphones, and Aedle’s VK-1 hopes to twist an arm here and there with some of the loudest cans we’ve ever heard.
Built for those who love their audio, Aedle’s VK-1 are the only pair of headphones the French brand Aedle makes. In fact, they’re not just the only pair of headphones Aedle makes, they’re the only anything that Aedle makes, with the company taking the time to engineer what it believes are the best headphones possible.
Could this really be the case?
High grade materials help to make this idea a reality, with a titanium diaphragm and neodymium magnets used by the headphones, aluminium for the earphone casing, manganese steel for the headband, and cushions made from protein foam.
Both the headband and ear cushions are protected by lambskin leather, and the entire headphone is assembled, not by machine, but rather by hand.
The driver for the headphone is sized at 40mm, and the headphones take a 3.5mm cable, with one included in the box.
The included cable is built with Aramid Fibre, a material similar to Kevlar which handles frequencies differently and has been known to create more natural sounds in the speakers that rely on this material.
A few other accessories are included with the VK-1 headphones, such as an aircraft headphone adaptor, a 6.25mm amplifier jack adaptor, a cleaning cloth, and a soft bag for keeping the headphones in.
The VK-1, also known as the “Valkyrie,” may well be Aedle’s first headphone, but the company treats this pair of headphones better than most products from other companies.
They are $599, after all, but the experience of owning a pair of VK-1 headphones seems to start from the box, where you’re treated to a thick box that looks premium, with a moulded casing built to match the headphones, accessories fitting neatly in a small cardboard box, a furry little pouch made to keep the headphones in good condition, and a metal card printed with your limited edition number on them.
Already, that’s a good start to a pair of premium headphones, but we’re not interested in the box. No, we’re interested in the headphones.
Take the VK-1 headphones out of the box and you’ll see a pair of simple and elegant headphones, with aluminium encasing the cans, steel for the headband, and ear pads and the material covering the headband both made from tanned lambskin leather.
It’s a simple look of brown and silver that is hard to ignore, and looks a little like you’re wearing a comfy brown leather jacket on your ears.
Put them on the first time and you’ll likely find the headphones are a little tight. We’ll mention more about this later in the review, but the VK-1 headphones can hug your skull and make your ears hurt.
There’s a fix for this, with a solution involved from reading the manual or wearing them for a few weeks — whatever comes first — but if you take them out of the box and plant them on your head, expect a little pain for a few days, at least.
Plug them in, though, and your mind will be taken from the pain, moved instead to the music coming from your music player.
Our usual playlist includes a combination of jazz, rock, and electronic, and the general feeling we had from the VK-1 was one of balance and warmth, with the sound inviting us to turn our headphones up for a proper immersion.
With Dave Brubeck’s “Maria,” there’s an obvious separation between the instruments, and a tonality reminiscent of vinyl. The bass wasn’t overpowering at all, with the sombre tone of a double bass being plucked with precision noticeable across the mids and lows.
John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” was also insanely balanced, and gives off the feeling you’re there, with a clarity to the track that reminds one of a live performance, with bass just humming underneath while John’s sax calling out over the top, and Lee Morgan’s trumpet humming at the top of its lungs.
We’re used to seeing this sort of performance with headphones amps, so this is an impressive sound without one and plugged straight into a phone.
If the headphones shine in jazz, it’s highly likely they like rock as well, and for that, we turn to “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones. In this track, the mids tend to overpower the highs slightly, with the guitars singing out over Jagger’s voice, but there’s just enough of them in there to make the music sound collected.
Over to something more modern, and Muse’s “Supremacy” has a heavy bass line with the orchestral performance in the background still relevant, just not as loud. The lead singer, Matthew Bellamy, can still be heard even in the mids, but the bass is the more prominent section here.
Still, it comes together better than a lot of cans we’ve heard in the past.
Even pop is tested with a new entry to our headphones test, with Sia’s “Chandelier,” and this has clear drums with just the right amount of pop, and several instances of Sia’s vocals over the mids and highs. At no point is anything muddled from the sound, with detail evident across each layer.
A touch of electronica from Mooro with “M66R6” proves that bass can be a strength of the VK-1, with a heavier bass response than you’ll expect from the cans, all the while the mids and highs are speaking out, with synth-pop voices singing out. In this track, the bass was a touch overpowering, but it was still very easy to listen to.
Likewise, The Glitch Mob’s “Animus Vox” had excellent lows, and balanced mids, with the highs just screaming out behind them. This was easily one of the warmest listens we’ve had for this sound, immersing us into the dark with this moody synth track.
Indeed, these are impressive headphones, and if it weren’t for the tightness, we’d never want to take them off. That and the fact that we have to shower and talk to people.
Seriously, this is how all headphones should be, as Aedle’s VK-1 challenges our previous favourites for best in show status, the KEF M500 headphones.
But while the sound from the Aedle VK-1 headphones are very, very impressive, the initial comfort level appears to have taken a backseat to the sound quality (we did say we’d come back to this).
We get that they’re hand-made — and they’re a very pretty pair of cans, with leather pads — but the steel construction of the band really takes time to wear in. We’re talking a good two weeks of persistent wearing in, using the headphones for two or three hours a day, while the metal band gets used to the shape of your head.
Once the band has loosened up, the Aedle VK-1 headphones are very comfortable to wear, but before it, and you’ll feel them pressing hard against your skull after 20 minutes of use.
We’d say to keep using them, mind you, because once the band has moulded, these headphones are among the best you’ll ever hear, with more detail coming from their build than we’ve heard out of any can before it, but their comfort level just takes time to get used to.
Or you could read the manual.
Yes, these headphones come with a manual, and it seems Aedle has even preempted its overly tight metal band, with the suggestion that you flex the band to help ease the tension.
We’re not sure we get why the VK-1 are this tight out of the box, especially when Aedle seems to identify that this is a problem with the solution in the manual, but if you end up complaining about the pressure against your ears from that headband, just remember to look in the manual, because the answer is there.
The answer is also there as to why there’s no microphone in the cable, and that is simply because that’s “optional.”
Maybe we’re a touch too critical, but a pair of $600 headphones should come with a microphone-equipped cable, especially when less expensive brands and models tend to come with them.
To Aedle’s credit, there’s a standard 3.5mm jack here, so you could always buy one from JayCar, Dick Smith, or even grab any other cable you might already own, but we’d liked to have seen an extra cable included in the box, and it can’t have cost that much more to bundle in.
Great headphones don’t always have to come from known brands.
Take the Aedle VK-1s, as an example: we’ve never heard of this company, and yet this French brand has put in the hard yards and produced one of the best examples of headphones we’ve ever heard.
It’s especially startling when you realise that Aedle only makes two things, and they’re both this model of headphones, with the VK-1 Classic Edition — the ones we reviewed — and the VK-1 Carbon Limited Edition, a practically identical model made with a matte black look.
And that’s it. That is all Aedle makes. Two identical pairs of headphones.
But credit has to be given where it’s due, and that’s in this pair of headphones which is just excellent, with a sound that is so lovely, it’s hard to go back to anything else.
It’s probably cliche to say that music was more detailed through these, but that was simply the case, and regardless of what music we were listening to, we enjoyed our music much more than normal. Highly recommended.