V-Moda’s Vibe Duo was the first third-party headphone/microphone combination announced for the iPhone, and is the first one we received for review. Essentially V-Moda’s original Vibe headphones — reviewed in detail here on Playlist — with the addition of an inline microphone, the Duo lets you make and take calls without having to remove your headphones. (In case you aren’t familiar with the original Vibe, it uses a canalbud design — a hybrid between earbuds and true in-ear-canal headphones.) However, instead of rubber-covered cables, like those on the Vibe, the Duo uses cloth-covered versions; I found the Duo to produce less cable noise — audible bumps and scrapes transferred up the cables to your ear canals, a common issue with in-ear-canal headphones — than the rubber-cabled Vibe models we’ve tested. The Duo also features a new silver-and-black design that matches the iPhone.
Given the identical headphone design and construction, you would expect the Vibe and Vibe Duo to offer similar sound quality; I found this to be the case in my own subjective testing using Apple Lossless files on a standard iPod (the original Vibe’s miniplug won’t fit the iPhone’s recessed headphone jack). As such, rather than cover music-listening quality in detail here, I’ll direct you to our full review of the Vibe. Suffice it to say that the Vibe Duo offers very good sound quality (with a bit of emphasis at the low end), decent noise isolation, and good comfort — a considerable upgrade in these areas over the iPhone’s stock earbuds.
The Duo’s most unique features are its iPhone-compatible miniplug and inline microphone. The former is thin enough that it fits into the iPhone’s recessed headphone jack without needing an adapter. The latter is located in a thin, one-inch-long pod integrated into the cable for the right earbud; a removable plastic clip lets you attach the Duo’s cable to your shirt to optimize microphone placement. When a call comes in (or when you make a call), the iPhone fades out any music or video audio and then pipes the phone’s audio into the earbuds; the inline microphone picks up your voice as you talk normally. In relatively quiet environments, this phone functionality works well.
On the other hand, the phone-headset feature of the Duo has a couple drawbacks. The first is that, as with the iPhone’s stock earbuds, the built-in microphone offers no noise-cancellation technology; when I was in a noisy environment, the person on the other end of the call at times had trouble hearing me clearly. The second is that, unlike Apple’s iPhone earbuds, the Vibe Duo offers no control over iPod or phone functions. Whereas Apple’s buds let you answer a call, play/pause playback, or skip to the next track using a button on the cable, the Duo requires you to control such functions using the iPhone’s screen. This is fine if your iPhone is out in the open, but a hassle if it’s in your pocket or bag. (V-Moda has told Playlist that an improved version of the Duo that includes such an inline controller is in the works.)
Overall, the best way to think of this version of the Vibe Duo — and how I ended up using it during testing — is as a quality set of headphones that lets you make or take calls in a pinch; for serious phone use, you’ll want a dedicated headset (or, possibly, something like Shure’s upcoming Music Phone Adapter). The good news — and a big reason the Vibe Duo doesn’t get docked more for its lack of iPhone playback controls — is that if you’ve ever considered picking up the original Vibe, the new Vibe Duo sells for the same price; you get the same good headphones but with limited phone-headset functionality thrown in for “free.”–Dan Frakes