I’ve been very selective about what products I end up showcasing on the blog. If I suspect that I won’t like a product, I don’t bother reviewing it and harming its reputation. When aëdle emailed me a few weeks ago, I was immediately intrigued. The VK-1 looked attractive in photos and I remembered reading a few positive reviews of them in the past. It’s unfortunate that I have to say this but for the sake of public service I’ll be completely honest: VK-1 is a complete disappointment. Honestly, this is one of the worst products I’ve ever been sent. Here's why:
The VK-1 has been sent by aëdle.
First impressions aren't bad - the packaging is relatively nice with nice, sharp edges. The graphics are a bit heavy handed and overly trendy but the clean presentation is a promising start.
We must start with the price because it’s what I find the most shocking. Not knowing how much the VK-1 cost, I tried to give it a guess after a couple of days of use. $150? $200? Maybe $250 but that'll be pushing it. So how much do they actually cost? $495 (390 EUR)! This is unbelievable to me, and even more so once I began diving deeper into the details.
Starting with craftsmanship - the favorite topic here at Minimally Minimal. It's staggering at how many reviewers thought this product represented good craftsmanship. I guess it’s not helping that I’m a designer professionally but I find the level of craftsmanship unacceptable here. The aluminum components are rough with poor finishes and in general feel light, cheap and brittle.
The VK-1s are one of the most photogenic products I’ve ever seen but in person, they’re just a mess. The aluminum really does look like it’s been finished by an amateur and is about as attractive as a can of coke. There are machining marks, poor edge treatment and some of the parts have large gouges and scratches straight out of the box. This kind of attention to detail is acceptable with aluminum cans or internal components but have no place on a $500 pair of headphones. This is not beautiful by any standard.
Aluminum spin finishes are tough to do with sophistication. You can always tell poor spin finishes because they have a rainbowing effect, which is present on the VK-1. aëdle has also used a crude texture that’s more like what you’d find on the bottom of a frying pan rather than a B&O speaker. Not cool.
The craftsmanship of leather is also horrendous. There are awkward creases and the stitching meanders about through the headband. It’s particularly unfortunate because the lambskin leather aëdle has picked is soft and has a nice color to it.
To add insult to injury, these are one of the worst headphones I’ve ever seen in terms of ergonomics. After posting a photo to instagram, owners of these headphones have been emailing me about how they regret buying them due to their uncomfortable fit. On-ear headphones are particularly tricky to make comfortable and need the cups to both swivel and rotate in order to distribute pressure more evenly. The VK-1 doesn’t really do either.
The ear pads do slide for height adjustment but aren’t dampened and make a metallic scratching noise when you slide them. The pads themselves feel nice on the ear though, once again, thanks to the lambskin leather.
To address the issue of poor ergonomics, aëdle includes a little guide explaining how to bend the headband outwards for more width. It helps significantly but is a fussy solution.
The VK-1 includes a useful carrying case but the branded tag is poorly stitched with the stitching going straight over the graphics. Seriously, what the hell is happening at the aëdle factory? Is everyone drunk?
Three cables are included in the box, two without remotes and one with. The cables themselves are nice and feel durable. The plugs are once again aluminum and have a cheap looking finish.
Asides from being about as substantial as an aluminum can and having scratches out of the box, it’s nice that aëdle includes a cable with an inline remote and microphone. I didn’t get to enjoy this though because it arrived broken with a non-functioning remote and no sound on the left channel. Somehow I’m not surprised.
Let’s talk about sound. Both my B&O H6 and Bowers & Wilkins P7 aren’t exactly what I’d call super attractive but are my go-to headphones for sounding so good. So do the aëdle make up with sound? aëdle seemed to be very proud of the VK-1’s sound quality so this was one last promising aspect of the product.
After a ton of listening, I’ve concluded that the VK-1 also sound pretty poor. The bass is slow, thick and exhausting to listen to. I believe that bass should be tight and punchy - providing strength but not feeling sloppy. aëdle doesn’t provide that though. It’s overemphasized, muddy and polluting. The treble also has a lot of issues and simply falls off, failing to achieve any sense of clarity. When you listen to these in a vacuum, you may come away thinking that they aren't bad. But once you begin comparing with something like the B&O H6, you can truly understand how little clarity and precision the aëdle has.
The soundstage also feels congested, although that’s not surprising when considering the VK-1’s tightly closed design. Overall, I’m throughly unimpressed by its sound quality. No headphones are “perfect” but products at this price range should have a redeeming characteristic. The B&O H6 excels at clarity and the Bowers & Wilkins at punchy, tight sound. I really tried to understand the VK-1 but it honestly doesn’t seem to have any notable acoustic trait.
I have a huge appreciation for people that start their own business. It’s tough work and is the result of blood, sweat and tears. But when it comes to spending your hard earned money, I honestly believe that we shouldn’t be apologetic about buying the best. This is going to sound terrible, but that’s why I rarely buy anything from a hardware startup. Making products is really really hard, and those that are able to compete with goliath manufacturers aren’t easy to find. Maybe design doesn’t matter. Maybe craftsmanship doesn’t either. It’s a terrifying thought but the evidence points to the fact that most people don’t notice that the aëdle VK-1 are terribly built. I’d rather not accept this though and truly believe that people that make products must put in the care and effort regardless of whether people care or not. The aëdle is a product that likes the idea of representing good design and craftsmanship. But in reality, simply doesn't deliver. Like a person that likes the idea of appreciating music but pirates everything, it's hard for us to respect them.
If you’re looking into buying a pair of premium headphones, B&O and particularly Bowers & Wilkins are doing some great work. They have far superior audio quality and will save you $100. Best of all, they’re built better than something you’d find on etsy. Making a niche, expensive product is perfectly fine with me but selling something that’s poorly made, poorly performing and also extremely expensive is simply unacceptable.