VZR Model One Hands-On Preview
The story of the VZR Model One is a rather curious one… it’s not often I get to write about a product like this. The story is extraordinary, and the product itself is special and unusual in ways that are novel, at least to my ears.
We begin with, of all people, Mark Levinson. After the eponymous company, he began building tube electronics under the name Red Rose Music, in partnership with Vic Tiscareno, the head engineer and technical force behind VZR. Red Rose even had a retail presence in Manhattan, with customers as illustrious as Steve Jobs and other tech royalty.
Through these connections Vic came into work building the first audio testing lab at Apple, and participated in building some products which are likely familiar to you. Needless to say, Vic is an incredibly smart guy. After chatting with him a few times, the impression is reinforced. This guy knows a ton of stuff about audio, certainly well more than I do.
Words by Grover Neville
Over the course of several chats with both Mike and Vic, they gave me a peek into some of the tech that goes into the VZR Model One. I saw some astonishingly cool data. Most of it I’m not at liberty to share unfortunately, but suffice to say, I’m a bit jaded when it comes to tech talk. This was information which was exciting not only in its theoretical implications, but in its aural impact.
This brings me to the VZR Model One itself, or more accurately a pre-production prototype I’ve been generously lent by Vic and Mike. My first impression on putting them on my head was… well, different. They just sounded so different from anything I’d heard that it took me a bit of adjusting to discern what I was hearing.
In the course of some subsequent discussions with the fine folks at VZR I determined that the pads on the headphone are designed to require some break-in, about 20 hours according to their recommendations, before they fully settled in. I noticed alongside this, likely due to the CrossWave™ tech at play, that the VZR Model One seems a bit more sensitive to placement on the head, and compression of the earpads than many headphones I’ve tried before.
When you first put on the headphones, if you don’t have a proper seal and the pads aren’t compressed enough it seems there’s an unappealing and enormous lower bass buildup and treble sharpness. This isn’t at all the case however, as I discovered by pressing the earcups a bit closer to my ears. Upon getting the drivers a bit closer to my ears, the frequency response became marvelously flat, and took on an incredible smoothness and separation in all ranges. Curious! My take away from speaking with Vic about some of the in-depth technical aspects of the headphone is that this is actually intentional and designed to compensate for the break-in and gradual compression and wear of the pads. I left the headphones to stretch a bit on my trusty styrofoam head: Heddy Lamar.
After a few days of wearing and pad compression, the drivers came a bit closer to my ears during use. Frequency response was terrifically smooth, not harsh in the slightest and with massive bass punch but not an ounce of bloat. My initial impressions of the detail, spatial attributes and transient presentation had not changed however: this is a marvel of a transducer.
It’s not often that I hear something which truly catches my ear for being acoustically insightful in a revelatory way. After 12 or more years seriously listening to hi-fi and professional audio equipment, I’m open-minded but hard to impress. To be totally forthcoming, the VZR Model One is simply one of the most detailed, transparent and spatially revealing transducers I have ever heard. I have piles of the world’s best headphones lying around my room, and the VZR has been getting more head-time than the rest of them lately, not because I’m doing an article but simply because I’m having a blast listening to it.
I have a sense when listening to these headphones that I am hearing very deeply into a recording. The width and space around objects is crystal clear, the VZR Model Ones digging deep into the micro-detail on auditory x-y and z axes. These are excellent headphones for movies and especially games, where such spatial cues are critical. I checked some test tones and the bass goes right on down to 20hz without so much as flinching, excess pressure buildup or any audible distortion. Extremely impressive performance for any closed headphone at any price.
In the treble range things are similarly pleasant, there’s a little space in the upper mids and a smooth ever so slightly warm of neutral treble, which helps with spatial impressions and long-term fatigue-free listening. Sounds pop out of space yet are never ear piercing, which is a delicate tightrope to walk for any headphone. I have no complaints whatsoever in the treble, it’s truly an easy listen at the top.
In terms of build quality, the pre-production model I had was excellent, and according to Vic and Mike, the production model will only be better! The Carbon Fibre used is real carbon fibre, not the fake sticker stuff you see on a lot of parts, and I found the self-adjusting headband and earcup assemblies all solid in hand and premium feeling. The team over at VZR has paid very close attention to detail here. Comfort too is excellent, the headphones aren’t super heavy and I was easily able to enjoy long gaming and listening sessions with them.
A special note should go out to the microphone as well, as it incorporates some special tricks and clever engineering. This is no ordinary tossed-on boom mic as with many gaming headsets. It’s a clear cut above the crowd, and I would happily give it the sign off for podcasting use and other situations where I didn’t have a lavaliere or other SDC mic at hand. Clarity is great, it’s surprisingly immune to plosives for a headset mic and was quite difficult to overload, even when position far too close to the mouth. In speaking with Vic, I was treated to another master course on phenomenal design and innovative acoustical thinking.
What’s being done here is most impressive to me because it is done in the domain of acoustical physics, and not computer engineering. There is no DSP correction or compensation being done here to achieve the performance, it’s purely good old fashioned engineering. My take has always been that physics don’t lie, and there are no free lunches. The team at VZR has served up a buffet of innovative ideas and executed them exceptionally well. I have no doubt that the final product will sound even more phenomenal than the pre-production unit I have here, and I can heartily recommend checking out their website. Information on the headphone, a launch trailer and other great resources are available now, all leading up to a Q2 2021 pre-order launch. What’s more, I haven’t mentioned the best part: all of this comes in at just $349. If you’re an audiophile or gamer looking for a new mid-priced gaming headset, the VZR Model One has just moved the goalpost very far.
Press Release Below
VZR Model One Headset for Audiophile Gamers Makes Waves Q2 2021
Debut Product by Former Apple Lead Audio Engineer’s New Company
SEATTLE — Feb. 8, 2021 — VZR™, a new audio products company founded by Apple’s former lead acoustics engineer, Vic Tiscareno, and veterans of the video game and audio industries, today reveals the VZR Model One audiophile gaming headset, with preorders and shipments beginning in Q2 2021. Visitors to the VZR website can sign up now to be the first to know when pre-orders begin.
The VZR Model One delivers natural, expansive, audiophile-quality sound and is particularly adept at accurately rendering immersive 3-dimensional soundscapes. Every component in the VZR Model One has been optimized to deliver class-besting performance and the Model One features the debut of a ground-breaking, proprietary and patented innovation called CrossWave™ that truly sets it apart from competitors and more expensive audiophile headphones.
Commercially available for the first time in the VZR Model One, CrossWave™ is a passive acoustic lens technology that selectively and strategically reshapes audio waves to emulate the way one would perceive the sound in real life without headphones, resulting in improved separation, openness and accurate 3D spatial positioning – all without digitally altering the audio source.
Competitive players will benefit from the more accurate, realistic positional audio, with the potential for improved in-game performance through superior spatial awareness and a greater ability to pinpoint small but crucial details like footsteps and gunshots. Proprietary VZR testing in virtual reality applications shows that the VZR Model One enabled subjects to determine the location of positional sounds more quickly than with competing gaming and audiophile headsets.
Even for those who play immersive single-player games or want a headphone that will let them rediscover their favorite music, the VZR Model One performs beautifully. VZR designed the headset to deliver the fidelity and detail of a studio reference speaker system alongside the warmth and openness of open-backed audiophile headphones – all in an affordable headset that offers best-in-class performance no matter how it is used.
The VZR Model One utilizes modular, high-quality, custom-sourced components, with standard 3.5mm connections for maximum compatibility and minimum latency. The detachable boom mic features a patent-pending noise-canceling design that ensures clear communication. The included headphone cable comes equipped with an inline microphone that activates when the boom is detached, and a mute switch.
Experts in gaming and audio tested the VZR Model One during its several years of development and endorse it, including Ed Lima, the BAFTA-nominated sound designer known for his work on Doom 3 and Borderlands, GRAMMY-winning musician and producer Anthony Ray, better known as Sir Mix-a-Lot, and many more prominent figures in their respective industries.
“We meticulously designed everything about the VZR Model One, using years of research, decades of experience, and feedback from audio experts to refine the headset to maximize its performance,” said Vic Tiscareno, Founder, VZR. “From the drivers to the cable and earpads, we’re not cutting any corners to make the perfect headphones for gamers, audiophiles, and anyone who demands great audio.”
The VZR Model One will be available for preorder from VZR’s official website for $349 in Q2 2021. For more information on VZR and to sign up to get notified when preorders go live, visit the official website and follow VZR on Twitter.
VZR was founded in 2014 by veterans of Apple, THX, SRS Labs, Samsung Design Lab, and THQ. Composed of experts in the field of audio engineering and acoustic design who are fans of gaming and high-quality sound, the company sets out to bring WINNING SOUND sound to all. By utilizing decades of expertise in both hardware audio electronics and sound design to create state-of-the-art designs, VZR’s products meet the needs of competitive gamers and music fans without compromise.
Stride PR for VZR
“…with standard 3.5mm connections for maximum compatibility…”
Is this actually true anymore? There are certainly few mobile devices with 3.5mm connections anymore.
Hi Bill, Mike Henein here from VZR. Yes, it does terminate to 3.5mm; however, we do provide a 3.5mm to 1/4″ inch adapter. Also, it’s 32 ohm impedance to work with consumer electronics, gaming systems, etc.