Valco VMK20 Review Hybrid ANC Headphones With aptX Low Latency

Friday, January 01, 2021

Individuality brings about innovation, which in turn pushes the envelope that eventually breaks the mold! Valco attempts to do just that with the VMK20 - a quirky set of ANC headphones with an organic feel that feels like a far cry from mass produced, mainstream headphones!
The Valco VMK20 headphones ship inside a travel case without any outer packaging. The travel case is made with EVA hardshell, which is covered with soft protein leather and features a small webbing loop and a reverse coil zip with a single metal slider and metal pull tab. The Valco carry case has a suitcase style opening so, it fully opens up in two halves via a fabric mesh hinge holding the two halves together. The fabric mesh hinge is an interesting choice and, it is possible intended for ventilation purposes, although it can also compromise the water/dust resistance of the case.
Inside the Valco hardshell case, there is soft lining material with a full size mesh zip pocket on one side and a preformed cutout specifically made to fit the Valco VMK20 headphones; hence you get a genuine Valco branded case and not a generic one.
The entire Valco VMK20 headset is made of non-creaky hard plastic, aside from the folding hinges, which are made of springsteel, which is more durable than aluminium, which gets mechanically tired very fast. The 2.5cm wide headband has acoustic type padding on top and bottom covered with soft leatherette material. The underside of the headband is thinly padded all around. The headband adjusting mechanism is made of plastic but reinforced with a metal band.
The Valco VMK20 earcups have a plastic construction with coarse woven grey fabric material covering the front of the earcups. The front sides are branding with hard plastic Valco decal, which appears glued on to the fabric. The plastic hinges holding the headphone yoke allow good amount of up and down tilt. The headphone yoke can also rotate around, allowing you to swivel the Valco VMK20 earcups 180 degrees one way.
On the right side of the earcup, there is a 3.5mm audio port, ANC microphone, three physical buttons and a status led, which blinks during audio playback. On the left side of the earcup, there is the USB-C charging port, ANC microphone and a physical button for controlling the active noise cancellation function. The buttons are made of hard plastic and have a clicky actuation and tactility, thanks to their elevation and raised embossed lettering.
The VMK20 40mm drivers are padded, which is interesting since most headphones drivers tend to be covered with a thin layer of fabric material. The thin fabric does probably help the sound waves pass-through more easily but, having some padding on top of the drivers creates a soft buffer that prevents the ears from touching or rubbing against the drivers, which can be particularly annoying if you large protruding ears. The driver depth is 1.5cm.
The Valco VMK20 earpads have 2cm thick squishy foam padding with a wide oval shape that go over the ears comfortably. The inner dimensions of the Valco VMK20 earpads are 4cm wide and 6cm high. The outer dimensions are 9cm high and 7.5cm wide. The earpads are covered with leatherette material, which is soft but naturally heats up the ears after long use. There is adequate amount of clamping force to hold the weight of the Valco VMK20 headphones, which is on the lightweight scale (256 grams). In wired mode, the audio cable adds some weight but not a lot since it only weighs 15 grams. The audio cable has a good length to it, measuring 1.12 meters long.
The Valco VMK20 ANC headphones integrate a 1050 mAh battery that can be recharged via 5V/2A input charge, taking just 2 hours. You can charge the headphones while listening to audio in bluetooth mode and wired mode. The bluetooth connection does disconnect when plugging in the audio cable. The VMK20 can deliver a 50-hour runtime, at 100% volume, via standard bluetooth connection and ANC turned off.
The active noise cancellation function can be used in wired mode and without audio playing, which increases the battery life to 59 hours. When using ANC in wireless mode, the runtime drops to a respectable 25 hours at 100% volume via standard bluetooth. The long battery life is aided by the addition of a class ab amplifier, which is the same type a lot of headphone amplifiers use. The class ab amplifier works well for bluetooth and wired audio, delivering very good volume dynamics, thanks to the drivers low impedance (35 ohms). That said, the volume output level will depend on the audio player (i.e. smartphone) internal amp and output volume. 
The Valco VMK20 ANC headphones integrate a Qualcomm bluetooth chip (QCC3008) that supports SBC, AAC and the low latency version of aptX, which is perfect for mobile gaming on a device that supports aptX-LL. There are several voice prompts, including bluetooth pairing voice prompt and max volume prompt, which is a bit faint. The voice prompts are a male voice, which breaks the mold too. There is no volume prompt or beep when enabling ANC (just a green light) and, there is no transparency/ambient mode. The VMK20 headphones have an extra noise cancelling microphone for calls, which picks up the voice loud and clear in loud environments.
The Valco VMK20 headphones uses two feedback ANC microphones and two feedforward ANC microphones, so they are hybrid design similar to more expensive ANC headphones. Budget ANC headphones tend to only use one design (usually feedforward). Because of the hybrid design, the VMK20's ANC microphones are located outside the earcup and inside the earcup; hence it's able to cut constant low bassy sounds (i.e. dehumidifier, car noises) and some higher frequency sounds, although not all (i.e. variable sounds like people chatter). The VMK20 ANC works well even during audio playback without distorting the sound, other than increasing the bass response like most ANC headphones do. Wind noise is also minimized, thanks to the hybrid ANC design.
The audio cable and charging cable that are included with the VMK20 are both unbranded. The audio cable has gold plated male 3.5mm connectors. The charging cable has a USB-A connector at one end and a USB-C connector at the other end. The VMK20 headphones can be used while charging.
The Valco VMK20 ANC headphones are likely to appeal more to those looking for a non-mainstream headphone offering with an organic vibe to them. You can buy the Valco VMK20 ANC headphones directly from Valco. Check out the review of the Valco Nordell Mk3 speaker. Check out the review of the new Valco NL21 earphones.

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