Today we’re looking at the VMK20 Wireless over-ear headphones with ANC (which stands for Active Noise Cancelling – every day is a school day!). Join us for a dive into this surprising headphone option and find out why the Finnish are taking over the audio game!
Valco VMK20 supplied for review purposes
Who are Valco?
Valco Ltd is a Finnish company who took their name from the biggest financial failure and the most famous corruption case in the history of Finland.
Original Valco (1976–1979) was a television tube factory funded by the Finnish government as a joint operation with Japanese Hitachi. The project proved to be an economic and political disaster and saw many high-ranking politicians and officials tied to the corruption scandal surrounding it. As a result, Finnish taxpayers lost a sum equivalent to a billion Euros (in todays money). Several government officials and corporate CEOs went to prison. No politicians were ever convicted (don’t get me started…).
Anyway, having nothing whatsoever to do with that company or scandal the folks at Valco decided they liked the name. And as the original company went bankrupt over 40 years ago, they decided no one would mind.
Based in Tampere, Finland, and founded by Henri Heikkinen (MSc computer science) and Jani Rajaniemi (PhD administrative sciences), the companies aim is to develop awesome products at an affordable price.
As promised, we spent all our profits on Death Star, beer and alimony payments, so now we have to sell more headphones.
Unboxing these bad boys I noticed the care and attention to detail from the carry case. Classy stuff!
The instruction manual is a hoot and even comes with instructions printed “In ‘Murican”, directions for users suffering from Elephantiasis and includes the phrase “Keep trying until you find the best position for your own skull“. The user manual alone is worth the price tag.
Upon initial Bluetooth pairing the user is greeted by a husky male voice akin to Tom Waits, who announces the pairing status in a whispered tone. A voice that can also be likened to the announcer from Mortal Kombat games but without the sense of urgency or implied violence. “Pairing….. FINISH HIM!” This voice is a welcome change to the current industry standard of ‘overly excitable and aggressive Chinese lady’ included with most wireless audio brands.
The bass from the VMK20 headphones is liquid smooth and provides a high-end playback. I was expecting to hear some cracks appear in the sound the harder i pushed the headphones, but alas even Iron Maiden and ACDC couldn’t put a dent in the sound quality and before long I was one-footing imaginary monitors and air-guitaring around my living room in a hyperactive test of the Bluetooth signal range.
The EQ is tuned with a close-to-neutral profile, the way it should be. It’s close to perfect, which is a difficult statement for me to make. In my humble opinion (having studied music for the last 20 years or so) – EQ, for the most part is a school of science, thought and theory which is rounded-off in personal preference. Having tested the VMK20 out I can only ascertain that they are perfectly tuned for my audio preferences at the back end of top-notch equalisation. Presumably this is the direct result of Jasse Kesti and Kesthouse, the famous Finnish mastering studio. Color me impressed.
Comfort And Features
The earphones are sturdy and comfortable, made from a light vegan-friendly leather-effect cover and sponge innards clearly designated in L and R to avoid any confusion. The fit is a comfortable size and reminiscent of the core Bose range.
The controls are robust, placed with easy reach and are no more complicated than they need to be. On the left side we have the ANC button which toggles the noise cancellation. On the right you will find +, – and function button. The + and – can skip tracks with a long press and adjust volume with a short press. The function button powers the headphones on and off alongside answering phone calls.
The ANC is extremely efficient with little to no perceivable latency and functions well alongside lower-frequency noise. I did however test it out with a barking dog, screaming child and nagging wife. The noise cancellation works in realtime via 4 external microphones. The sound detail is dulled slightly once the ANC is initiated (which is to be expected), but given the quality of the noise cancellation this is a minimal concern. It’s worth noting that the ANC is only effective in environments that require noise cancellation, you know, noisy ones….
The battery life is insane. Reading the specs, the website stated a whopping 45 hours play time WITH ANC on. I’ve been using these all week, off a 20 minute out-the-box charge and there’s no sign of them giving in. This justifies the 3 hour charge time in my opinion. Even then, there’s the option to use them passively via the jack input when that time comes.
Bluetooth: 5.0 APTX HD, SBC and AAC
Chipset: Qualcomm QCC3034 with custom DSP setup
ANC: Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) Active Noise Cancelling
Amplifier: Class AB
Stereo elements: 40 mm
Weight: 250g / 8.8 oz
Battery: 1050 mAh
Charging time: 2-3h, USB-C connector
Battery time: up to 45 hours of constant listening on ANC, 40 hour on phone call
Siri and Google Home support
Handsfree phone calls, with CVC8 noise reduction
In the box: 3.5 mm, airplane adapter and USB-C charging cable
What i love about this brand as an extension to their products is the approach to marketing. The website is devoid of brash PR-speak and slick ego-pushing. It’s a tactic that companies such as Brewdog or Innocent Smoothies employed to varying effect, but with Valco it feels a lot more genuine. This could also be the cool Finnish humour at play here but it translates fantastically nonetheless.
Something we’re seeing more and more of these days is companies giving a shit about the planet, which is not only very trendy but very cool. Valco is no exception in that aspect – for every pair of wireless headphones sold, Valco will plant a tree, as well as ensuring their headphones can be repaired and maintained after the warranty eventually ends. Unlike some big fruit-based-logo tech companies out there who famously don’t like that sort of thing and even go as far to actively sabotage their products over time…
The VMK20 are a fantastic budget-friendly audio option with the added bonus of great sound and a comfortable fit. That’s not to say that they are in any way a typified “budget” headphone option. On the contrary, the VMK20 does the job better than some of its double-priced competitors.
I’m impressed by the sound quality and battery life especially. All in all a top entry for this years best headphone reviews.
(RRP around €169 / around £140 GBP).
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