French headphone brand wins prestigious design award for its VK-1 cans. Read our Choice Extras review from April 2014.
The ongoing boom in headphone sales has led to a huge number of brands entering the sector to try their luck. The headphones that result are very different in the nature of the components that go into them and the styling varies wildly between the deeply prosaic and extremely elegant. Sitting firmly in the elegant camp is the Aedle Valkyrie VK-1.
Although the name Aedle is Scandinavian, it is based in France and the VK-1 is assembled there too. The Valkyrie is the only model in the range and has been in development for some years. Aedle claims that besides a single piece of competitor analysis undertaken at the start of the process, the VK-1 was developed without much attention being paid to the wider market. This makes the final product rather prescient as it is a perfectly sized example of a ‘hybrid’ design that is as happy being used on the move as it is at home.
Internally, the VK-1 is built around a pair of 40mm titanium drivers, which were selected in a lengthy audition process before being modified further to meet Aedle’s requirements. These are placed in fairly compact enclosures that are vented via two small slits at the front of the housing. They leak very little noise, meaning that the VK-1 is suitable for use on the move. Less suited for this is the supplied cord, which although detachable does not have any form of inline remote or microphone for easy control of a mobile. You do get a smart sealable bag to keep them in, however.
Ride of the Valkyries
The two main ingredients of the VK-1 are leather and aluminium, but – adopting my best Marks and Spencer’s voice – this is not just any old aluminium and leather. The T6066 billet is developed for the aviation industry, while the leather is sourced from Argentinian sheep and is completely free of nicks and imperfections. Combined with the minimalist, but striking industrial design, the result is a pair of headphones that more than anything else at the price feels bespoke. They are comfortable too – the headband is a single piece of manganese steel that adapts to the size of your head and combined with the separately adjusted mounts on the earpads, the VK-1 should fit most heads comfortably.
In performance terms, there is much to like about how the Aedle goes about making music. Although the sensitivity of the design is not desperately high, it should be easy enough to drive with most smartphones and tablets and will be no problem at all for a dedicated headphone amplifier. The sonic performance of the VK-1 is very likeable, too. At first, the performance can come across as slightly laid back, but after some time listening the detail is all there, while the top end is smooth and extremely forgiving, making the Aedle a very capable partner across a wide range of material. Voices in particular sound rich, unforced and natural and they manage the neat trick of ensuring that they come across as detailed and the undoubted focus of what you’re listening to without ever sounding separated from the music as a whole.
The other apparent attribute is an excellent sense of scale with larger pieces of music. They manage to produce a commendable reproduction of the space that multiple performers are in and their relationship to one another. There is even an impression of soundstage, which is impressive given how close the drivers are to your ear. The final piece of the puzzle is a surprisingly potent low end that sounds bigger than you might expect from such a slight pair of headphones. Against these very likeable traits there’s only a slight sense that the VK-1 is not as lively and rhythmically capable as some rivals at the price. The Aedle never feels sluggish or bloated, but up-tempo material doesn’t have quite the same drive and excitement that it does with some of the competition.
Beauty and the beats
This should not detract too much from what is a very fine pair of headphones. The Aedle is an even handed and very capable partner with a wide variety of music and if you can live without the last few percent of drive and excitement, it is likely to be a very capable hybrid headphone. Beyond the sound quality, though, the stunning appearance and wonderful design are likely to win it many friends. In an increasingly crowded field of designs, this one feels more than the sum of its parts and most impressively, none of the beauty has been bought at the cost of usability or comfort. As an all round package, this makes the Aedle Valkyrie VK-1 too good to ignore.
Reviewed April 2014 HFC 383
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