FiR Audio M3 ($1199)
Compared to FiR’s very own M3, the VxV doesn’t come off as crisp, tight or transient-heavy. It has more meat to its bones – a warmer glow emanating from instruments – that results in it coming across more natural or realistic. Most of it stems from how FiR have differed their midranges. The VxV’s upper-midrange isn’t as bright or vibrant as this M3’s, and its low-midrange is nowhere near as relaxed or withdrawn either. With vocals – whether male or female – this means you’ll hear more of those chestier, wetter-sounding overtones. Whereas, the M3’s rendition tends to be throatier and thinner. Down low, the VxV has the more subtle sub-bass as well. The bass line on Kendrick Lamar’s Alright rumbles more powerfully on the M3. This’s mirrored up top, with the M3’s sharper, crisper and brighter upper-treble fuelling its transient-driven tone.
Technically, to me, the VxV comes off more capable. Its more-relaxed transients sit evenly with the rest of the ensemble, which creates a tidier spread of instruments and more organised imaging. On Test Drive from John Powell’s How To Train Your Dragon score, through the M3, the higher-pitched bagpipes and violins distract from the violas and cellos bellowing below. It lessens the drama from the back-and-forth between the two, while the VxV portrays that more accurately. This M3 also has weaker dynamic range compared to its sibling, which results in a sense of compression that’s especially felt on flowing, orchestral arrangements like these that rely on crescendos and diminuendos. You won’t hear as powerful of a lift as the piece reaches its climax. And, it’s similarly less-equipped in conveying the gentleness of brush work in jazzier arrangements, for example. So, in terms of technique and spatial performance, I have to hand the VxV the victory there.
itsfit Lab Fusion ($950)
What separates the VxV and the Fusion is similar to what separates it and the M3, but to a lesser extent. Like the M3, the Fusion is a slightly-leaner, more vibrant-sounding IEM with less low-mid heft and more upper-mid zing. But, it does sport a good amount of wetness and warmth to its mids too, so it doesn’t come across as crisp or transient-driven. You can say the Fusion sits between the M3 and VxV, leaning a bit more towards the latter. Now, the VxV’s advantage over the Fusion is, again, its dynamic range. Instruments cut through the background cleaner, and they pop more vividly too. In addition, you also get cleaner separation between notes on this VxV, so you get to see more of the black background below. Apart from this and that discrepancy in their midranges, I don’t really hear much to separate what the VxV and the Fusion each have to offer. Both are great everyday monitors. It’ll simply depend on whether you want a cleaner, more vibrant tone or a more linear, subdued one, keeping in mind that the latter will lend stronger dynamics, and more vivid instruments too.
MMR Gáe Bolg ($1199)
MMR’s Gáe Bolg is an IEM that shares a lot of the VxV’s sensibilities; a richer shade of neutrality with laid-backed-ness as a priority over clarity or transient attack. The difference is that the Gáe Bolg approaches it with this fuller, more intimate and concentrated-sounding midrange. Listening to Mark Lettieri’s Seuss Pants, there’s a lot more butteriness and oomph to the organ and the guitars, because of an accentuated centre-midrange. And, there’s more saturation and smack to its snare drum too. The VxV’s presentation is more relaxed or tight by comparison. It has this more studio-like sound, which encourages separation and control. Whereas, the Gáe Bolg’s bolder take is more ideal for conveying emotion and soul. It will come down to taste. In order to counteract the Gáe Bolg’s bigger midrange, it has a bit more bite to its low-treble too. It’s not as refined or clean as the VxV there, which I find more fine, precise and polite when rendering cymbals. Although, the Gáe Bolg’s splashier high-end can also add more ring and spread to ride cymbals in jazz. So, again, preference is key.
Spatially, this VxV’s tighter, more reined-in instruments and its comparatively-generous higher-treble contribute loads to its tightness and precision. Notes stay where they are. Whereas, the Gáe Bolg’s fatter, warmer images are more prone to a bit of spread. They’re closer to the listener too, so the stage overall doesn’t come across as open or roomy as the VxV’s. But, again, whether or not that’s a positive ultimately depends on preference; more ideal for intimate solo performances than big band material, for example. The stage the VxV creates is wider and taller too, which is definitely one of its strong suits. Finally, down low, the VxV’s dynamically-driven woofer will obviously deliver the more physical, rumble-heavy bass. If you like sub-bass for pop or EDM, it’ll have the edge there. But, MMR’s effort has given their Gáe Bolg the clearer, more melodic-sounding bottom-end. Its mid-bass has more personality and clarity to it. Like the ride cymbals I talked about for its high-end, acoustic basses sing more on the Gáe Bolg as well. So, once again, it’ll come down to your preferences here.
The FiR Audio VxV is an easygoing, unassuming and daintily-balanced monitor that fully captures the everyday carry. It’s a jack of all trades that coasts through music with clarity, refinement and the lightest whiff of warmth. And, it complements that with some of the best imaging, dynamics and end-to-end extension I’ve heard in its price level. Now, will it go above-and-beyond to deliver skull-rattling lows, expressive, emotive mids or blindingly-airy highs? No, it’s far too measured and square for that. But, when it comes to nailing the essentials – a gutsy, driven bass, clear, robust, well-textured vocals and an open, articulate, silky treble – this VxV serves it all. So, as long as you can overlook its frugal packaging and appreciate its aesthetics, FiR Audio’s VxV is a $999 hit. With top-notch industrial design, an ergonomic form factor, savvy accessories and a custom cable to boot, it’s a vastly-versatile first-buy, or a casual, do-no-wrong sidepiece for the veteran audiophile.