By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
New York — Val Kolton always said V-Moda wouldn’t get into the case business, but the founder and chief visionary officer was forced to make adjustments to that trajectory when updating the Vamp portable headphones amplifier.
Since the initial Vamp could only be used with the iPhone 4 or 4S, the company created smartphone cases featuring a four-bolt design that Kolton told TWICE was inspired by a car engine. Rather than a consumer needing to buy an entirely new Vamp each time he switches smartphones, he will need to only replace the case to “dock” it with the new Vamp Verza amplifier.
When creating the first Vamp, Kolton had turned to portable amplifiers at a time when most headphones manufacturers were employing star power to bolster their lineups. With help from Gavin Luk, whom Kolton called his “No. 2 in new product development,” the pair focused their attention on the equation linking speakers and amplifiers.
“Now that we have this big headphone trend, people seem to forget that if you have a bigger headphone, it does require more power to drive them,” Kolton said. “It’s not how loud it is — it’s just the quality. To move that driver, it needs the wattage to actually do that properly. Even though our headphones are tuned to work well with just a stock iPhone, they definitely sound better even at the same volume when it’s amplified. And so you’ll see that from the headphone communities, amplifiers are pretty much required.”
Kolton had billed the original Vamp as the first high-end consumer amplifier, and the Verza is targeted toward the same audience. Noting that while a high-end headphone will still be the most practical purchase for the average consumer, the Verza is positioned as an investment for an audiophile, with Kolton noting, “You’ll use it even more hours a day than a soundbar.”
The Verza’s price tag will reflect its intended audience with a $598 suggested retail. The cases will be sold separately for $101. The first case, the Metallo, is designed for use with the Samsung Galaxy S III; versions for the iPhone 5, Galaxy S IV and Galaxy Note are in the works.
These cases are no flimsy, silicon designs — they are constructed of machined aluminum and follow Kolton’s ABCP design philosophy: Anything But Circles and Plastic. The cases ship with an extra plate, known as the VerzaDock, which locks the phone to the amplifier.
The Verza ships with a 30-pin cable and a MicroUSB cable to plug into the smartphone. A Lightning connector is under development, Kolton said, but in the meantime, consumers can use the Apple-supplied adapter.
The Verza, which can act as a stand-alone desktop amplifier, also has a 3D button that is optimized for car stereos and for home stereos.
“What we envision is people put this in their center console, and plug in their iPhone or their Samsung Galaxy S III, and that custom car installers can then use the optical audio output,” Kolton said. “Because it’s not only a headphone output, it’s an optical audio out. So it’s the only way to get pure digital output from your iPhone or your Samsung, and you can go directly into your amplifier or source unit in a digital way. It should enhance the sound of car stereos greatly. So for $600, it’s a very great investment.”
It also comes packed with a 2,200 mAh battery that will provide up to seven hours of playback time and can act as a backup charge for the iPhone or Galaxy.
The Verza will be sold in the U.S. through Amazon and V-Moda’s website and through a few specialty headphone shops. Kolton said the company is also looking to get it into car audio installers. It’s scheduled to ship in two weeks in matte black, red and black, and white and orange.
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