It's easy to be distracted by features on headphones right now. Google Assistant, instant pairing, and "dynamic" noise cancellation are fun things to play with, but each of these features sees the price slowly creep up while leaving behind the fundamentals of a good pair of headphones. In my search for what should be considered table stakes for any good $100+ pair of headphones, I came across Modular and its first set of wireless headphones. Dubbed Mod-1, I found them good enough to bring with me everywhere for the last couple of months.
About this review
I have been testing an early production Mod-1 in the Gunmetal color for two months. These headphones were provided by Modular, and have been tested on five phones, two tablets, and multiple computers during my evaluation.
Bent to my will
Mod-1 Headphones Design
As wireless headphones go, Mod-1 does very little to stand out in the crowd. They look like a dozen other headphones, with ports on the underside of the left cup and a simple button-based navigation system on the right. I quickly found a pair of extension rods on either side of the headband to fit the cups to my ears, with matte and glossy plastic surrounding everything. Extending the rods revealed a rigid metal piece connecting the cups to the headband, and Modular confirmed that metal band extends all the way across the headband. In fact, that metal band is a feature — you are directly encouraged to bend that band to the shape that is most comfortable to your head. One of several things to make this headset "modular" in its design. I found the headset comfortable enough out of the box, but with a few tweaks, the headphone cups hugged my head well.
Connecting the headphones may not be instant, but the NFC pairing on the side of the headphones works well. The positioning of the NFC tag is a bit awkward if you have a large device with its NFC emitter in the center, but for most phones, it's easy to make the connection. Once you have that connection, it works just like any other Bluetooth headset.
The cups for this headset are plenty plushy and feel nice. I prefer a pleather material to foam because it's easier to clean, and the padding around my ears made the headphones comfortable enough to wear for hours. The circular cup isn't quite big enough to really be "over-the-ear" size for my ears, but unlike most on-ear headphones there's no unbalanced pressure to make a part of my ears hurt over time. Best of all, the headphone cups are removable, and Modular plans to make them easy to replace with other options if you so choose.
Mod-1 stands out by being headphones I can comfortably use everywhere.
While I find myself using these headphones wireless more often than I do wired due to the dearth of headphone jacks in my mobile accessories, I appreciate the headphone jack and the Micro-USB port resting on the same side of the headphones. It means I'm not tangled up in cables, and because my laptop has its headphone jack on the left side it's a convenience for me. What did catch me by surprise was being able to use the Micro-USB port and the 3.5mm jack at the same time, meaning I could charge my headphones for wireless use later while still using them at my desk. This doesn't work with a surprising number of headphones, and it's nice to see Modular offering me the option here. I find myself using this feature more than I'd like to admit, thanks to forgetting to charge the headphones at night.
In spite of their fairly generic appearance, Mod-1 stands out by being headphones I can comfortably use everywhere. The design allows the headphones to collapse well for travel. I was able to literally bend the headphones into the perfect fit for me, and the cups are not only easy to clean after a workout but designed to be replaced when I inevitably wear out the material covering the cups. I'm not saying a nice electric blue or royal purple would make them more comfortable, but it sure would add a little flash to an otherwise solid design.
These cost how much?
Mod-1 Headphones Sound
Some quick background on me — before I started using these headphones I was splitting my time between the portability-challenged Sennheiser HD 598 Cs and the amazingly portable but fairly limited Trekz Titanium bone conduction headphones. I haven't touched either in at least a month, and it's due entirely to how well the Mod-1 headphones have done in replacing the pair for my daily needs. The only caveat there is because it's been so cold here this past month I haven't been running outside much. I'm happy with Mod-1 at the gym, but for outdoor activities, I'd still prefer to hear the cars around me.
Mod-1 delivers a warm sound with lots of bass. In fact, maybe a touch too much.
Mod-1 delivers a warm sound with lots of bass. In fact, maybe a little too much. I tweaked my equalizer on my phone a little to tone it down a bit and found myself very happy with the results. These sound like nice $100 wired headphones, which is difficult to pull off over Bluetooth even with things like aptX HD and Bluetooth 5.0, neither of which is available on these headphones. The 40mm driver in these headphones is just plain good, especially if you enjoy more than a little bass.
The rest of the sound profile for these headphones isn't warm enough to be muddy at high volumes, but the highs aren't quite as sharp as they are on my Sennheisers and people in spoken word podcasts come through sounding a little deeper-toned than I'm used to hearing elsewhere. I really enjoy the sound, but if accuracy is what you dig, these probably aren't for you.
A "whole day" of sound
Mod-1 Headphones Experience
Starting my day at around 5am, I'm usually wearing headphones for about 9.5 hours of my day. On a busy travel day, I might put headphones on as soon as I get out of the shower and not take them off until I'm climbing into bed that night. I did quite a bit of travel with these headphones during my testing and found myself repeatedly reaching for them the next day. I like how easy it is to travel with these headphones, how easily I can wear them for a full day, and how nice they sound. These are the basics, and it's surprising how many feature-packed headphones sacrifice these things for the latest buzzword.
These are great, simple wireless headphones, which for some reason has become difficult to find.
That having been said, there are a few things I'd like to see these headphones do a little better. The battery in full wireless mode gets me just shy of eight hours on my Pixel 2 XL, and almost a full hour less on my Galaxy S8 and iPhone X. That's not quite "all day" like the marketing promised, but it is very close and considering you can actually charge while using the headphones in wired mode I can overlook that on most days. The same goes for the "noise isolation" promised on the packaging. There's no tech here like you find with noise cancellation, just clever engineering in the way the headphone cups hug your ears to provide some external dampening. Not a deal-breaker, but a solid suggestion for the next effort.
My only real criticism of these headphones is the microphone. Saying these headphones have a mediocre microphone would be putting it nicely. I rarely had calls go well through the headset because I either sounded distant or garbled because the microphone is placed in an awkward spot away from my mouth and just plain isn't very good.
There's little else about these headphones I would change. I like having physical buttons to press instead of a touch interface, I'm glad they don't light up or flash status lights all over the place, and I enjoy not needing to learn a voice or beep interface to access features. These are great, simple wireless headphones, which for some reason has become difficult to find.
Get in on this, now.
Should you buy it? Absolutely
While a lot of the big names are making $150 gadgets that also play music, Modular made headphones that nail the basics and sound like it deserves its price tag. These aren't for audiophiles or people who want every feature ever crammed into a set of headphones. These are for everyone else, especially if you like to fill your ears with bass.
Best of all, Mod-1 has launched these headphones as part of an Indiegogo campaign with Early Bird offerings where you can pick them up for $50. These headphones are great at the normal $150 price tag, but for $50 if you're looking for new headphones you'd be silly to not give these some serious thought.
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