Meters OV-1 review: Headphones with a VU to die for
You can’t go anywhere these days without coming across some kind of celebrity product endorsement, and the headphone industry is full of them. Beats employs such luminaries as Pharell, Amber Rose and Nicki Minaj, while other manufacturers have 50 Cent, Ludacris and even Lady Gaga on their books.
If the quality of celebrity endorsement is a guide to how good a pair of headphones is, though, the Meters OV-1 have it made. Counting Biffy Clyro and Shavo Odadjian from System of a Down among its backers, and with British firm Ashdown Engineering (which has been building bass amps for rock legends for years) behind the design, the Meters OV-1 have a huge head start.
Oh, yes, and each earcup has a backlit, working analogue VU meter built into it that bounces along to the beat of the music you’re listening to. If that sounds daft, you can stop reading right now; but if you remember goldfish-bowl platform shoes with more fondness than is healthy, and your first introduction to the world of “proper” music took the form of a C90 tape cassette compilation put together by your “cool” uncle, the look of these cans will be right up your boulevard.
Meters OV-1 review: Features and design
To be honest, by the time I’d seen the design and who was backing them, I was pretty much sold on the Meters OV-1, but there’s much more to these headphones than just looks and some kind of chimerical musical association. They’re a feature-packed, superbly well-built and extraordinarily comfortable pair of headphones as well.
Let’s start with comfort first. These headphones are pretty bulky. They stand a couple of inches proud of the side of your face and they’re far from the lightest headphones around – the inclusion of the VU meters and the battery required to power them pretty much ensures that. And yet, thanks to deep, comfortable protein leather pads surrounding each ear and the headband, they never felt like they were digging in or exerting too much pressure.[gallery:2]
And despite the size, the OV-1s are thoroughly practical for wearing on the move or while travelling. They exert just the right amount of pressure on either side of your head to prevent them falling off or shifting around when you sneeze or bend over to tie your shoelaces; the only negative is that they’re so snug they can feel a little sweaty in hot weather. That’s not often a consideration here in the UK, fortunately, so most of the time you’re golden.
Comfort isn’t the only positive aspect of the OV-1. They’re superbly well made, with sand-blasted silver aluminium arms, sturdy plastic cups and a stainless-steel-reinforced, notched, adjustable headband.
To keep them looking pristine, they’re supplied with a hard case and there’s a choice of plain and remote control-endowed cables in the box, as well as a 6.25mm jack adapter and a micro-USB cable for charging.[gallery:4]
Meters OV-1 review: Performance and sound quality
The icing on the cake is active noise cancellation (ANC). Rotate the left earcup inwards a touch and you’ll see a three-position switch enabling you to enable and disable ANC, or activate a third EQ setting.
Coupled with the passive noise isolation provided by the earcups themselves, the Meters OV-1’s noise cancellation does a good job of deadening external hum. As with most ANC headphones, high-frequency sounds do penetrate your bubble, so you’ll be able to hear the tapping of keyboards and the soft susurration of conversation, but it keeps at bay the background roar of an aircraft cabin or a London Underground train enough that you can enjoy your music or podcasts without having to turn up the volume too much.
The question is, how does the ANC compare with the market-leading Bose QuietComfort 35? Simple answer: it’s not nearly as effective.
Battery life is stonking, though. Give these a full charge and they’ll last weeks before needing to be plugged in again. I was listening to these regularly for around a month and half and only needed to charge them twice. And if they do run out of juice while you’re out and about, you can move the switch over to the centre mode and keep on listening.[gallery:3]
Sound quality is mixed, too. In fact, the first time I donned the Meters OV-1, I flat-out disliked them. “There’s too much bass,” I thought. “The midrange is smeared and muddled, and there isn’t enough sparkle or extension at the top end.”
But after a few weeks of using them, mostly because they’re so comfy and have decent noise cancellation, I’ve changed my mind.
The bass is simply stunning, delivered with grip, tightness and control, while the smoothness and warmth of the mid-range means you can keep on listening for hours on end. The OV-1s shine with bass-heavy metal from the likes of System of a Down’s “Hypnotize” or Biffy Clyro’s “Living Is A Problem…”, keeping the music driving forward with aggression and an underpinning of punchy, visceral bass without tiring the ear too much.
Play Little Dragon’s “Wildfire” through them, with its deep, electronic bass pulse, and it will be all you can do to stop yourself jigging in your chair.[gallery:7]
There’s still not much crisp, glass-edged treble on show here – the kind that characterises the very best audiophile headphones, in particular open-backed headphone designs – but the scale and drama of the bass delivered by the OV-1 largely makes up for this. I also loved using these headphones to listen to podcasts and audiobooks. The warmth and richness of the Meters’ presentation softens poorly recorded audio and lends a pleasing texture to voices that makes me want to listen, and listen and listen.
One footnote is that all these comments apply to sound quality with the headphones’ ANC mode enabled; with ANC off, there’s a touch more extension and excitement at the top end, but there’s far too much muddle in the mid-range. I’d counsel you to avoid the “EQ” setting at all costs: it sounds absolutely hideous.
Meters OV-1 review: Verdict
If you’re the type of listener who hankers after a dead-flat frequency response and the ultimate in clarity and detail, the Meters OV-1 may not be for you.
You can pick up a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 on Amazon for £50 more and the Sony MDR-1000X are around the same price as the Meters as well. Both offer excellent active noise cancellation and have the bonus of being wireless as well.
But there are plenty of reasons to recommend the Meters OV-1 instead. The bass is tight, deep and emotional; they’re super-comfortable, great for listening to for hours on end and look utterly, utterly unique.
And with headphones becoming as much of a fashion statement as a tool for listening to music today, the statement the Meters OV-1s make is something no other pair of headphones can currently get close to.