The new V-Moda Vamp seems like an obvious combination iPhone accessory: an iPhone case with a built-in digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) and amplifier that will improve the audio quality of your music. But nothing's ever too good to be true.
There are millions upon millions of iPhones in the world, which means there's room for niche accessories for people obsessed with music. DACs and headphone amps are tools that the audiophiles in the room will already be familiar with, but for the rest of us, here's how the Vamp works: the case bypasses your iPhone's cheap hardware and pulls music directly from your phone's flash memory via the 30-pin connector. It uses its own high-quality DAC and firmware to convert digital music files from ones and zeros into an analogue signal. The path is then boosted by an amp (the excellent Texas Instruments OPA1612, if you must know) before heading to the Vamp's own independent headphone jack. The 150mW x 2 amplifier is five times more powerful than the one in your iPhone. You charge the case's battery via USB.
In short, the DAC will do a more accurate job converting your files to an analogue signal, which is great if you've got high-quality files. The amp then does two things: it will both allow you to use fancy (or old school) headphones that need more power, and it will provide a cleaner boost to the analogue signal so that your music doesn't get distorted at louder volumes. (There are actually a lot of benefits to having more amplifier power at your disposal, but suffice it to say that it's a good thing.)
There are already audiophiles who drag around little portable DACs and amps to connect to their iPhones, and the fact that V-Moda is the first to combine these products into a product that's well designed is impressive. But the Vamp keeps going: it carries a few built-in EQ settings as well as high and low gain switches for the seriously discerning listener. Another crazy detail: you adjust the music's volume using a knob, which allows for more precise adjustments than the iPhone's step-by-step volume buttons. The case even doubles as an emergency battery back. We already used it to rescue the boss's iPhone at a bar and earned major brownie points.
Indeed, the Vamp is meticulously and lovingly tailored to the audiophile consumer -- so much so that it's almost like V-Moda neglected to consider the needs of the iPhone consumer. The Vamp costs $US650. That's hugely expensive. For a high-quality product that'll last you a long time, the cost might be worth it. But what happens when the next iPhone comes out, and it doesn't fit into your wonderful DAC/amp/case anymore? You're screwed. iPhones are disposable, and the Vamp sure isn't priced like it is. What's more, it adds 142g and considerable bulk to your phone. Even if the Vamp sounds great, it sort of ruins your iPhone's slick design.
The Vamp is an undeniably innovative product with a lot of thought behind it. There are so many iPhones out there that it might just find a market. But given the Vamp's hefty price tag and inevitable obsolescence, it better be a revolution and not just a neat gimmick. We'll let you know what we think once we've spent some more time with it kicking out the jams. [V-Moda]