“Kalsarikänni” is Finnish for getting drunk at home alone in your underpants. And perhaps it already explains how the marketing hype surrounding the Valco VMK20 came about. However, behind the Klingon-like operating instructions and deep-masculine voice that whispers in the guise of announcements, you will find a really good pair of headphones. In this review, I’ll tell you why the VMK20 is a really good deal for $180 (after conversion). Nyt sitä mennään!
- Very good sound with equally good equalizer app
- Extremely long battery life
- Charming marketing campaign
- Quite affordable
- ANC is not convincing
- Plastic used feels ‘cheap’
- Hardly any comfort features
- “Craziness” can also be annoying
Valco VMK20 in a nutshell
Valco courts its VMK20 with a love story that is almost touching. This not only resulted in an instruction manual that humors you, but it also comes with an extremely entertaining introduction video. Best of all is, the headphones do perform admirably well in terms of their sound quality. The VMK20 does not need to be crazy and flashy at all, because they offer a neutral Hi-Fi sound that you can adjust based on your own preferences.
Sporting a price tag of $180 after conversion, they have cleverly positioned themselves with other far more expensive alternatives in the market in terms of performance. So if you’re looking to pick up the best bang for your buck, you can purchase this without having to think twice. In addition, you will benefit from extremely long battery runtimes and at least a semblance of ANC.
However, the headphones do lack premium comfort, making them feel a bit behind the times. In terms of quality, Valco also cannot quite hide the rather cheap plastic that oozes with “Made in China” quality (circa 1980s) when it comes to the over-ear headphone base. As for the rest of the VMK20, find out all about it below, of course!
Design: China plastic with a solid finish
The Valco VMK20 are over-ear headphones, so they completely enclose your ears. To ensure an optimal fit, Valco relies on memory foam that is wrapped in vegan artificial leather. The headphones tip the scales at 250 grams and come with a carrying case.
What I liked:
- Recognizes the value of comfort with its fabric cover on the ear cups (grey version).
- Solid comfort while wearing despite a tight fit.
- Portable and sports a DJ function (rotating ear cups).
What I disliked:
- Cheap-looking plastic with poor quality “Made in China” aesthetics.
- Strong smell when unpacked which still remains out after a few weeks.
- A rebranded China headphone.
Over-the-ear headphones tend to look very similar! And as with all models, Valco recommends you wear the VMK20 “with the headband up and the headphone over your ears.” Still, it’s commendable that Valco is able to set itself apart from competitors like Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser with something as simple as the fabric that covers the outside of the ear cups. Both the fabric and the Valco lettering are very well made; and even when you apply more pressure, it remains securely in place.
This high-quality workmanship can also be found in other parts of the headphones. The hinges are made of metal and the ear pads are really comfortable thanks to the clever use of memory foam. However, the VMK20 does not exude a real premium feeling. In my opinion, the liberal use of shiny plastic reveals too much of the actual country of origin of the headphones, as the Valco VMK20 is an optimized version of well-known pair of Chinese headphones, as our colleagues from Audio-Room revealed.
So you’ll have to overlook this shortcoming if you decide to buy the VMK20. The best way to do that is to wear the headphones on. Doing so, you will appreciate the wearing comfort that my ears thoroughly enjoyed. Although the headphones are surprisingly tight as an over-the-ear model, Valco has thought of its own citizens who headbang to death metal double bass in its design implementation.
At least the carrying case has been completely revamped by Valco, and that’s a good thing. It is made out of high-quality materials, provides sufficient protection, and includes a USB-C and 3.5mm jack cable as well as an adapter to use when you fly.
Sound & ANC: Ultra cool that requires some effort
In the VMK20, Valco combines 40mm drivers with Qualcomm’s QCC3034 chipset to deliver audio. In the process, the audio professionals have also made their own optimizations to the digital sound processor (DSP). The result is a particularly neutral sound that many competitors lack. The headphones also support AAC, SBC, and AptX HD codecs via Bluetooth 5.0, and ANC via four microphones is also part of the deal.
What I liked:
- Extremely neutral sound.
- AptX HD support.
- Can also be used using a cable.
What I disliked:
- ANC is rather mediocre and is not adjustable.
- No transparency mode.
- No equalizer or sound profiles.
- Hums when plugged in.
Here is an important tip if you decide to buy the Valco VMK20: Take your time after unpacking it to test it out extensively. And please install an equalizer on your smartphone or PC, because despite the flashy marketing and the pinch of craziness, the headphones are tuned in an extremely neutral manner which makes them sound rather boring at first. After getting used to them, you will find that the headphones are real all-rounders.
For the review, I listened to a number of genres from Leprous (progressive metal) to Eminem (hip-hop), Chick Corea (jazz), Beethoven (metalcore, kidding – classical of course), and Dua Lipa (pop). In the process, the VMK20s proved surprisingly flexible on my Pixel 6 even without having to make any further adjustments to the equalizer app. If you take your time, the Valco VMK20 offers you a very good sound across all genres.
This is also due to the support of the AptX HD Bluetooth codec, which you can benefit from on current Android smartphones. If you use an iPhone instead, AAC is also available. You can also bridge the wireless connection via the included 3.5mm cable. It is not that spectacular, but Bluetooth continues to be a major bottleneck in sound quality for many HiFi fans.
However, I would like to inform you about a clearly audible hum with the VMK20 that occurs when it is plugged in via a 3.5mm jack. This occurred at both times when I hooked it up to my MacBook Air and my electric piano, a Casio CDP-S350. Thus, the jack becomes more of a stopgap measure when the battery is dead. Theoretically, you can use the headphones even when they are turned off. Talk about being practical!
In my opinion, the integrated ANC is also another half-hearted feature. While it is practical in many cases, as it actively filters ambient noise from your surroundings, but ANC has become a marketing axiom that results in criticism from reviewers like me. That’s because the VMK20’s ANC isn’t really effective and it’s also extremely inflexible.
On the left side of the headphones, you’ll find a button to turn ANC on or off. The competition already offers different levels of ANC and a transparency mode to boot. With these, you can stay attentive in the midst of traffic despite wearing a pair of headphones. Sony’s WH-1000XM4 even does this automatically, and even cheaper models like the Soundcore Life Q30 also offer this feature.
ANC becomes a minor matter with the VMK20 and personally, I would rather have done without it. If this feature is very important to you, I would recommend a different model.
Functionality: Minimalistic at best
There is not much to talk about in terms of comfort and features in this Valco VMK20 review.
Multi-pairing is available, but aside from that, the headphones are unfortunately lacking in other standard features.
What I liked:
- Multi-pairing support.
- Creative announcements in a deep, masculine Finnish voice.
- Support for voice assistants.
What I disliked:
- No companion app.
- No native equalizers or sound adjustments.
- No ANC features.
- No wear detection.
New headphones do not only have to convince me in terms of sound quality. Headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Apple AirPods Max, or the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 offer a slew of other cool tricks. Unfortunately, the Valco headphones are completely lacking in this department.
The multi-pairing feature, which allows you to connect two devices at the same time, is a praiseworthy effort though. The VMK20 switch between smartphone and notebook automatically. In addition, there are activation and voice recording capabilities that are compatible with commonly used voice assistants, which is considered a standard feature in 2022. The creative announcements for “Power on”, “Connected” and “Battery Low” are also cool to listen to. Instead of a computer-like voice, you get a deep male voice with a strong Finnish accent.
What bothered me most in the review was the absence of a companion app to control the headphones. In the future, Valco should include an equalizer to provide users with the sound optimization they need. The ANC is also lacking in terms of functionality. Where the VMK20 only offers on/off, the competition enables motion detection, pass-through, or even the ability to recognize conversations.
Other shortcomings with respect to other headphones include the lack of wear detection. In 2021, special features like 3D audio, which the AirPods Max offer, are also getting popular. Many of these features are really helpful in everyday use, whereas individualized voice outputs are nothing more than a nice gimmick. However, the fact that many reviewers praise exactly these in the first paragraphs shows how important creative branding is.
Battery: None lasts longer
Valco’s VMK20 has a battery rated at 1,050 mAh. The Finnish manufacturer manages to achieve runtimes of up to 45 hours with ANC activated. Quick charging is not supported, so the headphones have to be plugged in for up to three hours to be fully juiced up.
What I liked:
- Extremely long runtimes.
- USB-C port.
- Can still be used when fully drained via a cable.
What I disliked:
With runtimes of up to 45 hours with ANC activated, the Valco VMK20 is one of the longest-lasting ANC-equipped headphones. Even the class leader, the WH-1000XM4, which I mentioned often in this review, lasts for “only” 38 hours. A really valuable proposition that ensures extreme battery life in everyday use. Even when used daily, the VMK20s are almost never empty.
To illustrate my point: if you listen to music at work for five hours every day, the headphones will last almost two full work weeks. That’s really awesome and makes me look unimpressed at the long charging times. Yes, the Valco VMK20s requires almost three hours to fully charge when empty. But that’s something you would gladly put up with every two weeks. This is especially true since you can continue to use the over-the-ear headphones even when they are empty.
Technical specifications and miscellanous points
What else should you know about the Valco VMK20?
- Included in the package: A creative user manual, a 3.5mm cable, an airplane adapter, a USB-C to USB-A cable, and the carrying case.
- The user manual is also available in Klingon.
- Hands-free calls sound clear thanks to CVC8 noise reduction, but they are a bit too tiny.
- Available in black or grey.
With a semester of Finnish classes under my belt to earn a university credit, I’m probably the most suitable reviewer for the VMK20 on the NextPit team. This prepared me a bit for the Finnish humor, which began with the Hydraulic Press channel on YouTube and ended with the Moomins in a replay of my childhood trauma. If you look behind the facade, the VMK20 are super-interesting headphones.
Because sonically, they even manage to be as good as other expensive alternatives like Sony’s WH-1000XM4 if you know what you’re dealing with when it comes to musical frequencies. Having flat tuning is really fun if you have just a little inclination towards being an audiophile. However, the fact that Valco itself does not offer an equalizer via an app remains a mystery to me. Not only that, how did the Finnish manufacturer squeeze out 45 hours of battery life from its 1,050 mAh battery?
As an everyday pair of headphones, the VMK20 would still not be enough for me, despite the great acoustics. In 2021, I expect features that make living with headphones easier. Wear recognition, fine-grained ANC with effective noise suppression, and others are unfortunately completely missing from the VMK20. The multi-point pairing capability is only a small consolation.
In short: If you are looking for the best sound for little money, buy the Valco VMK20. But if you are looking for all-rounder headphones with many features, you will reach for the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Bose QC45, the Bose NCH 700, the AirPods Max, or other alternatives.