STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ balanced, rather warm sound
+ very rich and contoured bass
+ ANC effective in low-frequency range
+ Bluetooth and wired operation with ANC possible
+ comfortable fit and good workmanship
- somewhat limited treble resolution and transparency
Sound: Tonal Balance / Transparency7.2
Sound: Bass / Dynamics8.3
Ease-of-use / Connectivity8.5
2022: One wrong word at the wrong time and you cause a storm to break. A thing called Cancel Culture is intimidating everyone. Really everyone? No, in skandinavian country in the far north an old white man is living, by the name of Raimo Valconen. He feels never ashamed of his vices. No, he even prefers to highlight them in ads. So get ready for some unashamed PR statements for his Valco VMK20 being just as bold as his beer belly.
Valconen, however, only embodies the fictitious CEO of the young brand. The actual founders are Henri Heikkinen and Jani Rajaniemi, who describe themselves as “two illiterate idiots” in press releases, as confidently as they practice self-deprecating. The two consistently follow the macho image in marketing their latest noise-cancelling headset. And they obviously do not miss a chance visibly enjoy dropping a brick.
Traditional brand with a lot of potential for a scandal
The most hilarious fact about the new headphone brand first: its name derives from the biggest corruption case in the history of Finland. The original Valco company was in business only from 1976 to 1979. They were meant to produce television tubes, financed by Finnish government and operated in cooperation with a Japanese company. But it didn’t actually produce any tubes at all, and as the big bang occurred, losses were exclusively the taxpayer´s in the end of the day.
40 years later, the brand name was vacant and ready for a restart. Even if their nonconformistic campaign with its ´f..k the mainstream´ attitude might appear to be as planned and predictable as usual posh campaigns, in times like ours it is actually quite refreshing. Finally, the brash style is not limited to the product. The headphone´s voice feedback Valconen style sounds pretty raunchy, even voluptuous after switching on: ´Power On´. ´Pairing´ announces the readiness for Bluetooth connection, and ´Connected´ lets the voice really roll with the punches.
Solid finish and useful features
Anyone who now jumps to the conclusion that only superfluous or silly products come along with such an over-the-top campaign will be pleasantly surprised by the Valcos. Despite its moderate price, the Finnish phones impresse with really lush finish. The earcups of the over-ear set are dressed in fabric cover. The pads sit comfortably and offer quite some isolation. A pretty solid hard case comes with the packaging, plus an airplane adaptor for on-board entertainment, charging and connection cables.
The control buttons for activating the Valcos and adjusting the volume are located at the bottom of the right side and are easy to feel. The button for activating the astonoghingly effective active noise cancelling is located on the left bottom. On the right ear cup, the VMK20 offers a 3.5 mm jack socket for passive operation on a smartphone or mobile player. Thanks to a low 32 ohm impedance, the 40 millimeter drivers still provide quite a lot of dynamics. Thus, the music continues to play even when the batteries are empty after up to more than 40 hours of operation.
For Bluetooth connectivity, the VMK20 uses version 5.0 and allows the use of AptX LL for high sound quality with low latency on Android devices (useful for videos or games) or AAC on Apple devices.
Comfortable, quiet and light
For compact circumaural headphones, the Valco VMK20 are fitting remarkably comfortably. The close-fitting pads wrap the ears without any uncomfortable feeling of pressure. Thus, the over-ear is much more comfortable to wear than an on-ear phone having a tendency to cause the feeling of pressure. For blind listeners, Valco has even marked the left side of the headphones with some kind of embossed printing, even if the manual only calls this ´strange marking´.
The active noise cancelling (ANC) is especially effective in the bass region. Announcements at train stations, on the other hand, are audible quite well. If you press the On/off MFB button twice (the abbreviation stands for ´Madafakin´ button´), you can thereby communicate directly with your smartphone’s voice assistant and thus conveniently control playback via Siri or Google Assistant. Incoming calls can also be answered using the MFB.
However, playback can also be started and paused easily by briefly pressing the MFB button. For track skipping in both directions, the user has to press the respective volume button a bit longer.
While many manufacturers today no longer include proper manuals with their gadgets, Valco is reviving this tradition. The ´User Manual for Dummies´ offers a lot of information, with an intentionally unreasonable layout and absurd pictograms as a satirical distraction from monotone technical spec sheets. Which means: it will definitely make you smile from time to time.
Feel the real beat
The listening test was by no means satirical. The voicing of the Valco VMK20 shows a professional signature. And quite a young one at that. If you prefer pop music with fat beats, you’ll get plenty of bass on your ears. The rich, clean punch and the great depth stand out. Beats like on ´Sad´ by XXXTENTACION or the ´True´ cover by Yuri Petrovski with its deep, dry punch of course reveal this in a fabolous way. But also songs like “´Night Of The Hunter´ by 30 Seconds To Mars from the album “This Is War (Deluxe)” managed to impress with quite some fireworks of extremely rich, yet differentiated bass.
The voice reproduction not only with Jared Leto is pretty coherently and smooth. The headphones tonal balance is rather on the warm side of neutrality. So long-term listening is quite relaxing, even though one would not call these the most transparent or bright-sounding headphones.
By the way, for final voicing Valco has cooperated with Finnish mastering studio Kesthouse. We checked it. This was probably not a joke and the headphones sound really decent even with rock and jazz. Yes, of course, Austrian Falco imposed itself over Finnish Valco at the end. From ´Egoist´ to ´Rock Me Amadeus´ overall atmosphere and ambience were pretty impressive.
The VMK20’s high efficiency also enabled them to produce rich, almost exaggerated low-frequency reproduction in the upper bass and decent dynamics just plugged into our iPhone. However, the Valco is most enjoyable in active mode providing a bass being ideally balanced and controlled. The use of the ANC fighting ambient noise remains possible even when operating the Valcos in wired mode. This saves battery capacity without sacrificing ANC thereby making the Valco an ideal companion for long trips and outdoor activities.
Conclusion and alternatives to the Valco VMK20
The two jesters from Scandinavia providing anyone reading their PR feints with quite some laughs free of charge. However, they also deliver competitive headphones with Active Noise Cancelling, especially to those who prefer powerful bass. The currently much cheaper Aiwa ARC-1 ANC is recognizably simpler demanding just minor compromises in terms of sound quality, but more significant ones in dynamics and bass. The Valco is most comparable to the nominally much more expensive JBL Club One , which, however, is more versatile in terms of tonal balance with an equalizer and somewhat more dynamics.
For friends of coarse humor like Mike Meyers (“Austin Powers”) or Ben Stiller (“Zoolander”), the Finnish headphone does not have any rival.
Specifications: Valco VMK20
- Retail price: 170 euros
- Type: Over-Ear
- Transducer principle: Dynamic
- Weight: 250 g
- Features: Hard case, folding bracket mechanism, active noise cancelling, hands-free microphones, 40 h battery life, airline adapter, passive wired operation possible (connection cable included).
- More at: valco.io