The Finns are an exceptional lot: they are the world champions of coffee drinking, EU champions of sustainability and have over two million saunas. They also love the silence of their 188,000 lakes. Perfect conditions for developing noise-cancelling headphones while chilling in the far north, you would think?
Under the brand Valco, a Finnish start-up has set out to develop wireless ANC headphones. After their debut with the VMK19, this ANC headphone model has now had a “facelift” to become the VMK20. Sidekick producer and mixing engineer Jasse “Jazmanaut” Kesti was brought on board as a partner for sound tuning. He not only has experience in mastering but is also the FOH mixer for many Finnish top 10 acts. The team’s goal was to conjure up state-of-the-art ANC headphones that would keep up with the bos(s)es in the sector.
Passion project with a Finnish vibe
Valco’s website, manual and FAQs are all packed with anecdotes and dry Finnish humour. This is more about a small crew’s passion project and not about loading another mass product onto the sea container.
“Thank you very much for your money. It is spent on getting drunk with the salesman and feeding his illegitimate children. What’s left after taxes and child support will be spent on evil”, is an example of the kind of thing you can expect to find in the manual, aiming to earn your goodwill and a little extra kudos.
And karma resonates too: After all, for every pair of headphones sold, a tree is planted.
Design and workmanship
The VMK20 comes in mouth-watering Salmiakki black with a stylish designer fabric texture on the sides of the headphones, which protects the four ANC microphones. Despite the light weight of 250 grams, everything feels sturdy and robust on your head, although there are some plastic parts noticeable in the construction of the headband and the buttons. The folding mechanism makes these headphones ready for travel. Vegans can’t complain about the supple artificial leather on the headband and the earpads, but they might complain about the particular smell of newness – but this fizzles out after a few days. The memory foam surrounding the earpieces makes them very comfortable to wear and provides good passive noise attenuation. The ANC function is therefore not a must.
Pairing is easy and secure via the Bluetooth chipset (Qualcomm QCC3008), and the headphones offer SBC, AAC and – very commendably – aptX Low Latency as codecs. A button on the left earpiece activates the ANC function, which works well with the built-in ADI chipset and the four microphones. Of course, this works particularly well with continuous noise levels. Train noise, station halls or air-conditioning buzzes are eliminated to a considerable degree; this is usually only the case with more expensive noise-cancelling headphones. Even demanding noise levels such as office noise are defeated by the Valco VMK20.
The battery capacity is 1,050 mAh and, according to the manufacturer, should last for over 40 hours. Charging takes just two to three hours via the USB-C socket.
The hands-free function does a good job with the built-in microphones (plus CVC 8.0 processing). The voice is transmitted intelligibly for callers as well as drop-out-free for video conferences or direct phone calls. The noise-cancelling is good for people who want to focus while in an open-plan office. For those who don’t want to be quite so “cut off”, the VMK20 can still provide decent intelligibility without the ANC function, or allow you to chat casually with just one earpiece.
Fine-tuned feel-good sound
Now to get into the sound. Pressing what Valco calls the “Madafakin” button gets things started. A voice huskily whispers, “Power on!” – I wonder if this is chief tuner Jazmanaut. He has curated a special Valco playlist on Spotify, and as we listened through it, the sonic qualities shine through. The VMK20 has a beautiful stereo presentation despite its closed construction. Mixes are spatially well staggered and songs, no matter what genre, electronica, jazz, rap or acoustic, possess a pleasant but not exaggerated dimension in which multiple layers shine through. The basses are designed to be enjoyed rather than analysed. They are rich and organic and not hyper-zappy in their impulse behaviour, instead, we found them to have a cosy, almost tipsy, after-work mood. It’s as if you were sitting in the wood-panelled corner of a Finnish club, getting deeply relaxed. Mids and highs are radiant and expressive. Perhaps their silkiness might be a little too restrained for some people. The upper mids in particular could do with a touch more transparency and fine detail. Nevertheless, it is evident that the downstream DSP tuning greatly enhances and refines the sound of the VMK20. And so the sound is at its best when the wireless and ANC functions are switched on. A little caution is advised when using the Valco headphones directly with the supplied cable, which is probably more for fallback use. With this type of connection, the bass is almost a little too powerful for the overall mix and goes into “Boss Mode”. Although, some music fans might consider this to be a hidden bonus feature.
The Valco are certainly not an ultra-bargain in terms of price, but they offer a perfect overall package of secure Bluetooth connection, very good battery performance, top ANC functionality and warm, well-tuned hi-fi sound. The noise-cancelling is super-snappy, making every journey a little more enjoyable, whether it’s on a rattling train or a chugging crab-catching boat on the fjord. The high-quality design catches the eye with its cool textile patch, and the lightweight construction gives you zero stress on your head. If you’re into organic hi-fi tuning, you can’t go wrong here, and you might even leave the Valco team an onomatopoeic “Hyvä ääni” (Finnish for: “Super Sound”) as a comment. It will be exciting to see what else is yet to emerge from their Nordic forge.
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Weight without cable250 g
What's in the box
- Mini jack cable
- USB-C charging cable
- Aeroplane adapter
- Travel case
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX LL
- BT version: 5.0
- Siri and Google Home support