Finland, a land of extremes. The Scandinavian country has much more to offer than just lakes, saunas, taciturn Formula 1 drivers and more heavy metal bands per inhabitant than any other country on earth. With the Valco VMK20 headphones, an over-ear headphone with ANC function reaches our test lab that wants to be quite different from the other Bluetooth headphones on the market already when unpacked. Chief developer Jasse “Jazmanaut” Kesti already welcomes us on the packaging with a text that is bursting with self-irony and wit. Whether the VMK20 actually lives up to the self-styled claim of “the best wireless ANC headphones money can buy”, or whether the class clown fails, clarifies our test.
|Headphone type||Over-ear (closed)|
|Bluetooth codecs||SBC, AAC, aptX|
|Maximum operating range||8m (without obstacle)|
|Battery life||Up to 45 hours (with ANC)|
|Weight||250g (without cable)|
|Driver||40 mm, dynamic|
|Connections||USB Type-C; 3.5mm jack|
|Scope of delivery||Valco VMK20, USB-C charging cable, 3.5mm jack cable, airplane adapter, user manual|
|Color options||Black-Silver; Black|
|Price||€ 169.00 *|
Scope of delivery of the Valco VMK20
Already with the scope of delivery, the Finns of Valco go different ways with the VMK20 headphones. Cardboard box? Plastic packaging? Does not exist! So the over-ears are delivered exclusively in a hard-shell transport case, on whose shiny black cover the manufacturer’s logo is emblazoned. Two cards with the most important specifications and a greeting from the aforementioned chief designer dangle from it.
When opening the zipper, the folded headphones immediately catch the eye, which mostly rely on a black exterior including offset gray ear cups with fabric texture. Next to them, an airplane adapter finds room in the hardcase. On the other side, there is an additional compartment secured by a zipper, which also accommodates a 3.5 mm jack cable and a USB-A to USB-C cable for charging the headphones, in addition to the manual.
Since the headphones should first be fully charged before first use, we recommend taking a look at the user manual “User Manual For Dummies”, which skillfully stands out from all reference books we have already held in our hands due to the dry Finnish humor.
Honestly, I have never recommended consulting the user manual of a pair of headphones. In the case of the Valco VMK20 headphones, however, it is definitely worth it. Already the first page reveals that on page 18 (section “mite cheese”, later called “Fast German”) the German manual can be found. This then not only informs about how around to put the headphones on correctly, but also about the most important functions, the pairing process and other details.
In any case, phrases like “If you want to use the wireless headphones wirelessly, it is advisable to connect them wirelessly to the wireless audio source first” or “When using the headphones for the first time, press the MFB button […] until a deep and soulful male voice named Tudor Gilespie recites […]” put a smile on our face even before the initial setup.
Design and workmanship
In terms of design, the Valco VMK20 leave a very good impression at first glance. The combination of black elements and gray contrasting outer sides of the ear cups including fabric cover and white manufacturer logo undoubtedly looks very classy, albeit relatively flashy. However, a completely black version of the headphones is now also available.
Although the over-ears only weigh around 250 grams and are mostly made of plastic, the build quality also looks quite high. Only the mechanism for rotating the ear cups seems a bit rickety, while the metal-reinforced headband for fine-tuning the position and folding the cups seems relatively high-quality, but has a bit more play than in more expensive competitor products.
Ear pads and headband are very lushly covered with soft artificial leather. The latter can be adjusted to the head shape in a total of nine steps. The fixed adjustment is also convincing, so that the position cannot be inadvertently adjusted even during fast movements. However, the VMK20s emit a very special and quite unpleasant new smell, which we have not smelled in a headphone in this form and intensity for a long time – it takes a few days for it to completely dissipate.
On the bottom of the left ear cups is the USB-C port where the headphones are charged. Above that, Valco positions the ANC button, which activates or deactivates the active noise cancellation. Unfortunately, the VMK20 do not offer a transparency mode or different ANC levels.
On the left side is the jack connector for wired operation, as well as the three buttons for operation, which have several inherent functions. All buttons are sensibly positioned and easy to reach even when worn.
Coming back to the user manual (and I quote), “We recommend wearing the headphones with the headband facing up and the headphone parts over the ears.” Sounds plausible.
But all kidding aside, in terms of wearing comfort, the Valco VMK20s also offer little cause for criticism. The ear-enclosing earcups made of memory foam sit very comfortably over the ears and also provide very good passive isolation from external noise. In combination with the soft leatherette of the earcups as well as the headband, the headphones also rest very comfortably on the head in the long run.
For example, with an inner diameter of 4.8 cm x 6.3 cm (width x length) and enormous stretch, they turn out noticeably more generous than the Sony WH-1000XM4 (our review) and are therefore also suitable for medium-sized or large ears. Only the already mentioned, unpleasant smell disturbs a little in the first few days.
Features and battery life
In wireless mode, the Valco VMK20 connect via Bluetooth 5.0 with various audio sources. Pairing works quickly and easily via the Qualcomm QCC3008 chipset used, while stable connections can be ensured in most cases. However, the Finns do not really like vibrations and long distances: Slight sound dropouts occurred during jogging in our test. However, nothing can be felt of this during normal movements. The range of about 7-8 meters is also not quite as long as that of most competitors.
The Bluetooth codecs are varied. AAC, SBC and aptX are included. Voice assistants (Google Assistant/Siri) can also be controlled via a double tap on the MFB button. Too bad: The VMK20 unfortunately does not offer a wear detection with auto-pause function when putting on or taking off the headphones, nor a transparency mode. On the other hand, thanks to multipoint connectivity, it is possible to connect the headphones to two audio sources simultaneously, which works flawlessly in practice.
The built-in 1,050 mAh battery is charged via USB Type C, which takes around two to three hours. In return, the Finns turn out to be an absolute endurance talent. They are supposed to last for 45 hours with active noise suppression. We can actually confirm this value in our test. That is about 15 hours more than the Sony WH-1000XM4 – the VMK20 are currently one of, if not the most durable over-ear ANC headphones on the market. Impressive!
Operation and practice
In terms of operation, Valco has opted for a classic button control, rather than touch inputs, perhaps for cost reasons. Of course, this minimizes incorrect inputs and works no less well in practice.
Pressing the ANC button activates active noise cancellation or turns it off completely. The volume is controlled via the plus and minus buttons, and you can switch to the previous or next song by holding them down. Most of the functions reside in the middle MFB button (“Madafaking Button”). It triggers Bluetooth pairing, turns the headphones on or off, pauses and resumes playback or calls up the voice assistant via a double tap.
All of this is done very precisely and without any noticeable delay. Simultaneous pairing of two audio sources via multipoint is also done quickly, and there is nothing to complain about here either.
Valco VMK20: Audio Quality and ANC
But are the Valco VMK20 really the best ANC headphones you can afford? No, but they’re pretty darn close! In fact, the audio quality surprised us extremely positively during our test, and even impressed us in places. This is despite the fact that Valco only relies on the typical specifications such as 40 mm drivers and a frequency band of 20 – 20,000 Hz , at 32 ohms impedance.
After the smoky voice greets us with a “Power on!” and typical Finnish-English “Connectied!”, we first make the VMK20 feel at home with local sounds, firing them up with the who’s who of the Finnish metal scene.
We start with the unmistakable voice of Tarja Turunen as the frontwoman of Nightwish, whose cover hit “Over the Hills and Far Away” demands a lot not only from the singer but also from the headphones. Here, the VMK20s reproduce an enormously spatial sound image that scores with rich, precise bass and a warm voice reproduction. The individual instruments are excellently emphasized, while the trebles also score with a very good precision. Especially in Bluetooth mode and with the help of the downstream DSP tuning.
Trebles and high (female) voices do cause problems for the VMK20, though, as they are often somewhat exaggerated, which can quickly become exhausting. However, the problem can be quickly solved by lowering the volume with an equalizer. With deactivated noise cancelling, the low bass in particular is even clearer, which results in an even rounder and more voluminous sound.
But with the deeper voices of Niilo Sevänen (band: Insomnium) or Ville Vallo (band: HIM) the Valco VMK20 feel visibly more comfortable. The melancholic mood of the song “The Wanderer” by Finnish melo-death veterans Insomnium is conveyed by the headphones in a believable and nuanced way that only few other (but much more expensive) headphones can manage.
Ultimately, the Valco leave a really good impression in terms of audio quality and are characterized by a fairly neutral but at the same time powerful sound image that knows how to please.
Good ANC without extras
Ambient noise is analyzed by the VMK20 via a total of four outward-facing microphones, which are supposed to suppress noise effectively. In the practical test, the noise cancelling works well, although a constant and quiet noise is perceptible in quiet environments and without music.
Especially low and constant frequencies are filtered out very well, and street, construction site and train noise are filtered out very well by the Valco headphones. Voices in particular, however, can still be perceived muffled. In combination with the passive noise suppression due to the good isolation, the surroundings are blanked out well, but the Finns cannot keep up with the ANC of the Sony WH-1000XM4.
Different ANC levels or a transparency mode are also not offered by the Valco headphones. Neither does a companion app that could be used to adjust any functions. At least the sound can be fine-tuned a bit using the Android or iOS equalizer. A minimal reduction of bass and upper mids makes for an even more appealing sound.
A word about the hands-free function. The built-in microphones including CVC 8.0 noise reduction do a good job. We are always clearly understandable. However, the quality of significantly more expensive headphones is once again not quite reached.
Summary of the Valco VMK20
In summary, the Valco VMK20 headphones could almost completely convince us in the test. Above all, we really liked the neutral and at the same time full-bodied sound image. It copes equally well with almost all genres and elicits details that are barely perceptible in many – even more expensive – headphones. Bass and upper mids, however, need a bit of fine-tuning. High voices in particular are somewhat exaggerated, which can get tiring in the long run.
Workmanship and especially wearing comfort, on the other hand, do not show any weaknesses. Even over hours, the VMK20s fit comfortably over the ears and are simply fun to wear. The battery life is also impressive: No over-ear headphones last longer, even with the ANC function activated.
However, the Valco VMK 20 do not quite live up to the full-bodied promise of the best noise-canceling headphones in the world. For that, a transparency mode, app connection and a few smaller extras are missing, where the competition is ahead. Ultimately, we are left with a really very good pair of over-ear headphones with a rich, neutral sound at a fair price. If you can do without the missing features or just want to hear a delightfully satisfying “Connectied!” every time you turn them on, you’ll get your money’s worth with the Finns.