The portable headphone market is a rapidly growing branch of consumer electronics and audio. The Noontec Zoro is a new headphone in the market and with a price that makes it immensely appealing and with an attractive styling to suit. Soundwise, Noontec has also decided to take a balanced presentation, opting out of the “boomy bass” approach of several of its counterparts. Most headphones that are designed for audiophiles generally try to maintain a reasonably neutral presentation, which is tweaked to tilt slightly on either sides of the sound spectrum (from treble to bass) to add some personality to the product.
Design & Comfort
The build is very respectable for a budget headphone. The Zoro feels good when you hold it your hands, though the folding hinges seem a little under-built in my opinion. The headphone is very light and may not be able to take too much of a beating. The headphone competes strongly in the looks department and there is no missing the “semblance” to another popular brand! Though I believe this was done for its marketing potential it also tends to mislead the consumer in a good or bad way.
The detachable cable is very convenient, considering a portable headphone usually experiences a lot of stress on the cables. The flat cable is not unique but is catchy and helps with avoiding cable tangle. The headphone can be adjusted to fit different head sizes; the extension mechanism makes a satisfying click and has clear markings. The Zoro folds up conveniently and can be carried around in the provided pouch which actually keeps the fingerprint prone glossy plastic cleaner. Comes in three colors (red, black & White), of which I prefer the white – shows less finger smudges. The provided carrying pouch is handy to carry the headphones in, when folded. The folding setup makes it more convenient to carry and adds to it’s appeal.
The earpads are on the smaller side from my perspective and I had to experiment with the fit. The headphones had no problem holding onto my slightly larger than average head. After about an hour of continuously wearing the Zoro, I did feel a distinct pain developing in my ear lobes. I had to take a break! I have also heard instances of similar experiences from some other Zoro users on the HeadFi forum. After several days of using the headphone I was able to narrow down the problem to the way one places the earpads on the ear. The problem only affects users with slightly larger than average ear lobes, though the best way to judge this is to just buy it from a seller that accepts returns!
Let me start by saying that I am able to forgive what little disadvantages the Zoro has for the lovely sound it pleasantly surprised me with! The Noontec Zoro has a very neutral presentation but yet manages to keep the music pleasurable. Ideally I would be saying these words about much higher end headphones with suitable prices to match. I keep reminding myself that this is an entry level model priced as such!
The bass is tight and well-fleshed with a satisfying texture. In fact the the Noontec Zoro has one of the best bass for the price. The Creative Aurvana Live! (CAL) comes close, the Zoro edges out the CAL with slightly better definition in my opinion.It is also without doubt the best bass presentation I have ever heard at this price point! bass response is very precise and tight with good texture and doesn’t get overbearing at all. So is this a bass head’s headphone? if you are looking for the presentation I have described above, then sure! but don’t expect the bass to be bloated and flowing into the mids and generally creating a “boomy” signature as most budget basshead phones do.
As a part of its neutral presentation style, the vocals are clear and there is very little to no bleeding of other frequency ranges into the mids. I like presentations where the mids are slightly pushed forward in the soundstage which I believe envelops the listener in music, but the vocals on the Zoro are slightly recessed or rather in line with its neutral nature. This presentation of mids keeps the listener interested in the whole audio spectrum providing a balanced style. There is generally something special about the mids that one gets easily absorbed by that part of the sound spectrum, the Zoro doesn’t add any magic of its own though presents the mids in a satisfying flavour.
The highs are well etched out compared to the other headphones in this price range. The highs retain enough detail to provide good tonality to all genres of music. The Zoro does not have a bright image in the highs and also clearly beats its closest rival, the CAL! At times shiny recordings do tend to bother, but was far and few. My other favorite in this price range the Sennheiser HD448, is easily beaten in bass response and high end clarity by the Zoros. The HD449 seems to have received an appreciable upgrade but I personally have not heard it to compare with the Zoro. The Sennheisers on the other hand, beat the Zoro hands down in comfort! The Zoro shines with just about every source I tried it with, the iPod Classic, iPod Touch, dell laptop (headphones out) & the Sansa Clip+. Feeding it good quality files, an mp3 320 Kbps or a lossless audio file brings out all that the headphone has to offer. Adding an amplifier to the setup did very little to none, the Fiio E11 and the O2 both did not do anything special. Tip: Pickup one of those Vmoda cables that come with a mic and now you can use the Zoro with your smartphone as well!
Comparisons & Conclusion
The Zoro does not compete with the Vmoda M80, the Sennheiser HD25 1 II & company (but is definitely going to pull some of this crowd) but establishing a niche of its own at a price point that generally does not provide this style of audio presentation and quality. The soundstage is good, nowhere near the Vmoda M80 but for a closed can at this price range, it is very satisfactory.
The true competitor to the Zoro (in my opinion) is the Creative Aurvana Live!. Both headphones have a similar retail price, are closed portable headphones and aim for a reasonably neutral but sound. As good as the CAL! is, the Zoro seems to edge the CAL! out in terms of base response, clarity and overall neutrality. The laid back style of presentation combined with its neutral tonality does make the Noontec Zoro unlike any other portable headphones I have used.This also affects to some degree the noise isolation which is not great on the Zoro but fair provided it is not too noisy! The Meelec HT21 is decent portable headphone and provides little isolation but does give a quality sound that than most bundled earphones. Priced appropriately lower, it lacks noticeably behind the Zoro in terms of sound quality. If you are planning for the HT21, I suggest to aim a little higher and go with the Zoro.
A good ear-seal combined with a weighted boomy and in your-face fun presentation ( the Superlux HD661) generally tends to lower the perception of noise and is preferred for portable headphones, the Zoro being the only defector I know of.The very mature presentation style of the Noontec Zoro may not be for everybody but if you are looking for a headphone with a balanced presentation it is tough to beat at its price! Noontec Zoro is available from Flipkart in India and making use of discount coupons from CupoNation can save you more, making the headphones a bargain not worth missing.
This post was sponsored by CupoNation.
iPod Classic – Cambridge Audio DAC Magic- Fiio E11 Amp, O2 Amp
320 Kbps MP3 & Lossless Audio tracks
Superlux HD661, 668B, Meelec HT21, Vmoda M80, Creative Aurvana Live!