ZORO II HD is an affordable on ear sealed headphone with a youthful and trendy look, but how does it sound? Was there anything left for sound quality after they made them look this good? Read on to find out.
Firstly, to keep things open I must tell you that I was contacted and asked by Noontec if I wanted to review the ZORO II HD. I agreed and was sent one pair. Furthermore, I was allowed to keep them for future reference when I review other headphones and do comparisons. They did not have any say in the contents of this review and I was not paid anything to do it. With this said, let’s get on to the review.
ZORO II HD – A Beats clone or something in its own right?
As is obvious from the look, feel and name of these headphones Noontec want people to think about and compare them with Beats. The name ZORO II HD strongly resembles that of Beats’ SOLO II HD. Maybe they gave it the similar look and name to make people naturally compare the sound quality, because they know the look was popular but that they could easily beat the sonic qualities?
Although I wouldn’t call them a Beats clone, I’d definitely call them highly inspired. As far as the Beats Solo HD goes there is no comparison in terms of sound quality as the ZORO II HD wins hands down. In comparison to the Beats Solo II HD I can’t tell as they’ve not had the pleasure of sitting on my nugget, but despite the price difference of the more expensive Solo II’s chances are they’re not better, only different.
The above is a picture of Beats Studio together with ZORO II. The Beats Studio was a very popular over ear headphone and next up from the Beats Solo HD, but even these get owned by the far more affordable ZORO. The Studios have more bass, but not better bass, and with EQ you can have more bass with the ZORO’s anyways, so I can’t really see anything favoring the Beats. Also, the Beats can not be run without a pair of batteries (probably because it has active EQ filters for boosting the bass and a very noisy function that produce a constant hiss – a function they were naughty enough to name «active noise cancellation»).
Specifications and Suitable use for ZORO II
These headphones have a high sensitivity and a low impedance. A low impedance means that your amplifier will be able to supply more power while the high sensitivity means that for any given amount of power they will play louder. Hence a low impedance coupled with a high sensitivity will give you a headphone which is suitable for portable devices such as android smart phones, tablets such as iPad and laptop computers.
The closed back design – meaning sealed – also gives you the benefit of better ambient sound isolation than open designs and this in turn enables you to play your music lower yet get the full detail of it as the music is not polluted by the sound of daily life.
Made this little illustration to make you visualize it, as it’s a very important part of picking a pair of headphones. Hope it doesn’t bring you back to math class and make your eyes glow over. :)
As you can see some music is drowned in the «sea of noise» such as people talking, traffic, refrigerator buzzing, computer fans running and so on.
To get the music above the water you have to raise the volume, but loud music will give you premature hearing loss, so it’s far better to lower the noise floor (the water line) so you don’t hear any of the outside noise, just the music.
That way the noise floor is low and you can play your music at a lower level, yet get the full advantage of the audio.
You get a low noise floor by having a good proper seal and using closed back headphones. Some headphones have active noise cancelling (ANC) such as Bose’s Quiet Comfort series and Sennheiser Momentum V2, but those are more expensive than these. Also, the active noise cancellation of Beats is totally useless as the feature makes noise itself and only worsens the problem giving you a higher noise floor(!) Stay away from Beats active noise cancelling headphones all together. It sucks.
ZORO II HD Noise floor isolation
As for the ZORO II HD, they are OK but not excellent in terms of keeping the «ocean of noise» out and your music in. They are by no means poor, but there are better alternatives out there for really noisy environments although they are more expensive and I have no problem using these headphones out and about, it’s just that I don’t get the full experience when I keep the volume low, for that headphones with properly integrated ANC is superior.
Build Quality of the ZORO II Headphones
The build quality is good but not awesome, even at this price level. Here form trumps function in terms of material selection over durability and that’s all right, they’ve certainly accomplished making a rather flashy looking set of headphones.
The main material is plastic while they have used some aluminum to reinforce weak points and pimp the looks of the headphones. The part that extends is reinforced and the Noontec badge on the ear cup is also made of a thin sheet of metal.
The even cheaper Koss ProDJ100 looks and feels sturdier than the ZORO’s and in terms of material selection the equally priced Accidentally Extraordinary 51st Studios pimp these out in terms of material selection with real wood and sturdy steel.
Unfortunately the pads does of the ZORO headphones not seem to be replaceable, so once they’re worn out the headphones are ready for the bin unless you’re crafty enough to buy other pads and replace the stock once with some modding and double sided tape. With that said, they are made out of pleather (fake leather) and will probably last for a good while if kept clean.
PS: From left to right in the above picture: Koss ProDJ100 (Amazon US or Amazon UK), Beats by Dre Studio (Amazon US or Amazon UK), Nootec ZORO II HD (Amazon US or Amazon UK) and Accidentally Extraordinary 51st Studio (Amazon US).
Furthermore, they also come in an array of colors (my favorite is the white and orange one, sexeh!)
The headphones come in a simple and clean box with only two accessories which is the 1.5m (4.5ft) cable and a small pouch which doubles as a cloth to keep the cans shiny and clean. Can’t complain about that as they are very cheap headphones, although a hard case is always preferred.
As you can see from the picture above, the headphones fold up to make a really portable shape, and you also get a manual in the odd case that you forgot how to use headphones, haha.
The cable is well thought out, drawing upon SONY’s tangle free flat cable design which we first saw with their MDR-XB500, XB700 and XB1000 series of headphones.
Furthermore the cable is detachable and both ends are terminated with the standard non proprietary 3.5mm or 1/8″ TR(R)S small jack, fitting just about every portable device out there and easily replaced by cheap off the shelf alternatives in case it breaks or the limited length becomes a problem.
If that’s not enough the cable also has an inline microphone and a button that enables you to take and hang up on phone calls with both Android and Apple devices.
Wear & Comfort of ZORO II HD
Again, these are on ear headphones, not over ear headphones. As the classification indicates they will rest on your ear and not around it and this makes the clamping force critical as a high clamping force will make your ears hurt over long periods of time.
Luckily the clamping force is not excessive for my average sized head, but I can imagine some wearing fatigue for people with large heads and ears that sticks out a bit.
The weight of these headphones are also extremely low due to the materials used and were it not for the on ear design you would probably forget having them on.
As mentioned earlier, the pads are made of pleather. During hot, sunny days or when working out hard you will feel some heat buildup and potentially sweat a bit extra as pleather and leather does not offer the benefits of breathing materials such as what you get with velour and fabric type pads.
The padding on top of the headphones are made out of some form of synthetic foam and works very well. It’s soft and plush enough not to give you any discomfort.
Reviewing the Sound Quality
Let’s tackle this from top to bottom, beginning with the treble, then the midrange and the the bass. When that’s done, we will discuss other aspects such as the tonal balance and sound stage.
ZORO II HD Treble – Comfortably rolled off
In terms of treble quantity these headphones sound rolled off and there is very little treble shimmer. For example there is very little air around the high hats and they die out very quickly. By air I mean the extreme ultra high frequencies that comes after hitting a high hat.
This rolled off treble will be a good thing for compressed music where the loudness of high frequencies are vastly boosted. Also, young people will find this feat enjoyable as they still have their high frequency hearing intact and a lot of headphones has too much high frequency energy for this group. Judging by the looks the ZORO II HD are meant for young people, hence I think that the choice to roll the treble off is a good one.
The quality of the treble is a little grainy and not exactly high end, but honestly, what can we expect for this kind of price? If it was not for the fact that Noontec has slapped on HD indicating high definition I wouldn’t have judged them on it. These headphones are good in terms of treble, but they’re not high definition by any means, although they are better than most contenders within this price bracket.
So the headphones ability to retrieve details in the treble and upper midrange is somewhat poor compared to something like the Sennheiser Momentum On Ear, but those are more aggressive and forward than the ZORO II HD. In comparison to the Beats Studio, they certainly win in terms of treble quality, but the lack sometimes give you a sense that something is missing, a bit hollow sounding sort of.
The mids of ZORO – Clear and focused
The mids come across as forward because the highs are rolled off and the bass is pretty much linear(!). Since our hearing is less sensitive to bass than the midrange a linear frequency response will make the mids sound forward in the mids.
I would not call the headphones natural sounding, but they are very clear yet non fatiguing. Going from something muddy like the Beats Solo will make you think you just pulled cotton balls out of your ears, but you might miss the big bass.
So basically, these headphones sound a little mid forward due to the tonal balance between highs, mids and bass. Furthermore, the quality of the mids are not high definition, but very good for the price of these headphones, although there is something lacking in the upper mids, particularly noticeable in female vocals.
The all important Bass – digs deep, but not boosted
The bass in these is what is the most impressive. Not because they have so much of it, because they don’t and if you’re a bass head you will most likely need to boost the low end to get the quantity you desire.
However, what I’m talking about here is not the quantity but the quality and extension. These headphones dig deep, and the quality is very surprising for such a small pair of headphones. To get the max out of them you need to make sure you have them sitting right and that you have a good seal as they change response by quite a lot depending on how good seal you’ve got.
But back to the bass. The sub bass digs deep, but the kick drum mid bass is present but a little shy. If you’re after thumping bass you better bring out EQ and give dem some boost in the 40-120 Hz range.
As for people who like their bass digging deep in modest quantities but at a high quality, again considering the low cost, these headphones will satisfy you.
Sound stage and tonal balance – impressive for the price
For what feels to be the the n’th time, these headphones are closed and so they will be somewhat lacking in terms of soundstage compared to a open backed headphone such as Philips Fidelio X2 reviewed here. All designs have their short comings, and closed in sound is one such tradeoff by going for sealed headphones such as ZORO II HD.
Despite this they are quite impressive in that they have good instrument separation. There is very little bleeding and you have very good clarity in the mids while deep bass is thumping in the background and high hats are ringing up there.
Conclusion – Summing up the Review
So in terms of the physical aspect the pros are replaceable cable, light weight, stylish and very affordable, while the cons are non replaceable pads and a bit hot to wear on hot days due to pleather ear pads. Also, they are not of the highest build quality due to material selection, but with that said the much more expensive Beats Solo or Studio does not offer any better build quality. Hence this is more of a form over function headphone as opposed to the earlier discussed and a tad cheaper Koss ProDJ100 headphones which are designed from a utilitarian’s perspective where longevity and abuse in professional applications such as DJ’ing was the goal.
In terms of sound quality they are really good for what they are, a well balanced pair of headphones with good bass and midrange quality that digs deep, but rolls off high.
Having heard a lot of high end headphones costing many multiples than the ZORO II HD I won’t say that these are all you need if you’re dead serious about your audio but they are certainly better than some more expensive options I’ve heard and I have been quite impressed by their performance on occasions.
However, if you’re after a stylish and very decent pair of portable headphones with average noise cancellation, impressive deep bass and non fatiguing highs and mid centric tonality these headphones are certainly worth your hard earned cash.
Measurements of ZORO II HD headphones
For those who are interested to see the combined measurements I did of these headphones’ frequency response, here it is.
If you don’t know what you’re looking at, then let me explain: Something impressive. They are basically +/-3dB from around 20Hz to 2.5kHz. The rollof higher up prevents from sibilance and at the same time will not sound as rolled off as our hearing is more sensitive up high.
This frequency response is impressive considering the cost of these headphones, no doubt.