The good: The affordable Noontec Zoro HD headphones mimic the Beats Solo styling, but the Zoro HDs sound better, delivering clean, well-balanced sound that will appeal to audiophiles. They’re also comfortable to wear, they fold up to stow away in an included carrying pouch, and they have an inline remote/microphone for making cell phone calls.
The bad: The plastic hinges don’t inspire confidence for long-term durability.
The bottom line: While their build quality is nothing special, the Noontec Zoro HDs improve on the original Zoros, offering audiophile-grade sound in a $100 pair of headphones.
It’s easy to mistake the Noontec Zoro HD for the original Zoro on-ear headphones, which became a budget audiophile favorite when it was introduced in 2012. The Zoros offered similar styling to the on-ear Beats Solo headphones but cost a lot less and sounded far more neutral (less bass heavy) — an appealing trait for those seeking a headphone that sounds good with a wide gamut of music genres.
The original Zoro, which remains in production, can be found for around $70 online, while the new Zoro HD will set you back about $100. The two models look nearly identical, but the Zoro HD delivers more refined sound with plumper, higher-quality bass and adds an inline remote/microphone for cell phone calls. While its “new” sound probably still won’t satisfy users who crave really big bass, it’s an excellent budget audiophile headphone.
Design and features
The shiny plastic headphone’s build quality is nothing special. The Zoro HDs fold up into a fairly small bundle for compact storage, but the plastic hinges are the obvious weak point in the design. After folding and unfolding the headphones many times they still seem fine, but anyone who treats their headphones roughly may have problems with this or any $100 hinged headphone.
At 5.3 ounces the Zoro HD is lightweight and I found them more comfortable to wear than the original Zoros. That’s strange, because when you look at them side-by-side, the old and new models’ earcups, cushions, and padded headband look identical, but don’t feel that way on my head. The Zoro HD earpads also produced a better seal, so they blocked out a little more environmental noise, and the improved seal may also be responsible for the Zoro HD’s fuller sound balance compared with the standard Zoro.
The Zoro HDs have neodymium 40mm drivers and impedance is rated at 32 ohms, so they’re easy to drive with phones and other portable music players. The flat red headphone cable is resistant to tangles and plugs into the left earcup. Both ends of the 48-inch-long cable are fitted with 3.5mm connectors. The Zoro HD has a one-button remote and microphone, something the original Zoro lacked. A soft carrying case is the only accessory.
The headphones come with a one-year warranty, and Noontec’s importer, ERG Distributors in Carteret, NJ, handles all claims. Note that you’ll need a proof of purchase to make a warranty claim.
The Zoro HD consistently delivered good sound with all genres of music, and that’s not something that you can count on with most $100 headphones. The headphones are considerably better-sounding than the original Zoro ‘phones; I heard more and better bass, and the midrange was better, too, so vocals, guitars, piano, and horns all sounded more natural over the Zoro HD.
The heartbeat pulse that propels ambient techno wizards Aphex Twin’s “Wet Tip Hen Ax” was profoundly deep in ways the original Zoro couldn’t match. It wasn’t even close, so we next compared the Zoro HD with a headphone known for its low-end muscle, the Sol Republic Master Tracks. Those made even more bass, but the Zoro HD’s bass was better balanced with the rest of the sound. With acoustic jazz CDs, the Master Tracks’ boosted bass dominated the sound too much, and pushed back the sound of the piano, horns, and guitars, so they sounded far away. The Zoro HD restored the bass-midrange-treble balance. With classical music on the Master Tracks, strings lacked clarity compared with the how they sounded on th higher-resolution Zoro HD.
The headphones fold up.
The Audio Technica ATH M50 has long been a favorite under-$200 full-size headphone, so it made sense to compare it with the Zoro HD. With Bob Marley’s music, the two headphones sound different; the M50s are a tad more spacious, but the Zoro HD’s bass fullness and definition are right up there with the M50’s. With voices the Zoro HD’s sound has a little more body, so they sound more realistic than they do over the M50.
The M50 and Master Tracks are both more expensive than the Zoro HD, but it wasn’t decisively bettered by either one.
The included carrying pouch.
The Noontec Zoro HD’s sweet sound is tough to beat for the money. Durability may not be the best, but for anyone seeking a pair of audiophile-quality headphones for around $100, the Zoro HDs would be a great place to start.