An accurate and affordable on-ear headphone? It does exist

If you're turned off by bass-heavy headphones, and yearn for greater clarity the Noontec Zoro II HD on-ear is the one to get.

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The Noontec Zoro II HD in sapphire. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Here's an under the radar pick for an outstanding headphone, where the price/sound quality ratio definitely qualify as excellent. The Noontec Zoro II HD on-ear headphone's winning sonic neutrality allows it to play well with all music genres.

Then there's the bass, the Zoro II HD's low-end is nice and deep, definition on Aphex Twin's "Syro" was supremely tight, just the way I like it. The Zoro II HD is a closed-back design, so it kept the soundstage crammed inside my head but I wish the sound was more open.

The Zoro II HD has 40mm drivers, 32 Ohm impedance, and weighs a very light 164 grams. The user-replaceable 47-inch (1.2-meter) flat cable has a mic and one-button control for iPhone, Samsung and HTC smart phones. The hinged headband makes it easy to stuff the Zoro inside the included soft fabric carry bag. The mostly plastic construction and hinges feel reasonably sturdy.

The Zoro II HD's clarity and accuracy were apparent from the first few seconds of the Fleet Foxes' "Sun Giant" album; switching over to my Beyerdynamic DTX-350p on-ear headphones added warmth and lost detail. Back on the Zoro, jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson's "Take This" had lively dynamics and potent bass; the DTX 350p had even more bass fullness, but the Zoro's bass was more proportionate, less exaggerated. Terrasson's piano jumped out of the mix more on the Zoro.

Comparisons with the Sennheiser Urbanite on-ear headphone yielded similar results. The Urbanite has more bass and a warmer, fuller but duller sound, the Zoro II HD was more accurate and clear. The nice thing about accurate headphones is you hear how different one recording to the next sounds. So rather than hear the same overly bassy sound, you'll hear the mix and sound balance the engineers put into the recording. Where the DTX-350p and Urbanite added a false heaviness to male vocals, the Zoro II HD's were far more natural. Then again, most people prefer extra bass, which is why bass-heavy headphones are so popular.

My biggest gripe is comfort, the Zoro II HD ear pads pressure on my ears was high, but that's true for a lot of on-ear designs. The upside to that is the Zoro II HD will definitely stay in place on your noggin, even when you jump around. The top of the headband could have also used more padding. I have similar comfort issues with the other leading on-ear headphones -- in that context the Zoro II HD is about average.

Noontec Zoro II HD comes in four colors: pitch black, rose violet, pearl white and sapphire, it has a retail price of $99.99 in the US (but can be found for less on Amazon) and £129 in the UK (Amazon UK currently lists them for less than £68).

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