It's easy to mistake the Noontec Zoro HD for the original Zoro on-ear headphones, which became a budget audiophile favorite when they were 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 headphones that sound good with a wide gamut of music genres.
The original Zoros, which remain in production, can be found for around $70 online, while the new Zoro HD headphones will set you back about $100. The two models look nearly identical, but the Zoro HDs deliver more refined sound with plumper, higher-quality bass and have an inline remote/microphone for cell phone calls. While their "new" sound probably still won't satisfy users who crave really big bass, they are excellent budget audiophile headphones.
Design and features
The shiny plastic headphones' 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 people who treat their headphones roughly may have problems with this or any $100 hinged headphones.
At 5.3 ounces the Zoro HD headphones are 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 they 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 HDs' fuller sound balance compared with the standard Zoros.
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 that plugs into the left earcup is resistant to tangles. Both ends of the 48-inch-long cable are fitted with 3.5mm connectors. On the cord is a one-button remote with microphone, something the original Zoro model 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, N.J., handles all claims. Note that you'll need proof of purchase to make a warranty claim.
The Zoro HDs 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 with the HD model.
The heartbeat pulse that propels the ambient techno of Aphex Twin's "Wet Tip Hen Ax" was profoundly deep in ways the original Zoro headphones couldn't match. It wasn't even close, so we next compared the Zoro HDs with headphones known for their low-end muscle, the Sol Republic Master Tracks. Those made even more bass, but the Zoro HDs' bass was balanced better 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 HDs restored the bass-midrange-treble balance. In classical music on the Master Tracks, strings lacked clarity compared with how they sounded on the higher-resolution Zoro HDs.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones have long been a favorite in the under-$200 full-size headphones category, so it made sense to compare them with the Zoro HDs. With Bob Marley's music, the two pairs sound different; the M50s are a tad more spacious, but the Zoro HDs' bass fullness and definition are right up there with the M50s'. With voices the Zoro HDs' sound has a little more body, so they sound more realistic than they do over the M50s.
The ATH-M50 and Master Tracks headphones are both more expensive, but the Zoro HDs weren't decisively surpassed by either one.
The Noontec Zoro HD headphones' 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.