Noontec Zoro headphones review: An audiophile bargain

The Zoros sound surprisingly neutral for a $100 pair of headphones, meaning they don't boost some frequencies or roll off others. No, the Zoros tell it like it is, and high-quality recordings sound clear and natural.

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To put their sound in context, I compared the Zoros with the new Logitech UE 4000 on-ear headphones ($100). The Zoros play a lot louder at the same volume setting on my iPod Classic, proving the Zoros are much easier to drive. It's also immediately clear that the Zoros are more dynamically alive than the UE 4000s. The latter pair squashes the sound of the bass drum beats that kick off Cat Power's "New York," while the Zoros reproduce the sound of cymbals better and with less fuzz. The UE 4000s also have a softer, less detailed sound, but with greater warmth.

Comparing the Zoro headphones with the Audio-Technica ATH-WS55 on-ear headphones ($99), the WS55s' sound was slightly more open and spacious, so the music seemed to be coming from a little farther away. Carter Burwell's orchestral score for "Fargo" sounds more immediate and detailed over the Zoros, while the WS55s flaunt softer and sweet treble with a more tightly defined low end.

Still, the Zoro bass is powerful, but never overblown or lumpy. Rocking out to The Dead Weather's "Sea of Cowards" proved the Zoros like loud music, no problem. In short, the Noontec Zoro and Audio-Technica ATH-WS55 headphones sound different, so there's no clear winner.

The Noontec Zoros' sound is, above all, balanced. Nothing about the sound stands out or starts to annoy over time. It's that quality that should make these headphones attractive to budget-minded audiophile buyers.

The lack of phone controls and mic may put off some buyers, and comfort issues may be a concern, but that's always a very subjective call. The chief sonic strengths of the Noontec Zoro headphones are their clarity and natural sound balance. I have yet to hear a pair of headphones that would please everyone, and $100 headphones are even less likely to do so. Regardless, I think these are among the best $100 on-ear headphones you can buy.

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