CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Ultrasone Zino review: Ultrasone Zino

Ultrasone's Zino headphones strike the perfect middle ground of performance, style and convenience for earbud-eschewing connoisseurs of portable audio.

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
4 min read

Wearing a pair of headphones with your MP3 player seems retro in today's age of iPod earbuds and triple-driver sound-isolating earphones, but German manufacturer Ultrasone is setting out to change that perception. Known in the hi-fi market for creating big, beautiful headphones with spacious sound, Ultrasone now turns its attention to the portable audio market with the AU$199 Zino headphones.


Ultrasone Zino

The Good

Spacious, detailed sound. Lightweight, collapsible design.

The Bad

Spongy ear pads are a poor match for sweaty workouts. Not as convenient as earbuds.

The Bottom Line

Ultrasone's Zino headphones strike the perfect middle ground of performance, style and convenience for earbud-eschewing connoisseurs of portable audio.

In truth, Ultrasone tried its hand at making the ultimate iPod headphone once before in 2005 with the iCans, a collapsible headphone with a gorgeous sound but a rather gaudy mirrored-finish design. The Zinos borrow heavily from the iCans' design, but do well to steer clear of the cheeky name and conspicuous looks. Their sound, however, is still unmistakably Ultrasone — which is a very good thing.


Like any device that clamps on your skull, comfort is a big consideration when it comes to headphones. In spite of their relatively large size, the Zinos are far and away one of the most lightweight and comfortable headphone designs we've tested. Part of that comfort can be attributed to the headphone band's slightly squared-off shape (a change from the original iCans design), but what seals the deal are the quarter-inch thick soft foam pads on each earpiece, which are covered in a silky-smooth nylon mesh. The end result is one of the most invisible-feeling pair of headphones money can buy — perfectly suited for extended listening. That said, the Zino's feather-light headband pressure and spongy ear cushions are probably not a great match for any fitness types looking for stay-put, sweat-proof headphones.

Making a comfortable pair of headphones is no easy feat, but making them portable takes real skill. It's hard to compete against a pair of earbuds that fit inside your fist, but the Zino's collapsible design will at least fit in your pocket. In fact, they're nearly as portable as our favourite '80s wonder-headphones, the Koss PortaPro. The Zino's sides are each hinged at the headband so that the earpieces fold inward like a pair of sunglasses. The original iCans design took a similar approach, but also allowed the earpieces to swivel flat at 90 degrees. All that hinging and swiveling, however, made the iCans design a little unwieldy without a case to keep it all together. The simplified Zino design, by comparison, allows you to fearlessly shove the headphones into any bag that's handy and spend less time unraveling the headphones like a puzzle.

Finally, let's talk about the cable. The Zinos use a metre-long cable perfect for reaching from head-to-pocket, terminating in a straight, gold-plated, 3.5mm connection. The rubber-coated cable is approximately twice the thickness as an iPod earbud cable — giving it some resistance to tangles — and is wired to both earpieces in a standard Y formation. At the axis of the Y-shaped cable is one of the only bits of ugliness we found on the Zino, a small, round plastic medallion (about a half-inch in diameter) printed with Ultrasone's Zino logo. The same logo can also be found on the included hardshell case, which, aside from having an unforgivable similarity to a bumbag, adds an unnecessary amount of bulk to an otherwise beautiful and compact pair of headphones.


Unsurprisingly, the Ultrasone Zino deliver outstanding sound for their size. They don't perform like a honkin' pair of Ultrasone HFI-2200s, but they don't make you look like Princess Leia, either. Unlike most headphones geared toward the iPod audience, the Zinos don't hit you over the head with bombastic bass (although there's plenty of low-end muscle). Sonically, you're really buying clarity and Ultrasone's distinctive S-Logic offset driver positioning, which provides an openness in the sound that is unmistakable when heard against any other pair of headphones. Some purists have criticised Ultrasone for the way the S-Logic designs unapologetically expand the soundstage of music for a more outside-the-head sound, but we suspect that most listeners will appreciate the Zino's natural and spacious delivery.

During testing, the Zino performed especially well with acoustic and live recordings. For instance, the vocal swells and strummed guitar of Cat Stevens' "Trouble" had a spaciousness and instrumental detail that gave us goosebumps. Pop, rap and electronic music benefitted from a little EQ boost in the bass frequencies, but had no problem delivering skull-rattling low-end once provoked. De La Soul's hip-hop classic "The Bizness" had just the right proportion of snare drum snap and 808 bass drum boom to make us bob our heads uncontrollably, performing substantially better on the Zino in this regard than the thinner-sounding Grado SR60 or Koss PortaPro.

The semi-open design of the Zino allows plenty of sound to pass in and out of the headphones, which brings its own advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, being able to hear the outside world is ideal if you're using headphones while performing other tasks, such as walking busy city streets or performing brain surgery. But if you're looking for headphones to block out a noisy office or subway ride, or prefer that your co-workers not overhear your embarrassing fascination with the music of Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute, the Ultrasone Zino aren't going to provide much of a barrier.