Ultrasone Zino review: Ultrasone Zino

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.

Performance

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.