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Noontec Zoro: A new high for $100 headphones?

Don't let the weird name throw you, the Noontec Zoro may be the clearest, most accurate on-ear headphone you can buy for the money.

Noontec Zoro

It's impossible to keep up with all of the new headphones crowding the market, but great-sounding headphones are still pretty rare. The Noontec Zoro is the rarest of the rare, an audiophile-oriented design that's affordably priced.

The headband and earcups' high gloss finish conform to the fashion of our times, and the headphone's build quality is good for the money. The hinged steel headband allows the headphone to fold up and fit inside the included soft carry case, and the user-replaceable headphone cable is tangle-free and plugs into the left earcup. Both ends of the 48-inch long, flat cable are fitted with 3.5mm connectors, but alas the Zoro lacks a remote and microphone. While the headband and earcups are nicely padded, and comfort levels are good, the cushions put a bit more pressure against the tops of my ears than the bottoms. The earcups' limited pivot angle was the source of that minor irritation, but everyone's head shape is different, so the Zoro might be perfectly comfortable on your noggin. Isolation from external noise was about average for a headphone of this type. The Zoro comes in three colors, red, white, and black.

The sound is neutral, so the Zoro doesn't boost some frequencies or roll-off others. No, the Zoro tells it like it is, with high-quality recordings vocals sound natural and treble detailing is very good.

To put the sound in context I compared the Zoro with another small, closed-back headphone, the V-Moda M-80 ($230). The Zoros dynamics rocked harder, and the sound was more alive; the M-80 sounded like it was working harder, with the Zoro cymbals were cleaner and less "fuzzy." Bass definition and lowest bass frequencies are very decent on both headphones, there's no flab or mud down there! Jazz piano CDs were a delight with the Zoro; you can really hear the player's touch. Are they caressing the keys? Or leaning in a little harder, it's easy to tell with the Zoros, and they outpaced the M-80s in that regard. The Zoro's soft ear pads were also more comfortable than the M-80's.

Next, I compared the Zoro with the Audio Technica ATH WS55 headphones, and the WS55's were more open and airy, and the treble was softer and sweeter. I like both headphones, for different reasons. All of my listening up to this point was with my iPod Classic.

The Zoro sounded strong with the Classic, so I wondered if my little FiiO E10 USBdesktop headphone amplifier ($69) would take the sound to the next level. The difference wasn't huge, but DJ Krush's "Jaku" album's stereo soundstage was bigger, more open with the E10. Returning to the Classic the space collapsed a bit. The amp's bass had somewhat more weight and power, but not enough to justify spending the extra money for the amp.

The Noontec Zoro sells for $99.99 on Amazon. It's one of the best-sounding on-ear headphones I've heard for audiophiles at the price.