The Inexpensive and Terrific Noontec Zoro
Ever since my scathing review and video of the Beats Solo, I've been keeping my eye out for some cheap Chinese knock-off that would crush it. It shouldn't be too hard--I found the Solo to sound awful. So when a U.S. distributor phoned me up with an offer to send a pair of Noontec Zoro headphones my way, I said sure, no promises on a review but I'd measure them and have a good listen...and boy did I!
Noontec Zoro (~$100 or less)
The Noontec Zoro is an on-ear, semi-sealed headphone available in three glossy finishes: black, white, and red. The headband has an integrated pad that...wait, let's make this easy. The Noontec Zoro looks a lot like the Beats Solo, but made with cheaper materials. I'm sure they're not going to like me saying that, but hey, I didn't design them. It's obvious they wanted to compete with and gain market traction by looking similar to the Beats. And in every way but one, the Beats are a superior headphone, which is just as it should be since the Beats Solo is twice as expensive.
While the Beats Solo has better materials, I would say the Zoro is pretty well built for a sub-$100 headphone. The baked laquer gloss finish picks up finger prints easily, but it's a lot nicer than unfinished plastic. The hinges do have metal parts and are screwed together, but the Beats Solo has more metal in the construction. The earpad material is the protein leather that's becoming very popular with headphone earpads these days (quick info on protein leather here and here), a pretty nice touch for a headphone at this price. And a simple carry sack is included.
The only real gripe I have with these cans is the cable, which is extraordinarily flimsy and doesn't have a mike/remote. If you want a better cable, I'd suggest the V-Moda replacement cables. They're available with one or three button remote/mike, or just plane, are Kevlar reinforced, and have a nifty 45-degree angle mini-plug on the end going into your player/phone. You can find them on this page.
The Noontec Zoro is a nicely comfortable headphone, but because of the less 'grippy' headband pad material and slightly less caliper pressure (how much it squeezes your head) it's a bit less secure on your head than the Solo. The earpads on the Zoro are slightly larger and slightly stiffer than the Solo, but I'd say they're as comfortable.
The Solo has significantly more isolation than the Zoro, which has very little. The Zoro will not make for a good headphone on planes and trains, the best application for these little gems is in the home or office, or in quiet outdoor settings. Being able to hear the phone ring or the kids yell can be an advantage in the right application. Bottom line: I think the styling, build quality, and ergonomics of the Noontec Zoro are at or above average for a headphone at this price--except for the cable.
Well, then, I think I'm done with comparing the Solo and Zoro (in Engrish their names are closer than you'd think), because when it comes to the way they sound there's no comparison, as we'll see on the next page...