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.

Noontec_Zoro_Photo_OutsideCompare

Zoro (left) has a baked laquer finish; the Solo that I have (right) is a matte, rubberized finish--though it looks like the currently available Solo has a gloss finish now.

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.

Ergonomics
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.

Noontec_Zoro_Photo_InsideCompare

The Zoro (top) has some metal parts, but the Solo (bottom) seems a little sturdier.

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...

COMPANY INFO
Noontec
Building C,Zhangkeng Industial Park, Minzhi,Longhua
Shenzhen 518031 China.
sales@noontec.com
+86 755 8179 8305
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COMMENTS
Alondite's picture

" I compared the Zoro with the Skullcandy Aviator, Philips Citiscape Downtown, Creative Aurvana Live!, and Koss TBSE (DJ100). The Solo held it's own in this crowd of $100 over-performers, I came away feeling it had the best balanced sound of the group. "

I think you probably meant "Zoro" there.

 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Fixt. I just knew I'd do that sooner or later.

The Monkey's picture

Sorry, I'm a little behind, too. :)

jerg's picture

Hey Tyll,

 

I'm fairly sure if a CSD / waterfall plot is done here, that massive gaping valley would be bridged significantly, as purrin's measurements over at his forum often indicate that valleys like that in FR correspond to nasty ringing at that same frequency range that extends through the time axis,

ultrabike's picture

Seems like amends reading Zory about your Solo.

drheadphone's picture

How does Zoro compare with the Exodus?

Lawk's picture

I recently got the exodus and took it on a 7 hours train ride, thought it isolates pretty well, but it's quite uncomfortable after only an hour or so, the pressure is very high, and the leather pads not thick enough.

The sound quality to me is very good though, maybe a little warm/full sounding but not overly dark, it's very enjoyable. I don't miss my HD25's much. I actually think the bass is better on the Exodus.

The noontec doesn't isolate as well I would assume, but I don't have them. It does have a detachable cable though, the Exodus fabric cable is horrible IMHO. Personally I would be a bit curious about that drop at 4khz, would listen first.

drheadphone's picture

Thanks. I also have the Exodus and find them very uncomfortable as well, though they sound great. Zoros seemed like a decent alternative but I went with the Phiaton MS400, instead. The Phiatons have excellent comfort and noise isolation and have good bass and mid performance (if sounding noticeably laidback compared to the Exodus). Right now they're on sale at newegg for $99. Now I wonder how the MS400 compares with the Zoros

donunus's picture

great review. Its an exciting time for cheap closed cans

Long time listener's picture

Hi Tyll, in the review you mention, "My guess is the designers had a bit of trouble with something at 4kHz and just squelched it with a port creating the frequency response dip. A reasonable approach since a notch is far less audible than a peak at the same frequency. You'll also notice a rise in THD+noise at 4kHz probably from the same thing."

I'd like to throw out another possible reason for the simultaneous frequency response notch and and rise in harmonic distortion, to see what people think. Even though headphone drivers (assuming perfect pistonic motion) will be emitting all frequencies more or less equally from both their inner and outer edges, the sound arriving at your ear from the outer edge of a driver located close to your ear will be arriving from a far different angle than the sound from the middle, which will be aimed directly at your ear canal. This will affect the mix of frequencies heard in each case, and this is one important way that companies voice their headphones. (For this same reason, bass from a room speaker can be heard anywhere in the house, but treble is usually best heard almost directly on-axis, straight in front of the speaker.) So it is no coincidence that the visual appearance of the apertures in the plate above the driver on almost any headphone will match very well with the frequency response. On the Polk website, for example, you can see an exploded diagram that shows this plate on their new noise-cancelling headphone. It has a very even array of rings of holes gradually changing from larger to smaller as they move from the outside to the inside--exactly matching its almost linear drop from the bass to the treble region (this is especially clear in the way the graph is plotted on the Headroom site). On the Noontec site, the exploded diagram shows something very different, but that also corresponds to the response of the Zoro: one outer ring of very large holes, corresponding to the large, broad, bass-midrange curve, followed by a ring of much smaller holes toward the center, corresponding to the sharper treble curve. The large space in between--where sound waves break up as they hit all the solid plate--is both what creates the frequency dip and the corresponding rise in distortion at the same frequencies. This same measurement is seen in many headphones. I think Noontec was just doing what almost everyone does--creating a dip in the "presence region" (roughly 2-5 Khz) to prevent the sound from being overly aggressive, although they may have overdone it a bit. This is what created the unusually sharp rise in distortion, and I suspect the port has more to do with enhancing the bass response.

Just my observation; hope it adds to the thinking on this subject, or at least gives others a chance to tell me how wrong I am.

NA BLur's picture

Looks like a nice inexpensive semi neutral sounding headphone.  If they did not have that dip at 4k they would probably be up there with some other top portables.

The THD% shows a clear resonance at the exact location of the dip.  This is most likely a consequence of seal or resonator design.  Opening the headphone in some way would give a clue if it were resonator or driver design.

rrwatch's picture

 Between Tyll and Steve Guttenburgs nice reviews these cans can't usually be had for less than $99 USA dollars.  I saw them for about $50 but word is spreading. I found em on http://www.tanga.com/deals/a9d498de89/zoro-high-definition-stereo-headset for $59 plus 5 bucks ship in your choice of colors. Im not affialiated with Tanga in anyway , just passing on a decent deal for anyone who want to try them out . Its what I do.....

harryp's picture

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harryp's picture

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drheadphone's picture

double post

iMatt's picture

I ended up buying a set off of tanga for $59.99.

These are absolutely fantastic little headphones. The build quality nothing to write home about, but sweet mother of bass response. These things put out some of the most ridiculous bass impact I've heard on a headphone. Even in comparison the XB-1000's running on my amped rig, (it doesn't extend as deep obviously), but they can really pack a punch. As Tyll was saying throughout the review, the bass retains a very tight response. It never really feels like getting car sub-woofer flat note which a lot of "bass-heavy" cans fall into.

The mid-range is relatively neutral where it doesn't feel aggressively in your face. Comparing directly with the aviators they're a little more laid back in general, but for an on ear they hold up fantastic against it sound-wise.

The treble is slightly rolled off for sure, but that's not a bad thing when you're need a nice chillout headphone. It's relatively smooth, but don't expect to be mixing vocals with these guys. 

 

Overall build, they're plastic-y like the Beats Solos with identical metal hinges with a steel core that runs all the way through the headband. Passable flexibility, but these things are not an M-80 headband by far. Not a deal breaker, but you'll want to treat them with a little bit of love. The seal is comfy enough to where you really don't feel pressure on the ears, but at some points you wish it'd be a bit more head hugging when you're moving around. As Tyll had pointed out, the earpads themselves are protein leather and it's quite fantastic. I found myself going for longer periods without them heating up and picking up ear sweat. 

Thanks Tyll for review, I will second his recommendation. These guys at sub-$100 are a fantastic on ear headphone with RIDICULOUS bass response.

tom22's picture

hi there i noticed you bought the noontecs, i was wondering how was the headphones isolation wise? especially in the gym? im going to be commuting a lot and i was wondering if you may have tried anything to improve the noontec's isolation?

tom22's picture

hi there i was wondering if anyone here has tried different earpads to increase the isolation on the noontecs?

Three Toes of Fury's picture

Woot!    It was this headphone review that got me to both buy the Noontecs AND discover Innerfidelity.com.     Woo Hoo!

Ive bought alot of mid-price-ranged cans in the last year but these have one of the fullest and most rewarding sounds...definitely a pleasant surprise!    Hopefully noontec will throw a few more bucks at the build quality for the next version as if you could combine this sound with the fit/form/feel of the Beats Solo,  you'd have an incredible setup.

Peace .n. "Ours go to 11"

3ToF

 

 

Three Toes of Fury's picture

PS;   Tyll...HUGE thanks for the tip on the Vmoda replacement cable...i ordered up a bunch for several of my headphones...its a wonderful cable...im a huge fan of the cloth style insulator as well as the 45 degree plug (straight plugs are the enemy of mp3 players in ones pocket)

hpscout's picture

Hey PS,

    Not sure which phone you use, but does the v-moda cable work on Android?

Thanks,

Jay

hpscout's picture

Hi Tyll,

    Thanks for the eyeopener. I was about to order SOL Republic's Tracks HD!

    The V-moda cable tip was the icing on the cake as I'm also looking for cans with mic & button controls for phone use. Would you recommend SOL's ClearTalk cable though? While SOL's 3-button variant works only on i-devices, their 1-button variant is meant for Android. I love it for the fact that it's flat and tangle free.

    Please advise.

Thanks,

Jay

muneer ahmed's picture

PS;   Tyll...HUGE thanks for the tip on the Vmoda replacement cable...i ordered up a bunch for several of my headphones...its a wonderful cable...im a huge fan of the cloth style insulator as well as the 45 degree plug (straight plugs are the enemy of mp3 players in ones pocket)

Dediche

Metalollie's picture

How do they (or the newer Noontec Zoro HD) compare against the AKG-K451.. I'm torn between the two, and also considering the Audio Technica ATH-M50, but I think they are a little more expensive than I can afford realistically, unless they are dramatically better. I gather they have quite a narrow soundstage and can sound a little clinical, which puts me off slightly. The AKG get mixed reviews, but did come out on top in What HiFi, especially for the price.. While most of the reviews are positive on the AKGs, the negative reviews all seem to suggest they are overrated, so I'm at a loss as to which to go for.. It's such a minefield, with so many to choose from, so any advice gratefully recieved!

Thanks!

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