Ultrasone Zino Headphones in Review – shiny from top to bottom
In high Ultrasone tradition, the Zino, is a stylish, somewhat gaudy headphone, but unlike most of the headphone manufacturer’s line, it is aimed at the on-the-go market. This over-the-ear headphone features the company’s patented S-Logic technology which directs sound to your outer ear before driving inward toward your ear canal, delivering a very large, open sound stage which simply smashes the competition for sheer width. Ultrasone are also famous for the inclusion of ULE (ultra low emissions) which shields your ear from magnetic energy.
If Ultrasone don’t ring a bell, let me drop a hint: the Edition 7, 8, and 9 which are considered to be among the best headphones in the world, are the technological ground on which the Zino stands.
Design: Semi-Closed Supra Aural
Impedance: 35 Ohm
Driver size: 40 mm Gold plated
Frequency range: 25 – 25,000 Hz
Weight (excl. cord): 84g
Cord length: 1,2m (OFC Cable)
3.5mm gold plated slim-plug
Fit and Package
Over-the-ear headphones come in several different styles into which the Zino fits the class called Supra Aural – a headphone which rests directly on the ear. Others famous headphones in this class are the Sennheiser PX100, 200 and Koss Porta Pro and KSC line. Often, this type of headphone is mounted on swivels to rest in parallel lines to each ear, but the Zino’s ear earphones are non-adjustable and remain parallel to each other. Fortunately, the Zino is comfortable; its synthetic fibres are non abrasive and the headband is light on the head, even for long listening sessions. Speaking of which, you will have to have a pretty big noggin be pinched by the Zino which stretches and extends well for both big and little heads.
It is easy to stow the Zino when not in use. The included semi-hard sided tote case is excellent and fits the Zino like a glove. The headphone itself folds easily by collapsing around two fulcrums, making the phone a great stow-and-tow option. As to package design, the Zino comes in an overly-large, cumbersome cardboard box. The upside is that Ultrasone didn’t melt its plastic moulds into finger-cutting seams, and it is quite easy to attack the box to get to what really matters.
Cable and Build Quality
There is no mistaking the Zino; shiny from arms to ear pads and logo, this portable phone is a show off. As if to say, “looks aren’t everything”, Ultrasone augmented the Zino with solid construction. Each arm is moulded from one solid piece of plastic and is supported on the inside by tightly fitting adjustment arms which extend and retract with satisfying clicks. Atop the arms, the headband thins out in a soft, flexible bridge which clasps the its arms via Torx screw fasteners. Overall, the headphone portion of the Zino’s construction is quite well constructed and should last a long time with the proper treatment.
However, a problem the Zino faces is its use of non user-replaceable ear pads. Their synthetic fibres are sweatier than traditional foam pads and aren’t a great companion to physical exercise where things become sticky and icky rather quickly. The only other problem I foresee from is the Torx screw mounts which aren’t reinforced by metal axle supports nor washers. Again, with proper treatment, this portion of the Zino shouldn’t create trouble, but there is the chance that with some misplaced pressure, the metal screws will strip the plastic arms.
The Zino looks and feels great; its cable is strong, thick, and grippy, and its tote-case is a great piece of insurance that adds value to the package. As a plus, walking around with the Zino is mostly a joy – the slightly energetic cable won’t bounce too much, and to joy! microphonics are very low indeed. Even headphones suffer from microphonics, an acute problem in my Ultrasone DJ1Pro, but the Zino is brilliant. Of course, there is very little isolation, so noise from your surroundings will leak in as much as your music will leak out to your environment.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a hint of proper stress relief on the cable except a small bumpered rubber sheath which wraps around the cable at the base of the headphone cup. It however, is not much protection for the very flexible cable and instead of providing pliable support, is hard, causing the cable to bend unnecessarily. Adding to this, the Zino’s headphone jack is a long, narrow affair which is liable to cause stress both on the headphone plug and your DAP’s headphone jack.
Rather than doing an album-by-album comparison, I will mention that the Zino went through the following genres: classical, rock, heavy metal, trance, progressive, hip-hop, folk, and jazz. A few others sneaked in from time to time, but no more than 10 minutes at a time.
Before getting too far, I will preview my conclusion by saying that the Zino sounds great straight from an iPod touch, shuffle, Nano, Sony 828, or any of those when connected to an amp. In other words, from any DAP, this headphone is lovely. Nearly any decently powered DAP should drive these headphones to pretty scary volumes with goodly amounts of bass. Without an amp, the Zino will not reach ear-splitting volume levels, but it has no problem outputting bass and a spacious soundstage even when powered by the feeblest of DAP’s.
The Zino presents extremely clear audio in both low and high frequencies and there is gobs of detail retrieved no matter the genre of music you listen to. For instance, Madeleine Peyroux’s Careless Love has loads of slow and rhythmic bass which offers up nuances like fingers gently brushing strings: details which are lost on bloomy phones. Nothing is overly warm; rather, the Zino favours the vibratory range of 30-70Hz. In every genres, bass remains similarly detailed, layered and unobtrusive – avoiding the splashy confusion where low frequencies blend into the lower midrange. Yet, my description begs for more; there is a lot of power behind the 40mm gold-plated drivers which is evident in trance and progressive and both are delivered by the Zino in steady, smooth, yet deep rhythms. Despite the Zino’s clean, yet powerful bass, even the flabby bass of American hip-hop is rendered well, yet with edge and clarity which are quite foreign to the genre.
Portable headphones in this price range are often extremely boomy, favouring mid-bass and lower mid frequencies to reverse the affects of anemic bass output inherent in popular portable players. The Zino is unapologetic about its detailed, somewhat subdued bass impact which reveals detail and texture instead of empty wind. This signature will will likely appeal to people who enjoy high-quality detail-oriented earphones such as Audeo PFE, q-Jays, and Grados. In hardware tests, the Zino stretches down to 20 Hz, but at that frequency, the signal is quite recessed. In other words, manufacturer’s specifications in headphones often mean as little as they do in speaker amplifiers.
In summary, the Zino surprises. Despite its gaudy looks, it isn’t a gaudy bass performer full.
Crisp, detailed, and inflected, mids on the Zino are good, but they are cool. Both male and female vocals in every genre are clear, thinner versions of their detailed siblings in other frequency ranges. Though the thickest portion of a singer’s voice is recessed, the space between instruments and vocals is very well defined, in crisp, delineated borders.
Other parts of the spectrum are similarly clean and equally bright, with shimmer, edge, and grit. Stage projection in uncommonly wide in the Zino. Since headphone drivers are offset, the Zino’s midrange is transformed to an ephemeral, thin-bodied presence which is detailed, yet light. To some, the Zino could be called ‘sucked out’, an unflattering term, but at the same time, no headphone in this price category displays such wide instrument placement. At first, the S-Logic presentation in this headphone is quite like stepping off the plane in China when the intended destination was Sweden: confusing. However, after a few hours of continued listening, this presentation becomes addicting. I will admit that it isn’t a natural sounding mid section in all of its presentation; perhaps ‘unique’ would be the better word to describe it, but technically, there is nothing ‘off’ either. If you like the S-Logic effect, you will love the Zino’s mid section.
As hinted at above, the Zino is a high and low frequency oriented headphone. If you like clean shimmering cymbals, detailed, bright strings, and crave extra edge on vocals, the Zino delivers in spades. Again, for a headphone of 99 dollars, it surprises. Sometimes, overly bright headphones impress with artificial detail, but the Zino isn’t that phone.
While not overly smooth, highs are free of sibilance and grain, and if a little metallic, they are speedy full of grit. Fans of hard, clangy music like heavy metal may enjoy the razor sharp high frequency edges which the Zino renders. However, like the mid section, Zino highs are ‘unique’ more than they are perfect. There is not way to describe it otherwise – notes aren’t exaggerated and cymbals don’t stretch on forever, but high notes wrap unusually far around the head, arriving at the brain a little ‘thinned out’.
Soundstage and Separation
I could just tap out the word, ‘phenomenal’ for emphasis, but won’t. The Zino excels in both with a very wide presentation of music and excellent instrument separation. But, like its peculiar rendering of mids, and to a lesser degree, high frequencies, its uncanny soundstage exerts heaps of influence on the rest of the music. S-Logic itself is a wonderful technology which makes my DJ1Pro sing and gives Ultrasone a memorable sound signature, but the Zino is perhaps too distinctly accented by width that it may at times, feel stretched and thin.
Sound in a nutshell
The Zino feels and sounds like a more expensive headphone – there is no denying it. But, depending on the listener’s preferences, it may be too ‘unique’. Low and high frequencies, treble and bass; each are showed very strongly in the Zino. Even the meagre mid section is incredibly detailed and in all musical genres and with any instrument, there is simply gobs of detail to be had. If you like the powerful bass, forward treble, great instrument separation and a wide soundstage, the Zino might just be your phone. But, if you value upfront vocals with warmth rather than edge, you may have to look further.
Out and about with the Zino
Though I have thrown hints in this review, I have not outright said it: the Zino is not a great headphone for the street. Unlike inner earphones or closed over-the-ear headphones like my DJ1Pro, it blocks little to no noise at all. That means that in order to hear music which may be perfectly loud whist playing at home, you will have to crank the volume up to painful (and dangerous) levels. So, no-go places are: bus, trains, busy streets, and any area where outside noise leaks into your music. On the flip side, in order to hear your music, the volume at which you will have to listen will annoy anyone around you – think twice before being a twit!
Since the Zino’s cables exhibit little noise, walking around will generate little to no distraction to your music, but, as mentioned above, you had better be in the quietest of environs to actually really enjoy your music. As for walking about, the 1,2 metre cable sits comfortably in the trouser pocket of a rather tall person like myself (185 cm). If, however, you like to sag ‘dem jeans, the cable may be too short.
Use the carrying case. If you intend to listen to the phones at school, work, or elsewhere, keep them protected in Ultrasone’s excellent carry pouch. Unfortunately, no matter what you do, the Zino will smudge, leaving indelible marks on the arm bands and ear cups (just take a close look at any of the photos – you will see these love-marks).
For 99$, there are few options which are as good as the Zino. The headphone looks good, has a great cable and an overall solid construction which are mated by a ‘uniquely’ good sound quality. For detail freaks, this phone will please, and for those who value a mostly balanced sound, the Zino is also a great choice. Bass is strong and foot-tapping in any genre while remaining realistic, while treble is very well extended and excellently detailed. The mid section is the crux of this headphone’s sound presentation; some people will love it and others will not. Detailed and speedy; edgy and slightly thin, mids are at times, a thing of beauty and at other times, distracting.
But, for the price, there is little to complain about in this very unique headphone.
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