Wireless devices are on the rise as ports shrink in both size and number on our PCs and phones. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices are on their way into the market to take the place of their wired counterparts. With the headphone jack being threatened by multiple phone manufacturers, it may be time to begin considering Bluetooth headphones. I’ve been eyeing a pair for awhile, but I never quite took the plunge.
However, when Noontec reached out to me and asked if I wanted to review its Zoro II Wireless Limited Edition headphones, curiosity got the better of me, and I happily agreed to take a look at them. Although you may not have heard of Noontec, this audio company has been in the business since 2002 and makes a wide variety of headphones. After using the Zoro II Wireless for a few months, I’m now here to report my findings.
First off, the Zoro II looks fairly stylish, but without being too flashy and drawing much attention to the wearer. The frame is made of a combination of sturdy-yet-flexible black plastic-esque polymers. The inner facing side of the frame has a smooth, matte finish, while the outside is coated by a finely-grained, sandpapery texture. There are also a few brushed metal accents and reinforcements that give these cans a bit of visual pop.
The earcups and top-padding are made of a faux leather that’s fairly squishy. These are on-ear headphones, so the pads sit on top of the wearer’s ears rather than fully enveloping them. This design choice allows the headphones to be slim, compact and lightweight. They certainly are light at less than half a pound (129g), which makes them quite convenient and portable.
However, there are a few downsides to this design. First, I mostly wear over-ear headphones, so the Zoro II was a bit uncomfortable to start with. After some time with these cans, my ears grew used to the earcups resting on my ears. There is still some slight pressure with extended use, but it’s hardly noticeable. Secondly, the earcups don’t do a great job isolating your ears from outside noise. This can be good or bad, depending on whether you’re looking for isolation or awareness of your surroundings. Lastly, since the earcups aren’t anchored by your ears, the headphones have the possibility of sliding off with particularly violent head movements, but they hold onto your head well enough that it’s not likely to happen.
Overall, the Zoro II is sturdy. I didn’t notice any rattling or vibrating of the frame when I moved around with them on. The frame is also flexible enough to withstand possible accidents, but it’s rigid enough to retain its intended form.
Each earcup has its own buttons and indicators with multiple functions. The left earcup is home to a single button and five indicator lights. Holding down on the button powers the headphones on or off. A tap on the button plays or pauses music playing on the paired device, or it answers a phone call. Pressing the button twice lights up the top four indicator lights to show how much battery is left. Each of these lights represents a fourth of the Zoro II’s battery life. The final light rapidly blinks while looking for a device to pair with and blinks slowly when paired to a device. Two buttons reside on the right earcup. Pressing them adjusts the volume, while holding down skips songs.
Media controls directly on headphones are always a major plus in my book, especially in this case. I primarily used the Zoro II with my phone, so not having to reach down into my pocket or navigate through my smartwatch’s menu to control what I was listening to was super handy. The buttons are positioned in just the right spot as well. Reaching up and pressing the buttons with my thumbs felt natural, and I never had an issue locating the buttons.
Like many headsets and headphones, the Zoro II has an extendable band, allowing the user to adjust the headphones to fit their head properly. Each side has eight notches about an eighth of an inch apart from one another. One of the extensions features an NFC chip that allows for seamless pairing with any device equipped with NFC. There are also hinges that allow the Zoro II to fold up for more compact storage.
While folded up, the Zoro II fits snugly into an included carrying case. Noontec calls the case a “Carbon Fiber Carrying Case”, but it’s clearly just a carbon fiber pattern sitting under a hard plastic shell. Regardless of what the case is made of, it protects the headphones without adding much extra bulk.
The case also houses two different cables: a three-and-a-half foot long USB to Micro-USB charging cord and a four-foot-long 3.5-mm cable. The Micro-USB cable charges the substantial battery inside the headset. Noontec claims the built-in juice pack is good for 35 hours of use before it’ll need charged again. The Zoro II actually came with an almost fully-charged battery, so I didn’t have to pull out the charging cable after receiving the headphones until a few weeks later.
While these are primarily intended to be Bluetooth headphones, headphone jack compatibility is a nice feature in case the battery runs out, or if you want to use it with a device that doesn’t have Bluetooth. Unfortunately, the buttons only work while the Zoro II is powered on and connected via Bluetooth.
I tried turning on the headphones with the cable connected, thinking that Bluetooth might be disabled accordingly, but that wasn’t the case. The headphones don’t really know what to do when powered on and connected to a device with the cable. Consider the 3.5-mm jack a last-ditch measure in case the battery runs out.
The Zoro in the wild
My biggest worry when it comes to wireless devices is battery life. Devices like laptops can be rendered useless if you forget to charge them. Even when you do remember to charge them, constantly monitoring the battery to make sure it’s topped off can be quite inconvenient. Why bother dealing with charging a device when a wired one works just fine? Wireless charging is helping streamline the charging process to remove some of the hassle of owning wireless devices. My Moto 360 rests in its charging cradle every night and is ready to go in the morning, for example. However, even with wireless charging, the more wireless devices you add to your daily devices, the more you have to manage.
Thankfully, some device manufacturers have keyed into the solution to this conundrum by pursuing long battery life. The thirty-five hour battery life of the Zoro II is without a doubt what I appreciate most about the headphones. They never once ran out of battery during my time out-and-about using them. I went weeks on end without ever giving the Zoro II a single charge. In case the battery does get low, roughly thirty minutes before the headphones run out of charge, audio warnings begin to beep about every two to three minutes. I’d say the beeps could probably be toned back to only every five minutes so as to not interrupt the user more than necessary, but that’s a very slight complaint.
Bluetooth connectivity is the only thing I found to be a big problem for the Zoro II. Noontec claims the headphones have a transmission distance of up to 10 meters, but actual use tells a different story. It is true that in a completely open environment the Zoro II can hold a connection fairly far away from the source device. The problem is, almost any obstruction can cause issues.
Briefly going into another room while leaving your phone behind causes major connectivity issues with the Zoro II. Moving around in the same room as your phone can also be problematic if something like a table obstructs the space between your phone and the headphones. This situation won’t cause major cut-outs like moving out of the room will, but there are still enough interruptions to the continuous stream of music to be mildly annoying. You might think this can all be solved by simply keeping your phone in your pocket, but I found that even while taking walks, putting my hand in my pocket was enough of an obstruction to cause a few very brief cut-outs every few minutes.
If connection issues like this were simply part of Bluetooth at this point in its development, I wouldn’t blame the Zoro II, but I’ve owned two Motorola Bluetooth earpieces and I’ve never had any connection issues. I can move multiple rooms away from my phone and still listen to a completely smooth audio stream on my earpiece. For the most part, the connectivity issues with the Zoro II don’t bother me. I almost always keep my phone in my pocket, so I don’t have to deal with walls or other objects messing with the connection. When my hand is in my pocket with my phone, there are only slight interruptions to the audio stream every few minutes that are hardly noticeable, but I know from my earpiece that it can be way better.
Thankfully, the Zoro II redeems itself in the sound department. I was impressed by the sound quality of these cans. The Zoro II has a good range of sonic reproduction, but bass is certainly its strong suit. No need to worry: the bass isn’t overly boosted as it is in many portable headphones these days. However, the bass definitely has a good deep sound to it. The mids mostly keep up with the bass, but the treble can be a bit lacking. Some rock songs left me missing the full power of the songs throughout the frequency range. This pair of cans won’t be an audiophile’s favorite, but they’re still better than most earbuds and compact headphones I’ve heard.
The final component of the Zoro II that should be covered is the microphone. It has a small microphone for answering phone calls, and I’d advise against using it for much else. It sounds too deep and fuzzy to be good for much, but I answered a few calls with it without any communication issues, and no one ever complained about not being able to hear me.
The Zoro II Wireless is a quality product in many ways, but Noontec made a misstep while going from wired to wireless. The Zoro II’s Bluetooth connectivity is not up to par with other Bluetooth audio devices I’ve used. Obstructing objects can easily disrupt the connection. The phone in my pocket should not have difficulty sending a continuous audio stream to the Bluetooth headphones on my head, but the Zoro II can’t quite manage it.
Bluetooth issues aside, the Zoro II Wireless is a solid pair of headphones. The frame is comfortable, flexible, sturdy, and stylish, but not overstated. The sound quality is good for a pair of compact, portable headphones, the battery life is fantastic, and the buttons are incredibly useful. NFC pairing, a small microphone for answering calls, and a carrying case are even thrown in. This all goes for $160 or $130 with a different color scheme and no carrying case.
The right components are here for a high quality set of portable cans, but unfortunately the Bluetooth connectivity drags it down. As I said earlier, the Bluetooth issues aren’t bad enough to make the headphones unusable. Even so, the Bluetooth connectivity can and should be much better than it is. At this point, I’d go with the wired version of the Zoro II, which will cost you $80. If you’ve gotta cut the cord, however, the Zoro II delivers a fine enough experience if you can live with its minor foibles.