This article was written by Tom Dawson and first appeared in Android Headlines here.
V-MODA is a brand that many interested in earphones and headphones will no doubt be familiar with. Thanks to their Crossfade M-100, and more recently the Crossfade Wireless headphones V-MODA has been a brand to watch. With edgy looks as well as the sound quality to match, V-MODA have made a name for themselves for sidestepping the “form over function” world of Beats and fashion headphones. The ZN are V-MODA’s flagship pair of earphones that the firm believe can trade blows with much more expensive pairs from bigger names out there. V-MODA is a brand that often puts some people off due to their flashy nature, but having silenced many of the critics, the brand has become a mainstay in the high-end headphone game. Named “Zn” for their distinctive look and feel as well their use of Zinc in the earbuds themselves. This use of Zinc also extends to the styling and the ZN are a stylish pair, with great packaging and some nice extras to boot. But do they have the sound to match?
Features and Specs
V-MODA are, unsurprisingly, pretty happy with what they’ve managed to do with the ZN, and it’s clear from the moment you take a look at the outer packaging that trade dress is taken seriously by V-MODA. We’ll list off some of the requisite figures and features and then take a look at the packaging a little further below.
V-MODA clearly takes their presentation and appearance seriously. As we can see in the photo set down below, the packaging looks great and it’s really easy to get into with everything laid out neatly. The carrying pouch feels and looks good, and the magnet does a good job of keeping the pouch closed. The sport hooks are a nice inclusion here (more on those later) but I really would have liked to see some foam eartips included here, the “BLISS” ear fittings can be as isolating as they want to claim they are, but V-MODA could and should do better by including foam here. Still, the rest of the presentation is in line with what you’d expect from such a brand and price point.
Design and Comfort
The V-MODA Zn are designed to be both fashionable as well as comfortable. Considering that the brand prides themselves on their “Milano Design”, the Italian-styled Zns are certainly good looking. The Zinc earbud housings look good thanks to the mix of a silver and black together, but this isn’t quite as striking as the Hexagonal ear cups on V-MODA’s headphones like the Crossfade line. However, V-MODA don’t give up without a fight, and even the cable on the Zn looks good, the not-quite black mixes well with the silver-ish gray color to create a cable that is subtly different and sets itself apart from the rest. This attention to detail carries on to the 45-degree 3.5mm connector which feels nice and solid and doesn’t get in the way too much when putting your phone in and out of your pocket. Because this connector is not flush to your phone or device, as a full right-angle jack would be putting my Galaxy S7 Edge in my pocket when listening to music did result in more disconnections than I would have liked, but this could just be my pockets.
As far as comfort and isolation go, both leave a lot to be desired here, especially given the V-MODA Zn’s asking price. Starting with comfort, and as always this might be subjective, but most of the included ear tips are too small for my ears. This creates an issue of needing to further push them into my ear – which isn’t advisable – to get stronger isolation. As they’re lightweight, there’s no pain or discomfort involved here, but for this sort of price it would have been nice to see some foam or double-flange ear tips here. I put a pair of Comply ear tips on the V-MODA Zn I was testing and it drastically improved both comfort as well as noise isolation. In reality, comfort is not a huge problem here, it’s just not as good as it could be, and those with larger inner-ears might struggle. Noise isolation however, is the real problem. Wind noise when walking to and from practically anywhere is quite bad and they do let quite a bit of noise in from the outside. Indoors however, they work well in an office environment as well as inside of a train or bus, too. For this, as well as casual listening, the Zn will work well, but it would have been nice to see some extra tips provided here. There’s another problem with the overall size of the earbud, which is fairly small, this ends up with – at least in my case – the Zn lodging in your ear and then the sort “fins” rubbing against your inner-ear (warning in advance for below picture of this Editor’s ear).
One other thing to touch on here is the included sport hooks, which V-Moda refer to as “ActiveFlex” sport hooks. The idea here is that users can apply these hooks and then go to the gym or go for a run without having more than one pair of earphones. In practice, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. They’re fairly comfortable when using the ActiveFlex hooks, but the microphone on the right side of the cable restricts the amount of cable you can put into the hooks. Still, it works well when you find that sweet spot and it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing.
With all of the fancy design and tough talk that V-Moda talk about the Zn, they had better sound good. When listening to the Zn over the past month or so, I was surprised by a number of things, but mostly just how appealing these will be to all modern listeners. The majority of fashionable and stylish headphones like these dial up the bass to 11 and forget the mid-range altogether. Here, that’s not the case at all. Instead, the V-Moda Zn are a pair of earphones that do have solid bass, but it’s the sort of bass that’s tight and precise, hard-hitting without ruining the rest of the sound. The mid-range is not quite as forward as some would like, but there’s a lot of detail here as well as an underlying warmth to go with it. To complement the detailed mid-range and tight lower-end, the highs here are crisp and resonant, but they do have a sort of bluntness to them. Crucially, this has two benefits, one of which is that there’s little fatigue listening to Electronic or Dance music and the other is that this gives the Zn its warm tone.
I listened to some of my favorite artists with these and thoroughly enjoyed what I heard. Including favorite tracks like CHVRCHES’ “Bury It”, which had tight bass notes and crisp high notes without ever approaching shrill, which can be difficult when listening to the Scottish band’s work. Sticking with Electronic music, Future Island’s “Seasons” sounds fantastic with the Zn, the smooth synth notes come through with lots of detail and the warm, low notes are all there. The new Red Hot Chili Peppers album sounds good here as well, the Blues-y guitar tones resonate well and despite everything that goes on in the new Peppers’ record, nothing is lost and nothing is left behind.
Yes, the Zn are a pair that do favor bass over anything else, but it does so without forgetting the importance of everything else. Here, the bass notes are tight and punchy, they don’t bloat and color the rest of the sound. There’s lots of detail here no matter what you’re listening to, and in this regard, V-Moda really have created a pair that punch well above their weight.
Without doubt, the V-Moda Zn are a pair of earphones that really do take the fight to more expensive pairs out there. Of course, they’re a pricey pair themselves, so we would expect a great sound from them nonetheless. As I said above, the warm, yet fairly neutral tone that offers modern listeners a lot of bass without the same sacrifices will appeal to the majority of listeners. With a good look and feel, a cable that doesn’t tangle and looks nice, the Zn have pretty much everything you could want in an everyday pair of earphones. They’re simple to plug in and start listening with and aside from the fact that the comfort isn’t as good as it could be, the Zn are a pair of earphones that V-Moda should be proud of.
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