V-MODA Zn Review (Page 3 of 4)

Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis

The V-MODA Zn makes an appearance with one of my favorite in-ear monitors of all time, the Vibe II, along with the XS I finally got back from my friend.

Reviewing audio devices require extensively trained ears and lots of experience. Even for audiophiles, it may prove challenging at times to obtain an accurate evaluation of a product without a thoroughly familiar product to use as a simultaneous reference. While I am not going to even try to claim that I am the only trustworthy or best reviewer for sound, it is fact that most computer review sites have editors who are insufficiently trained in reviewing audio equipment. Give them practically anything and all you will read about goes along the line of "good bass, nice midrange, awesome treble, really clear sound, 10/10". While there are many knowledgeable audio reviewers at various respected online media outlets, they are by far the minority.

As I have mentioned in my past audio reviews, there are really no true objective measurements for speaker sound quality. As the reviewer, however, I will put it through a series of subjective tests to try to come up with the most objective rating possible (Yes, it is quite a paradox haha). On the wired, analog side, tests were conducted primarily with the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD sound card (Creative CA20K2 DSP/APU, National Semiconductor LME49720NA OpAmp, JRC NJM4580 signal buffers, Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, Nichon MUSE ES capacitors). For portable tests, I mainly used an Apple iPhone 6. These are some of the best consumer sound equipment out there in the market today, and will reduce its potential to be a limiting factor in our auditioning.

After over 180 hours of break-in time -- well above typically required period -- we put the V-MODA Zn to the tests. All tracks were uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher.

Users who are familiar with the V-MODA brand will find themselves immediately at home the first time they put on and listen to the Zn. Its signature punchy and bright sound is characteristic of the brand; maybe sans the XS, which was tuned for a perfectly flat frequency response, but certainly not new to those who own earphones like the Vibe II. You can definitely hear the thinly curved V-shaped balance profile for output that is even more vibrant than the Vibe II, yet it still retains a strong midrange, making it a rare combination. While I am a fan of technical perfection found on the XS, I found the enhanced bass and treble on the Zn to be well-tuned and acoustically pleasant, yet delivering a higher level of energy to your music at the same time.

For a more detailed analysis, let us first discuss the matters of the "big three" -- bass, midrange, and treble. To create V-MODA's signature punchy and bright sound, the bass was slightly boosted. With a rated driver frequency response as low as 2Hz, it is incredible -- albeit somewhat of a moot point as far as human hearing is concerned -- but you may be able to experience the effects of beyond-human bass when it is there. Despite its slight increase in bass, the Zn managed to retain a sense of balance, so it never sounded heavy for the sake of being heavy. The bass was deep, solid, round, smooth, and articulate for the discerning audiophile. It was not perfectly balanced, nor was it meant to be from the factory, but it made a fun listening environment where the lower range was always present and well defined when called upon.

In the midrange section, the V-MODA Zn is of moderate thickness. This made it pretty good, and more substantial compared to the Vibe II. Of course, compared to the XS, which I would consider to have one of the widest and fattest midrange I have ever heard in a pair of headphones, the Zn was obviously not as saturated -- but I would not count it against these in-ear monitors. The V-MODA Zn's midrange was very natural, clear, and rich with a full range. Its mostly neutral midrange actually came with a hint of -- but not immediately apparent -- warm overtone.

When it came to the treble, its power was also slightly boosted to contribute to the Zn's punchy and bright character. While its frequency response of up to 25kHz is yet again beyond the human hearing range, its extension was well-tuned for a gentle roll-off in the upper range. accordingly, the Zn is comfortable for extended listening periods. Overall, I found the treble to have many characteristics of good high frequency reproduction -- sharp, immediate, clean, wet, clear, bright, energetic, and crisp. The Zn is stronger than the Vibe II in this area with improved overall clarity. A slight sparkle gave the Zn some extra character.

The V-MODA Vibe II has always been a fine example of wide soundstaging, and the Zn was no exception. Although the Zn's 8mm drivers are small compared to the likes of the Audiofly AF56m, the Zn's zinc metal alloy housing, Italian made filters, and what the company refers to as the V-PORT airflow system mechanics together made the Zn really shine in this area. Not only was the soundstaging relatively wide, it also came with defined depth, perception, and direction. In my Vibe II review, I mentioned there were occasions where I had to turn around to actually see if something I heard was real or not. It may sound like an exaggeration, but it was not. It was the same case with the Zn. Call me whatever on it, but try these earphones on, and you will tell me the same thing. Needless to say, I was impressed.

Closing off with the auxiliary auditioning results, the imaging of the V-MODA Zn was quite realistic; staying true to the original production or recording. The layers were precisely produced with a high amount of detail. The resolution was perfect across the range, as it picked up practically everything and anything in a quality encoded track. Even in complicated and messy situations, it even managed to retain the small details very well. If you think you know your music, ladies and gentlemen, listen to the tracks all over again with the V-MODA Zn, and you will simply find so much more.

Deriving from this, the frequency separation was also amazing. Again, every detail was very well reproduced, thanks to its clear, high definition, and excellent reproduction character. At the same time, the entire spectrum was a smooth gradient with no apparent banding effects, making it sound as smooth as it should. I was also very impressed by how clean the sound came out to be. As I have said in my Audioengine A2+ review, if there was a better word for "clean" that roughly carries the meaning of "super-duper clean", I would use that word.

The V-MODA Zn is a closed IEM, and comes with four different sized sleeves for maximum compatibility, as I have mentioned on the previous page. For our passive noise canceling tests, first, I put my Zn in my ears, followed by my Crossfade Wireless over my ears. Next, I played some music on my Crossfade Wireless, then sent a different audio track to my Zn concurrently. Impressively, the Zn managed to block out the Crossfade Wireless very well, even though the outside headphones were playing at a pretty loud volume. I understand there is no real reason why you would do this in the real world, but I think this proves a point. For real world tests, I took the Zn onto the plane, and plugged it into my MacBook Pro. In addition to listening to music, I used it while watching the last episode of Descendants of the Sun. The dialog came through clearly (Not that I actually understand Korean though), while effectively blocking out the noise of the Airbus A321. Overall, the V-MODA Zn provided a great seal for excellent environmental sound isolation. The microphone also worked very well for calls on the go. In a blind test during a call with my colleague Kenneth Kwok, he said the Zn's microphone was noticeably clearer than the Apple Earpods that came with my iPhone 6.

Needless to say, the V-MODA Zn is a spectacular pair of earphones. It was not tuned for technical perfection like the XS. Instead, V-MODA managed to create a well-tuned and acoustically pleasant in-ear monitor, while delivering a higher level of energy to your music at the same time. The Zn are earphones with a bit of character that does not distract, and that is amazing. It sounds really good. I love it.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis
4. Conclusion