What do you do when you have an unknown brand, a tiny marketing budget and products to launch? You do your utmost to nick the best bits of the market leader and then undercut them. The Noontec Zoro is clearly inspired by the Beats by Dr. Dre Monster Beats Solo HD, but sells for less than half the price. And yet, they arguably sound better.
There are several Beats series rip-offs about, including the surprisingly good Fanny Wang On-ear Wang. Noontec is a new runner in this race, but it is no headphone expert. All its other products are set top box media players, portable hard drives and iPhone accessories.
Skipping the first couple of stages in the design process, the Zoro on-ear headphones borrow most core design elements from the Beats Solo HD. The positioning and style of the pads, the mix of matt and glossy finishes, the folding mechanism, the removable cable and the headband width are all nicked from the Dr. Dre-branded headphone.
The execution of the blueprint is not quite as successful as the real deal, though. There's not as much tension in the headband, giving a less secure fit, and most of the materials used are low-rent versions. Most metal has been replaced with plastic, the squidgy rubber of the Solo HD's headband padding has become foam-padded leatherette and the pads are a little less soft.
Although less high-end than the well-made, very comfortable Beats Solo HD, the Noontec Zoro aren't bad. The hinge is still metal under a thin layer of plastic, the fake-leather-lined pads are reasonably comfortable and if they weren't so clearly a copy of another more popular pair, they wouldn't look too bad.
Functionally, there are two main ways the hardware misses the mark, where the Beats Solo models succeed - noise isolation and stability. The Solo headphones have excellent noise isolation for an on-ears pair, but here it's poor. The looser, lax fit doesn't make a very good seal and there are hidden sound ports on the back that negate the usefulness of whatever seal that is made.
Also, without a rubbery surface to the headband, they waggle about quite easily on your head. As the Zoro headphones are lightweight at 145g, this only becomes a problem if you intend to perform vigorous exercise with them on. It's also worth noting that the Beats Solo HD lead the pack here - few headphone makers have cottoned-onto using high-friction headbands to increase stability.
What do the Noontec Zoro get right? There's enough horizontal and vertical tilt to the earcups to make fitting easy, the fake-leather pad surface is a solid impersonation, and as long as you set the ratcheted headband correctly, they're comfortable enough for long listening sessions. The Zoro headphones give you plenty of scope for ruining this, though, as a mis-adjusted headband sets the pressure distribution off.
The Noontec Zoro headphones are a faulty impersonation of the Beats Solo HD. But we can't be too harsh on them for these failings. The Beats cost upwards of £150, and the materials used in their construction reflect this. Next to £40-50 on-ear headphones like the RHA SA-850, Sennheiser HD 228 and Sony MDRXB300, the Zoro come across fairly well. However, if you're thinking you're getting everything the Beats offer for a fraction of the cash, that's not quite true.