When the Zn in-ear monitors first were announced, V-Moda made some big claims for their first new earphones in a four-year span — basically, that they would not only blow away other earphones, but stand toe-to-tie with a few pretty good pairs of headphones out there, too. Even more intriguing, they had the promise of being high-end earphones that could still be exercise-friendly. They were priced high, but with the promise that few other earphones could possibly compete with them. Well, they’re here now, and after over a month of use, they mostly do live up to the hype.
The Zn in-ear monitors’ audio is produced by 8 mm drivers, housing made of a special liquid zinc alloy, specially made (and supposedly in limited supply) filters, and V-Moda’s custom tuning. Before launch, emphasis was said to be on the midrange, with the Zn in-ear monitors striving for balance while cutting down on distortion. In reality, that depends on the track — there are still some rock songs where vocals and guitar can be drowned out by overwhelming bass. More often than not, the earphones do end up fairly balanced, although vocals are never quite as clear as you hope for. Reproduction of lows and highs is solid thanks to a larger than necessary range of 2 Hz – 25 kHz, and as promised, the audio suffers from little to no distortion thanks to those acoustic filters.
Having said all that, it’s easy to forget that you’re listening to a pair of earphones with the Zn. It took me switching back to a cheaper pair of earphones to make me realize that at first, I was comparing the Zn’s sound to my usual headphones. Not only can the Zn earphones get much louder (with much more clarity) than your average pair or earphones, the soundstage is far wider, making individual instruments and vocals much less muddy.
The other surprisingly great thing about these earphones is how well they block out background noise. Once you’ve found just the right size of silicone tips for you, these earphones block out as much noise as you’d expect from headphones advertising passive noise blocking — in other words, some noise is still coming through, but these earphones are managing to do the job of over-ear cushioned pads without any extra power supplied.
The audio is terrific for a pair of earphones, but it’s the construction that makes them a compelling value. Despite the use of plastic on top of that liquid zinc alloy casing, the Zn in-ear monitors meet MIL-STD-105 endurance testing, which in practice means they can survive inclement weather and extreme temperatures. The round cable has a Kevlar exterior to prevent fraying, and despite being round, I never had problems with the cable getting tangled. All that’s to say these earphones work pretty well as exercise headphones, too — the cable ends up being a bit heavy and the earphones will fall out by themselves, but V-Moda has included a pair of detachable earhooks that fit comfortably and keep the buds in your ears during activity. As usual, there are plenty of silicone tips included to get the right fit, too (V-Moda includes XS, S, M, and L sizes). You’ll probably still want Bluetooth earphones for the gym, but for runners, these will suit.
There’s also an in-line mic on the Zn in-ear monitors, which is slowly but surely being added to high-end earphones in general. V-Moda sells two different models — one with a three-button mic suited for iOS devices and one with a one-button mic suited for Android devices.