No other earbud has been famed or hyped as the Zen. For a couple of years now, Venture Electronics has been the go to source of excellent sounding earbuds without breaking the bank, and VE has proven this with their first edition of the Monks. The Monk has quite become the benchmark for quality earbuds given it’s less than a bucket of KFC Hot & Crispy chicken price and stellar sound quality. So when VE decided to come up with their TOTL earbuds, it was no wonder that people raved for it. I mean, come on, if the Monk has been quite a sensation, what would you expect for something worth several multiples of its price?
A year later, VE released its second version of Zen. While the first one did establish a cult following, how does the second version fare with the first iteration? How did VE pull its sleeves and use the same magic on the second version of the very earbud that launched an army of masses who has become earbud advocates? Read on as I subject the VE Zen 2.0 into acid test and see if it retains its title as the king of earbuds.
I think Venture Electronics decided to keep with their shell tactic, that is using the same, typical shape of the shells of their earbud line. Perhaps the idea is to keep up with the old and tested formula without shelling too much of cost to keep the prices down. However, one thing that you will notice is the cable used. Zen has two variants in fact, the regular ones and the black edition. As to whether there are sonic difference, I will have to find out later on once I get an access but the black edition is pretty much about twice the price of the regular Zens.
VE also decided to offer several termination options for the Zen:
Balanced and Single ended output options are available, which makes the Zen 2.0 a lot more enticing especially for those who are into balanced connections. Yes, you read that right, there is an option for XLR, and personally I find it a bit absurd to have an earbud affixed with such a huge termination, but then again as I have said, this may appeal a lot of balanced output users in the market today.
Plug is angled which I think should be handy in avoiding that accidental bending of the terminations, but then again, Zen 2.0 is something that you really won’t fancy hooking up with your phone given it’s resistance rating. That we will tackle in a bit.
Packaging is significantly fancier compared to Monks, given the denim-looking case and the box. Fine job for VE here, as an earbud with such price should have some premium with it. Plus you don’t have to worry about cramming your Zen in your bag or pants pocket. It also comes with Ex-pack which should give you some good array of fittings to your needs.
Overall, I have seen other earbuds that are priced around the same as Zen, but in comparison I think VE did a fine job. Only thing left to check is how it fares against those earbuds.
I will be bold enough to tell you about the sound of the Zen 2.0, and as much as some may dissent with my thoughts on the earbud, these are my thoughts. Thing is, for an earbud, you would normally want to use it for portability purposes. Scratch that with the Zen 2.0. This thing demands power. I tried these with the Auglar GR-1 and I must say, it sounded too narrow for an earbud. I also hooked it up with the Cavalli Liquid Carbon and still I felt it missing some elements. What made me feel satisfied to say the least was when I hooked it up with the Asus Xonar Essence One. There goes my caveat for the thing: it is supposed to be a portable gear! No one is really going to walk around with such a huge amplifier. I haven’t given this a go with the Mass Kobo 404, but then again the MK404 is not exactly portable, and I am not even so sure if it can yield the same level of satisfaction that I got out of the Essence One. Maybe it would, but I am hoping that the synergy between MK404 and Zen 2.0 agrees well.
Also, one thing to keep in mind is that, as much as a lot of people finds the argument about burn in, I will be frank to say that this showed a significant amount of improvement after burn in. I initially tried the barely used one from a good friend Vince Ventura and I was pretty much unimpressed even when using the Zen 2.0 with the Essence One. But, when I tried the one loaned by Light Li (this one has been burning in for about 70 hours according to him), I felt some clarity finally exhibited by the Zen 2.0. Veil has also been lifted and sounded clearer and cleaner. So as much as I normally would recommend to simply use it until it gets some decent hours, patience will be a key if you find the Zen 2.0 to be initially lackluster.
Now let’s take the Zen 2.0 for a spin. In the test, I paired the Essence One with my Onkyo DP-X1 to drive the earbud:
Last Resort (Papa Roach, Infest)
Perhaps the best thing about Zen 2.0 is the separation. I very much liked how discerned each instruments are using it. Imaging is above par, while soundstage is what you would expect from the Zen 2.0. I also liked the quality of the higher frequencies, with the mids not falling too far. Guitar riffs on the track sounded lively and raunchy. Bass sounds okay for me, mid-bass having that good kick.
Hallelujah (Melissa Menago, Little Crimes)
I am not totally impressed the way this track is mastered, but perhaps the artist was trying to achieve that somewhat ethereal feel on the track. This made the track sound as if it lacks clarity with the Zen 2.0. Guitars feels it lacks coherence from the voice just a wee bit, but perhaps that was just me. What wins the track is the vocals, as Melissa Menago indeed owns one of the most honest voices I have heard among female singers.
Back To You (John Mayer, Room For Squares)
I went for the kill for this one, using 2.8MHz DSD file to test how the Zen 2.0 will belt out. Good thing was the Zen 2.0 was able to deliver; the pound of the drums and the clarity of the guitars are quite exquisite, something you won’t get from just any other earbuds. The way each of the guitars, the drums, the bass guitar and John Mayer’s voice play using the Zen is pretty expressive and is highly detailed. I am pretty sure that a lot will enjoy it immensely.
One thing that I dislike about the Zen 2.0 though is that it felt as if it is holding something back. I can hear quite a good expression on the high ends and the low ends are not so bad really, but it seems that is raging to unleash something that it can’t. It isn’t really significant, fact is you will already enjoy it immensely for what it can and what it is, it just has that feel that it wants to give more but it can’t.
In comparison to the Cypherus Audio Campfred, I think the major consideration is the power requirement. You can plug the Campfred into a mobile phone and be done with it: you won’t feel any lack of power through that simple set up. Plugging the Campfred to the Essence One shows so much body on the sound in comparison to the Zen 2.0. However, Zen 2.0 wins over the Campfred in terms of clarity and extensions on the high frequencies.
Me being me, will I buy one? I would, but not in a heartbeat. Maybe if you are hunting for a higher end earbud for the first time, the Zen 2.0 will be a good consideration. However, you will have to factor in the costs of amplifiers to properly drive it, and I guess that is why VE came up with the Roundabout. But then again, as I have said, that is an additional cost and some sacrifice on mobility. However, if you are the type who doesn’t mind walking around with a transportable set up, the Zen 2.0 should be one of those things on the top of your list. After all, if you are in a quest for great sound, you won’t really go wrong with the Zen 2.0