Yes, it’s another pair of headphones. Why? Because I hate headphones in general. The headphones I like tend to be in the $1K+ range and there is no chance I’ll be caught dead wearing that kind of coin outside my listening room. Yes there is that PSB M4U2 noise cancelling headphones for my reference and travel usage, but I still need a pair of general headphone set that is cheap so I won’t cry if I drop or lose it. Also at the same time, I need something that is stylish enough so my daughter can wear it without going into hiding and/or causing her to go to counseling in the future.
So I stumbled at Urban Ears at CES 2013 and was happy to report that I found something that is priced and styled right. How do they sound? Well, that’s for me to find out and for you to read about it.
Design and build quality
Rather than going with crazy patterns and fancy textures, the Zinkens are a far more subdued and classy. A soft-feel matte rubberized plastic covers every surface, which I find to be very urban-chic and evidently designed as a fashion-conscious item, so I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of us who love the look.
They are available in a rainbow of multitude of hues from subtle to garish including the creatively named “pumpkin”, “grape”, “forest” (as shown in my article about Urban Ears booth) and seven others. If you need to make sure your musical accessories complement your wardrobe then the wide choice of colours will help you avoid a colour-clashing style faux pas among your hipster friends. As much as I can, I always ask for the red colour; “Tomato”, to be exact and the PR of Urban Ears is kind enough to send me that shade.
The earcups are pretty big and were able to sit around my ears, although they’re not proper over-ear cans, so they aren’t too chunky to wear on the bus. The cups join to the headband via sturdy metal bars that fold in for cramming into a small bag. They also swivel to the side for only using one ear, which DJs love to do for no reason whatsoever (and yes, I used to DJ during ye olde vinyl days of yore and don’t find the need to flip the earcup that way). The headband itself is a decent size and feels secure without being overly tight. A soft padding on the inside helps them sit comfortably against my big-ish head.
Build quality is flimsily-solid overall. Repeat after me, “THIS IS A GOOD THING”. It feels flimsy and flexible but the feel is very deceiving because the Zinken is as break-resistant as break-resistant can be. I literally twisted the headband and stepped on my headphone sample several without damaging it at all. With the stiff plastic and metal hinges resisting my attempts to hurt them, I’m confident you could haul them around in a bag all day and they wouldn’t suffer for it. I actually accidentally dropped the headphone from my 2nd floor to the ground floor and the headphone still works well. The only drawback I found is that because of the material’s finish, it tend to get smudged easily if your hands are dirty. Regardless, listen to what your parents have been telling you since you’re a wee kid. Always wash your hands. It’s better for your health anyway.
The cable is a crucial part of the Zinkens as it allows you to do a couple of neat tricks. For one, it’s removable, meaning you can replace it if you accidentally slice through it while chopping carrots. It’s also got a coiled section that gives you some leeway to move away from your audio source, without sending it crashing to the ground. It means you don’t have 5ft of cabling dangling from your pocket if it’s connected to your phone.
On one end is a standard 3.5mm jack to plug into your iDevice of choice or phone and on the other is a ¼-inch jack that plugs into your headphones. This way you can turn the cable over and plug your headphones into your headphone amp or use it with a protable device without needing to carry an adaptor. When the 3.5mm socket isn’t in use on your headphones, your friend can plug his/her pair straight into them so you can both listen to the same thing. If you have enough friends, you can form a circle and listen to Kumbaya in sync!
Urbanears claims these headphones are specifically designed with the amateur DJ in mind so I was expecting bass in the middle region by the truckload from them and that’s exactly what I do NOT get. Once again, repeat after me, “THIS IS A GOOD THING”. Unlike the soul-sucking, beat-oriented and hose-like brands always do, the mid-bass-boost is not there. Just pure low bass that packs a wallop but in a more-or-less a naturalistic way.
The overall tone is warm and full of low end, which will suit those of you who mostly listen to virtually any type of music. Be it a Deutsche Gramophon recording all the way to Metallica’s Master of Puppets was handled well, with the sub-level kick drum in the opening section of Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me rumbling powerfully and clearly. Similarly, the bass lines from the old hair-metal Judas Priest’s Ram It Down were reproduced just like… well, bass lines… without the unnecessary additional oomph that is fatiguing to one’s ears.
The Zinkens are particularly focused around the low and mid range which, given the DJ audience they’re targeted at, is to be expected. If you only plan on using your headphones for listening to bass-heavy recordings, they’ll do the trick. But if you are hoping for a reference headset to enjoy classical, acoustic or folk music that relies more on accuracy, the Zinkens are not designed for that although the sound coming from them are still very pleasing especially when being listened to in higher volume level due to the X-curve applied on the headset at frequencies at around 4 kHz or higher. I don’t know whether the X-curve is deliberate, but at least you won’t burn your eardrums with screeching high-frequencies at high volumes and I wholeheartedly welcome that.
The Urban Ears Zinkens offer comfort, sound quality and handy features, with an urban-chic styling to boot. Amateur DJs and musicphiles in general will appreciate the big bass and the X-curve. The audio purists won’t get on with the lack of clarity in the high end though but these headphones are never intended to be listened to in a quiet room as a purist reference system anyway.
For what the Zinkens have to offer, they are dirt cheap, go get at least a pair. I know I’ll be getting the “Forest” just for the colour’s sake