Reviews by doctorjazz


There is no Dana, there is only ZOTL!
Reviewer for The Headphone List
Here’s my very late review

About a cable I was to asked to do

Things went wrong they sat around

But now I'll hip you to the sound...

(sung to "Runaround Sue" by Dion

here's the YouTube video for those too young to remember it)

This is a review I promised to write on these in exchange for receiving them in a contest here on Head Fi.

Disclaimer-Despite receiving these for free, delivered in a Mercedes Sport (to keep) and handed to me by Supermodels, I will endeaver to be totally objective in my impressions…

Disclaimer-Despite receiving these for free, delivered in a Mercedes Sport (to keep) and handed to me by Supermodels, I will endeavor to be totally objective in my impressions…

I generally don’t have a whole lot of use for “unboxing” parts of reviews. Sure, it makes a better impression to get the item in pretty packaging than in an old corrugated box, but, in the end, it’s what goes in my ears. But, I’ll just mention they came packed in a pretty box, with an insert that they wind around, nothing extravagant, but they make a nice first impression.

Some technical info, from the website…

Technical Specifications:

  • 26 AWG
  • UPOCC Litz Copper / Silver Hybrid
  • Proprietary Multi-Size Stranded design within single encapsulation
· This is a review I promised to write on these in exchange for receiving them in a contest here on Head Fi.

  • Flexible insulation (same as Leonidas)
  • New EA CF connectors and Y-Split
Link to the Effect Audio page:

I won’t get into all the details of my tale of woe on these, but, as a summary. I first got the mmcx version for 2 particular headphones I was listening to at length (I have too many iems, generally Too Much Stuff). The cables came, I loved how they sounded, then BOTH headphones stopped working at the mmcx connector (I have since gotten replacement for 1; I won’t name names…). Then, I was planning to write the Eros II up for The Headphone List, but I didn’t call out “got it” like a good outfielder should, and someone else (Ryan) beat me to it. Aside from that, I have reviewed a set of cables before, and, let me tell you, it is a PIA. I generally do lots of connecting and disconnecting for any review-no gear has a “sound” on its own, it interacts with other components to bring you music as a team effort. For a source or headphone, you connect and disconnect on 1 side to change associated equipment for comparisons. For a cable, you connect/disconnect at both sides, the source and the iem side. Yuck. Then, to make it even more unappealing, impressions on how cables sound INEVITABLY bring out the “all cables sound the same” crowd (please, no brickbats from you folks). Now, everything seems to be in place, the stars are aligned, so here are my impressions.

EA is based in Singapore, and has been selling upgrade cables since 2009, and have cables at the site from $149 to $1050, along with headphones. The Eros II sells for $279.90 at the site.

Constructed from a copper-silver hybrid, the Eros II has a beautiful braided look shown off nicely by the clear plastic sheath. The connector and strain relief are a striking silver and black design, with the EA logo. It’s slightly thicker and heavier than some stock cords, but still very supple and light, making it very comfortable.
cable 3 IMG_0100.JPG

Of course, none of this is of much use if the cable doesn’t do anything for the sound. I used two different players and a few headphones to get a handle on the cable’s sound. Overall, I didn’t really find it to highlight any particular part of the audio frequency, just to open up and clarify the sound across the board.

I started out with the Pioneer xdr 300, which does single ended and balanced. I prefer using the music player Neutron to the stock player, and I’m told the player doesn’t do balanced with other music apps, so I used a balanced to single ended converting plug (also from EA) to keep things even. I love Big Star’s September Gurls (“Radio City” hi-rez 24/96 file), so I conneected those little mmcx plugs into my Westone W40. The difference with the stock cable was noticeable-stage width didn’t change much (maybe slightly wider), but depth and the darkness of the space between the instruments was more evident. Alex Chilton’s vocal had more body, more realism. Next up, Charles Mingus’ Better Git It In Your Soul (“Mingus Ah Um”, SACD rip). This jazz track just smokes-and, with the Eros II, the Jazz Workshop smokes even more. Open space, width, depth are more present, and the band just locks in to a more toe tapping groove. Details are also more noticeable-the high hat and other cymbal strokes Danny Richmond utilizes are more present without any stridency. One more with this configuration: Joni Mitchell’s Classic “Blue” (hi-rez 24/192 file), and cued up California. The W40 tends to be warm rather than detailed; the Eros II doesn’t mitigate the warmth, but opens up the stage and adds more detail. This great recording is well served-James Taylor’s guitar playing gives the guitar body, you hear the fingers pluck the strings, things are more clear, the clichéd “cleaning the glass”.

I won’t bore you with 20 more examples, but I wanted to try another player and set of headphones, so I pulled out the Pono and the Campfire Audio Orion. The Pono is a warmer, more “organic” player than the Pioneer; the Orion is somewhat drier, more detail oriented than the W40. Box of Rain from “American Beauty” by those Dead guys (24/96 hi-rez file) is a staple. Phil Lesh’s bass is rounder, his voice richer, there’s more width and depth, and there’s an overall decrease in a digital-sounding haze (and the stock Campfire cable is very nice). I also spent much time with the Ultimate Ears UE900, a headphone I didn’t particularly care for and sat in my draw for a really long time, but became glued to my ear canals using the Eros II. It went from boring to engaging, with greater depth, clarity, and swing.

So, I’d say this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade to iems you have and like. I don’t want to overstate things; upgrading your iems is probably something to do before going to cable upgrades. But, if you really like your iems and want to maximize their performance, the Effect Audio Eros II is certainly a worthwhile investment.


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There is no Dana, there is only ZOTL!
Reviewer for The Headphone List
Pros: Great PRAT, detail, air, soundstage, drives difficult headphones, tube benefits without the tube negatives
Cons: Not inexpensive


I had heard of the Berning ZOTL electronics years back, in articles in the audiophile press, but hadn’t come across it. I had heard great things from some Head Fi’ers, notably DrBlueNewMexico about the MicroZOTL, so when the Mark Schneider, of Linear Tube Audio, gave me the opportunity to review it, I jumped at it.

I read the technical description of the Berning innovation for this amp (and a series of higher powered components for the regular stereo rack), but I'm not knowlegeable enough to explain (or quite understand them), but, from what I understand, in 1 sentence, output transfomerless amps remove distortions caused by the output transformer, but are difficult to keep stable and have inherent impedance problems, and ZOTL technology solves the OTL issues riding the signal on radio waves.

I'll quote from the Linear Tube Audio Site for more're welcome to explain it to me (thankfully, I don't have to understand it to appreciate the sound).

ZOTL – Resolving the Audio Output Transformer Issue

Audio amplifier design engineers have long sought to eliminate audio output transformers because of the restrictions they impose on amp performance. Leakage inductance and interwinding capacitance limit the high-frequency response of transformers while core saturation and magnetizing current limit their low-frequency response. Transformer-core hysteresis causes specific distortions of non-symmetric and transient waveforms that are characteristic of musical reproduction. Audio output transformers simply cannot achieve the correct turns ratios as they only max out at 25:1 due to saturation and hysteresis effects. This leaves much to be desired, which creates and issue that needs to be resolved. Enter ZOTL, the solution.

Zero hysteresis Transformer-Less (ZOTL) is a proprietary and patented architecture developed by David Berning and tweaked by Linear Tube Audio that achieves effective turns ratios of nearly 300:1 and resolves all issues involving audio output transformers by eliminating them entirely.


David Berning invented and patented the ZOTL after building tube amplifiers for 25 years. Known for the transparency, versatility, and reliability, Berning amplifiers are justifiably acclaimed works, as recognized by Absolute Sound, which has named the ZH-230 has been named as an “Editor's Choice” every year since 2011.

ZOTL amplifiers achieve such stunningly realistic sound because of their sophisticated and proprietary technology. First, the audio signals “ride” a carrier frequency, which amplifies them, then the carrier is removed and the remaining audio is delivered to the speaker, similar to how a radio staion and receiver work. This changes the impedance plane to match the impedance of the speaker, so the audio output transformer is no longer required to match the tube to the speaker. An impedance converter accomplishes this match up. This super linear amplification process allows the amplifier to have a flat frequency response from 8hz to 50Khz, which is near impossible with an output transformer.

However, the real advantage is in the transformer turns ratio. Output transformers are limited to a maximum of about 25 to 1 in turns ratio. This turns ratio does the matching between the tube output and the speaker. It turns out (sorry) that the theoretically correct turns ratio for most tubes is typically 100 to 1 and even as high as 300 to 1. Well, the ZOTL can use the impedance converter to provide the proper turns ratio. The microZOTL has a 300 to 1 ratio and the ZOTL40 has around a 150 to 1 ratio. This results in the detail iand accuracy of the sound.

So, hoping you all got that (there WILL be a quiz at the end...)

Let’s get to the review:

Music used in the review-all FLAC or WAV, usually from rips of CDs, or downloaded high resolution files.

Grateful Dead-Box of Rain (American Beauty 24/96 download)...because it’s an old Deadhead must.
All Time Low-Somewhere In Neverland (Don't Panic FLAC from CD)...because it's fun, and actually not a great recording, but I find good gear can pull bass (which is recorded muddily) and detail out of it. (and, it shows that I'm not a snob and can do punk-pop with the young 'uns)
Dave Douglas-Bridge to Nowhere (Time Travel ALAC from CD...great trumpeter/composer/bandleader, nicely recorded)
Elton John-Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Edition, 24/96 download)
Lake Street Dive-Bad Self Portraits (Bad Self Portraits-14/44 FLAC)
Microscopic Septet-Hang It (Manhattan Moonrise, 16/44 FLAC CD rip...the funnest jazz group, played and recorded mostly in the 80's and 90's, recently reunited. This is a fine album, but Seven Men in Neckties (Best of the Microscopic Septet V1) and Surrealistic Swing (Best...V2) are essential and fun listening. Listen to Popadoc Jazz...)
Eagles-Hotel California (Hotel California 24/96 download)...all those guitars! All that detail! Those harmonies! That creepy lyric!
Henry Butler-Steve Bernstein and the Hot 9-Dixie Walker (16/44 WAV download included with the vinyl). (New Orleans jazz, R&B, fabulous singing and playing from this little big band, great sonics, INCLUDES WAV with the vinyl).
Laura Cantrell-I Can't Wait (No Way There From Here, 16/44 rip from CD, because she's too sweet to omit :bigsmile_face:
Fountains Of Wayne-Someone to Love (Traffic and Weather, 16/44 ALAC rip, because I love these guys, and at this point, couldn't stop)
Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong-They Can't Take That Away From Me (Ella and Louis, 24/96 High resolution download, because there is very little more sublime than these voices, singly and together. As a Mono, could focus on things other than soundstage. Plus, this was the album that, when I first got the ZOTL and the HE-1000, I played for my wife, and, for a short time, she thought I wasn't QUITE as crazy as she’d previously thought, MAYBE even worth it...NAH!).
Alvin Baptiste-Late (Late, 16/44 CD FLAC rip-Because I have to pull out artists and albums you don't know to show I'm hip)
Lorde-Royals (Heroine 24/96 download) (getting’ down with the commoners again)
Wayne Shorter-Witch Hunt (Speak No Evil, 24/96 FLAC download)

Gear used-mostly listened through my Hifiman HE-1000 (because I mostly listen through my HE-1000...what a revealing yet musical set of cans). I started with my Pono line out into the amp, then switched to my PC/JRiver/LH Labs 2G usb cable/Regen/Geek Out Special Edition. Hifiman has Norne Zoetic cable with various adapter cables (to use balanced into Pono, balanced, single ended). Used Zu and Audioquest (not too fancy) interconnect. For comparison (because what does it mean to say "bass is good", I have the Ray Samuels HR-2, previously my go to amp in approximately this range (lists for $875, a bit less than the ZOTL), for comparison.

Physically, the unit is attractive but not physically imposing. On the front panel, there is the power switch (lights up red to show the unit is powered), an input selector switch (allows 2 different sources via RCA connectors), volume pot in the center, and 3.5 mm headphone jack, which locks on connecting the headphones. The volume pot feels very secure, turns very smoothly, feels solidly built and secure (as does the rest of the amp). On the back, the 2 sets of RCA inputs, 2 sets of speaker posts, a preamp out, and an input for the power source. The power supply is a separate unit, with a detachable power cord and an umbilicus to the amp, said to be a high quality switching power supply. The sides and back are fenestrated metal for venting the heat, and the front is a thicker metal faceplate, with MicroZOTL written in the lower right corner. The top is clear plastic, allowing viewing of the internal electronics, and, especially, the glowing tubes. I'd say it is understated but attractive.

Let me tell you a bit about me. I'm in the audiophile game since the mid 80's, but the headphone world the past few years. Having a family meant I wasn't blasting the living room stereo when I wanted, too late, kids needed to go to bed, needed to do homework, couldn't stand what I wanted to listen to, etc. Jumping into the headphone world got me back to listening to music much more, like I did for many years when I was younger. I tend to hear differences in components, including cables, amps, etc, though the differences tend to be most prominent in transducers (speakers, turntables), more subtle in the stuff in between. I also tend to be more subdued in my responses, things tend not to be "the best ever", but, "good", "somewhat better", "OK"; when I pull out hyperbole, I'm really excited about something. The act of describing differences in something like an amp, by its nature, does tend to accentuate and emphasize the differences, making things seem more different than they really are. I try to get the differences noted, and the magnitude of them in perspective, but, again, focusing on the differences by its nature tends to highlight them. I also find it hard to describe the sound in isolation; the word "open" or "tight" or "textured" begs a "compared to what?", so I spent much time in this review going back and forth between the ZOTL and the nearest competitor I had on hand, the Ray Samuels HR-2. a solid state amp that sells for $875. I haven't had any multi-kilobuck amps at Chez Doctorjazz, so I can't say how they compare.

In trying to crystallize my impressions about the sonics, I referred to my notes, taken listening to all the above tracks, and a few words keep jumping out at me: open, wide, detailed, silent, textured. Now, let me say at the outset, this is a big step up in sound from the $100 dollar portable amps or built in phone amps one uses, but, getting into a similar price/quality range, the differences are more subtle, as I previously noted, and much less than different headphones/speakers have/ But, while I didn't test myself, I’m sure I could tell the RSA and ZOTL apart blinded.

Highs: These shimmer, allowing details of cymbals to be clearly heard, the different textures that come with different touches on a ride cymbal. Also allows for the very wide, open soundstage, that seems to go out indefinitely in width and depth. Listen to Herman Jackson's drums on Alvin Baptiste's "Late" hear the snap of the stick hitting the cymbal, the different tonalities depending on where and how on the cymbal it is hit, and the continued trailing of the sound which is distinctly a decaying cymbal, not a whoosh of indistinct white noise these can sometimes be. All Time Low's "Somewhere In Neverland", cymbals, which are a congealed hiss on lesser systems, are clear, distinct, sharp, sound like cymbals should. In comparison to my Ray Samuels HR-2, the highs are both more pronounced and less edgy, smoother, cymbal details and open space benefiting from this ZOTL strength.

Mids:, detailed, get the nuances of voices and instruments WITHOUT being overly syrupy or thick. Ella and Louis singing "They Can't Take That Away From Me" has to be one of the most sublime experiences one can have in music...when Ella hands to vocal to Louis, and he enters with his scat "Ba Ba Dee Boop De Doot Dee Doot" it is a moment for the ages, and sounds just marvelous through the ZOTL/HEK. His trumpet, Baptiste's clarinet, Dave Douglas' horn, Elton John's distinct pipes, Fountain Of Wayne's lead and harmony vocals are spot on...right there with you. Tone is rich and nuanced, instruments have a 3D roundness that makes it seem more real.

Bass-deep, forceful, tuneful, PRAT, bass and drums have bite, depth, body. I like to use All Time Low's "Somewhere In Neverland" for bass for the opposite reason most use tracks...this is really not well recorded, think they were looking for a "wall of sound" type sound, and things just congeal, arpeggios are smeared, bass is muddy and 1 note (my teen daughter, who loves this band, has no idea what a bass guitar does as a result). I find better gear helps me hear what the band actually laid down in the studio. It's pretty close between the RSA and the ZOTL, but the bass has a bit more definition, edge, note definition out of the ZOTL. Lorde's "Royals" was also pretty close, slight edge in depth and definition to the ZOTL, but almost too close to call. The Microscopic Septet's "Hang It" ends on a riff based on Hendrix's "Hey Joe" bass line. Through the RSA there is a smidgen of more impact, but through the ZOTL the bass has more impact, sounds more like a real bass in space (that should be NASA's next project...) Which leads me to...

Soundstage/detailing/overall presentation: Here is where the ZOTL shines. The soundstage is wide and deep, open, sounds like a real space. The RSA is closed in by comparison (again, by comparison, I never sat around when that was my primary amp saying, "man, does this sound closed in..."). The difference is not subtle, though. The ZOTL is open, clear, clean, like a solid state amp BUT removes a solid state haze you didn't realize was there until you hear music without it. Instruments and open space sounds more real, more THERE. In some ways, the RSA is more like a tube amp than the has a nice layer that does add some richness to the tone, but at the expense of a (small) bit of detail, and a (larger) amount of the sound of a real space. Detailing on the ZOTL is very precise, but without too much of an edge that would make it unreal. The microdetails are there, but they don't thrust themselves at you in a way that detracts from the main event. There is a good amount of "air" around instruments. I put on my hi rez download of Wayne Shorter's classic, "Witch Hunt", at first it wasn't clear to me which was better, but as I went back and forth, the wider stage of the Zotl, the lack of any haze in the "performance space", making for a realistic blackness, not just a lack of notes but the sound of open space, along with a slight increase of detail in texture of the sax and trumpet, and a certain "rightness" pulled me over to the ZOTL side.

I could've easily stopped at this point, but I was having fun listening to good music with the HE-1000 and the ZOTL/RSA amps, taking notes, generally being an incredible geek. So, to take things up a notch, I decided I would go to the best source I have in the house-Linn LP12 turntable (Ittok arm, Lyra Delos cartridge, Pro-Ject Tube Box @ phono preamp, sitting on Machina Dynamica Nimbus isolation table.
I pulled out some vinyl (and pulled, and pulled, and pulled some more...)

Lake Street Dive-Bad Self Portraits (from the same album, because I have it both ways, for comparison, and I like this Brooklyn Band)
Cecil Taylor-Jumpin' Pumpkins (?Mosaic Box, because it is different from what I played up to now, from a master of the free jazz movement, and another sign of my ultimate cool and eclectic taste)
Eagles-Hotel California (Hotel California, again because I had both...interestingly, the vinyl, a non descript pressing, was NOT as good sounding to me as the hi rez download)
Neil Young-Heart of Gold (Harvest-ORS Neil Young Archives 4 reissue, because he's an audiophile)
Schubert Symphony #9 (London Blueback CS6061, classic, 60's recordings, audiophile hit list) (to bring some class to da joint,,,)
Cheap Trick-I Want You To Want Me (In Color, Epic 34884, because I love this song)
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (The Complete Solid State Recordings of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mosaic MQ7-151, a live recording by a fabulous big band, in the venerable Village Vangurad)

Well, the differences are similar to what I noted listening to digital, though, on good vinyl, the differences between amps widened. I particularly noted this on the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Mosaic, the Cecil Taylor Mosaic, and the London Blueback, where the ZOTL was able to pull a bit away from the HR-2. On the Cecil Taylor, the stage collapses quite noticeably, and that "solid state haze" is there with the HR-2, absent with the ZOTL, with a cleaner, see through "live-ness" to the sound. Neil Young has more of an up-front perspective on the RSA, again, flatter, narrower stage, and Neil truly sounds like he's there, clear, sharp (but not edgy). The RSA again dulls the sound some (relative to the ZOTL, I reiterate). The London Blueback through the ZOTL has richer string tones, horns and winds have some meat on them, layering is exemplary, and, again, going to the RSA narrows and shortens the depth of the stage, and puts that "haze" between the listener and the music. You can really appreciate why this era is considered a Golden Age for analog recording. The live set on the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Mosaic has a "you are there: quality with the ZOTL (great solos by Garnet Brown on trombone and Joe Farrel on tenor sax), and the ZOTL again shines, sections are punchy, separate lines can be separated out, and the instrumental timbre shines through, along with that toe tapping rhythm.
Again, the HR-2 is actually a fine sounding amp…didn’t appreciate the Hifiman HE-560 or the Sennheiser 650 until I heard them out of the RSA amp. But, the ZOTL definitely shows more of what the music is made of. The openness, lack of electronic overlay, open, wide stage, 3D layering of instruments and fleshing out of the individual instruments and voices, getting textures right without artificial sweetener, make it just great to listen to. It does have speaker taps for driving very efficient speakers, but I didn’t have any on hand to use to evaluate this. And, did I mention that the ZOTL and the HE-1000 are a terrific match? They both seem to do the same things right to my ears. I had initially planned to use some other headphones in the evaluation as well, but couldn’t bear to pull off the HEK.
So, while this is certainly not an inexpensive amp, I believe it does deliver good value, being a really fine sounding headphone amp in an attractive package. If you’re in the market for an amp in this price range or higher, I’d recommend trying out the ZOTL2.
(don't seem to be able to control the rating bars at the top-I wanted to have them extend ALMOST to the end for every category, only hedging because I haven't heard the kilobuck headphone amps out there...)
Very excellent and thorough review Doctorjazz!  Thanks for systematically exploring what the Zotl2 is capable of through your fine gear!  You have a very experienced ear and a great array of tunes used for the exploration, and you  do  appreciate the magic of Zotl2!  As a musician and high end audio enthusiast, your observations are valuable to the audio community in deep ways! Thanks again for your keen auditory observations and realistic conclusions.  Your enthusiasm is clearly based on your experience, careful listening and thorough evaluation. bought the review sample, that speaks miles....  Hope you continue to enjoy the Zotl2 magic in the music!  cheers, drbluenewmexico.
It should be noted that a number of audiophiles are reporting that replacing the stock Zotl2 power supply with a Mojo-Audio Joule power supplies very significantly increases the excellence of the Zotl 2.  that has also been my experience, improving the textures of the notes, the soundstage expanding and the dynamics improving even more.  worth investigating if you get a Zotl2!.
Been wondering about the improvements with an LPS, hopefully someone will have one at the Meet this Saturday and I'll be able to check it out. It does, of course, bring the cost of the amp to about $2k...


There is no Dana, there is only ZOTL!
Reviewer for The Headphone List
Pros: open, great pace/rhythm, fun to listen to. Bass, mids, soundstage and detail great in this class.
Cons: They are buds...non removable cable, treble slightly rolled off.
I would like to thank Venture Electronics (VE) and Lee (@zhibli06) for providing me with a review sample of VE ZEN (and MONK) too many months ago

Manufacturer website:

The site I have for purchase is:

I received an invitation to review these headphones, and I said yes, seemed like it might be fun to be a REVIEWER on Head Fi. I didn't even catch that the headphones I was going to review were ear buds at first...I realized that after I had agreed, and, though I have never liked ear buds, figured I'd give them a shot. That's a bit of understatement-I never could stand ear buds, to be more precise, going back to the old iPod days; couldn't get them to stay in my ears, couldn't walk around with them in, didn't like the sound from them once I did get them in. But, this was supposed to "not be your father's" ear bud, so I figured I'd give it a try. Later I read a rave review by ClieOS and I actually started looking forward to getting the Zens.
The Zens arrived in a plain white box, with another pair of buds included, the Asura, a more entry level model (which I've spent very little time listening time is precious, want to spend as much time with the main event as possible). Accessories included foam bud covers, in 2 varieties, solid and donut shaped, which were supposed to make wearing the buds easier for those not used to them. The donut ones were said to affect the sound less than the solid ones (since they didn't block the sound openings from the buds). I did try them with both versions of the bright red covers, never found it made wearing the buds any easier, did think even the donut one muffled the sound some, so I just went using the Zens Au Naturale. (I had read about another accessory that another reviewer found helped, the earhoox, so I tried them, but I still did better with just the buds, ma'am...the ubiquitous "ymmv" goes here, of course). The Zen is physically not imposing in any way, looks like your archetypical ear bud, it's a nice, solid white color, seems well constructed, and has a nice non removable cable, clear plastic with silver wire inside. The cable is not very microphonic, and seems very tangle resistant, much better than some uber cables I have (looking at you, Linum...). Certainly no sign that we are dealing with anything special just from looking at it, but the proof is in the listening, as we shall see.
So, tunes I used to evaluate these babies (I make no claim to the specificity of these tracks to evaluating any audio parameters; when I review gear, I usually wind up listening to the same track over and over, I find this more tolerable if I'm listening to tunes I like).

Aimee Mann-Humpty Dumpty (cd rip, FLAC)
Bridge Over Troubled Waters-Aretha Franklin (24/192 HDTracks download)
Somewhere In Neverland-All Time Low (CD rip, FLAC)

Upstream gear:
Pono (black, if you must know, not that overexposed yellow), either direct through single ended output or line out to amp.
Regen/Geek Out Special Edition, either through 47k ohm out put or line out into amp

The Sound: the Zen has really great toe tapping, finger snapping PRAT, as they say in these here parts. The other words that jump to mind are "open" and "clear"...they have great clarity, give the feeling of seeing far into the stage. Staging is wide, detailing is really good, depth OK, not as strong as the width (at least, as compared to the higher priced spread). Bass doesn't go as low as some, treble is a bit rolled off compared to some, but it all happens in a very involving, musical type of way. Bass is interesting-it seems to roll off so that some of the really deep bass is MIA, but the leading edge and tone of the bass is so strong and rhythmic, it doesn't give any feeling of bass deficiency at all. In fact, that strong, bouncy bass it what pulls you in and makes you want to boogie.

I don't have any other good buds to use for comparison, so I pulled some of the Head Fi Greatest Hits iems out of the draw, just for comparison.

Zero Audio Duoza-gets a bit more body to the mids, more mid centric, and goes lower. The lows are not as sharply defined, though, open space not as "open", slight haze, more highs, but also, on some recordings (not all), some sibilance.

Havi B3-more sensitive, closer perspective, stage not as wide or deep, bass flabbier, silence/space between instruments not as clear (this is a really strong suit of the Zen), mids less present, overall not up to the Zen

Fidue A83-again, bass goes somewhat lower, powerful, but a bit looser, stage is wide and deep depending on recording, highs the best of the group (but again, at the cost of a bit of sibilance on some recordings), vocals more up front than Zen on some recordings, similar on others.

Adding the line out/MicroZOTL2 was instructive; these babies scale up. That is, give them better gear higher up in the chain, they sound better. Specifically, with the MicroZOTL2 in the chain, things are even more open sounding, clear, bass tighter, stage wider and deeper, makes a great combination. I put on another great track, Dave Douglas Quintet's "Bridge to Nowhere" from a FLAC CD rip from the album Time Travel, which confirmed my impressions from earlier listening. Treble opens up, cymbals, while still not up with the best I've heard, are more present, that ride cymbal that drives much jazz more immediate and keeping things sailing along, while that fabulous bass just drives the tune even more. Some more depth, tonal richness, layering become apparent when using the MicroZOTL2 as the amp. I know most of you are likely to use something like the Cayen C5 rather than the MicroZOTL2, but I wanted to see how much up-scalability (the word police are going to get me for that one...:D ) the Zens have, a sure sign of quality, and they pass the test quite nicely.

Similarly to iems, I think even more so, exactly how you insert them makes a HUGE difference in sound, so experimentation is key.

So, have to eat my words as far as buds go, was convinced they'd never be for me, fit and sound issues to much for me. Now, I have to say they make a great addition to my headphone collection. No, they don't replace the TOTL over ear (HE-1000) or my ciem (acs Encore), but they complement them, deliver good sound, good enough not to have me rip them out of my ears and reach for the big boys (which DOES happen with many of my other phones now), and give me a break from the over and in ear comfort issues that can come with both these TOTL cans (I'm in the minority who don't find the HEK particularly comfy; don't have time to go into the Encore story, maybe over a beer one of these days...)

Highly recommended.
"This Bud's for you!"
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$750 is a pretty good price for the Encore...
I haven't written them off, think they are really hard to get a good fit with, at least for me. When I have them perfect, they really do have a naturalness and depth that is quite pleasing. The top end seems to fall off a cliff, but I think it is at least partly because of fit/seal issues-they sound great when I press down on them just over the opening to the ear canal, which is supposed to mean I'm not getting that seal. Have already sent them back numerous times, trying to hold off but one of these days back they go if I don't get the fit/seal thing down. The Zen is just great sound, and SO much easier (and cheaper).
GREAT review doctorjazz!  how did you get to stay in your ears? i couldn't get my touring set
of Zens to stay in my ears at all when i moved my head in response to their excellent PRAT!
using the MicroZotl to drive earbuds is CRAAAAZY man, but then again this is head-fi!!!
(i did the same actually when i had them on tour and they do sound Wonderbar through the Zotl2!
using them for Ponography is more realistic.  i wonder what V2 of the Zen will bring? hope you
get to review the new ones coming out soon.......thanks for posting your impressions doctorjazz!
Crazy Glue is always an option...