REVIEW: Venture Electronics Zen and Asura
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kjk1281

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INTRODUCTION

As tough as it is for me to admit, earbuds are a dying breed. It seems every year, fewer and fewer manufacturers even bother making open-air earphones (Denon), and when they do, they either focus only on low end models (Panasonic, Philips, Sony, etc.), or they don't release them here in the United States (Audio-Technica, Pioneer, and Sennheiser, just to name a few). Indeed, the focus for headphone manufacturers today is the now ubiquitous canalphone, or in-ear monitor.

Despite this trend, many smaller companies, primarily out of Asia and especially out of China, have started making earbuds targeted at the audiophile market. One such company is Venture Electronics (VE), and I've had the opportunity to spend a little time with two of their high-impedance earbud models, the 320 ohm Zen and the 150 ohm Asura.

I'd like to give a special thanks to fellow Head-Fier Bruce (a.k.a. fleasbaby) for setting up the review tour. Without his initiative, I probably would not have had the chance to try these earbuds out. Thank you!




A side view of the package stating VE's motto in Chinese



ACCESSORIES AND BUILD

The earbuds arrived in a cubic paper box which contained the buds (ensconced in their cases) as well as an information sheet in Chinese. Each bud comes with three pairs of earbud foams: one each of black full foams and two pairs of "donut" foams in black and red. They also came with simple but very useful and appropriately sized clamshell hard cases.

As for build, I feel both earbuds are adequate but not exceptional. Both the Zen and Asura use the same Sennheiser MX / Foster 040596 housing and cap that so many other Chinese earbud designs incorporate. Strangely enough, the pre-production Asura, the cheaper of the two models, comes across as being more well thought-out, with a nice braided cable and metal Y-split, which terminates at a nicely-relieved metal-covered straight jack. Comparatively, the more expensive Zen uses what appears to be a silver cable insulated in a very bouncy, rubbery sheath that can be a bit annoying to handle both while merely walking around the house or when putting the earbud away in its case. Unlike its inexpensive sibling, the Zen's cable split and straight jack are covered in plastic. Neither have a cable cinch to manage the split.




Contents of the box included the earbuds, foam pads, carrying cases, and info booklet


AMPING

The Zen and the Asura have high impedance ratings of 320 ohm and 150 ohm, respectively. Despite both earbuds having high impedance, I actually found the Asura to sound quite good straight out of my Sansa Clip+, as well as smartphones like the Lumia 520 and Moto G (2013). The Zen, on the other hand, demanded more power. Currently, my main portable amp is the FiiO E11 Kilimanjaro. I did find that using the amp increased the warmth and authority to the Zen's sound while increasing resolution and separation. Thus, I highly recommend using an amp with the Zen, and go as far to say that if you don't have a portable amp, it may be best to pick up the Asura instead.




The VE Asura


SOUND

The sound signature of both VE buds can be characterized as having an open and dynamic sound with excellent transient response. In particular, I've found that both the Zen and Asura excelled in bass impact and attack, and often did I find myself tapping my toes and/or banging my head. Simply put, these buds rock.

Continuing with the bass, I found the extension of the lower frequencies to be very good for an earbud, with perhaps a bit of emphasis in the sub-bass. At times I felt this emphasis may be slightly much in the Asura, but this was mostly when using the buds indoors. The higher-impedance Zen didn't have this issue. On a positive note, the bass doesn't bleed into the midrange, so never do the buds feel muddy or stuffy.

The mids are solid and probably best described by what they don't do. No, the mids aren't as forward or thick like the Blox M2C, but neither are they as airy or dry as some recent Sennheisers can be. They don't add that "special sauce" to vocal presentations, but they don't take anything away from them either. It's the midrange that also seems to separate the two VE buds. Side by side, it was clear to my ears that the Zen had much more detail and resolution, along with air and separation when compared to the Asura.

I would describe both the Zen and Asura as having treble that is well-extended to provide good airiness and an open feel, but devoid of excessive sparkle and uneveness. Trebleheads may be begging for more, but this balance lends itself well to longer listening sessions. Where the Zen sets itself apart from the Asura is once again by being more articulate and open.




The VE Zen


CONCLUSION

Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect coming into this loaner tour. I've had a good amount of experience in the past with so-called DIY and small batch Chinese earbud manufacturing startups with mixed results. Some produce excellent sounding products, while others, not so much, and the level of support from these companies ranges from non-existent to bare minimum. Time will tell where VE will stand when addressing customer feedback, but I do applaud them for assisting fleasbaby in creating the US tour as well as others, and I think this is a sign that the company is willing to look outside of China and reach out to its (potential) customers.

Thankfully, there's no questioning the Zen and Asura when it comes to sound, where I feel the two buds are definitely worth their respective prices. Both offer an dynamic and enjoyable sound that should please many an earbud enthusiast. The Asura may be the better choice for those without a portable amp, but for those who do, the Zen offers more resolution, and increased linearity to the already rocking VE sound signature.

It's clear to me that VE is an earbud maker that deserve attention and a listen.
 
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pbarach

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Where did you buy these?
 
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jant71

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Ummm, re-read the last section(in italics) of the introduction.

 
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pbarach

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I didn't know what a "review tour" was, never heard that phrase before. But since you've directed me to that phrase, I'm assuming the VE earbuds aren't actually on sale in the US.
 
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jant71

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Well a tour is one person's pair going around so others can here and give a review and send on to the next stop.
 
VE is too small too have stock to send to other sellers. Also that means the Zen and Asura are also done since they don't have the capacity to make a bunch of different models. The Zen 2.0 is all there is till a new Asura comes along. There is always the MONK which is the $5 model but is quite fun and good and easiest to drive.
http://www.head-fi.org/t/759219/ve-a-new-and-impressive-earbuds-brand/1665
 
and
 
http://www.aliexpress.com/item/Venture-Electronic-VE-Zen-high-impedance-320-ohms-earbud/32302987270.html
should be all you need :) just have to read up.
 
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