Zagg Ebony-Wood On-Ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 31, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: http://youtu.be/y8GWqfosS8g

    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone6p/Headphone_Zagg_Ebony_01.jpg

    Sources: iPhone6+ with the Oppo HA-2/v-moda Verza DAC/amps; various computers using the HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/Beyerdynamic A200p DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Zagg Ebony are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the Zagg (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    The Zagg ebony wood edition headphone is a small light headphone with ebony wood earcups, and a headband very similar to the Audio-Technica ESW 'Earsuit' series headphones. It's an on-ear style, with soft earpads covered by a quality plastic 'pleather' material. The double-entry cable is detachable, fabric-covered, and is terminated by a 45-degree angle miniplug which has the extra ring connector for smartphones. The cable has a clicker/control box with a microphone, and the plugs that go into each earcup are 2.5 mm mono plugs. The earcups fold flat one direction (90 degree rotation) and rotate 45 degrees the other way. The earcups also have enough rotation in the vertical plane to fit any head that can accomodate the headband, whose range of adjustment is 5/8 inch on each side smaller than where I wear it, and 1/2 inch larger on each side. The headband padding is very plush, and given the overall light weight, should be comfortable for everyone.

    The Zagg will play loudly on an iPhone with most tracks, and even plays with a good volume on my low-volume tracks, so adding a headphone amp would be a concern only for improved tonality or soundstage. In my opinion, the wood earcups do help in smoothing the sound, however that doesn't mean that all wood-cup headphones will be equal or even similar. The Zagg should impress most users as having a good sound with no bass or treble adjustments, and the graph on my website under Photos and Audioforge no.5 will testify to that. Isolation is average or better for an on-ear closed headphone, and the leakage is low, however when playing the Zagg in a very quiet office or a public library etc., the volume will have to be kept below audiophile (loud) levels, or someone sitting close by will hear faint sounds coming from the headphone. For most outdoor use the isolation will be good enough, but when riding the bus, train or jet plane, the noise levels there may require a noise-canceling headphone.

    My summary of the sound as compared to my better hi-fi headphones is: A mild emphasis in the upper bass and a slightly soft treble, very little or no midrange coloration, and no graininess or other effects underlying the very smooth sound. I've had a couple of woodies in the near-$100 price range a few years ago that weren't nearly this good, so either the technology has gotten a lot better overall, or this Zagg is just an outstanding performer. Note that when using the Zagg as a portable headphone, a carry case isn't essential since the headphone can be pulled off the head and worn around the neck comfortably, with the earcups fully extended and folded flat. The Zagg's wearing comfort is unusually good for an on-ear type - it's one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever used.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the Zagg compares with each individual track.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Zagg headphone review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Zagg plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the Zagg.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel the weight they carry with the Zagg.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Zagg plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the Zagg.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Zagg plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no excessive emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Zagg reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Zagg renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Zagg plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine is clearly recognizable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Zagg reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Zagg plays this track perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a solid deep-bass response. The Zagg plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The Zagg plays this perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the Zagg. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Zagg provides good detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the Zagg does those well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Zagg plays the fundamental tone pretty well, and although it's not as detailed as some of my best headphones, it's not muddy either, which is very good for a small headphone at 16 hz.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the Zagg is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is impressive with the Zagg.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Zagg renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Zagg reproduces this sound effect fairly well.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Zagg conveys that experience nearly as well as many full-size headphones that have strong clean output at 33 hz. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and detailed, and while the Zagg renders the tones and transients musically, the harpsichord's upper harmonics aren't as detailed as with the better full-size headphones.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Zagg's reproduction is quite good, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The Zagg delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a very realistic sound.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Apologies for the photo quality - the ebony wood colors and texture did not reproduce well in that image.
     

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