Venture Electronics (VE) Asura 2.0 & Zen 2.0

REVIEW - Venture Electronics (VE) Asura 2.0 & Zen 2.0






Specifications:


Asura 2.0:

  • Dynamic Driver: 15.4 mm
  • Impedance: 150 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 110 dB (1 mW)
  • Frequency response: 17 ~ 23000 Hz
  • Power rating: 1200 mW
  • Cable: Y cable, 1.2m.


Price: U$D 78.

 

Zen 2.0:

  • Dynamic Driver: 15.4 mm
  • Impedance: 320 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 106 dB (1 mW)
  • Frequency response: 15 ~ 23500 Hz
  • Power rating: 1500 mW
  • Cable: Y cable, 1.2m.


Price: Starting from U$D 148.


Website & Availability: veclan.com


Accessories:

Foam pads, regular and donut
2 pairs of ear fins, small and large
Carrying case       
The Zen 2.0 also includes a pair of the new Monk Plus


Build & Design:

Starting from the housings, like the Monk they're pretty generic. The same design is used even cheap bundled or even on $1 earbuds from many Far East sellers, so don't expect any cool or fancy form factor. The translucent housing is a nice touch, nonetheless. On the other hand, the build quality is quite solid; the $5 Monk was quite sturdy, and the higher VE models look durable as well. The main change from the plain looking first Monk and Asura models is on the front part, where the speaker faces (as seen on the pictures). As for the cable, it was changed into an L-shaped plug, but still lacks a chin slider (even the Monk 1.0 had one!), and the Y-split is very small. The cable is rather thick, a somehow springy and not too soft; not as stiff as the Monk, though. Both are kinda rubbery, but the Asura 2 cable is actually nicer, while the Zen 2 is less friendly, which should have been the opposite. Anyway, none of them has the great and supple cable the original Asura 1 had, which was pretty much one of the most friendly, soft and easy to handle cable I've ever seen (even though the slider was also missing...).


Fit & Comfort:

Well, the generic design is well reflected here. Like the Monk these are just decent, lacking in ergonomics and not the best fit. It's understandable that for the larger drivers a large shell is needed, and while there was nothing to complain for the cheapest Monk, for $50+ earbuds there is still some room for improvement. That's not to say the VE are not comfortable, but they won't fit everyone. Fortunately, the addition of ear fins might help to keep the earpieces in place.




Sound:


Zen 2.0:

The Zen 2 with its very high impedance of 320ohm, but only half of that number in price, is competing directly with any truly top-tier earphone out there, with a slight yet pleasant analytical tilt on it.




The low end of the Zen 2 is very accurate and controlled and yet large in dimensions. As what a typical high-end dynamic driver earphone should be, the bass is detailed and very clean, very well textured and not missing in body or fullness. Notes are presented in very solid way and good depth immense and hardly rolled-off for being 'just en earbud' and there is no sign of bass bloat. Not being easy to drive, speed is a little dependant on the source power, but feels rather natural when well matched. On a strong amplifier as the HDB or AMP-S overall speed is great without losing in bass control yet achieving more body and a more realistic note, neither thick or bloated nor overly quick and thin; pretty much perfect in terms of balance.
Unlike most earbuds, the Zen 2 has plenty impact and bass quantity, especially with foam pads, without getting overwhelming and with a presentation that is very easy to like.
While the 'no foam' setup might be considered as a more 'Reference sound’, the addition of foam pads (either donut or regular) shows an increased impact and a warmer, more consumer-friendly sound. For some more critical listeners this addition could also reduce the fantastic transparency of this little earbud and give up some of the texture for a smoother and weightier sound, but won't affect much the overall treble extension. Either way, the Zen 2 is not exactly to be called 'flat' in response, rather it should be referred as a 'full' sounding earphone on every response, and that's where its main strength lies. For the 'purist' listeners the no-foam setup (maybe with the included fins installed for more secure fit) should be the best option for the Zen 2, but as an all-arounder and a bit more friendly or less compromising sound, the donut pad would be the right option.


The midrange of the Zen 2 is excellently well balanced, rather neutral, well weighted on the lower frequencies and with a slight gain towards the top region. This flagship wins in terms of dynamics and fullness with a high resemblance to full size cans when wisely amped. Bass bleed is nonexistent and the added smoothness is very impressive. The Zen 2 is slightly smoother and more lush than the Asura 2, but even though much closer to the Asura 2 in terms of brightness than to the Asura 1 which is the warmer, more musical and easy going among the three. Clarity is top notch, as well as resolution, and even the smallest bit of micro detail is not missing, but not very aggressive as a more analytical set can be, which allows the earphone to remain extremely refined and liquid. As for tonality, the mids are a touch on the warm side with a slight extra aggressiveness, which can get a tad shouty if poorly/wrongly matched, synergy-wise. Expectedly, that realism and articulation will depend mostly on the source.



In the upper registers, the Zen 2 has a bit of emphasis towards the upper midrange and lower treble but manages to keep its top end in control better than the Asura 2 or the Hifiman Compact (Yuin like) do. Not a hot treble, but definitely energetic; a well done and refined treble that doesn't give up in crispness or resolution, plenty of sparkle and very good in sense of air and separation. Never being harsh or sibilant, although over long listening sessions, the Zen 2 can be a little more fatiguing than an old Yuin PK1 for its extra fuller energy. Interestingly, despite being a tad smoother the top end extension is higher than the Asura 2 and (even more than the PK1). It'd be hard to call the Zen 2 a 'revealing' earphone as it first needs to be well powered to reach its fullest strength, but definitely should fall under the 'transparent' category.



The presentation of the Zen 2 is lively and energetic and manages to show a very musical and rich (though not laid-back) sound. Soundstage is quite the widest among all earbuds, sounding nothing like an earbud but as a large headphone in terms of dimensions, which is very spacious, airy, and open. The Zen 2 timbre may not be the most natural, and while still much better than both the Asura and Hifiman Compact, I could still prefer the PK1 in just that single regard. Paired with a warmer source like the HDB, it gets slightly more laid-back letting a fuller/thicker midrange, while with a Cayin C5D it gets much brighter and energetic. For instance, the Amp-S is very well suited for the Zen 2, as in spite of its analytical and highly detailed character, it can show the best of the Zen side without giving up to a specific frequency.

All-in-all it is a signature that is equally balanced, full and well-rounded, very realistic and capable of showing a three-dimensional and immersive presentation with one of the largest soundstage hidden inside of a small earbud shell.


Asura 2.0:

The Asura 2 resembles very closely to the Zen 2 flagship in overall sound quality and signature. With the 150ohm impedance it's noticeably easier to drive, and even with a weaker source the sound is already good enough to impress. There's still need for the right source to bring it to its best. The PK1 sounded quite anemic without a powerful source, the Asura 1.0 congested and distorted, while the Asura 2.0 would be something in the middle, with less distortion but lacking power.

As with the Zen 2, the low end of the Asura 2 is tight, clean and very detailed, but lighter in body and note thickness. Even with foam pads, the bass is smoother, less prominent and lacks the slight extra aggression of the upper Zen model. It doesn't lose in terms of control and accuracy, just not as immense and extended. In terms of pure quantity, the Asura 2 is not a bass light earphone, definitely not for an earbud; it still carries more energy and bass power than the Hifiman Compact and a tad more mid-bass focused than the Yuin PK1. The Ubiquo/Ucotech ES903 while it has a richer mid bass focus it sounds much more muddy and less detailed than the Asura 2 (and so next to the Asura 1.0). 



The midrange is also neutral to bright, with a slight emphasis towards the lower treble. Less warm, thinner in body with a leaner presentation next to the Zen 2, but very well balanced on its own; might be found a tad U-shaped sounding for some with more transparent sources. Just clear and detailed mids is what the Asura 2 has been made into. They're smooth and liquid, only a tad cooler with a slight tilt on the upper mids region due the brighter emphasis which also gives an impression of better clarity compared to a PK1/Hifiman Compact (Balanced). While technically the Asura 2 could be considered 'better' it is also less 'musical' than these (relatively) warmer earbuds. This is also reflected in the vocal presentation being the Asura 2 not as sweet and immersive and a bit sharper sometimes. For the midrange, the source matching is more critical on the Asura 2 than those ones, and even next to the Zen 2.

The top end is bright and slightly more emphasized than the low end without the foam pads. It's still very well controlled with a touch of an analytical character. Compared to the well extended Zen 2, the Asura 2’s treble roll-off a bit earlier and tends to be a bit sharper and less forgiving but still manages to maintain a high level of refinement and accuracy at a fraction of the current flagship's price. There's not extra sibilance on the treble and it won't necessarily classify as 'hot', and while fortunately there's no hint of grain or harshness, upper instruments might feel a tad splashy and too energetic.


The presentation also reminds of the Zen 2; almost as spacious and open. It will also sound quite effortless if it gets enough power. Soundstage is also very impressive, very wide and three dimensional too but imaging and timbre is not as natural. Dynamics are excellent, maybe a little bit slower, but much faster than the also 150ohm rated Yuin PK1.





Conclusion & Value:

All-in-all, these new options from Venture Electronics are more than just amazing. The design is rather plain and generic, ergonomics could be still improved and the cable too could be more friendly. Also, the high impedance is not to be taken lightly as they need a matching source to really shine. Nevertheless, both the Asura and Zen 2 are without a doubt among the best sounding earphones out there, and offer a great value.