The Zero Audio Carbo Tenore would be an ideal pair of stock earbuds if it came bundled with a smartphone.
It won’t last you a lifetime, but that’s okay. It has all the core building blocks and they are all competently implemented – from the good audio quality characterized by a great sense of clarity to all the other things that make earbuds sound good, namely good soundstage, instrument separation, noise isolation, etc.
However, it has no extra features whatsoever, not even an in-line microphone, so if you need anything beyond an admittedly steady foundation you won’t find it here.
The Zero Audio Carbo Tenore is a fairly old pair of budget IEMs that got a very favorable launch and has somehow managed to retain much of their popularity ever since.
With a promise of audio quality that far exceeds the ranks of earbuds you get for free with many devices – and a price tag that is highly approachable – the ZH-DX200-CT (yes, this is the full name of these IEMs, but no one calls them that) remains as tantalizing a purchase as ever.
But is this a reasonable mindset to have while looking at budget earbuds made by one of Japan’s less known manufacturers?
|Name||Zero Audio Carbo Tenore ZH-DX200-CT|
|Type||IEM (in-ear monitors)|
|Frequency range||8Hz – 24kHz|
The first thing you’ll notice about the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore is that it looks a bit weird compared to your typical budget IEMs. For example, it features slender yet elongated housings that stick outside your ears a bit. Strange-looking and attention-grabbing designs have been dominating the high-end market ever since the release of the AirPods, but they somehow feel out of place on budget earbuds, especially wired ones.
That said, it’s not just the looks of the Carbo Tenore that are different from the norm. They also feature a carbon-fiber, aluminum composite construction. These are both materials that are often used in airplane construction due to their lightweight yet tough nature. We’ll have more to say about the overall durability of the Carbo Tenore in the next segment, but the toughness of the housings is certainly a strong point.
On the one end of the housing, we’ve got the ear tip, which can appear comically large on the thin housings, while on the other there’s the cable, which is attached at an angle. A running pattern of black and grey squares gives the Carbo Tenore some character, but it’s not overstated, which we always appreciate on earbuds trying to capture a wide audience.
So, with the carbon fiber housing being tough as nails, you’d expect the overall durability of the Carbo Tenore to be one of its greatest strengths, but this isn’t actually the case. The housing may as well be impervious, but that doesn’t mean anything if another part is faulty.
And while we wouldn’t exactly say that the chord used here is faulty, it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s bad enough that the cable is thin and flimsy, but that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is the contact point between the cable and the housings. This joint is easily the most likely part to break.
You can minimize the risk to these joints by wrapping the cables around your ear, thereby shortening them and stabilizing the joint. This will also help reduce the microphonics picked up by the cable. But it won’t erase the fact that you have to be really careful about how you treat these earbuds. The earbuds also come with a soft carrying pouch, but the ability of the pouch to prevent damage to the joints is literally non-existent, rendering the accessory useless.
We should point out that the Carbo Tenore can last a long time if you take good care of it. But we can see how this might be a deal-breaker for some people, and rightfully so. It’s not a Tamagotchi, it’s a pair of earbuds!
As far as comfort goes, the Carbo Tenore ZH-DX200-CT is a joy to use. As with all IEMs, you’ll have to make sure you use the right ear tips for your ears if you want to get maximum stability, sound isolation, and comfort, but the choice of three pairs of different-sized ear tips should help with this. If not, feel free to check out our guide for choosing the best ear tips for you.
But once that’s done, you’ll be treated to a level of comfort that is sublime. You could use the Carbo Tenore for day-long marathons of gaming, music listening, movie watching, or any mix of these, without ever tiring out your ears. They’re that comfortable, and we’re sure the super-lightweight nature of the construction materials the reason why.
However, we don’t want you to confuse comfort for stability. While we can’t imagine the earbuds slipping out of your ears during regular use, they don’t go deep inside the ear canal and do stick out quite a bit. What’s more, they lack of any kind of stabilizing feature, like ear wings, that would help them brave a workout environment.
With all of this in mind, we wouldn’t recommend the Carbo Tenore to folks in need of durable earbuds for working out, as they are neither durable nor stable enough for this.
Now comfort is great and all, but that’s certainly not the reason behind the enduring popularity of the Carbo Tenore. If you’re going to establish yourself as the go-to upgrade path for folks buying their first earbuds, you’re going to need good audio quality as well.
So how does the Carbo Tenore fare in this regard?
The answer is, surprisingly well.
For how little these IEMs cost, they have a better than expected soundstage and instrument separation. Plus, their noise isolation is fairly good as well, helping you to hear the detail in your music without necessarily turning to volume up too loudly. The earbuds are also super easy to drive, so making sure not to crank up the volume is heavily advised if you care for your hearing health, as these earbuds can get loud.
Overall, the Carbo Tenore features a fairly balanced sound signature that makes it a good fit for all kinds of music genres. What impressed us the most here was the tight bass, which packed plenty of punch without being too boomy. And even the sub-bass had some rumble to it, courtesy of the ported dynamic driver. Most budget earbuds can’t deliver this, but then again, most budget earbuds don’t have a frequency response that starts at 8Hz.
The mids weren’t anything special. They could have been a bit more forward, but they were perfectly capable of getting the job done. The outlier here is definitely the treble, which can be a bit bright, but not to the point where it detracts from the overall listening experience.
Most importantly, the earbuds gave a great sense of clarity, one that will surprise you if you’ve only ever used stock earbuds that come bundled with smartphones or similar devices.
All in all, it’s easy to see why the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore still gets recommended to people looking to buy their first earbuds to this day.
While it may not be as durable as you’d expect a pair of earbuds constructed from these materials to be, it still offers great bang for your buck in terms of sound quality. And it shouldn’t be understated how you can use these earbuds for however long you want, thanks to the great level of comfort.
With a balanced sound signature that oozes with clarity, the Carbo Tenore is fit to handle all genres of music well and is therefore easy to recommend to most people. As a replacement for stock earbuds, it passes with flying colors.
However, when we consider how much the market has changed since the Carbo Tenore was released, and how you can choose between many quality wireless earbuds (or even true wireless earbuds) for less than $50, its value becomes a bit more dubious. It’s a good pair of earbuds, for sure, but there’s a reason it didn’t make it on our list of the best earbuds under $50.