Review: Zero Audio’s Carbo Tenore [Budget IEM]

Carbo Tenore

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Zero Audio is a Japanese company that manufactures the Carbo series – Carbo Tenore and Carbo Basso. The Tenore was recommended by /u/Degru to us as an entry-level audiophile IEM.

We went ahead and bought it together with the SoundMagic E80C and 1More Triple Driver. Since it arrived the last, we had the two above mentioned IEMs to compare with.

Carbo Tenore in a box
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The Tenore is a popular IEM lauded by audiophiles due to the deadly combo of affordability and excellent sound quality.

The Carbo Tenore ZH-DX200-CT earphones from Japan’s Zero Audio are astounding: they compete with the best earphones in the world, but cost a borderline illegal $38. Seriously, you could append an extra zero to their price and I’d still give them a glowing review. – The Verge

You might have read this over-the-top review from The Verge and is wondering whether is that really true or just pure hyperbole.

Let’s find out if it lives up to the lofty expectation.

Build Quality

Sleek looking carbo tenore
Isn’t it sleek-looking?

The Tenore looks great. The glossy barrel body apparently made from a hybrid of carbon and aluminum is tiny and slender. With a holographic grey and black pattern prints, it adds a touch of sleekness to the overall aesthetics.

It is extremely lightweight at 3.2g and needless to say, they are very portable.

Now to the downsides. It is hard to imagine that the Tenore is manufactured by a Japanese company, given that the Japanese products are known to be detail-oriented and have great ergonomics.

The Tenore is not a sturdy pair of IEM. There are a couple of weak points that contributes to the fragility of the Tenore.

1. Poor reinforcement of cable joints

The cable joints at the headphone jacks and the housing are poorly reinforced. They feel like they are going to detach if you give it a quick tug.

2. Rubber Cable

The cable made from grippy rubber often caught on to things upon contact. This increased the chance of us pulling at the cable.

3. 90 Degree right-angle jack

Combined with the weak reinforcement of the jack, the right-angle jack adds an unnecessary amount of stress on the joint.

4. Fabric Carrying Case

Carbo Tenore fabric carry case

Zero Audio included a carrying case made from soft fabric that offers very little protection to the IEM.

With the above said, we felt that the build quality is fairly aligned with the price tag. Pragmatically, it is not possible to achieve great build quality with superior sound quality at this price. The manufacturer had to forgo one for another.

Next, since the Tenore came after the E80C and Triple Driver, our expectation for build quality was higher. Hence, take our review with a pinch of salt.

We owned the Tenore for about a month and have been semi-careful with it. It is mainly used for public transit and we chucked it in the bag within the carry case after use. It is still in one piece thankfully.

Comfort and Fit

The moment the IEM enters the ear canals, we felt this uncomfortable pressure in the ear. We suspect that the problem could be due to the default silicon ear tips. Hence, we promptly replaced it with smaller ear tips.

It felt better and after prolonged usage, the fit does get more comfortable. Personally, we felt the Tenore is the least comfortable among the three IEMs.

Thinking that it could be an isolated problem, we tried the Tenore out with a few other people and the common theme among the feedbacks was the slightly uncomfortable fitting.

Technical Specs

The Tenore has an impressive frequency range at 8 – 24kHz and is much broader than the other two IEMs. With 16Ω impedance and a sensitivity of 102 db/1mw, most mobile devices can effectively drive the Tenore. Using our Headphone Power Calculator, we see that it only needs 0.13 volts to drive the IEM to a 100 DPSPL.

Noise Isolation

Even though the ear tips were downsized, the noise isolation is good. At around quarter of the max volume, most external sound is already filtered out.

Sound Leakage

The Tenore also does a good job at preventing sound leakages. The volume has to be crank up to 3/4 of the max volume before any sound leakages were audible.

Sound Quality

Despite its petite size, the Tenore has a soundstage wider than what you normally you can get from IEM of this price and size.

Although the Basso has a better reputation for bass response, the Tenore can hold its own in the lows frequency range.

The bass is tight and is punchy, albeit not as weighted as the 1More Triple driver. The sub bass also has that sweet rumble that we like.

The Tenore sounds great in the mids. The vocals in Moira and Nieman’s Lost In Translation sound detailed and rich. We had a great time listening to ballads on it.

The treble is slightly bright but not to the extent of the E80C. Listening to violin pieces like Faded by Daniel Jang is pure enjoyment and there were no signs of ear fatigue. We noticed the treble was slightly out of control and sounded screechy during an electric distortion segment (2:40 – 2:48) in Rude by Daniel Jang. In comparison, the E80C performed brilliantly and sail through that segment smoothly.


Living up to its name, the Tenore presents a well-balanced sound signature. The treble is slightly more forward than what you will get from the Triple driver. Overall, we are pleased with the great sound quality.

Carbo Tenore

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So do we recommend it?

Yes. Especially if you can get your hands on one at the $40 price tag, we will say go for it. Throw in a hard-covered carry case for extra protection. We had slight issues with the fit but you can replace the silicon ear tips with Comply Ear Tips and see if that solves the issues. In terms of sound quality, we will say the Carbo Tenore can give the SoundMagic E80C a good run for its money.

What We Like 😍

  • Wide soundstage
  • Great sound quality
  • Good bass presence
  • Detailed mids and treble
  • Well-balanced sound signature
  • Lightweight(3.2g) and portable
  • Great noise isolation
  • Effective at preventing sound leakages

What We Don't Like 🤢

  • Poor build quality
  • Not the most comfortable IEM