ChiFi audio products often get a bad rep. Especially Knowledge Zenith (KZ), who has become infamous for straight up copying the aesthetics of many other companies. But the KZ ZS10 is something different.
We would like to thank Gearbest.com for sending us the KZ ZS10 for review. Gearbest is a site that sells many affordable and quality electronics. We are not commercially affiliated in any way and this review is our honest and independent opinion. You can get the KZ ZS10 from them for just 40USD (or less during a sale!)
Knowledge Zenith is a small Chinese company that started off by making really budget products like the KZ ED9 and the KZ ZST, and started to garner more interest from the audio community when they released the KZ ZS5 which looked, well, pretty much exactly like the Campfire Audio Andromeda. And then they did it again with the ZS6. But that hasn’t stopped budget minded audiophiles from buying their products.
I never had a chance to try those previous products myself, but from reading reviews, it seemed like the past products were pretty unrefined. The ZS5 and ZS6 were known to have unpleasantly harsh highs, and build and cable quality were, to put it nicely, pretty crappy.
I was still eager to try out the ZS10, because with its non-copied design and a big KZ logo on the crossover circuit, it seems as if this is something that they are proud to have designed from the ground up, and I do think that this may be a turning point in the company’s image.
|Driver Type||1 x 10mm Dynamic Driver + 4 x Knowles Balanced Armatures per side|
|Frequency response||7Hz ~ 40kHz|
|Plug||3.5mm stereo jack|
|Cord length||1.2 m|
|Weight||24 +/-5 g|
|Detachable cable design||0.75mm 2pin Cable|
There’s really not much to talk about in terms of packaging and accessories here. We’re in the realm of the extreme budget ChiFi market, so any corners that can be cut will be cut.
While you only get the bare minimum here – that’s not to say what’s supplied is of extreme low quality. In fact, the cable is still a very decently made, soft, braided cable which serves to significantly reduce microphonics. It’s also connected to a one-button control in-line microphone, which is a small bonus for people who want mics. You also get a small packet of earphone tips in S, M, L sizes.
Admittedly, it isn’t a 100% perfect product by any means – the 3.5mm connector and the 2-pin connectors are made of cheap feeling plastic and aren’t fancy Oyaide connectors or anything, the cable is really prone to tangling a lot, and the in-line control doesn’t have any volume adjustment buttons. You don’t even get a little pouch or any sort of carrying case with it. But, if you’re only paying around 40USD for this IEM with a pretty decent braided cable and standard set of tips, you have no right to complain because honestly, with the quality of sound it provides, it’s a steal.
Design & Ergonomics
The first thing you will notice about the KZ ZS10 is that it is pretty massive for an IEM. It is basically a big “D” shaped IEM that covers up the entire concha portion of the ear. Even as someone who has no problems wearing larger IEMS such as the Oriolus or iBasso IT03, I was slightly taken aback by is size. Upon closer inspection, it would seem that apart from having to fit 5 drivers into the shell, they also created a massive crossover circuit, with The letters KZ emblazoned on the surface, hence the massive form factor.
KZ tried to mitigate this problem by making a slightly longer nozzle so that unlike designs that actually lie against the concave surface of the ear, the main bulk of the IEM hovers just above it. Despite this, I can see its size being a potential problem for some. While the unit we received for this review is an eyecatching red, those looking for a more discreet colour will be happy to know that it is also offered in transparent black and blue, although it seems that the big crossover circuit board can’t be changed from the bright red look.
As with all IEMs that make use of dynamic drivers, there’s always a small hole for venting which allows the driver to flex properly as it moves back and forth. This will reduce the isolation of the IEM as sound can also get into it. The ZS10 oddly has 3 small holes for venting and despite being on the inside face, I still felt that its isolation was a little worse than some other IEMs with vents.
Detailed Sound Analysis
The KZ was an interesting budget IEM for me to review. I went through wildly different phases when I thought it was horrible, then OK, then even considered it to be what they call, a giant killer. And then I found out it was due to it being more source dependent than the other IEMs I’ve reviewed before. It was basically pure mud when I ran it out of a Lenovo laptop, significantly improved from my phone, and only was I satisfied when I ran it from my FiiO E07K or the iPad Pro. Finally, with my gear setup did I feel like I could enjoy listening from the ZS10.
With hybrid designs, it is more often than not that is designed to take advantage of the natural, slightly boomier bass sound of dynamic drivers. The KZ ZS10 is no exception to this rule and doesn’t shy away from using the 10mm dynamic driver inside, bringing an impactful bass that I greatly enjoyed while listening to EDM. Add onto that the clarity and high end extension of its 4 balanced armatures to highlight the myriad of twinkling and shimmering synth notes and cymbals and you get a perfect symphony of trance enjoyment.
The ZS10 also performs wonderfully with progressive metal and rock tunes, able to render bass notes with above average levels of detail and control, as subbass notes show themselves but quickly fade away so as to not take over the other frequencies. Though soundstage is not the widest, there is still a decent sense of positioning especially noticeable in the high frequencies allowing you to clearly differentiate positioning of instruments. Guitars also chug with pretty sweet amounts of textural detail as well.
Unfortunately, things began to sound a little off when I tested tracks with vocals mixed in. It wasn’t apparent to me at first what the issue was, and only revealed itself over time. The main issue lies in the fact that there is what I perceived to be too much mid-high and high frequency boost at certain frequencies which made it sound harsh and fatiguing over long listening sessions. To be fair, it will probably not be very obvious to a non-audiophile, and the brashness of the mid-highs can be tempered with a good source that is either a little warmer to add a pinch more bass or something very neutral.
Overall, the KZ ZS10 is a very admirable effort from this still growing Chinese IEM company. Though it is a little rough around the edges and reveals a certain lack of refinment and attention to details, at times, it can sound quite close to IEMs that go for much higher prices.
The KZ ZS10 tries to be an Oriolus at the fraction of the price, and it sort of, nearly succeeds. Like I said, the KZ ZS10 does have some flaws and if you are a discerning audiophile nerd like myself, you will be able to spot them here and there. Resolution is generally lower although with certain more forgiving tracks it’s harder to tell, the bass goes deeper in the Oriolus, and the KZ ZS10’s midhighs are elevated more so than even the Oriolus. It’s informative of the fact that more driver count does not necessarily mean better quality, but the fact that I’m even comparing a 30-40USD IEM to a 800USD one just goes to show how great the ZS10’s value is.
“X” Budget IEM
There are simply too many earphones in today’s market for me to really choose any particular IEM to compare to, but I would say compared to the typical budget earphone offering the ZS10 has a much more refined sound that leans a little bright instead of the bass focused sound signatures that others have. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions!
I measure everything with the Vibro Veritas v1, and while it is not a professional rig it can still give pretty reliable results. Right off the bat we can observed the hump in the bass with its gentle subbass rolloff. Despite appearing to be the largest dB, the low frequencies are not the main attraction in my experience. Rather, the perceived sound tends to seesaw between bass and boosted mid-high frequencies, and I think that this may be the case due to our innate sensitivity to the frequencies of the human vocal range. Lastly, although I doubt the Veritas suffers in accuracy are around 10kHz, the peak there also seems like it might be contributing to the occasional harshness.
If I haven’t gotten the point across clearly enough, the KZ ZS10 has really good value. It’s got some issues, but they’re not big enough that I would instantly discredit it, especially given its price. It has a pretty refined sound with warm-ish bass combined with pretty extended mids and high frequencies although they can get a little too much at times. Resolution sounds grainy at certain moments though for the most part it sounds okay.
Audiophiles who can afford the big budget TOTL offerings will probably appreciate it for its value but ultimately not give it a second look, but I am sure that budget audiophiles will love this little gem. Let’s hope that KZ continues to improve their designs!
- That great price and value, beating out a ton of other budget earphones
- Overall good resolution
- Pretty decent, solid bass
- Comes with a nice very soft braided cable, so no microphonic noise
- Mid high – high frequencies slightly too boosted; can become fatiguing
- Slightly mechanical sounding
- Needs a good source to smoothen things out a little, and bad source can make it sound very muddy/especially harsh in the mid-highs
- Slight graininess, but hard to complain at this price point
- Form factor is pretty darn big