Things to consider when receiving advice for buying headphones.

alphacolor-13-182248editedIf you dedicate enough time to this hobby you’ll sooner or later ask for advice about a headphone you never had the chance to hear.
Inexperienced hobbyists will try to help because everyone likes to help and you’ll probably buy a product only to find out it doesn’t really have the sound signature, comfort or practical utility you needed from it, thus the cycle starts again.
Some sites and forums I shall not name here actually make a living from this kind of advice and they prosper.

Sadly more often than not people giving advice never actually heard the product but use the reviews of others to help you the best way they can.
This is not wrong per say but can make you lose time, money and sadly even make you give up on you newly found headphone hobby.

I admit sometimes a headphone or brand is so bad that everyone in a group agrees you should stay away from it. You just need to be careful to know if it’s not a biased opinion. So you should search review sites, online shops reviews and get your hand on everything related to what you want to buy, this includes measurements made by reputable sources and fans alike.

You should always try to hear a headphone before buying it, specially if it’s your first foray in to the hobby! This rule is THE rule!
Your first serious headphone is the base for everything else you’ll buy later, and believe me this hobby can be dangerously addictive if you go in to the rabbit hole.
Your first headphone is also very important because it gives a reference point to experienced users who want to help you. There are people out there who dedicate a lot of listening time to this hobby and their opinion should be respected specially if they take time from it to help you find a great pair of cans.

If someone really wants to help you, he or she will say if they intimately know the product, whats their favorite headphones or sound signature and their favorite music genres.
One thing is someone who heard the product, the other completely different is someone who gives an opinion based on specs, frequency response and opinions from their favorite reviewers who might have a different taste in the sound signature of a headphone and might also be in to different music genres.
People who only listen to bass heavy music are not the best ones to give you advice about good cans for the classical genre. Then again some musicphiles might actually surprise you.

To end this now long opinion of mine, keep the following in mind before buying gear or requesting help from other hobbyists.

– You should always try to hear a headphone before buying it, specially if it’s your first foray in to the hobby!

– Your first headphone is very important because it gives a reference point to experienced users who truly know their gear.

– If someone really wants to help you, he or she will say if they intimately know the product, whats their favorite headphones or sound signature and their favorite music genres.

It’s up to you to decide if you should follow my advice, because after all it’s all from my perspective of things.

Above all else enjoy your music and have fun.

A guide to KZ earphones.

First of all, please have some important things in consideration:
– I only write about the earphones I have on my collection.
– All earphones are bought with my money from various online shops.
– I’m not endorsed by KZ in any way nor do I want to be.
– If you want to buy their gear, google is your friend.
– Finally don’t expect these earphones to compete with products priced above 100€, you get what you pay for. I’m not bashing the brand, I do use and collect their earphones after all.
– I’m a consumer not a reviewer, if you want “wine tasting” style reviews I’m sure you’ll find lots of great stuff online, some people can be very professional on their description and are by far better writers than me.
– I test my earphones on commutes, it’s a great way to stress the gear in real life situations.
– The test setup source is my Sony Walkman NWZ-E580 (Sound output on level 20) using lossless and lossy classical, pop and hard n’ heavy music. With my Walkman I don’t have the need to use a stand alone headphone amp with these earphones, unless I feel they actually need juice and that was never the case.

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KZ IE 8

Now I’ll write a little about the company.
KZ also known as Knowledge Zenith is a Chinese company based in the city of Shenzhen and established in 2013. As for it’s size, they claim to have from 11 to 50 employees on their official site. That’s about all that is officially known about KZ. Some sites claim that one of the founders worked for Audio Technica, but I don’t have solid evidence about that.
Besides that I can tell you that they made the IE8, a model cloned very inspired on the IE80 from Sennheiser.

I now present to you dear reader with the Journeyman’s fast guide to KZ earphones in all it’s boring glory!
To be sincere all the models below do sound great, that’s why I bought them after all.
The earphones are “reviewed” in order of purchase, the bottom of the list has my newest acquisition.

ED2 Special Edition 
– Decent balanced sound.
– I found them easy to insert in my ears, mileage might vary.
– Made of metal but the back mesh might fall because the glue sucks, it’s a closed back design so no worries.
– Cables are not detachable.
– So cheap you can actually give them to coworkers and kids.

ATE S
– The sport version of the ATE, not sure if they sound the same because I don’t have the ATE model.
– A really good detailed sound for the price, specially if you buy them on sale.
– Decent fitting on my ears.
– Basic plastic construction but solid, they are a sport version after all.
– Cables are not detachable.

ATR
– Some say this model has more bass than the ATE, it’s up to you to decide if that’s an upgrade or not.
– In a very subjective way I find the sound more polished than the ATE S.
– Similar construction to the ATE S.

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KZ ZST

ZST Pro
– If your version doesn’t come with dead balanced armatures drivers and you enjoy the
presence of high frequencies on your songs this model is great, but the bass feels a bit flat and might need EQ to boost it. It’s one of my favorite models from KZ but it’s an acquired taste and can cause fatigue on long listening sessions. Some people really hate it because it’s not a flat sounding earphone, but I find it fun for my style of music.
– The fitting is ok but beware if you don’t get a good seal.
– Decent plastics for the price, my wife loved the pretty pretty colors. Jokes aside they are really nice to look at if you like the colors.
– Detachable cables and yes the “silver” upgrade might be a good idea if you want to tame that wire above your ears, plus from user measurements the cable does have a slighter lower impedance.
– Due to the fact they have balanced armatures inside they are a little more fragile than most KZ earphones, so keep that in mind.

ED12
– ZST without the balanced armature, these sound more balanced than the ZST Pro but they are more veiled and sometimes very plain sounding.  Note that they are not bad sounding but are not fun for my style of music.
– Similar in construction to the ZST Pro but in a more discrete color theme.

ZS3
KZ ZS3

ZS3
– I find these earphones veiled, then again I might have defective units. I’m serious, something is off with the sound of these earphones. I just can’t like them compared with other KZ models.
– Best fitting of all models I tried from KZ, massive sound isolation.
– Construction is decent but I don’t like the way those plastic tubes look inside my units.
– Detachable cable but not compatible with the ED12 or ZST models, yep you’ll have to buy another silver upgrade for this one.

IE8 (IE80 Clones)
– I can’t compare them with the original IE80 but some frequency response graphs claim a very similar sound signature.
– Sound wise these are by far the best KZ earphones I own. Clear highs and mids with an adjustable bass response. These are not for bass lovers, but they are pretty amazing with hard n’ heavy , pop and classical music. I never felt fatigue in long listening sessions with this model.
– The fitting on my ears feels great but I changed the tips for soft foam ones. Please note that these earphones don’t provide much noise isolation, keep that in mind if you want to use them in your commutes.
– The IE8 plastics feel sturdy, the side housing plates have the KZ logo engraved, something I found pretty nice for such cheap earphones.     
 – Detachable plain black cable. I don’t like the quality of the cable but it’s possible to change it if needed.

The “silver” cable upgrade.

The original cable is a bit hard if you want to keep it around the ears, but the silver one has a metal wire near the 2 pin connectors that can be shaped to the contour of the ear. The upgrade feels lighter but it also looks a bit more fragile. technically it does measure less impedance. As for the silver, it does look silver but I’m sure there’s none of that metal inside the cable.

Getting a good seal.
All KZ earphones bring silicone and or soft foam tips depending on the models.
You’ll need a correct set of tips to make a good seal, keep that in mind and search for good tips that feel comfortable to your ears. Bad sealing equals really bad bass.

The Future.
Rumors say the ZTR will be amazing, but I feel it will not be cheap compared with other earphones of the brand.

Final thoughts about KZ. 
Being a low cost Chi-Fi brand KZ doesn’t really need to step up their game mostly because their earphones are already pretty amazing for their price range.
If they really want to price their earphones higher they should solve some details first:
– The balanced armature line needs to be better tuned, tame those highs and most people will love them.
– The tips that come with the earphones need to be soft foam or triple flange ones. Simple silicone tips don’t work with these kind of in-ear headphones.
– KZ needs to sell normal replacement cables, I shouldn’t need to buy a silver one if my normal cable brakes.
– The brand needs to improve their Quality Check department, I’ve seen some really bad assembled ZS3 out there, and those ZST models with dead balanced armature drivers make the brand look bad, a simple last QC makes wonders for a brand.
– The brand should find a good Chinese to English translator, some bad translations look awful on the boxes.
– Last but also very important, KZ needs a decent website to show their products, a sales site just doesn’t cut it.

Last updated on 06 April 2017
The IE8 was added to the list. Some editing and clarification on some statements.
 

The Portuguese headphone scene.

siddharth-bhogra-143322What you’ll read next is my view about the headphone scene in Portugal, it’s a incomplete and somewhat subjective opinion, so please keep that in mind when reading.

Portugal like all countries in Europe has a massive smartphone user base, it would be expected that most Portugueses would care at least a little about the sound quality of their headphones but sadly that’s not the case.
Sure there are some headphone related subtopics in the biggest Portuguese online forums, but for most part consumers are more than happy with the stock options the companies provide with their smartphones.
I can actually know who reads reviews and who uses stock headphones just looking at what they use daily. I find it sad because at least 95% of the people I watch on my daily commute use average stock earbuds and the other 5% are enough people to grow the hobby but are dispersed on foreign sites.

Luckily the Portuguese audiophile magazine “Audio e Cinema em Casa” actually reviews High-End headphones so in a way the landscape is not a barren desert for the audiophile hobbyists. We love headphones just like foreign enthusiasts but there isn’t a dedicated Portuguese community to talk about the subject.
Brasil in that point is way ahead of Portugal, mostly because of Leonardo Drummond work on his reference site and forum “Mind The Headphone“, so at least there is a place on the other side of the Atlantic ocean to ask advice and help in Portuguese. I should also note there are some Brazilian facebook groups related to the topic who on their own right help both communities. Sadly it’s not really possible to share hardware with the guys/gals so far away.

The Portuguese headphone scene lacks a connecting hub, I’m sure if all Portuguese enthusiasts joined ranks we would at least share headphones locally and help each other like other communities do with so much success. After all the best way to know a headphone is to hear it first hand.
That community hub needs to be built soon or the headphone enthusiasts in Portugal will be missing a lot. Just look at the meets and greets on the US and it’s apparent their communities share more knowledge and thus have even more in return from their hobby.

Some will point out that I write in English and do little to help the Portuguese headphone community, they are probably right because I write for my own selfish reasons, this is after all a personal blog. Plus I don’t have enough skills or money to review headphones on a regular basis but hope someone does enter the rabbit hole and follows that path after reading my opinion.

My rules for ebay.

This is my way of buying stuff on ebay. It works for me, so maybe it works for others. I don’t sell stuff so I’ll not touch that topic.

  • Before buying stuff check the import rules of your country. When buying from outside Europe I never ever go above 22€, mostly because above that I’ll have to pay taxes in Portugal.
  • Be polite on your ratings and comments. If the seller is serious try to understand his/her point of view. Before going for a negative review, just request your money back. Most Sellers will return it. If they refuse ebay will try to solve the problem.
  • Always return if you found a serious shop, it’s better than getting ripped off just because the price was 5 cents cheaper.
  • Always pay attention to how many sales and negative feedback a shop has,  lots of complains are usually a no go for me.
  •  Pay attention to the shipping price, some things might look cheap but they aren’t.
  • Always read the description of the product, twice.
  • If it’s too amazing to be true, it’s not true. Scammers love eBay
  • Test the seller before committing too much money on a parcel.  When I buy in Europe I try to know a seller and only after some cheap buys will I risk buying expensive stuff.
  • Avoid bids if you can, and be prepared to lose sometimes if you bid on ebay.
  • Some things are just too expensive on ebay, I once saw four tuna cans selling on ebay for about 25€ plus shipping, in Portugal you can buy them for 6€. Enough said.
  • Last but most important, use common sense when buying stuff on ebay, always pay with paypal and never ever pay money outside the ebay system our you’ll probably lose it all for scammers.

This list is by no means a complete one, but it covers my basics of buying safely on ebay.

Setups, headphones, amps & wish list.

What follows are some lists of gear I use to enjoy my music. Keep in mind that I change my setups to test new stuff.

Home “Hi-Fi” setup: Swissonic CDMP 1 V2.0 CD Player -> Lake People G103-S Headphone Amp -> Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium / Grado SR80i

Computer setup: Laptop/Desktop -> Creative Labs E5 DAC/Headphone Amp -> Grado SR80i / Superlux HD330 / Shure SRH440 (If I need noise isolation)

Commute setup: Sony Walkman NWZ-E580 Player -> Knowledge Zenith ZST Pro or Knowledge Zenith IE8 (I might use portable amplification to test new earphones)

Travel setup: Sony Walkman NWZ-E580 Player -> M-Audio Bass Traveler Headphone Amp ->  AKG K518 / Superlux HD330

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KZ ZST Pro

On the shelf right now:
Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium (250 Ohms)
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro
Grado SR80i (With new pads)
Shure SRH440 (With new headband)
Superlux HD330 (With Beyerdynamic parts)
AKG K518
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ED2 Special Edition
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ATE S
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ZST Pro
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ED12
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ZS3
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ATR
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) IE80

Amplification:
Lake People G103-S
Creative Labs E5
ART HeadAMP4
Creative Labs E1
M-Audio Bass Traveler

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Creative E5 DAC

Wish list:
Nothing at this time, yes I know it’s amazing.

On the way:
Nothing at this time.

Updated: 12 April 2017
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro arrived and is on the shelf right now.