First of all, please have some important things in consideration:
I only write about the earphones I have or had 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 because I also don’t endorse ANY shop.
Finally don’t expect most of 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 professional 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.
Besides the quiet of my home, I also test my earphones on commutes, it’s a great way to stress the gear in real life situations.
Auditions with stock tips unless stated otherwise.
The test setup source right now is my Sony Walkman NW-A45, 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.
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 claimed to have from 11 to 50 employees on their old 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 evidenceabout that.
Besides that I can tell you that they made the IE8, a model
cloned very inspired on the IE80 from Sennheiser and also the ZS5 and ZS6 models also cloned very inspired on the Campfire Audio Andromeda IEM.
I now give you dear reader the Journeyman’s fast guide to KZ earphones in all it’s boring glory!
To be sincere all the models below do sound great for the price asked unless stated otherwise.
The earphones are “reviewed” in order of purchase, the bottom of the list has my newest acquisition.
ED2 Special Edition
– Decent and balanced sound.
– Easy to insert in my ears.
– Made of metal.
– So cheap you can actually give them to coworkers and kids.
– The sport version of the ATE, not sure if they sound the same because I don’t have the ATE model.
– A really detailed sound for the price, specially if you buy them with discount.
– They fit well on my ears.
– Basic plastic construction but solid, they are a sport version after all.
– Cables are not detachable.
– 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.
– If your version doesn’t come with dead balanced armatures drivers and if you enjoy the presence of high frequencies on your songs, then 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.
– ZST without the balanced armature, these sound more balanced than the ZST Pro but they are more veiled and sometimes very plain sounding.
– Similar in construction to the ZST Pro but in a more discrete color theme.
– 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, they also have a 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 one of my favourite KZ models. 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.
ZS5 (Version 1)
– Currently one of the best KZ IEMs I own. Sure there is some hype on the community about these, because after all we are talking about a 2 dynamic driver + 2 balanced armature IEM for less than 40€ at the time of their release.
– Their sound has all the good vibes of the KZ IE8, plus one amazing bass that doesn’t overtake the music even if you are hearing metal. They are detailed and very fun to hear but they can cause some fatigue in the long run with some types of music.
– Noise isolation is decent but the fitting inside the ear is not for everyone, some adjustments should be made for a comfortable fit and even so they can hurt a little in long listening sessions. In terms of comfort these IEMs are not for people with small ears.
– The shells are mode of plastic, they are sturdy enough but not amazing.
– Detachable stock cable is ok but I prefer the silver cable for some comfort around the ears.
– I don’t know how the version 2 sounds but having 2 BA on the nozzle will surely make them very treble oriented.
– Sound signature is too bright compared with the my V1 ZS5’s, lacks all around quality in the bass and treble control. The bass and sub-bass are all over the place, the ES3 has a really “in you face” presentation and even if you love bright IEMs the ES3 really accentuates sibilant recordings. I can’t recommend the ES3 over the ZST Pro or ZS5.
– It’s a very comfortable earphone, second only to the IE8.
– Shells are made of plastic and have a nice construction feel about them.
– Detachable stock cable with memory wire as usual with KZ earphones.
– Click here for a full rant about the ES3.
– Imagine the ZS5 built with better materials, BA drivers in the correct position and better sound, well that’s the ZS6. For the lucky owners of the “defective” ZS5 V1, the ZS6 is a little better in everything sound wise.
– The sound of these IEMs doesn’t feel V-shaped, even if the treble can be a tiny bit too much on some songs and can cause a bit of fatigue to some people. The ZS6 are not bass canons, having a very controlled bass and great mid range. Probably due to the metal shell design they have a greater soundstage than the ZS5s on some songs.
– Noise isolation is good for a supposedly semi-open shell design, the fitting inside the ear is better than the KZ5 due to some changes on the angles of the design, even so some adjustments are necessary for a comfortable fit. In terms of comfort these IEMs are not for people with small ears just like the ZS5.
– The shells are made of metal, not sure if its aluminum but by the wear on the paint after some weeks it sure looks like it.
– Detachable stock cable is ok but some might want to upgrade it because it’s uncomfortable around the ears.
– Click here if you want to read more about the ZS6.
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 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.
– KZ also need to be inform their clients on important changes made on their IEMs, the KZ5 balanced armature placement from inside the shell to the interior of the nozzle is something clients should at least be informed by some kind of version number.
– The brand should find a good 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 21 March 2018
Changed the source setup to represent the current use.