The KZ AS10 was sent free of charge by Lillian the co-founder of Linsoul. I’ll try my best to give an impartial opinion about the gear*.
Below I share the links to the store which provided the samples I’ll be reviewing, keep in mind that without the cooperation of this store I would probably not review this gear.
Most people who follow my blog know I reviewed a lot of models from Knowledge Zenith (KZ) and to be fair they were my door to budget Chi-Fi so I might be a little biased towards them as a company.
KZ unlike some one hit wonders actually delivers both sound and build quality on most of their releases, I never had one of their in-ear fail on me, maybe I’m a lucky guy but that’s my experience until now.
Some people love the company others hate it, maybe the now mainstream appeal repels those that once hyped the brand, as things move forward so does KZ and their latest AS10 proves my point.
As a typical portable rig, I’ll be using my Sony L1 (G3311) smartphone and Spotify on the higher quality setting without any EQ, normalization or any other gimmick.
My daily driver will be an uncapped Sony Walkman A-45, with both lossy 320kbps Mp3’s and lossless 16-Bit 44.1Khz Flac music files, I might use higher resolution if necessary.
On the desktop/laptop side I’ll be using a Creative Labs E5 DAC, again with Spotify on the higher quality setting and without any gimmicks just like the Sony L1, and of course the DeaDBeeF music player for Flac music files at 16-Bit 44.1Khz but with some exceptions.
I won’t be reviewing the interaction of all sources with the in-ear for obvious reasons, so for simplicity sake, the review below will use the Creative Labs E5 to drive the in-ears unless stated otherwise.
A look inside the box
The rather large black cardboard box arrived encased in a plastic film (not shown in the photos), after I removed the film I had direct access to the interior of the box via a hinged top, the in-ears were surrounded by foam with only the faceplates showing with “left and right” white markings below them.
The case feels premium for a budget in-ear and the bottom engraved plate pushes that statement even further, on it you have the model and the total number of balanced armatures. The Chinese characters I can’t translate, but feel free to drop me a line if you know their meaning.
Anyway, after this presentation you need to push a little black ribbon so you can access the cable (my version doesn’t have a microphone), small and large silicone “Starline” tips, booklets and quality control stamp.
Both cable and tips come inside plastic envelopes that KZ also uses on other models.
Also note the shells are rather easy to remove from the foam and they have the 2 medium tips already inserted, a gentle push is enough to take the in-ears out.
I understand KZ wants this to be a good unboxing experience for newer customers and I will review with that idea in mind. In a way, it’s a lovely box but the accessories are the same as always. KZ could have sent some foam tips, they would be much appreciated by audiophiles.
Built quality & specifications
Build quality isn’t always a given on budget in-ears, in that point I’m often surprised at KZ because they rarely disappoint in that department.
I can’t write about what I can’t see, so it’s always nice to have a clear faceplate that shows the crossover filter, the components on the filter look nicely soldered.
As plastics go both the transparent faceplate and piano black main body of the shell look sturdy enough, I don’t see any sign of spilled glue.
The shells are correctly identified for the left and right ears (L/R) which is printed in the area facing the back of the shell, there you also find the model and the total number of balanced armatures, in the clear faceplate just under the socket connector there is another (L/R) mark.
The connector socket for the cable is a rather typical KZ 0.75mm 2 pin configuration, solid enough for most tasks, the cable plug inserts easily on the socket, some attention is required with this procedure so you don’t invert the polarity. Both the cable plug and the socket in the shell have notches so you can align them correctly from visual inspection and after insertion, both should be almost seamless.
The 2 pin cable plug doesn’t really have a strain relief besides 2 little cuts in the plastic but at least it’s correctly marked with a left and right (L/R) mark. From the plug, a piece of memory wire runs along the twisted cable, protected by a clear sleeve.
The 120cm cable at first looks like it has a solid dark brown color, but at closer inspection, it’s possible to see the OFC conductors protected by a dark transparent sleeve.
This cable is rather strange because it is unusually long before the Y-Split, that split again doesn’t have a proper strain relief, exiting the Y-split there is a single braid of cable that goes in to a sturdy “L” shaped 3.5mm TRS connector, this plug at least has some strain relief, something very important if you want your cable to last a bit more.
The cable impedance at the ground line should be around 1.5Ω as measured with my simple UNI-T UT601.
Also, note there isn’t a chin slider and I do feel that’s a mistake given the size of the cable before the Y-split.
I’m not a fan of the cable, because it lacks proper strain reliefs and also because of the massive cable before the Y-split tangles all the time if you don’t store it correctly.
The good thing about a detachable cable is that you can swap it if you don’t like it, I’m going to do just that after this review.
The “Starline” silicone tips KZ uses are one of my favorite tips, there isn’t much to say about them besides the fact they aren’t very soft.
Everyone likes specifications so here are some I could find:
– 5 Balanced in-house KZ armatures per side with a special 3D printed acoustic guide.
(BA model numbers are 22955 for low, 296898 for mid, 31005 for mid and high, 30095 for high frequency)
– Frequency response: 20 – 40KHz
– Sensitivity: 105dB
– Impedance: 14Ω (22Ω on my UNI-T UT601.)
Comfort is often a very personal thing thus keep that in mind when reading my opinion.
The AS10 has a very comfortable over the ear design and this comes from someone who dislikes the ZS5 and found the ZS6 comfort just tolerable.
The shells stay in the correct position due to a long nozzle, so I don’t really understand the need for a cable with memory wire instead of just a molded sleeve. The nozzle inserts without any problem in my ear canal and I can use the AS10 for long periods of time.
The ear canal seal is perfect on the first insertion and in my case, I didn’t have any kind of suction effect with the “Starline” tips that came in the box, sadly this effect changes with each person.
Unlike the ZS6 the tips will stay in place due to the 3 little-raised spots at the end of the nozzle, it’s not a full lip but it’s better than nothing.
The noise isolation is OK for plastic shells, you will have to raise the music a bit to cancel the subway noise but for daily tasks, it’s perfectly fine.
First thing I noticed with the AS10 is how loud it goes with my weakest source the (Sony L1), it also scales really well with better amplifiers.
The AS10 falls in the V-Shaped area, the bass is quite impressive for a balanced armature, the mids are fine with the female voices I enjoy so much and the treble shows no mercy in bad recordings with accentuated sibilance. KZ has tamed their treble a lot but the detail is still there, sadly not everyone enjoys it.
“Kickstart my heart – Mötley Crüe” has some heavy drumming performed by Tommy Lee, I was actually surprised by the impact and dynamics of the new KZ balanced armature, it’s on par with most dynamic drivers in this budget area.
In the beginning of “Laura Pausini – Io canto” the bass and mids can easily become a muddy mess if it there’s too much emphasis on the lows, not the case with this in-ear.
I really enjoyed the low notes, do keep in mind I’m no bass head and the AS10 is using a balanced armature, it’s a good one but it’s still probably far away from the sound bass heads enjoy.
I have a thing for female voices like Laura Pausini or Sarah Àlainn, if a headphone does this wrong I’ll dislike it immediately, the AS10 sounds fantastic with female voices with an amazing dynamic and detail that extends to the higher frequencies. “Sarah Àlainn – Sky’s Calling” is a fair good example of the great tuning the AS10 has, the track is full of little details mostly in the mid/high region, Sarah’s voice is perfectly framed without losing any of the details in the background.
Now the treble, oh the mighty KZ treble that makes bat like audiophiles scream in pain when those cymbals come in hot, well KZ did tame the hot treble but if the recording is done with an emphasis of the higher notes and has vocal sibilance be prepared to suffer.
“Duke Ellington – Malletoba Spank” is a track full of treble details perfectly reproduced by the AS10, something that doesn’t surprise me given KZ history with detailed treble.
The good & the ugly
So to conclude, these are very comfortable and easy to drive in-ears, with a overall detailed sound quality for the price. Build upon KZs experience with hybrid models, this new in-house low frequency balanced armature really kicks ass.
I’m glad I have these to compare with future in-ears because they push sound quality way above their price range.
The cable isn’t bad but I know KZ can do better in that department, also some foam tips would be greatly appreciated in such a large box.
The high-frequency BAs show no mercy in bad recordings with accentuated sibilance, KZ did tame the treble but if the music is not well recorded be prepared for the worse.
What about the KZ ZS10 and KZ ZS6?
I never bought the ZS10, at the time of release one of my favorite reviewers disliked it a lot, I trust his judgment so no ZS10 for me.
The KZ ZS6 is harder to drive, is less comfortable and also has a treble detail that only some people truly enjoy, most people will find it more tiresome to hear that the AS10.
I love the all metal shells of the ZS6, in fact, I’m waiting to hear what KZ achieved with the BA10.
* For more information on how I deal with free & discounted samples please check this link.
10 Oct 2018 Added some links to Youtube and Spotify for the songs. Other minor corrections.
12 Oct 2018 Added the link about why I don’t write about “soundstage” or imaging.