The KZ ZS6, a miracle from China.

KZ ZS6
KZ ZS6 with the more comfortable upgrade cable.

I really took my time hearing the ZS6, mostly because this model was and still is surrounded by audiophile hype just like its predecessor the ZS5. Don’t get me wrong, the first generation ZS5 was amazing for the price, even if a reviewer did made a drama around it.

I was not really impressed when I tried these for the first time because they sounded just like the ZS5 v1.
After playing a lot of my favorite albums, even I must admit the ZS6 sounds better than the ZS5, not by a lot but enough for me to recommend the ZS6 over their predecessor.

The built quality of the shells is pretty amazing for a sub 50€ IEM, sure it only brings the basics in terms of accessories and the stock cable is rather uncomfortable. 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.

In terms of comfort this model feels the same as the ZS5, if you are lucky enough for it to fit nicely on the ear then great for you, if not be prepared for some adjustments.

The sound of these IEMs doesn’t feel V-shaped, even if the treble can be a tiny bit too much on some songs, they 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. I could ramble on about the sound quality but I’ll just say they sound like little Beyerdynamics DT880s minus some detail and instrument separation. Yea, that good and they are not 200€.
Glad KZ doesn’t yet go the route of a certain audiophile brand and make headphones expensive “Because it sounds good!“, If not these would sell for 300€ or something.
Sure the outside design is borrowed but the sound feels very KZ and I should know because I got most of their “flagships”.

Without much hype these are the best KZ earphones you can buy until the end of 2017, not sure how KZ will improve on this design but my advise would be improve the nozzle end with a little notch so the tips can’t move around so easily and maybe improve the cable which feels cheap and very hard around the ear.
Also change the design for something truly KZ, I think the brand doesn’t really need to be borrowing designs from other niche brands but thats me.

The KZ ZS5 Balanced Armature drama.

KZZS5old
KZ ZS5 official image for the first version. Yes, that BA looks odd there.

Sometime ago a reviewer who shall not be named started complaining that KZ lied about their (at the time of release) flagship ZS5.After he disassembled the IEM shell (probably with a hammer looking at the awful job he did) the reviewer found that the BA driver was not inside or directed at the nozzle of the IEM. Drama mode engaged!

Now to be fair, at the time of the release of the 1st version, I did notice that BA position on the marketing photos, so to KZ defense they didn’t lie about that.
Also the 1st version of the ZS5 did sound great so no harm done, besides the click bait drama generated by that reviewer.

Anyway after all of that drama KZ noticed their mistake and silently corrected the BA driver position, but they did it without any warning in their packages thus the 2nd version sold with the reputation of the 1st one.
Sadly this change in the BA position also apparently changed the tonality of the IEM giving it even more treble than before. Some reviewers hate the new version, I’m yet to hear it so I can’t give my opinion.

KZ-ZS5-New
New official version of the KZ ZS5 aka version 2. Now you got 2 BA together for full piercing effect.

In a way KZ couldn’t avoid this shitstorm even if they wanted it, but they could inform the users about the 2nd version.

Even so I feel I’m requesting too much from a new Chinese niche brand, after all the ZS5 and ZS6 are very inspired by a even more niche High-End IEM.

Dramas aside the new ZS6 sounds great and I’ll give my opinion about it very soon.

Why you might not need a better headphone amplifier.

g103-front-1f
Lake People G103-S my reference headphone amplifier.

When I first jumped to the portable audio enthusiast train, my first pairs of headphones didn’t need a portable amplifier to sound great. I don’t say this in jest, it’s the truth.
Sure, my music players were mostly Sony Walkman’s at the time, so they had a decent sounding inbuilt amplifiers, this was in 90’s so you can imagine the quality of a mainstream amplifier these days.
My need for a better audio amplifier happened very late in the game when I purchased more demanding headphones that were not built to be driven by a standard consumer amplifier .

Given my experience with budget dynamic and balanced armature headphones I often dislike the idea of purchasing a amplifier if the one at hand is good enough to drive the gear.
I watch many newcomers worrying about what amplifiers should they buy to drive cheap and Mid-Fi headphones, when they should really worry about finding the best headphones they can possible buy with their current budget.
The community is often at fault here, new enthusiasts giving advice to newer enthusiasts, with opinions taken from Hi-End forums where people actually have headphones that need a better amplification.
Uninformed enthusiasts often give space to hype, snake oil sellers and more uniformed opinions being shared around, the very same happens with the need for better audio amplifiers.

Don’t get me wrong a good audio amplifier is very important if you have a headphone that can extract every ounce of quality, that is not the case with budget headphones that are limited by design and specs.
What I want to make clear is that the most important piece of the audio chain are the headphones, doesn’t really matter the money you spend on the amplifier, if you have shitty headphones no amplifier will solve that, so spend money were it really matters.

I don’t have a High-End amplifier so my Lake People G103-S is my reference when comparing mainstream amplifiers on motherboards, portable players, smartphones and Hi-Fi decks.
I only truly notice a true improvement when the headphones being tested have more demanding needs specially in terms of higher impedance and less sensitivity, that’s is not the case with cheap or Mid-Fi headphones with very low impedance and good sensitivity that can be driven by most mainstream amplifiers on the market today.
Some desktop motherboards are now claiming to drive up to 600 Ohms headphones, if thats your case, try them before follow the hype train.

I will be probably frown upon by most enthusiasts who read this, but this is my opinion based on experience, so deal with it. I’m not here to sell gear by making reviews like: “This great amplifier really made my cheap ass headphones sound amazing”. If you are in to that, go visit the so called biggest headphone forum in the world and be amazed at so much colors of bullshit!  🙂