You might have read about the ~$20 IEMs being sold on Aliexpress or the Wall Street Journal article “These Unknown Chinese Audio Brands Might Just Be the Best” and wondered if they’re any good.
One of the manufacturers mentioned was KZ Accoustics, so I grabbed a couple pairs — one on the low-range, one a little higher:
- KZ ZSA Metal in Earphone Armature And Dynamic Hybrid — $15.40
- KZ ZSX Terminator Metal Headset 5BA+1DD Hybrid — $43.67
One note about shipping; buying anything on Aliexpress takes a quite. Even though I live across the pond in Japan, it took about three weeks for them to get here (it will take a couple weeks no matter Coronavirus or not):
Delivered — 2020–03–13 16:30:00
[Japan] customs clearance for overseas imports — 2020–03–13 00:59:00
[Japan] has arrived at [Japan] Delivery Office — 2020–03–12 22:38:00
Airline arrive at destination country — 2020–03–12 00:55:00
[上海] Transported airlines — 2020–03–04 10:21:10
2020–03–02 19:12:31 — Hand over to airline
2020–02–28 00:14:19 — Received by line-haul
2020–02–27 19:14:19 — Order information received by carrier
2020–02–26 18:41:04 — Outbound in sorting center
2020–02–26 18:41:03 — Inbound in sorting center
2020–02–26 06:08:11 — Accepted by carrier
2020–02–26 05:38:11 — Order information received by carrier
2020–02–25 08:50:14 — Ordered
KZ Accoustics ZSA — $15
First impressions are that these are fairly tiny IEMs; with just two drivers sitting inside an aluminum shell, they are small and fit my ears quite easily. They do come with more plastic earbud tip inserts, but they feel a bit cheap and would probably be improved with some foam complys.
Listening to a variety of music, these are just OK. There’s a huge but slightly muddy low end with massively thumping but unarticulated bass, a lack of any clarity or separation in the mid-range, and good treble response but not enough to cut through the rest of the signal.
Rating: ★★✰ ✰ ✰ — 2/5. These are decent little headphones for $15, but barely worth replacing your default iPhone headphones with except for the better isolation.
Tracks listened to —
- Change my Ways — Kodak Black
- Celestial Terrestrial Commuters — The Mahavishnu Orchestra
- Built by Pictures — Odissee
- Birthday Song — 2 Chainz
- Thought it was a Drought — Future
- Untethered Angel — Dream Theater
See more reviews of these at head-fi: https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/kz-zsa-knowledge-zenith.23180/reviews
KZ ZSX Terminator — $45
First impressions is that the packaging is a little bit nuts. There is a black, extra-thick cardboard box with a doubled layer of cardboard on the front door, with foam inserts and a foam+metal etched company logo on it. Also an inspection sticker that wasn’t filled out.
The units themselves are a complex shape, and boast a whopping 6 drivers per side. They do fit my ears, but I worry they’re going to fall out — definitely not good sports material IEMs. Also, after wearing them for more than 15 minutes, my ears feel a bit of physical fatigue. I suspect swapping the same cheap plastic tips for complys would fix that.
Putting on the music, there’s immediately much more presence and separation … until the bass comes in. Unlike the two-driver ZSAs, it’s clean and while overwhelmingly bassy, there’s an excellent, flat profile so you can hear all the parts.
The mids, especially with male vocals, seem to be a bit hiss-y or slightly distorted. They’re also surprisingly loud, requiring me to turn the volume down a level from the ZSAs to get the same impression.
I added G.E.M.’s 光年之外 to the lineup to see if a higher vocal register would register an improved listening experience, and I was right. It sounds much better than listening to male vocalists, the mid-range on these IEMs is a bit lacking.
Rating: ★★★ ✰ ✰ — 3.5/5. I could run with these on a regular basis, but they don’t have a nice flat soundstage for all kinds of music. On some tracks, the lack of mid support is truly atrocious, and the bass can be overwhelming even though it’s clear and clean. For female artists, these can be quite excellent — Billie Eilish shines with them!
See more reviews of these on head-fi — https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/kz-zsx.23948/reviews