or Connect
Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphones › In-Ear › Universal Fit › KZ-ZS3 Hifi High-End 3.5mm In-Ear Earphone Headphones Earpiece Original Headset Bass Earbuds With Microphone

KZ-ZS3 Hifi High-End 3.5mm In-Ear Earphone Headphones Earpiece Original Headset Bass Earbuds With Microphone

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #187 in Universal Fit

Posted

Pros: Sound quality - Price - Comfort

Cons: Not the most original or unique product in the world

Greetings Head-fi!

 

Today we are going to be taking a look at the ZS3, yet another excellent new earphone from the masters of bang-for-your-buck, Knowledge Zenith.

 

If anyone has been following the rise of budget earphones spilling out of China over the last couple years, you surely have come across Knowledge Zenith. They're best known for offering earphones costing around 10 USD that bat well above their price point in pretty much every way; sound quality, build, materials, etc. Where they seem to stumble is on consistency and quality control, though the latter is not something I personally have had many issues with.

 

The ZS3 was revealed earlier this year, and followed up quickly with a mass recall due to some issues with the manufacturing process. Once working models got into peoples hands and ears, we were seeing some pretty positive reception. Their design looks almost like a custom earphone and brings a removable, recessed socket, two-pin cable to the hyper-budget market. As far as I know, and please feel free to correct me, but the use of a two-pin connector was essentially unheard of in this price range at the time of release.

 

Many were hoping that this earphone would be the one that showed KZ was serious about stepping up their game and bringing a more premium product to the market. Does the ZS3 succeed in being more than the sum of it's predecessors, or it is just another great earphone with features and sound quality beyond what it's meager price tag suggests? Neither of those options sound bad to me to be honest...

 

Disclaimer:

 

The ZS3 was purchased at the full initial release price of 26 CAD from 888999 store on AliExpress. Prices have come way down since then and you can find them elsewhere for much less, such as on Gearbest for around 11 CAD at the time of this review.

 

I am not associated with KZ or any retailers. All opinions within this review are mine and do not represent KZ or any other entity.

 

A Little About Me:

 

Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI's multi-earphone review thread and being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own reviews. Fast forward a couple years and I've had the opportunity to write about some great products for wonderful companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, and Meze. I don't do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I'll consider that a job well done.

 

The gear I use for testing is pretty basic composing of an HTC One M8 cellphone, Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Plantronics Rig USB amp. An XDuoo X3 (shout out to my cousin Rob!) has recently been added to the crew and was used for the majority of my testing. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. When it comes to signature preference I tend to lean towards aggressive and energetic, but I try not to limit myself to one signature only. I also tend to listen at lower than average volumes.

 

Enough preamble. Let us dive into the good stuff shall we?

 


 

          

 


 

Packaging and Accessories:

 

Generally KZ doesn't do anything unique when packing their earphones. A small cardboard box usually does the trick. Sometimes they will try something different, such as with the shield-shaped case that the ED10 arrives in, or the simple yet classy rectangular prism design used for the ED9 and ATE.

 

This time, KZ has decided to try something new...to them. If you are familiar with VSonic you will know that they released their VSD series earphones in a very attractive little box. The entire front portion is a plastic viewing window with the left side containing a cardboard insert displaying the model name in vibrant red writing backed by geometric texturing. The right side contains the earphones nestled in a lined, foam insert. It's very nice packaging and gave me a positive first impression.

 

Looking at KZ's package for the ZS3, you will see that they took heavy inspiration from VSonic, right down to the red writing and geometric texturing. KZ's package is much more compact, however, and the ZS3 is held securely in place with a plastic tray instead of foam. The cardboard insert also splits the window horizontally. While not necessarily unique, KZ picked something nice to emulate and executed it well.

 

Removing the plastic window reveals two bags, one containing the removable, two-pin cable, the other KZ's standard small and large silicone tips. There was also to my surprise an instruction manual. Unfortunately, I speak English only. The manual is written almost entirely in Mandarin or Cantonese. It looks to be a pretty in-depth read with information on how long you can listen at certain frequencies, something other more established brands should learn to include. There are also a few diagrams peppered throughout which make up for my inability to read another language.

 


 

          

 


 

Build, Design, Comfort, Isolation:

 

Once again, KZ has lifted inspiration from another company for their housing design. This time looking to InEar and the StageDiver series. From InEar's website site I found that the StageDiver housing was created by digitally superimposing 500 ear impressions over each other to create what amounts to the ultimate universal housing.

 

I'm not sure how close the ZS3's dimensions come to matching InEar's since I've never seen a StageDiver "in the flesh", but from images they look shockingly similar and I can confirm that they are supremely comfortable. That is, as long as you seat them correctly. I found it best to use a twisting technique to maneuver them into position. This technique paired with tips that use a very soft silicone, such as Sony's Hybrids or those from Ultimate Ears UE600, means they nearly disappear or would if it wasn't for the ear guide. With the right tips and a good seal, the ZS3 also isolates better than average for a dynamic driver-based earphone.

 

The housing on my particular pair of ZS3 is made from very durable feeling plastics with an attractive matte coating. You can also pick them up with a shiny finish. You better like your earphones in black, because at this time that's the only color to choose from. Personally I think it looks great.

 

The cable material is what you would expect from KZ, but is removable. This isn't KZ's first removable cable earphone but you would have to look pretty far back in their catalog to find another example, that being the wood-bodied R3. What differentiates KZ's removable cable from most is that it isn't terminated in an MMCX connector, or the other type used on the R3, but with a two-pin connector. Even better is that it is recessed into the housing making it extra stable and secure. I don't know if KZ is using a proprietary connector or if it is going to be something that is easily replaceable, but I'm sure we will find out quickly as more people get their hands on them. The cable is equipped with a built in ear guide. Personally, I'm not a fan and would rather it not be there. On the plus side it is well-molded and keeps the cable securely behind your ear.

 

*Edit: @vapman has noted that the ZS3 uses a standard TF13/Sennheiser two-pin format. Good to know it is not proprietary. Thanks for clarifying buddy!*

 

The inline microphone I can say sounds the best of any KZ has used before, at least of those I've tried. There is a bit of background hiss and it can be sibilant if you raise your voice, but for the most part it performs far beyond what I've come to expect from such a low-end product.

 

While the design isn't entirely unique, it is comfortable, well-built, and the removable cable is a welcome addition if it isn't proprietary.

 


 

          

 


 

Sound:

 

Tips: The stock tips on the ZS3 just didn't work for me as it was too easy to lose a good seal. After playing around a bit, I found a few options that worked particularly well. Wide bore tips such as those from Ultimate Ear's UE600 softened the bass and let out the treble making the ZS3 brighter and more energetic. These are my preferred tips. Sony's Hybrids sounded basically the same as the stock tip, keeping the treble soft and the bass explosive, but I was able to get and hold a good seal much more consistently. The tips from the Mixcder ANC-G5 also worked really well with the ZS3 boosting treble a touch and lessening bass presence a bit, but not to the extend of UEs tips.

 

Amping/Source Matching: The ZS3 worked just fine with the HTC One M8 and XDuoo X3, but I did prefer them filtered through the Topping NX1. It removed some of the warmth and color the M8 and X3 brought to the table, making the ZS3 more balanced. I don't think amping is required as the ZS3 is pretty easy to drive, but if your amp has a particular sound or signature there is a good bet the ZS3 will pick it up. It's overall sound seems to be easily effected by the source device.

 

KZ is known for offering up great sound at very low prices. The ZS3 is no different and while it isn't the huge leap forward I was hoping for, they're probably the best KZ to date.

 

The ZS3 comes across to me as a mixture of many of my favorite past KZs. Treble is clear and tight, though it could use a bit more sparkle and is a little too smooth for my preferences. Compared to the EDR2 the ZS3 is lacking in detail and clarity, but is without a doubt easier on the ears. It toes a fine line between being dull and overemphasized, and I suspect would be just right for most listeners.

 

The midrange is probably the ZS3s most accomplished aspect, topping KZ's own ATE. Vocals and instruments have excellent presence, sounding natural and detailed. I absolutely adore the way female vocals are presented. Warm and inviting, and slightly more forward than male vocals, they pull you in and delicately caress your ears. Give Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep' or 'Send My Love' a go and you'll see what I mean. Outstanding midrange here.

 

Bass on the ZS3 is a bit of a mixed bag for me personally, but not because it's poorly done. On a technical level it is more or less outstanding; excellent extension, well balanced, surprisingly quick, and awesomely punchy (especially at high volumes). It's even got lots of texture. My issue is that the ZS3 can be overly bassy, something I was hoping KZ would avoid this time around. They're not bass-head earphones, but can be bass cannons when called upon. Kavinsky, known for his retro 80s style has changed things up a bit taking a more traditional EDM approach with some of his 2016 releases. Give his track Solli a go. The sub-bass line in the opening moments really shows off the ZS3's low end capabilities.

 

The ZS3's party piece to go along with their engaging midrange is a monster of a soundstage, besting even the ZS1 and ZN1 Mini which offered some of the most spacious sound you could get in this price range. They give you an honest sense of space that combined with great imaging and instrument placement enables you to become enveloped in your music, movie, or whatever form of media you're listening to at the time.

 

What all the above leads up to is an earphone that sounds pretty impressive. Smooth treble, stunning midrange, and a low end that can thump with some serious authority.

 


 

          

 


 

Select Comparisons:

 

Mi In-Ear Headphones (14.99 USD): Better known here in North America as the Piston 3.0, these two have more in common than you would expect. Their overall signature is very similar with the ZS3 having better extension at both ends, a more forward midrange, a much larger and more airy soundstage with improve imaging, and greater refinement across the board. I would consider them a direct upgrade to the 3.0.

 

Accutone Pavo (51.00 USD): The Pavo offers more sparkle and energy than the ZS3 due to a more emphasized treble region. It is also more detailed through the midrange, though the ZS3 is more forward. The ZS3 digs deeper into sub-bass regions than the Pavo, but falls just short in offering up the same levels of detail. While the Pavo falls more in line with my personal preferences, the ZS3 is a more fun listen resulting from their greater mid-bass presence and the extra punch this brings.

 

Brainwavz S5 (99.50 USD): I found the S5 to be exceptionally smooth and mellow; almost neutral if it wasn't for an overly recessed midrange. The S5 and ZS3's midranges sound very similar with KZ's mids being notably more forward. Treble on the S5 is slightly more emphasized and detailed, while bass on the ZS3 is way more punchy, detailed, and exciting. The ZS3 has a more spacious soundstage, but the S5's improved separation and detail makes up for this deficit. The S5 is overall the more accomplished earphone, as I would expect from a near 90 USD price difference. That said, the ZS3 brings a level of musicality to it's sound that the S5 is missing and is again the most entertaining listen in most circumstances.

 


 

          

 


 

Overall:

 

What can I say other than KZ has done it again, releasing what is arguably their best earphone yet. The ZS3 has a great design, uses quality materials, sings with a well-rounded sound signature, and offers features that belie their price tag. Their sound quality pretty easy competes with or bests more expensive products.

 

While they're not my favorite KZ (that title is shared by the ANV and EDR2), they're probably the one that would resonate best with a wide range of listeners as they impress on many levels. Unless KZ has really stepped up their game with the newly released ED12 that I still need to hear, or someone else swoops in with a doozy of a hyper-budget earphone, the ZS3 is certainly one of the best deals out there.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

- B9Scrambler

 

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

 

Test Albums/Tracks

 

BT - This Binary Universe

Gramatik - The Age of Reason

Hail Mary Mallon - Are You Going to Eat That?

Infected Mushroom - The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Skindred - Roots Rock Riot

Massive Attack - Mezzanine

The Crystal Method - Tweekend

Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass

The Prodigy - The Day is My Enemy

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

 

Posted

Pros: Fun sound fits instrumental music well, sound is controllable with EQ and other tweaks, less than 18USD

Cons: Bass is more controlled than the other KZs but can still be boomy, stock cables limit sound, troublesome fit/tip adjustment

This is my first review so bear with any shortcomings please! I have had countless advice from many KZ owners that I can't fully keep track of, but I should definitely credit our common space the KZ thread. I know that many people have different view on the same IEMs due to fit, preferences, production flukes etc so if there are different view I want to clarify I'm not rejecting them, just adding my own for everyone to consider and interpret :) Specs: 18ohm impedence, 20-45000hz frequency range 108db/mw sensitvity 8mm DD (may be inaccurate due to inaccuracy of translations etc)

 

 

First things first, my music preferences and purchase background:

I listen to almost anything except heavy metal. Currently I favour pop with a EDM/house twist (Ellie Goulding, Flo Rida, Robin Schulz), vocals (Sara Bareilles, Jackie Evancho, Pixie Lott), jazz (Hiromi, Nikki Yanofsky, Steve Gadd, Keiko Matsui), musicals and soundtracks (even Frozen?!) and classical music.

Given this range it is horrid finding good cheap earphones due to the wide gamut. Flat signatures are incredibly boring to listen to and sometimes do not do justice to the music anyway, while fun signature don't fit all my tastes. I was tiring of the one-dimensional, mid-centric approach (albeit smooth and singable vocals) my Aurvanas gave and wanted some of the kick of my Ultimate Ears models without the kind of boomy rubbish bass some expensive brands offer. Totally by chance, I stumbled on the KZ thread (link on top) and there it went!

Testing was done primarily with my Fiio M3 playing primarily 320k MP3s and FLAC files, occasionally on my ThinkPad via MusicBee ASIO4ALL/WASAPI on stock soundcard. For now I will just summarise: ease to drive is about average (33% volume is about enough on the commute with the M3) and not too sensitive (so I won't get background hisses in a quiet room).

 

Sound:

Let's get to the elephant in the room, they sound really good! After UE discontinued cheap models like the 200-600 it was really difficult to get a fun yet controlled signature. But here we are! Written with about 20 hours of burn in (for those who believe in it but I'll get to that later).

Bass - Not enough for a basshead, too much compared to things like Etymotics. I found them similar to my UE400/500, in that the presence is definitely strong. Overall it is controlled but depending on some tracks, it can boom too much. I don't specifically look out for sub-bass as my ears only pick out notable things, but suffice to say sub-bass should be fine as I don't have issues of mids being drowned out. For me coming from my past earphones I have EQed down the best just by one notch. I thought I would not like the bass, but it gives a very warm live sound for my Jazz tracks which I like!

Mids - Average but in a good way. No smooth lushness of my Aurvana BAs but they do what they need to do. I wouldn't call it forward but they are more present than some more extreme v-signature IEMs. In orchestral string lines they aren't the lushest around, but it presented no unnatural elements (unlike cymbals) which allowed it to pass for listening.

Treble - Extension is decent. Somehow manages to be sparkly without being sibilant, which I like. My instrumental music cannot do with hiding treble just because of sibilance. One of the less grainy trebles compared to other KZs. Only criticism is that cymbals due to sparkliness sound a tad artificial. Funny thing is other than cymbals female vocalists etc. sound fine to my ears. But this is really nit-picking and I have not heard natural cymbals from many IEMs that are not TOTL.

Soundstage and signature - I have too few earphone tests to try out, but soundstage definitely wasn't offensive. It felt like the width was average, though over time I'm starting to appreciate its 3D positioning. It is still quite subtle so do demo it or ask some others who can do an A-B comparison of soundstage. Signature is v-shaped. Can't test the frequencies but a more pronounced bass boost than the treble (if at all). This leads to a generally warm feeling on stock cables.

After a few days of listening I didn't detect major differences in sound. I personally believe that burn in is neither all-important not fiction. There is burn in but not so much so you have to take extreme measures. I listened to my music, ran some pink/white noise back at home when free/remembered to, and just took care not to blast the volume too loud. KZ recommends 5mins to multiples of 20hrs depending on which manual/product page you see so take it easy and chill :) These earphones are pretty detailed. Someone mentioned hearing singers' breath sounds but I didn't feel that big a difference. I did enjoy a little bit of added touches like drum brushes and other graduated actions which might not be obvious unless listening in a quiet place.

 

Build quality, ergonomics

These are cheap IEMs they are alright for the price. No fatal flaws for my set though some have sworn by buying multiple sets in case. The shell pieces could be joined more closely, but the only issue I had was a loose nozzle filter than threatened to drop into the sound tube. Thankfully it is only an issue when swapping earbud tips (will explain why below why so much swapping is needed...)

Average is starting to become overused but for lack of a better word, the removable cable connectors are average. Not loose but not the tightest/most secure around.

Shape is like it or hate it. It is not a flush design and the shape doesn't fit all perfectly, although KZ's Chinese press kit claims they averaged out the ear dimensions of the general population. They worked ok for me, but some had to take ages with tip swaps to achieve something decent. This shape also limited the sound isolation of the IEMs, slightly below average.

All KZ cables (stock and upgrade) have a thin memory loop over the ears. Currently I find them irritating to mould but that's only because I came from Aurvanas without memory cables. Branded ones from other companies definitely are easier to mould and use than these, but all get the job done. I will continue monitoring but I have noticed that in spite of the over-ear wearing there is still some microphonics. Adding a tie further up the y-split is what I'm doing to reduce it for now.

I cannot emphasise more but trying different tips (compulsory for all IEMs anyway) is very important for the ZS3 to avoid messing up the sound signature and regarding it as a waste of cash. Really sensitive to fitting here.

I am leaving out an unboxing section as the box is super small and super simple. IEMs, separate cable, separate tips, instruction cards. The box is around the size of cigarette case.

Update: after about 1 month my left ZS3 stopped having sound. After A-Bing the problem was identified as the ZS3 itself, as swapping cables were fine. I am now on another new set of ZS3. The first pair saw quite a few times of switching between silver and default cables. This time I will only switch to silver and leave it there, hopefully switching less will let it last longer!

 

Tweaks:

As hinted by the sound signature and ergonomics, many users have had their tweaks. When writing this I haven't gotten much addons except the KZ silver-coated copper upgrade cable so I will share what I know.

Most important change you should consider is getting the 10USD silver cable. Swapping it is easy due to the connectors, just look out for right and left. Tried them and noticed indeed the sound became clearer, slightly less warm and the signature leveled out. The bass was less strong and the trebles were a tad smoother. Of all these changes I must frankly admit the most obvious two are the clearer sound and the less strong bass. This make the resolving detail another step better than the Shure SE215 I demoed and never liked for its muddiness despite good efforts for a smooth likeable sound. So long as the price is within budget go for it. Love professional look from the braided cable too (although some suggest getting the ATR instead with the same money, read the KZ thread). 

For the sceptics who do not believe in cable upgrades, I thank @CoiL for his measurements. They explain why I am hearing a difference. The issue is that the stock cable while durable is so meh that a simple cheap replacement will already improve sound, unlike branded cables with a much smaller improvement compared to each other.

Next is earbuds. Many people have tried changing around for better fit and sound. For me fit is not an issue but I have widebore tips and KZ star tips on order to hopefully dial in the bass a bit more for my mixed music collection and will update again.

 

Comparisons

I had the fortune of demoing other KZ sets and one unlucky Senfer 4in1 from my local contact who brings them in for resale. Not sure about the burn in but I am sure they are accurate as they are roughly in line with others' comments. All comparisons were done in stock form (tips and cables)

 

ATR: Basically a lower-energy, more laid back approach to the ZS3. Other than less (but still prominent bass) it is similar to the ZS3 for mids and highs. Key difference is bass and soundstage. Bass is less but arguable a bit tighter than the ZS3.

ATE/ATES: Don't bother, they are the predecessor of the 2016 ATR which tightened up the bass and smoothened the original's grainy treble.

ED12: This Amazon review sums it up the best honestly so read it. Particularly the W signature which is effectively ATR with boosted mids and treble too. Some have criticised the ED12 heavily, they may be right but I suspect it is again fit issues like the ZS3. The ED12 honestly was closest to my mid-centric Aurvanas but I decided on the ZS3 as overall the signature sounded more engaging for my music.

ZST: ZST is a very difficult IEM to compare and review. I am waiting for my set to arrive but the one I demoed had a split personality. The bass was a bit boomier than the ZS3 yet treble was smooth and clean due to the BA, which affected coherence especially on instrumental jazz tracks. The treble is definitely the best quality of the whole bunch just that the signature was just weird. Rumour has it they sound comparable or better than the ZS3 with burn in (urgh not again) and silver cables (urgh more money spent) so I have given in to temptation and ordered them for the 11/11 sale. Really appreciate treble that is present yet not irritating (that's why I play the viola not violin too HAHA)

I think ZS3 has the widest soundstage then ATR and ED12 roughly the same. Don't quote me on soundstage as usually I pay more attention to sound in terms of what frequencies are emphasised. ZST is excluded as the split personality just messes with my head in stock form...

Senfer 4in1: Too bad for Senfer the contact had one set on him. So much more coherent than the ZST I didn't know how many BA/DDs there were. BUT the treble was a no-go. More grainy AND sibilant than the ATE (which is the grainiest KZ I heard). Barring fit and production flukes I wrote this on off. Like ZST in stock form, no point having coherent signature 80% of the time but 20% keeps messing up your music you listen to. 

 

Conclusion

Overall, the ZS3 is really good for the money. Most issues I had were resolvable, particularly in sound where there are mods available and the bass of the ZS3 appears to be responsive to some EQing. Other than a slightly unnatural/grainy treble (ONLY cymbals) which can't really be EQed (at least on my Fiio) and is really only a very small problem, it is an engaging signature to listen to music with. Build is also acceptable and allows you to get one of the cheapest over-ear IEMs with removable cables around. Surprising thing I enjoyed is despite being cheap and consumer oriented in sound they still let you be analytical when you wish (picking out cymbals and recording noises). A great replacement to the entry/mid level UE sound I have not heard as my UE earphones started dying from poor reliability. Now they will probably last me till I make the jump to CIEMs or IEMs like the UE900s, which is praise enough. 

 

I spent very brief listening sessions and definitely they are more worth it than the Sennheiser Momentum In-ears, A-Jays, Mee M6Pro (too v-shaped and tip sensitive), Shure SE215 (MUDDY), Audio-Technica IM-70 (overhyped less muddy SE215). So far the only other appealing signatures I have heard are the Aurvanas I used to own (if you can accept less bass) and the Audio Technica ATH E-40 (great sound that is more balanced and controlled and extended than the ZS3, to me the best value in the entire ATH IEM range that is what the SE215 and IM70 should have been). So if you are on a low budget, stick with the ZS3s. The only other exception I would have considered is getting the 100USD ATH-E40s if I had the money.

 

Can't emphasise the importance of finding a good fit and not obsessing over burn in before judging earphones!! Learnt that the hard way with my Aurvanas where I only discovered its bass after 9 months and heard it only for 3 months. Also, average is not a bad thing. It is rare to have cheap earphones that give sound that you can't find fault with. Coherent overall signature makes particularly instrumental music sound much better than imbalanced sound (e.g. good bass poor treble).

 

I have spent too much time writing this so for queries PM me, I will reply when I have caught up with my work :/

 

Updates

I am now using the ZS3 with KZ star tips. The difference is minimal to me. The star tips seem to just let the sound of the ZS3 flow more freely, so I hear a little more boomy bass. But overall I prefer it as the whole frequency range just seems to have a thin (very thin) veil lifted off. My wide bore tips were cancelled in transit but I'm happy enough with this. Were driven easily by my Fiio M3 before I sold it. Overall with the upgrade cable and starline tips, it is starting to sound less boomy bass overall and I am starting to find the sound actually quite lifelike, as what the Amazon review above stated.

 

Burn In

I feel burn in has benefits still, but not so much that you should run dedicated burnin sessions. What I advise is to burn in overnight when you just receive your IEMs. After that is free and easy as listening to music is also burning in too. Just take note initial burn in and listening should not be done at loud volumes as they may damage the hardware. A break every few hours helps too.

I usually burn in by looping a playlist of downloaded noise from https://archive.org/details/TenMinutesOfWhiteNoisePinkNoiseAndBrownianNoise on my PC/DAP. For phone, you can use this Chinese app from 1More that works on any earphones and Android phone: http://img.1more.com/2013/10/10/10/2013093013530025.apk Although in Chinese the icons are self-explanatory with minimal setup needed. More explanation at: http://bbs.xiaomi.cn/t-11165083 but use Google Chrome's translate function!

 

Got a Shanling M1 to replace my Fiio M3. I don't have time to review, but the M1 is really one power-packed tiny thing with DSD-PCM transcoding. I can't any difference from DSD to 24/192 FLAC of the same track so that isn't the most important. It works great on low gain and seems to be just a bit more detailed versus the M3.

Posted

Pros: big soundstage and accurate imaging; rich timbre; overall clarity

Cons: finicky cable; challenging fit; overabundance of low end

I admit it seems gratuitous to write this missive, since this IEM has already been comprehensively reviewed by B9Scrambler (who I've always found to be particularly credible). However, largely motivated by my desire to procrastinate at work, I thought I'd offer some brief impressions:

 

I don't generally prefer over-the-ear designs, and I found the included (detachable) memory cable to be overly stiff and difficult to contort and fit. The proprietary 2-pin connector is also somewhat frustrating to insert, and seems like an odd design choice, since it precludes cable upgrades. Once inserted, however, the connection seems secure. Build quality overall seems solid and isolation is excellent, although microphonics are  significant.These are very easy to drive with a mobile phone and didn't seem to change much with amping.

 

Soundwise, I'd characterize these as "basshead," in the sense that their defining characteristic is their voluminous, deep and impactful low end. Subbass and midbass are well-controlled and quite fast, if not as well-articulated as the best sets, and there's little bleed-over into other frequencies. However, the sheer quantity of the low end gives the ZS3 a slightly less-than-seamless quality, as if you're listening to a separate subwoofer rather than  perfectly integrated drivers. In this regard they remind me of the Velodyne V-Pulse, another good IEM titled a bit too much to the bottom end. I should probably try eq-ing or trying different tips with the view to better balancing the bass.

 

Mids are very rich and clean-sounding; voices and guitars are presented with a lot of body but still sound quite natural. Treble is a little warmed over but likewise has a lot of body and good clarity; it's not especially extended or detailed, but neither is it sharp or strident. Resolution is not close to the level of say, the XE800, tho drums, piano and other quick transients are quite well-rendered. In general, the ZS3 seems to be going for a big, expansive sound which eschews microdetail and intimacy for more excitement.

 

Where these really excel is in soundstage and imaging/instrument placement, which (like the ED9) is incredible--you can place the location of each musician precisely on a very wide stage. In this regard they remind me of the Tennmak Pro and Piano, two similarly-configured  IEMs which also present a very big, accurate stage. However, the ZS3 has better-controlled bass than the Pro or the Piano, and as a result perhaps better overall clarity (the Pro and especially the Piano do have more highend resolution/detail, however).

 

Compared to my favorite KZ, the ED9, the ZS3 are warmer and has more and tighter bass; the ED9 sounds considerably smaller but more transparent/natural. The ED10 is probably clearer than both, and has almost as much tight bass as the ZS3, but sounds more congested and less expansive to my ears. IMO, the ZS3 are clearly better than the ATE which have less lowend and oomph.

 

It's impossible to write critically about a KZ without reference to their insane, giveaway pricing; as one struggles to find their flaws, or to compare them to much pricier units, you're reminded the damn things cost less than a couple of lattes. Like other KZs, the ZS3 won't compete with $100 IEMs in terms of refinement or resolution, but for sheer rocking out, I might prefer these--they're big and bad.

 

These KZs are like crack--very hard habit to kick...

No member lists contain this item yet.
KZ-ZS3 Hifi High-End 3.5mm In-Ear Earphone Headphones Earpiece Original Headset Bass Earbuds With Microphone
Description:

New Arrival! 100% Original KZ ZS3, Limited Quantity!!! Brand name: KZ Model: ZS3 Impedance: 18Ω Earphone sensitivity: 98dB±2dB Frequency range: 20-45000Hz Interface: 3.5mm Gilded Plug Type: L curved Cable Length: 1.2m±5cm Products include: 1 * KZ ZS3 headphones(with mic) 6 * earmuffs

Details:
DetailValue
BindingWireless Phone Accessory
BrandGeneral
Colorblack
EAN0606276777839
FeatureEnhanced sound quality, outstanding bass and treble clarity Built with high-performance speakers for extended frequency range, lower distortion, hi performance and noise isolating ear tips eliminate ambient noise. High Quality Headphone Headset with Mic Ergo-Fit Design for Ultimate Comfort and Fit,3.5 mm plug Ideal for All Apple Device's, Androids Smartphone, Windows Phone, MP3/MP4 Player, Portable Music's Player.
LabelHA-YIN12108
ManufacturerHA-YIN12108
MPNH569608
PublisherHA-YIN12108
StudioHA-YIN12108
TitleKZ-ZS3 Hifi High-End 3.5mm In-Ear Earphone Headphones Earpiece Original Headset Bass Earbuds With Microphone
UPC606276777839
Package Height1.18 inches
Package Length3.94 inches
Package Weight0.09 pounds
Package Width2.83 inches
PackageQuantity1
PartNumberH569608
ProductGroupWireless
ProductTypeNameWIRELESS_ACCESSORY
UPCList - UPCListElement606276777839
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphones › In-Ear › Universal Fit › KZ-ZS3 Hifi High-End 3.5mm In-Ear Earphone Headphones Earpiece Original Headset Bass Earbuds With Microphone