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Knowledge Zenith ED7 in-ear monitor

Rating:
4/5,
  1. DocHoliday
    Analog warmth for our digital age!
    Written by DocHoliday
    Published Apr 3, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Analog sound signature
    Simultaneously warrm and energetic
    Light and comfortable (mini)
    Inexpensive
    Cons - Short-bus nozzles
    Finding an eartip that works
    71zfoLcPaQL.jpg
    The Knowledge Zenith ED7 is surely one of the most polarizing in-ear monitors KZ released in 2016. If you own a pair then you know of what I speak but I find myself taking an almost apologetic position in defending them because, while they do have a few infuriating flaws, I consider the ED7 to be an IEM that is mostly misunderstood.

    First, let's get some opinion-based fundamentals out of the way.

    About me:
    I tend to prefer a relatively neutral sound signature with a slight emphasis in both bass and lower treble, which is basically a mild "U" shaped sound signature where midrange frequencies are left intact and unaffected. I find that an absolute neutral sound signature usually lacks enough energy for the genres I enjoy most, which are Classic Trance and Progressive (early Tiesto, Markus Schulz, Otello, DT8 Project), Chill Out, Breakbeat (Hybrid & Burufunk Remixes) and 80's & 90's (New Order, Secession, The Cure, Siouxie & The Banshees, Depeche Mode). Sure I listen to Verve Remixed, Sade, Bach, Ella Fitzgerald and everything in between, but as of late the bulk of my listening pleasure is focused on the aforementioned genres.

    About IEMs:
    Take note when you read IEM reviews that when the reviewer gives his/her opinion regarding the sound that there are many factors that shape the final sound an IEM delivers to one's ear.

    Those factors include:
    1 - Shape & size of reviewer's ear canals. (shallow/deep, wide/narrow)
    2 - Shape & size of eartips (round/cone, single, double or triple flange)
    3 - Materials of eartips (silicone/foam)
    4 - Shape of IEM (and/or angle of nozzle) can cause fitment issues for some.
    5 - Source (quality of DAC in smartphone, laptop, digital audio player)
    6 - Source (power rating) is it amplified/unamplified.
    7 - The IEM itself (driver flex/trapping air in canal causing muffled sound.
    8 - The Reviewers ability to hear all frequency ranges (age plays a factor).

    Most consumers are unaware of how much weight each of these factors hold in rendering a final verdict. This is why there is such a wide variance in not only ratings, but the description of an IEMs sound. An unaware consumer purchases a perfectly fine IEM but has difficulty keeping the IEM in the ear or he/she does not satisfactorily seal the ear canal with the included silicone eartips (this is a common occurrence) and the consumer summarily dismisses the IEM as sub par. Another consumer purchases the same IEM but experiences a perfect fit and seal and has nothing but praise for the same IEM. Sealing the ear canals AND HAVING THE EARTIP FIRMLY AFFIXED to the IEM nozzle is the only proper way to use in-ear monitors. I can think of no audio equipment that is subjected to such praise or ridicule as the in-ear monitor. As if that's not enough, there is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to IEM eartips.

    Materials (silicone/foam) have different dampening effects on final sound.
    Shape of the eartips (olive-shaped, cone-shaped or other-shaped) can have different dampening effects on final sound based on how much space is between the IEM nozzle and your eardrum and how well the eartip has sealed the ear canal.
    The aperture of the eartip's opening (wide-bore/narrow-bore) will have dampening effects on the final sound.

    The easiest way for you to experience the different effects I am discussing is to take your current on-ear headphones or over-ear headphones, pick a song full of energy, put the earphones on and let them sit naturally over or on your ears. Listen to the music for two minutes. After two minutes, using your hands, slightly press the headphones closer to your eardrums. Notice the change in the sound. Is there more/less bass? Is there more/less treble? Did the vocals slightly slip forward/back?

    Consider that on-ear and over-ear headphones have a driver that sits approximately 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches from your eardrums and by pressing the headphones 1/4" closer to your eardrums the sound changed. Now consider that an IEM driver sits anywhere from 3/4" to 1/4" from your eardrums and the slightest changes (angle, depth, shape, material) can have up to three times more of an effect due to the proximity of the IEM to the eardrum.

    For this reason, I think it is wise to invest a nominal dollar amount on different eartips to find an eartip that works well for your particular ear's anatomy. This way you experience everything the earphone tuner intended for you to experience. Some IEM manufacturers supply multiple sizes (S/M/L) and/or materials (silicone/foam) of eartips to increase the odds that the consumer achieves a satisfactory seal, but even this is not foolproof. If this information holds any interest for you, there are a plethora of aftermarket eartip brands to look into, such as "JVC Spiral Dots", "Spinfits", "Comply Foam Eartips" or "Znari Foam Eartips", "Creative Aurvana" and others. If you really want to fine tune things, then you might find yourself doing what I do, which is scouring Amazon for inexpensive earphones that appear to have silicone eartips that have a shape that typically work well with my ear's anatomy.
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    The Knowledge Zenith ED7:

    The ED7 has a very unique sound signature that I affectionately refer to as "analogue". There is nothing analytical or digital about it's presentation. The ED7 is really all about the warm fuzzies. In fact, if there was one word to sum up Knowledge Zenith's ED7, that word would be SMOOTH.

    ....but it's not for everybody.

    With ED7 it's all about patience and reward. I find that a little effort goes a long way with these doohickeys, but we'll get to that In a bit. For now let's just say that the ED7 sounds hauntingly familiar to its close cousin, the KZ ATR. See the ATR review by clicking the link below.

    https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/knowledge-zenith-atr-in-ear-monitor.23032/

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    You will note that in the review mentioned above that I found the ATR to be a more refined version of Knowledge Zenith's ever popular ATE. The ATE that I own is the second iteration better known in KZ circles as the ATE(ii). To my ears the ATE(ii) presents a somewhat darkish rolled off tone starting in the upper-midrange and continues rolling off the higher frequency range goes. That makes them an ideal choice for laid back genres, but not a top pick for energetic genres. The ATR injects the presentation with more treble extension while lifting the slight veil that renders the midrange just a tad smoother than is natural. The ED7 offers a variant of the ATR sound signature but I find that the ED7's more energetic sound signature will cater to a more specific set of genres (Chillout, Progressive House, Trance, DnB, Hip-Hop and rap).

    The ED7 drivers are housed in natural bamboo and fashioned into a basic barrel design, but KZ offered the ED7 in two different sizes. The 10.5mm housing is the ED7-Mini (on the right) and the 12.5mm housing is the ED7-Standard (on the left).
    2018-04-02 18.40.54.jpg
    I almost described the housing as wood but that would be incorrect because, believe it or not, bamboo is actually a very hardy grass. Wood and bamboo housings tend to absorb and dampen frequencies as opposed to metal housings that would certainly reflect 100% of those same frequencies. I do like KZ's use of a natural material for the earpieces but I also find the build somewhat lackluster compared to KZ's earlier models like the ED9, ED10, ED11 and ED3 variants that were all fashioned from a seemingly indestructible metal alloy. The benefit and/or tradeoff is that the bamboo does lend a bit of overall warmth to the presentation.

    The short and narrow nozzles are fashioned from a sturdy metal so no chance of cracking or chipping. These should hold up well, so Kudos to KZ for the robust design.

    So, why do I put forth the theory that the ED7 is simply an IEM that is misunderstood?

    Well......that would be because the ED7 has to be the most tip-sensitive in-ear monitor I own.....and yes that includes the MEMT X5.

    The ED7 nozzles are very short and quite narrow, which means that if you don't find an eartip with less than a 3mm collar the eartip will remain in your ear when you remove the earpiece.
    2016-Original-KZ-ED7-HIFI-In-Ear-Earphone-Heavy-Bass-HIFI-Headset-Stereo-Bamboo-Earphones-For.jpg

    The ED7 really comes into its own when you get deep insertion. Some of you love foam eartips but I would not recommend the ED7 with foam eartips because the already warm sound signature will devolve into an unpleasant mess of lower and mid frequencies trying to find a place to settle. I tried the ED7 with Comply foam tips that were designed for my Klipsch IEMs but the presentation was awful. Conversely, the silicone eartips that you see attached in the photos brought out all of the ED7's intended attributes. The difference between the two presentations is night and day so if you're not the type to tip-roll until you find a suitable match then it's likely that the ED7 isn't for you. It's more of an IEM for someone who finds tip-rolling to be almost a second-nature reaction when trying new earphones.

    Again, be aware that deep insertion and completely sealing the ear canal is a must. The lack of a complete seal means the lack of lower frequencies which means the midrange will sound quite off putting. The lower frequencies when fully present will contribute to a wonderfully coherent presentation, but if those lower frequencies aren't controlling the balance of frequencies in your ear canals then the midrange will simply run roughshod and unrestrained.

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    I typically start off describing treble, midrange and bass but due to this IEM's unique dual offering I think it is best to start with the ED7's soundstage.

    Soundstage and Imaging:

    As is usual for KZ in-ear monitors, imaging is well above what can be expected for the ED7's price-point, however, the soundstage is where the differences show up between the ED7-Standard and the ED7-Mini. The differences I hear in soundstage are mainly due to the driver housing. To be more specific, the shape and the volume of unoccupied space inside the driver housing.

    The ED7-Mini has the smallest housing. This means less volume of unoccupied space inside the driver housing resulting in the entire presentation being more intimate and forward. There is little room for the sound to reflect inside the housing so all of the sound moves directly forward through the nozzle.

    The ED7-Standard has a larger bamboo housing. More space in the housing means more room for the sound to reflect inside the housing as the sound moves forward through the nozzle. The end result is that the ED7-Standard presentation offers more space between the instruments and more depth in the soundstage whereas the ED7-Mini presentation offers less space between the instruments while it's soundstage depth is more shallow as well.
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    As a side note, the ATR, having a similar sound signature, has a wider soundstage than either of the ED7's.

    In short, the ATR has the most airy presentation, the ED7-Standard has a less airy presentation than the ATR and the ED7-Mini has a slightly less airy presentation than the ED7-Standard. While these differences are minor they are there and they do make a difference when considering the overall presentation.

    Soundstage: rated from airy to intimate.
    ATR > ED7-Standard > ED7-Mini

    Pay attention to how each instrument is placed on the stage in your mind's eye. The drummer on the left, the backup singer between the lead guitar and bass player, etc. Typical KZ imaging, which is well above average for an IEM that costs so little.




    Treble:

    To my ears the treble is reminiscent of the ATR's treble; neither emphasized nor rolled off with just a hint of softness. I find that the treble compliments the ED7's cohesive and warm-leaning sound signature. If there is any lift to the treble it is negligible because I am not hearing it. My usual test tracks will bare this out. I can always tell if an earphone's upper-treble is rolled off if the bells and triangles are missing from Toni Braxton's "He wasn't man enough".





    Midrange:
    Centered but right on the threshold of being slightly recessed. Their is more upper-midrange than lower-midrange (60:40 respectively) but vocals and guitars come across natural and lifelike. Note where Zoe Johnston's voice is positioned on "We're All We Need"; dead center. Likewise with Corey Daye's late '70's anthem "We Got It Made".

    Mid-centric focus: rated from most to least.
    ED7-Mini > ED7-Standard > ATR




    Bass:
    The ratio of sub-bass to mid-bass (40:60) on the ATE seems to cater to more acoustic or vocal-centered recordings. That same ratio on the ATR levels off at a well judged 50:50 and an energetic 55:45 on the ED7. The ED7's soft and deep bass is one of it's defining characteristics and to my ears it contributes to the ED7's analog-like sound signature. Bass is north of neutral but it compliments the ED7's cohesive and warm-leaning sound signature. The sub-bass is the backbone to Conjure One's "Center Of The Sun"and the ED7 manages to hold things together without distorting.

    Bass quantity: rated from most to least.
    ED7-Standard > ED7-Mini > ATR




    Bottom line:

    The reason to go for the ED7-Mini is that the mids are slightly more forward than on the ED7-Standard. In addition, the ED7-Mini will be more comfortable for smaller ears.
    The reason to go for the ED7-Standard is to have more fun with the bass and more soundstage depth.
    The reason to go for the ATR is because it is the more neutral presentation of the three.

    As usual, the packaging is nothing to write home about because you get small, medium and large silicone eartips and.....the rest is just Shenzen's pure mountain air. These have been out of the box and stored in clamshell cases for over a year so I can't comment on the included eartips. KZ eartips never sealed my ear canals until KZ released their proprietary Star-tipped silicone eartips, which fit me better than most eartips on the market. I and a few of the "KZ faithfuls" railed about KZ's lousy included eartips for over a year and guess what? KZ took action and released one of the best eartips on the market, in my opinion. It's really a testament to how much they pay attention to their fan base.

    The very fact that KZ listens to us is the very reason we remain fans. KZ likes being the price-to-performance king. We like being heard. Other than Fiio, (again, big fan here) I can think of no other company that responds as quickly to community feedback the way KZ does.

    Once the cables exit the earpieces it's standard sturdy KZ cables with excellent strain reliefs and a 90° 3.5mm jack. That's not a knock or dig. KZ cables rarely fail (if you order yours without a microphone). Sure KZ's fixed cables do suffer from microphonics but they hold up better than most fixed cables and if you keep the cable under a layer of clothing the microphonics subside.

    Question:
    How good is an IEM once the cable connection fails?

    Answer:
    They become useless and need to be replaced.

    All twenty-some-odd KZ's I own, save one pair that have a microphone, are as sturdy as the day I received them. That's noteworthy in my book.

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    All in all, I'm glad to have the ED7 in my collection. Sure, part of the allure is the novelty of having in-ear monitors made of "grass" but I like their analogue sound signature and I can live with their short-bus nozzles. They are not that different from the handful of wood IEMs in my collection, but they do have their own quirky characteristics and I find that they really can be a lot of fun once you get to know them.
      B9Scrambler likes this.
    1. B9Scrambler
      You convinced me. I need these in my Kollection (see what I did there? KZ. Kollection. Heh...)
      B9Scrambler, Apr 3, 2018
      DocHoliday likes this.
    2. DocHoliday
      Yeah, the ED7 is no paragon of resolution or dynamics but it should be in every KZ "Kollection".

      Like the MEMT X5.......eartips will make them or break them.
      DocHoliday, Apr 3, 2018