KZ ZAX

General Information

SPECIFICATIONS
Brand: KZ
Model: ZAX
Drive Unit: 7BA+1DD
Compatible System: ANDROID/Windows/Phone iOS
Connectivity:Wired
Wear:Ear hook
Earphone type: In-Ear
Plug type: 3.5mm plug
Pin type : 0.75mm 2PIN
Sensitivity: 113dB/mW
Impedance: 24Ω
Frequency range: 10Hz-40kHz
Weight: 27±3g
Color: Silver/Black
Cable Length: 125±5cm
Detachable cable: Yes
Microphone: Optional

Latest reviews

And daily the marmot greets
Pros: entertaining sound
punchy, tight bass
good detail reproduction
Cons: artificial
big V
metallic timbre
Rate: 7.9
Sound: 7.8

Intro
Slowly I am getting tired of reviewing KZ, or CCA-IEMs. Basically I can take any review of the last time (C12, ZSX, ZS10 Pro, C10 Pro ...) and adjust two or three little things. Done. Okay, this is perhaps a bit exaggerated, because if you take a closer look at the individual IEMs, you can see some small differences in sound, but these are more likely to be due to the different driver characteristics, because KZ has a house sound and they don't want to deviate from that. So they juggle with the number of drivers, as well as the combination of these and bring out again and again an (admittedly rarely bad) IEM, which is only a sidegrade, if at all, but still pulls the money out of the buyers' pockets every time.

Handling
A typical KZ. Silver plated 4-core cable, which only serves its purpose, with a selection of silicone tips. Only the faceplate changes on the chassis, otherwise it would be impossible to tell which of the abundant models it would be.

Isolation and wearing comfort is good, to very good, as with almost all models of the company, depending on the space available in the ear, which should not be too small.

Sound
8 drivers. I would never think of it if I didn't know. With the KZ house sound it is actually almost irrelevant whether I have 3, 5, or 8 drivers. If you like this sound, you will like ZAX and if not, ZAX won't change that.

The dynamic driver does its job quite well. I found the bass of the CCA C10 PRO to be a step in the right direction and the bass of the ZAX is in no way inferior. Compared to the ZSX, or ZS10 PRO, it is firmer and more responsive. The punch is fun and the depth is also a plus. For me the bass is the best thing about the ZAX.

The "V" is also part of the ZAX program and so the mids are reduced, especially in the lower range. In the upper range, however, they are quite pronounced, which brings voices to the fore and causes fatigue in my case. The mids are solid and especially with assorted music they have some nice details. But when it gets hectic, they break in a bit.

I think it is again a local (Europe, Asia etc.) discussion why the highs always have to have this subliminal aggressiveness with KZ. Personally, I'm slowly getting tired of it and long for more relaxation and real quality, instead of always simulating it with an artificial build-up. The trebles have this basic metallic character, which almost always resonates with KZ. You get used to it, but BA drivers can also do differently. The trebles provide a very good transparency and details, but the naturalness is a bit lost. In addition the sibilants are annoying and I can't attest the ZAX a fatigue-free audibility.

The stage is pleasantly large and the imaging is also quite good, as long as you look at the stereo image. However, it is also strongly concentrated on left | center | right. The spaces in between are occupied a bit more sparsely.

Outro
I would take a more customer-oriented approach to KZ, if they did not want to prove this every month in the form of a new IEM. It's good to fine-tune products, as well as to rework them and take into account the customer's wishes, but we are not test rabbits and I certainly won't pay 50€ again, just for a new faceplate and a slightly adapted sound. I will certainly not be able to change KZ's attitude towards this, but maybe I can sensitize the buyer not to have to buy every new model of the company, especially if you already own the models mentioned at the beginning. The KZ ZAX is a good IEM, without question and if you are new to the Knowledge Zenith world, you will find a cheap and competitive IEM here. All others should keep their feet still for 2 years, then you might get a real added value to the previous models.

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Rating in Letters
S:
9.5 - 10
A: 9.0 - 9.4
B: 8.0 - 8.9
C: 7.0 - 7.9
D: 6.0 - 6.9
E: 5.0 - 5.9
F: 0.0 - 4.9
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Terminator 2!
Pros: Solid bass with good texture
Present mids not too recessed
Extended Treble with good detail
Wide soundstage
Good looking design
Cons: Underwhelming accessories
Cable could be better
Occasional bass dominance
KZ described their last multi-driver earphone, the ZSX, as the "Terminator of the hybrid line", so it was a surprise when the new ZAX was announced, although CCA had recently released their CA16 16 driver model, and often KZ and CCA release similar models in short order.

The ZAX is an 8 driver per channel hybrid design. Bass frequencies are handled by a 10mm dual magnet dynamic driver with a composite diaphragm. A total of seven balanced armatures cover the rest of the range: two 30019 units for the midrange, two 50024 dual BAs (four in total) for the mid/high region and one 30095 armature (placed within the nozzle) for the highest frequencies.

The ZAX comes packaged in a similar way to former premium KZ models in a grey box which opens like a book. The IEMs are nestled in a foam insert above a metal nameplate inscribed with the model number. Below this you will find the 2-pin silver plated copper cable, spare eartips and documentation.

The IEMs have a clear resin body and a zinc alloy faceplate which has five slot-shaped vents on its surface. My particular sample was finished in a matt black. It has a kind of "stealth" look, and is really cool. The words "ZAX - 16 units Hybrid Technology" are written on the side of the casing and there is a small pinhole vent on the inner surface. The nozzle is coloured gold and has a useful lip to secure the tips, and there is a silver mesh on the nozzle.

The cable has clear plastic QDC connectors and Y-split and a 90° angled 3.5mm plug. It is a silver-plated 4-core copper braided type and there is no chin slider.

The ZAX was tested initially using the supplied cable and pre-fitted tips and the fit was comfortable with good isolation. The source was an Xduoo X20 DAP and a period of 100 hours of burn in was carried out before evaluation.

First Impressions
The ZAX produced a big, bold and expansive sound with solid, well-textured bass, present mids and extended treble. Volume was adequate with no need for additional amplification. The soundstage was extensive in all three dimensions and the overall character resembled that of the ZS10 Pro but it was not as recessed in the mids and there was improved detail retrieval. After a short test I replaced the supplied cable with a silver plated balanced cable run from the 2.5mm output of my Xduoo X20. This resulted in improvements in all areas and the following observations were made with this configuration.

Bass
The bass was extended, firm and nicely textured with good resolution. It was mildly elevated in the sub bass, blending into the mid bass which was also somewhat north of neutral, slightly colouring the mids but producing an attractive "bloom". Decay was natural, allowing recorded ambience to be heard authentically.

The tonality of the bass section of the orchestra in the slow movement of Holst's "Moorside Suite" arranged for strings, was accurately reproduced. In the sensitive performance by the Northern Sinfonia under David Lloyd-Jones, the rich woody timbre of the basses formed a perfect support for the beautiful thoughtful melody in the upper strings.

The powerful tom-tom strikes and bass drum in the climax of "Private Investigations" by Dire Straits had impressive impact and decay. Set against the superb acoustic guitar solo and accompaniment, the effect was dramatic and powerful with dark silences in between.

The introduction to "Flame Nebula" from Kevin Kendle's "Light from Orion" displayed superb sub-bass extension and rumble, providing a solid foundation for the swirling synth figurations and special effects in this evocative piece of space music from one of England's best electronic artists.

Mids
The ZAX's mids were more present than expected and possessed excellent detail. The lower mids were slightly warm as a result of a little bass bleed and gradually became brighter towards the treble boundary. The timbre was very good for BAs, being just a tad brighter than neutral.

The clarity of the breath and lip sounds and edge harmonics on the flute in George Deuter's "Mirage" from the album of the same name, demonstrated the ZAX's excellent handling of micro-detail. Accompanied by gentle synthesiser and sparkling percussion effects, the whole piece came together very well.

The timbre of the cello in "Pygmalion" by Andreas Vollenweider from his latest album, "Quiet Places" was very natural with good transient attack on the leading edges and Vollenweider's trademark electric harp accompaniment complemented the solo instrument with its bright resonant tones, with the harp's decay and harmonics particularly well rendered.

"Adios" is a romantic ballad by Linda Ronstadt from the album "Cry like a rainstorm, howl like the Wind". Her clear voice and perfect diction came over very effectively on the ZAX, preserving the emotional message in the lyrics. The lead vocal was nicely balanced with the backing vocals and arrangement in a spacious acoustic.

Treble
The treble on the ZAX was surprisingly extended and generally free of disturbing peaks, given that the sole treble BA was placed within the nozzle. Detail retrieval was high and separation very good.

The bright sparkling riff behind the production of Richard Souther's "On the Third Day" from his album "Heirborne" was airy and open and supported by smooth synth patches and expressive solo voices. The clarity and attack in this superb recording was a joy to hear on the ZAX and was extremely entertaining. I ended up listening to the whole album, which is testament to the quality of the sound.

The Unanswered Question" is a modern orchestral piece by Charles Ives. In the beautiful interpretation by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, the serene and yet slightly unsettling orchestral backdrop was punctuated by incisive woodwind tone clusters which cut through the atmosphere in a very dramatic fashion. The trumpet solo hovered in the air and possessed good definition and space and the clean treble delivery and separation of the ZAX conveyed the composer's message admirably.

Isao Tomita's "Electronic Realisations" of well-known classical works always cover the whole frequency gamut and display a powerful dynamic range. "The Old Castle" from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" is no exception. From the beginning there was a wealth of information, especially in the treble, and the ZAX made the most of this with copious detail on offer with impressive separation and clarity. The 30095 BA has certainly been well-tuned here and there was good extension with little or no harshness, despite the bright nature of the recording.

Soundstage
The ZAX's staging was very impressive, being expansive in all dimensions. Imaging and separation were precise and movement was very well handled.

The various elements in "Elsewhere" by Vangelis from the "Direct" album occupied every square inch of the soundstage, which resembled a vast dome with the solo voice located high in the image and electronic sounds dancing around in complex patterns. The excellent portrayal of the reverberation and ambience added to the effect. Climaxes were effective with an impressive dynamic range.

Mark Dwane's brand of electronic music is based on MIDI guitar synthesisers and is always recorded in audiophile quality. "I remember you from Tomorrow", from his latest album, "Future Tense" features incisive electric guitar and smooth sax solos floating over the top of broad synth washes presented in a wide, spacious manner. The ZAX produced an exciting and satisfying rendition which displayed all the atmosphere of the piece and retained its character perfectly.

The orchestral transcription of Debussy's "The Engulfed Cathedral" received a brilliant reading from the LPO under Nicholas Braithwaite in a superb Lyrita recording. On the ZAX, the orchestra was laid out in a most convincing manner with all the orchestral sections occupying their correct positions in the image, both in width and depth. The sense of distance in the brass and percussion relative to the string sections was particularly notable.

Conclusion
With the ZAX, KZ have managed to retain the best qualities of earlier hybrid models while improving their shortcomings. It takes the bass of the ZS7, the fun factor of the ZS10 Pro and the balanced character of the ZSX, and adds to these improved treble extension, a more expansive soundstage and superior midrange timbre. Compared to CCA's recent CA16, it is much brighter and clearly has the hybrid sound, whereas the CA16 almost sounds like a single DD with its warmer tonality, excellent timbre and superior driver integration.

The ZAX has an engaging V signature which is less recessed in the mids than the ZS10 Pro and is highly entertaining to listen to while having good technicalities and timbre. Definitely KZ's best hybrid so far: It's Terminator 2: Judgement Day!

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Nimweth
Nimweth
I find them even more comfortable than the ZS10 Pro although they are similar in size. The rounded edges make a difference. Good job getting 8 drivers in that shell!
harry501501
harry501501
Thanks Nimweth. Yeah, crazy how they can fit these BAs in so well. I wish the BA5 wasn't so heavy and bulgy.
Nimweth
Nimweth
Yes. The KZ BA10 is even bulkier but I love it.
Pros: Really good detail retrieval. Easy to drive
Cons: Not the most musical, a bit "polite"
Another day, another IEM release from KZ. After focusing for a bit on their great sounding but technically limited TWS IEMs, they've returned to putting out a set every week.

First impression is, well, it's a KZ IEM so it's Starline tips and a cable in the box. Lately they've tended towards using a silver plated one rather than the old copper coloured one we all know and... tolerate. It still tangles like the old one did but it looks nicer and better built.

A point of note here is that unusually I can't get a good seal with the included Starlines, normally the mediums fit perfectly but they leak the bass and the big ones hurt my ears. I used Tin foamies to burn in and I've just received some Misodiko S450s that have been pressed into service. Literally the only tips that fit that I had to hand. Definitely they open up the sound compared to the foamies and bring out detail which isn't there.

Plugging the ZAX straight into my LG V40 yielded enough power to drive them amply - unusually I didn't feel the need to crank them anywhere near full volume. They drive ok with my ES100 and my GeekOut 450, my Fiio X5 iii and Echobox Explorer both reveal a little hiss. Not a deal breaker, and compared to a DD IEM it's nice to have true plug and play.

So straight off the bat, it's to REM for soundstage - vocals are in the right place on "Shiny Happy People", with none of the weirdness of Michael Stipe having swallowed Cate Pierson that can afflict a poorly resolved centre soundstage. My width and depth perception isn't that great - I can identify a poor soundstage but not so much an excellent one. This isn't a poor soundstage. Further listening to "DARE" by Gorillaz shows even a relatively complex mix to resolve nicely, instrument separation is very good, although perhaps not up to the level of the Tin T2.

Bass goes deeper than a stoned philosopher, easily reproducing the low notes of anything I found to throw at it, be it "Love Me or Hate Me" by Lady Sovereign or "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish. The intro to "There She Goes" by Babyshambles reveals a nice consistency to the bass levels, fluctuations with the plucking of every note but none of the huge differences between notes that ruins the Blon BL-03 until you get the tip selection "just so".

Sadly, it's not all good news for the bass frequencies. Firstly if you're a basshead I think you would probably need to up the EQ to get the level to something acceptable, and secondly " 'merican" by Descendents reveals a recession of where upper bass meets lower mids. There's no bleed, but some of the notes in the fast bassline are MIA. Saying that, the ZAX has no problem keeping up with the bassline which is a positive.

Staying on the Descendents I feel that the midrange is just a little bit "polite" for punk rock. The aggression that you get with the Tin T2 Plus and especially with the NiceHCK N3 (NOT a great IEM - but superlative with Punk music) just isn't there. It's weird to be levelling this criticism at KZ after using the words "steely" and "timbre" together so many times.
The level of detail these things throw up though is absolutely mind-boggling. Amanda Palmer's vocal on "Coin-Operated Boy" is so detailed you can hear the spit rolling around in her mouth as she forms the words. Pretty much every track I listened to with these turned up whole layers of detail I've never heard before. Not in an IEM, nor even in my Hifiman HE400i. Acoustic guitars have good timbre to them, and a piece such as Beethoven's 5th doesn't throw up anything obviously wrong, timbre-wise though my instrument is guitar so I'm more attuned to how guitars sound. Which is, in the main, pretty good.
Vocals however are a mixed bag. Male voices sound good whether a deep baritone like Johnny Cash or a tenor like Matt Bellamy. Perhaps not best in class (I prefer the T2 Plus) but an improvement on the CCA C12 which in itself was fine. Female vocals, less so. A powerful female vocal is fine but Tanya Donnelly sounds just a bit "TOO" fragile on her cover of "Moon River". It's not the worst for female vocals but these aren't £20 IEMs

Treble is really detailed with good extension as far as my 40 year old, listen to music too loud, tinnitusy ears can decipher. My hearing needs a very definite sweet spot as far as treble is concerned. Too little and I can't hear hi-hats, too much and I want, without exaggeration, to tear the skin off my face. These get right into the sweet spot, and listening to a sibilant recording like anything by the Libertines provides just enough sibilance to make it sound correct without being enough to be unpleasant.

So, who is this for? It's a fantastically detailed IEM and if you want to hear what is on a recording this has to be one of the best IEMs around for the money. But, it's not just about listening to the recording and listening to the gear. This hobby is (or should be) about the MUSIC. And sadly that's where it falls ever so slightly short. It lacks the emotion of something raw sounding like the NiceHCK N3 or LZ A6 Mini, but also doesn't sound as sweet and musical as the Tin T2 or T2 Plus, leave alone everybody's favourite one trick pony the Blon BL03.

In summary, it's a very good, easy to drive IEM that will bring out details in recordings that you may never have heard before without being too unforgiving of a poor recording. Yet it's also not going to be my first choice when I just want to kick back, earphones in, and enjoy the music.
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