KZ ZS10

Rating:
3.5/5,
  1. Wiljen
    KZ Zs10 - A solid Step, in the wrong direction!
    Written by Wiljen
    Published May 15, 2018 at 11:49 AM
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Treble much more well behaved than previous Kz Hybrids, cable improved, use of a crossover in design
    Cons - Fit/Size, coherency of sound signature, muddy at times, distant sounding.
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    I’ve been on the Kz train awhile now and recently purchased the Zs10 in order to compare with the previous flagships the Zs5v1, Zs6, and ZsR. The hype surrounding the 10 has been strong as it is the first Kz to sport 5 drivers per side and also was to have a proper cross-over which lack of has drawn criticism for some earlier models (Zs5v1 with its impedance of near nothing for example). I had hopes that this would be a step above what we had seen from Kz to date and at the pre-order price, figured I couldn’t go too far wrong for $42.


    Packaging:

    I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. Typical white box, sliding cover, plastic insert with buds in insert and cable and tips hiding underneath. Nothing exceptional or worth spending a lot of time discussing.


    Build:

    The earpieces are 100% plastic and are extremely large by normal standards. The easiest way to compare the size is that the face of the zs10 is nearly the same size as a US quarter dollar coin and nearly a full cm thick at the bi-pin connector. They jump to nearly 2cm thick at the nozzle. The nozzle itself is short, wide, and has no lip to retain the tips. On the upside, the star tips provided didn’t have any issues staying put on the nozzles once attached. Tips provided are the normal 3 sizes of star line Kz that have gotten a fairly good reputation.

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    The Zs10 has two balanced armature drivers dedicated to treble, two more dedicated to mids, and the dynamic driver handling bass according to Kz media. The crossover harkens back to earlier days (Zn1) with 4 resistors and 2 capacitors clearly labeled on the exterior of the board. The inner side of the board seems to house the mount for the dynamic driver and the connectors for the wires out to all the drivers but no other active components. This will make experimentation with changing resistors or caps an easy option for those looking to mod the Zs10 which I am sure has already begun.


    The cable is an improved version of what was shipped with earlier Kz models with one exception. The 3.5mm jack is a 90 degree model with adequate strain relief. A 4 wire braid exits the jack and runs to the splitter where two two-wire twists exit and head to the bi pin connectors at the far end. The one step backward on the cable is the strain reliefs where the two-wire cables exit the splitter were better on the old design than they are on this current one. The strain relief is only about 2mm long on this new model and is not sufficient to prevent a sharp bend in the cable at that junction that could cause a break. Overall, I like the new cable and think it is step forward from the old, but they should have retained the design of the older splitter. Above the splitter, no chin slider is provided and the connector ends do sport a memory wire design that will please some and have others reaching for the Xacto knife.

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    Sound:

    I did my testing with an I-phone, an HTC M9, and a Cayin N3 player as these are the types of devices most likely to be paired with the Zs10. I used my standard playlist of review tracks with all three devices to see if moving to a more powerful amp did anything to benefit the Zs10.


    Bass:
    Sub-bass is present in good quantity and has very good extension. Not basshead kind of rumble, but when the timpani hits you feel it. This is detracted from by a muddy mid-bass with a poor transition between the dynamic and the balanced armature responsible for handling mids. At times, both the dynamic and the BAs are overlapped and it makes for what sounds like bass bleed into the mids as it is a doubling of sound in that frequency range with two different attack and decay speeds that causes a lack of coherency. I did find that this “bleed” for lack of a better term was more pronounced with lower powered sources and amping did help but did not completely eliminate it. This is the first place I can see a modder adjust the cross over. Moving the crossover point of the dynamic downward slightly might eliminate this overlap or at least roll off the Dynamic enough in that register that it is basically masked by the BA.


    Mids:
    In my estimation the weakest point of the Zs10. The mids are recessed significantly and they do not move forward to equal the rest of the signature until well into the upper mids leaving all of the lower-mids and true mid-range well behind the rest of the signature. This causes real problems with presence and can lead to vocalists sounding distant and thin. When combined with the forward upper-mids, you get an odd dichotomy in which a male vocal sounds significantly behind a female during a duet. I found this on several tracks where it made for very odd instrument placement and vocal positioning. For something with dual BA drivers, I expected better.

    Treble:
    I haven’t been able to make this next comment in a Kz review in quite sometime. The treble on the Zs10 is well behaved and if anything slightly understated. Gone are the days of ear-piercing treble knives that we have seen in all the 1st generation hybrids from Kz. The treble has good extension and more air than expected without getting harsh or out in front of the rest of the signature. One of the advantages of earlier treble forward Kz’s was that detail retrieval was quite good. I am happy to report that detail retrieval has remained very good on the Zs10 without needing the extra treble energy to do so. This is easily the best feature of the Zs10 as far as I am concerned.


    Soundstage:

    Here again, I expected more than I got. The Zsr has a larger stage than the Zs10 and manages to handle instrument separation and layering nearly as well as the Zs10 despite being several drivers short handed. The Zs10 does a good job with layering but the recessed mids and odd presence region make it very tough to call it pleasant or technically correct as you end up with instruments that normally sit behind others well out in front of them. If you don’t mind playing musical chairs with the orchestra positions, the Zs10 does a good job of separation.

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    Thoughts:
    Kz has obviously been busy working on new models and has listened to some of the criticisms of existing models in their development of the Zs10. From a technology perspective, I applaud Kz for taking on the challenge of building a 5 driver in-ear as I think it is good for Kz and good for the industry in general. If it helps drive prices of other multi-driver hybrids down, even better. I think the fact that they took on such a big task and managed to make a listenable iem that nearly matches the sound quality of its previous flagship (ZsR) is a good showing. As a stand alone product though, I don’t feel that the Zs10 succeeds in improviing on the sound quality of the ZsR. The mids are a step backwards and vocals suffer as a result. The cable is good and again shows Kz is listening to feedback but again suffers from some changes that didn’t need to be made. The Zs10 can be thought of as a series of compromises in just about every measureable category. To me, that isn’t the description of a flagship.

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      Nymphonomaniac and Otto Motor like this.
  2. B9Scrambler
    Knowledge Zenith ZS10: Chaos!
    Written by B9Scrambler
    Published May 8, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Good materials and build (cable esp.) - Impressive staging qualities - Not a typical KZ signature
    Cons - Bass quality could be better - Fit will be hit or miss due to large housings and a stubby, lipless nozzle
    Greetings,

    Today we’re checking out what is currently Knowledge Zenith’s (KZ) flagship earphone, the ZS10.

    The ZS10 is a five driver hybrid with four balanced armatures (BA) and one dynamic driver (DD), per side. It’s an earphone KZ has spent the last year or so developing. Two balanced armatures take on treble duty, two more cover the mids, and the dynamic addresses the low end. All of this is kept in line with a large crossover visible through the transparent shell. A crossover is something we haven’t seen in a KZ since the original ZS1 and the ZN1 with the inline amplifier and EQ module. The addition of a crossover is fitting as the ZS10 goes back to it’s roots, reviving the boisterous signature of the ZS1 while imbuing it with some additional technical competence. It also does away with the crazy, over boosted treble we have come to expect from this particular brand. The ZS10 is much more laid back than the ZST, ES3, ZS5, ZS6, ZSR, and recently released ED15, along with the most of the rest of their non-hybrid legacy lineup. Nope, it hearkens back to models like the ZS1, ED3c, HDS1, ATE, ATR, and DT5.

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    This laid back presentation signals a shift from the vast majority of KZ’s more recent releases, and is unlike the majority of like-priced Chinese earphones on the market which tend to be bright and bassy. On first listen the ZS10 lacks panache. It doesn’t have that in-your-face, over-the-top appeal of the ZSR, the Audbos/Magaosi K3, or the TFZ Exclusive 5. It is unlikely to pull you in right away and plant a goofy grin on your face. No, the ZS10 is more subtle than that. It drops a seed in the back of your mind. The more you listen to it, the more it grows and expands to reveal the nuances of what makes it so good. Of course this is dependent on your liking of this style of signature in the first place, or at the very least being open minded in trying new things. That is what makes KZ such an interesting brand for me and why I keep coming back; variety. That said, they have gotten quite samey as of late. The ZS10 is a welcome change, though one that not everyone will appreciate.

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    Let’s start the discussion on how they sound, beginning with what I feel is their least impressive aspect: bass. The ZS10 is on the bassy side, though not to the point it will please bassheads. The mid-range and treble regions being dialed back helps push forward the low frequencies. The ZS10’s low end is swole, but reasonably quick with a realistic decay, and yet a bit too smooth in texture. It counters these foibles with a hefty, thundering sub-bass presence and a soft but prominent mid-bass that dips off quickly as the mid-range BAs take over. There is some bloat that gives the impression of mid-bass bleeding into the the lower mids. Note that hooking them up to a good amp, like my TEAC HA-501 tightens up the low end considerably. With modern pop, EDM, and classic rock, admittedly the genres I listen to most, this style of tuning is very suitable and pretty much in line with where I would want it to be. Start shifting to other genres that require a more deft hand with greater precision, namely those that roll with less electronic influence, and the ZS10 starts to lose some of it’s appeal. While this style of bass is entertaining, it’s not particularly versatile or technically impressive. The newly released ED15 is much more successful in the nether regions to my ears, digging just as deep but with an improved mid-/sub-bass balance, more control, way more texture, and with a much more authoritative kick to it. That’s the dynamic driver they should have installed in the ZS10. The rest of the ED15 is pretty mediocre though, so that can stay where it is.

    Leading into the ZS10’s mid-range sees improvements in my opinion. The middle and lower mid-range are recessed with a nice raise in the upper mids that gives vocalists who tend to sing in the upper registers more presence. The overall presentation is reasonably thick and robust with a fair bit of warmth to it, achieving a tonality and timbre that is much more natural than you’ll find on most other KZs, including the ZSR. This is shown in side-by-side comparisons, including those with the classic timbre-champ, JVC HA-FXT90 and significantly more expensive, modern earphones like the HiFiMan RE800 and RE2000. Detail and overall clarity is good, though not quite as impressive as you might want it to be for something with two balanced armatures working in tandem. Still, I find it a small step up from the ZSR. It’s not quite as impressive as the ZS6 though which is a detail monster. The presentation is smoother than both, playing into the warmth of the overall presentation. Overall I enjoy the ZS10’s mids and while I would like them to be more forward and carry more presence, I never found them being overshadowed or difficult to hear, especially at the lower volumes I listen and where the dynamic driver loses potency and prominence. They are also free of sibilance which is always a pleasure.

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    Speaking of being prominent, the ZS10’s treble isn’t. It is very laid back and mellow with decent extension and more airiness than would be expected from something so chill. Detail and clarity here is deceptively impressive. It’s not shoved in your face like it is on other products from KZ and competing brands like Kinera, Magaosi, and Brainwavz, among others. It’s a lot more like the TinAudio T1 in this regard, though with a touch less prominence and better extension. If you tend to listen to darker, less treble heavy products, it’s something you’ll be right at home with. Otherwise, give yourself some time to acclimatize. There is just enough emphasis across the board to give the ZS10 some mild sparkle and shimmer, keep the sound transparent, and limit opportunity for fatigue. Unless of course you listen at ridiculous volumes that risk damaging your hearing. At that point, yeah, they can get shrill and tiring, but that applies to pretty much everything at this price point.

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    What the ZS10 does better than most any sub-50 USD earphone I’ve heard is provide an engaging and immersive sound stage presentation. Just as with the ZS5, I don’t hear the ZS10 as having a massive, open stage and it falls behind the ZS6 and ZSR in overall size. It’s just above average to my ears with a little bit of extra added depth. No, what the ZS10 does especially well is combine the various layers of a piece of music, or the elements of a film’s auditory score, etc. and separate it beautifully. I’ve been using this earphone for media beyond music, namely film (catching up on Marvel films in anticipation of Infinity War), gaming (World of Tanks, Wipeout, and Dirt Rally, among others), and video commentary, for all of which it is outstanding. The ZS10 places you in the mix and surrounds you with sound.

    While I think the ZS10 sounds pretty good, it also happens to be quite a large earphone. I suppose it would need to be given each side contains four balanced armatures, a fair-sized dynamic, and a large crossover board. KZ didn’t stuff those BA drivers in the nozzle as they’ve done on nearly every other hybrid they’ve released. This practice was never more evident than on the ZSR which ended up with monstrous 6mm nozzles in order to accommodate two BAs. With the ZS10, there are three separate sound chambers within the main housing, one for the dynamic, and two more for the mid-range and treble BAs, with all meeting up in the nozzle. The transparent housings show off this internal pipestry, including the construction of the crossover so you can visualize how everything is wired up inside. The overall build is good with very neat fit and finish, and the plastics feel just as dense and durable as those used by other brands like TFZ, Auglamour, Optoma Nuforce, among others.

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    Despite the size and that they tend to stick out a bit (read: a lot), I also found the ZS10 very comfortable, though that’s going to end up being a very personal thing. The nozzle is quite stubby so I went with tips that countered this; large Sony Hybrids, Spintfits from the CA Polaris, or basic foam tips you can get on AliExpress for under a buck a pop. Xiaomi’s huge triple flange tips from the Piston 2 also worked well. With the right tips and the memory wire bent into place, the ZS10 slipped into my ear without a fuss and never felt unstable. Isolation is pretty decent too, even with three fairly significant pin-hole vents along the inner portion of the housing. I never experienced any significant issues with external noise creeping in while using them out of the house, especially with foams in place.

    The 2-pin receptors are the same as those found on every other recent KZ, meaning prior upgraded cables work just fine, both straight and L-shaped plug variants. I don’t really see the need to use them though because the ZS10 already comes with an upgraded cable, at least compared to the ones we’re used to. It’s braided and contains the same VSonic-style 90 degree angled jack and y-split found on the majority of their new products. This means that strain relief is merely okay, easily overshadowed by the excellent relief provided on KZs older products. Leading into the ear pieces you find some memory wire and L-shaped plugs. The memory wire used here is typical KZ; very good. You can set it to a shape and it will hold it, something you can’t say about the craptacular memory wire more established brands set upon their premium earphones. The cable itself is very flexible, doesn’t retain memory of bends or kinks, and transmits little noise when rubbing against things. The only aspect of it I dislike is that above the y-split it is on the thin side and tangles easily. It untangles just as easily though so it’s never more than a minor annoyance, for me at least. Oh, and no chin cinch. KZ really needs to start including those. Overall a great cable upgrade, one we should hope KZ includes as standard on everything from here on in. They did with the ED15, so there’s hope.

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    Packaging is typical modern KZ with the ZS10 arriving in a compact white box. The front of the outer sheath contains a colored image of the ZS10 and a brief product description while the rear contains the specifications and contact information for KZ. Sliding off the sheath shows off the ZS10’s bulky earpieces set loosely within a plastic tray. Underneath the tray is an instruction manual, spare ear tips, and the cable. The included tips are KZs community named “Starline” model with small ridges around the bore, provided in small, medium, and large sizes. I personally am a huge fan of these tips because they rarely alter sound quality, are made of a dense yet flexible rubber, provide a reliable seal, and if buying them separately, are hilariously inexpensive given the quality. They’re awesome and for me easily rank up there with the best tips from Final Audio, JVC, and Sony. Feel free to think otherwise, cause I ain’t agreeing with you.

    Oh, and because there will undoubtedly be questions about it, how does the ZS10 fare against the TinAudio T2. Is it better? No. They’re both great in their own ways. The T2 is much more neutral and balanced with a brighter, more lively sound, and a similar sound stage. The ZS10 bests it in terms of layering and separation, giving off a greater sense of depth and dynamic-ism to my music. All accomplished while having a laid back presentation more in line with the T1. How does it fare against the ZSR, the KZ I said was their most accomplished hybrid to date? It’s smoother, just as detailed, but isn’t as bright, nor as bassy. ZSR has a more capacious stage but lacks the ZS10’s imaging and layering capabilities. After listening to the two back-to-back, it takes some time to get back into the ZSR’s more edgy, vibrant, forward signature. How about against the Brainwavz B400’s quad-BA setup? No comparison. The B400 has a near-neutral signature with more detail, tighter bass with more punch to it, more treble energy, and exceeds the ZS10 in terms of staging qualities like separation and imaging accuracy. The B400 is much more delicate though with it’s 3D printed housings, and doesn’t feel as robust or durable as the ZS10. What happens if you pit it against my 100 USD benchmark, the MacaW GT600s? Well, it certainly can’t complete in terms of build, packaging, accessories, or features, but it does sound at least as good, if not a little better. As with most of the aforementioned earphones, the ZS10 takes the cake in imaging accuracy, layering, and separation. The ZS10 loses out in balance with it’s bassier signature but is more detailed. Just as I felt about the ZS5, ZS6, and ZSR, the ZS10 competes with 100 USD earphones, just not the best of that bunch.

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    The ZS10 is exactly what Knowledge Zenith should have delivered as their new flagship. It is visually impressive with the see through shell letting you glimpse at the drivers and crossover. It has a reasonably versatile signature that pairs exceptionally well with modern pop and electronic music. It also happens to show off some killer imaging, layering and separation qualities, all wrapped within a warm, non-fatiguing sound.

    Comfort will be a hit or miss given the massive shells but you can counter that with average to large outer ears and the right tips. Although, I suppose not everyone can change their ear size at will, nor does everyone have a large collection of tips to cycle through. At least the included tips are pure quality and should work well enough for most. The warm signature won’t be for everyone either, but that’s okay. Variety in tuning is a good thing, and you have other great options in the price range like the neutral TinAudio T2, or the mid-focused Kinera SEED, or maybe the vibrant and audacious Audbus DB-02.

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    The best thing of all? KZ managed to create and release a five driver hybrid with good looks, build quality, and an engaging sound, all for under 50 USD. Of course you can argue that others do better with just one dynamic, but this is the culmination of years of expensive tech trickling down to affordable prices. Products like the ZS10 are going to continue to force the competition to step up, something which greatly benefits us, their customers. To me, the ZS10 is a worthy purchase and easily validates it’s current flagship status in KZ’s expansive lineup of products.

    Thanks for reading!

    – B9Scrambler

    Disclaimer: A big thanks to Lillian with DD-Audio for sending over a sample of the ZS10 for me to review. The thoughts within this review are my own and do not represent DD-Audio, Knowledge Zenith, or any other entity. There was no financial incentive provided either. Here are some links to DD-Audio’s stores (no affiliate links…I don’t participate in those programs):

    AliExpress: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/pr...-Monitor-IEMs-Sports/2894006_32858656236.html

    Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BVKXYBB/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&sr=8-5&keywords=kz+zs10

    For those that dislike reviewers covering samples, know I separately ordered and paid for another ZS10 using my own hard-earned Canadian dollars during the initial pre-order release period. Cheers!

    Sources: For at home use the ZS10 was powered by my TEAC HA-501 desktop headphone amp. For portable use it was paired with the Auglamour GR-1 or Walnut F1 paired with my Shanling M1, LG G5, or HiFi E.T. MA8. The ZS10 is easy to drive and does benefit slightly from some extra juice, seeing improvements in bass quality, though this is far from necessary and not something that is worth buying a separate amp for.

    Specifications: Impedance: 22 ohm / Sensitivity: 107dB +/- 3dB / Frequency Response: 10hz – 30khz

    Some Test Material: Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album) / Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Album) / Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album) / King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album) / King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track) / Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album) / Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album) / Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album) / Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album) / Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album) / Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album) / Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album) / The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album) / Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album) / Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bone) (Album)
    1. DocHoliday
      A great review with a level-headed approach to a nuanced in-ear monitor.
      DocHoliday, May 8, 2018
      B9Scrambler likes this.
  3. Otto Motor
    KZ ZS10: Big Trees – Small Forest!
    Written by Otto Motor
    Published Apr 27, 2018
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Outstanding clarity, image size, and resolution; great value for money
    Cons - Recessed mids; muddy bass; lack of homogeneity and coherence; huge earpieces with short nozzles may cause fit issues
    Executive Summary

    The ZS10 is Knowledge Zenith’s most technically advanced earphone at the time of its release. It excels in terms of resolution and clarity but falls short in the midrange and bass departments. It does not deliver a homogeneous enough sound and also not a non-fatiguing listening experience to me for justifying a full score. Many will prefer the similar but more balanced sounding (and also recent) ZSR model.


    Disclaimer

    I thank my friend and neighbour for performing all measurements. The ZS10 was purchased on sale for $33–34 from Aliexpress.

    As to the evaluation: I don’t like the stars scheme as it is somewhat ambiguous and therefore meaningless so long as the evaluation criteria are undefined. How do two 5 star earphones compare, when one is, let’s say, $30 and the other is $300. My numeric judgement is therefore reluctant. It is also strict owing to the fact that KZ pumps out new models like rabbits.


    Introduction

    Knowledge Zenith (“KZ”) has gained a large following over the past few years by offering a series of well-made, good-sounding and good-looking earphones at very reasonable prices. Around mid 2017, they released their first four-driver hybrid earphone in the ZS5 v1 (2 dynamic drivers “DD” + 2 balanced armature drivers “BA”) that was somewhat marred by source sensitivity. This was followed by the four-driver ZS6 (2 DD + 2BA), an optical clone of the pricy Campfire Andromeda. This stunt generated much attention for both KZ and Campfire alike. A three-driver earphone the ZSR (1 DD + 2BA), followed suit in early 2018 and has probably been the most critically acclaimed of the bunch.


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    Specifications


    Cable length: 1.2m
    Connectivity: Wired
    Driver unit: 10 mm dynamic driver plus 4 balanced armature drivers
    Frequency response: 7Hz - 40KHz
    Impedance: 32ohms
    Sensitivity: 104dB
    Price: $38–45


    Packaging and Accessories

    The content of the white box is as spartanic as this paragraph. 2 earpieces, 3 pairs of “starline” tips (S, M, L) and a 2-pin cable.


    Physical Appearance, Haptic, and Build

    The ZS10 is the first KZ earphone that comes with a braided cable, which is less prone to “microphonics” than their previous rubbery fare…but it tangles up much easier. I chose the one with a one-button remote incl. microphone that works fine with Apple and Android devices alike. The earpieces are made of robust, transparent plastic and are at least as good a quality as the ones of the much more expensive UE900S. No complaints here.


    Ergonomics, Comfort, and Fit

    The earpieces are big, really big (my friend looked like his own grandfather with 1980s hearing aids). And the nozzles are rather short – so fit may be a problem for some. Owing to its design, the vents may be covered up by some ears more than by others – which may causes differences in perceived bass volume.

    I personally had no problems with fit. The earpieces sat comfortably in my ears for hours. Isolation was ok, and the sound does not bleed (much) to bystanders…or your partner who wants to fall asleep next to you.


    Source and Eartips

    I used the iPhone 5S with or without the audioquest dragonfly 1.5 black or the FiiO E12 Montblanc portable amplifier. I sometimes used my iMac or MacBook Air, but never without the dragonfly or the original Schiit Fulla dongle amplifier. The large included tips worked well for me.


    Tonality

    The ZS10 has the most prominent V-shape of all recent KZ hybrids (ZS5, ZS6, ZSR), which is confirmed by the superimposed frequency response curves. Its image is huge and transparent; resolution, detail, and clarity are outstanding. This results in a great spatial representation, layering, and instrument separation, which can be tainted by a strong bass overlay. Soundstage is accurate but not the biggest around.

    The bass is prominent and full, and it can be boomy at higher volumes depending on source (the bass tightens a bit when amped) but it is always warm and fuzzy and never dry.

    Mids are strongly recessed, more so than in the recent ZSR model – see graphs. Voices are very clear albeit slightly distant and analytical (but never nasal and hollow), and they can be aggressive - brass instruments can also be aggressive – which may cause fatigue. The voices can lack richness and then appear thin, which creates a contrast to the thick bass. There is no sibilance whatsoever. Treble has a peak just above 2kHz, which is stronger than in the ZS5 v1 and KSE, but never unpleasant or piercing. Cymbals are resolved very well.

    I am wondering whether KZ toned the midrange down so that not to create an overly harsh listening experience. The combination of “Bellsing” BA drivers appears to create more “bell” than “sing” – I apologize for this pun.

    The overall signature can be warm in bassy pieces such as traditional jazz with a string bass, and rather cool, analytical, and somewhat harsh when midrange oriented, for example with “a capella” or choir or horn sections.

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    Source Sensitivity

    The impedance curve indicates that the bass vs midrange of the ZS10 will not be expected to change in level with the output impedance of the amplifier used. What will probably change with stronger (or better, or whatever) amplification will be sound quality.

    A concise, detailed interpretation of the measurements is here: https://goo.gl/7J5kZE

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    Select Comparisons


    KZ EDR1 ($5): Well...the EDR1 is technically much inferior however very natural sounding and overall very pleasant. Soundstage, resolution, harmony, enjoyment…it is all there – even at 1/10 of the ZS10's price. Still a great stocking stuffer not only for the glove compartment.

    KZ ED15 ($15–18): The ED15 is a hybrid earphone with one BA driver and one DD. It has a smaller image and soundstage, and a stronger, slightly firmer bass than the ZS10, and some sibilance.

    KZ ZS5 v1 (discontinued; was $25): The source-sensitive first-generation ZS5 sounds unbalanced on my iphone with a not too prominent however boomy bass, and recessed, distant, nasal and hollow sounding voices. But when amped by a low-impedance source, the ZS5 actually shines: voices obtain coherence, and image and stage widen, although the image remains flatter albeit more homogeneous compared to the ZS10.

    KZ ZSR ($23–36): The ZSR is a very similar sounding beast compared to the ZS10, particularly at their thick lower end. Voices are warmer and fuller in the ZSR, albeit soundstage, clarity, and resolution are minimally smaller. The ZSR can be sibilant in contrast to the ZS10. The ZS10 appears to confirm the quality of the ZSR.

    KZ ZS6 ($40–55): The ZS6 has an outstanding haptic which makes it the most “premium” of all KZ models. In terms of sound, it features a well-controlled bass, more forward mids than the ZS5 v1, but also a treble peak only suited for strong eardrums. Technically, the ZS6 is up there with the ZS10, but its tonality causes polarized responses.

    Fidue A65 ($60): Although this is a single dynamic driver earphone, I use it as comparison because of its pricing. The A65 is technically less advanced than the ZS10. Its stage is slightly smaller but it plays more relaxed, slightly darker, and more homogeneously than the ZS10. In the A65, voices float atop the bass section where they may get buried in the ZS10. The A65 is not fatiguing compared to the ZS10 but bleeds to bystanders. It is an underappreciated jewel.

    iBasso IT01 ($99): This is a single DD earphone that is sonically head and shoulders above the ZS10 as it has the tender melt the ZS10 is lacking. In particular, there is no comparison in the vocals department. The “fun-tuned = V-shaped” iBasso renders voices much fuller, more naturally, and with way bigger presence and aura than the ZS10 – that’s what justifies its higher price. Whether the resolution of the ZS10 is better or not plays no role in the big picture.


    Concluding Remarks

    Knowledge Zenith has implicated its latest technological advances into the ZS10. It has the best imaging, resolution, and clarity of its model range yet, all of which are outstanding. But the midrange is a step back and to me, the value of an earphone rises and falls with its midrange. This causes a lack of homogeneity and coherence: the thick, warm bass section does not harmonize well enough to my taste with the recessed but nevertheless sometimes aggressive midrange. The “tender melt“ that holds them together is missing in my books. People who liked the ZS5 v1 will probably like the ZS10 for the same reasons. The ZS10 has better detail so that ZS5 v1 fans would likely view them as an improvement.

    The FR response curves show why people who like vocals will likely prefer the ZSR over the other two models. Many listeners will prefer the more fluid but otherwise similar ZSR with its warmer, fuller (but still recessed) midrange.

    In this respect, the ZS10 may be a somewhat redundant model that will appeal to KZ aficionados, tech freaks, design lovers, deal conscience listeners, and/or simply the curious on a limited budget. While the ZS10 is fun to handle, many will remain very content with their (almost new) ZSR. For those who own the ZS10: I am wondering how many of us will make them their daily driver and how many will deposit them in a drawer waiting for the next KZ hybrid to be released – one with yet another two additional drivers [EDIT: no, six additional drivers].

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    1. Nymphonomaniac
      Interesting take! So OttO, do you sincerly prefer the ZS5v1 over the ZS10? (I don't like the ZS5v2 and ZS6, and I appreciate the ZSR but its not a big love story either: too hall like sounding.)
      Nymphonomaniac, May 11, 2018
    2. Otto Motor
      I definitely don't with just my phone. And with amping both are soso. The ZS5 v1. is cheaper. Neither is fantastic. And I expect you will think similar. I prefer the Senfffffer UES and the Fidue A65.
      Otto Motor, May 11, 2018