Pros: Smooth, fun sound with deep, powerful bass. Inexpensive for a triple hybrid.
Cons: Wide nozzles. Need third-party tips to sound their best. Discontinued :(
I first heard of LZ-A2 from @RedJohn456 and @Hisoundfi. They were both talking about this Chinese DIY triple hybrid that had amazing bang for your buck. At that time, I was deep into the FLC8S (still am, by the way - LINK), so I didn't think too much about LZ-A2 and went about my business jamming the FLC8S. Then @peter123 joined in the LZ-A2 love-fest, and I thought to myself, "Nikolaus, you need to get yourself a listen to these LZ-A2." So I reached out to the now defunct Faith Audio and secured a pair for review. Little did I know that they would end up collectors' items, as the LZ-A2 was discontinued right after I received them. After spending some time with them, I can tell you I'm eagerly awaiting their successor, the LZ-A3 and will be updating you on them when I receive them. So just what is it that makes the LZ-A2 special? Usually triple hybrids use a dynamic for bass, a BA for mids, and another BA for the highs. However, the LZ-A2 follows the lead of some higher end IEM manufacturers in dedicating a dynamic and and BA to bass. This is the first time I've heard of a lower-end hybrid IEM using this configuration. I'll go over how that impacts the sound in the actual review.
I usually include a bit of information about the manufacturer but can't dig up any information on LZ, so I'm skipping that this time around. However, I am including a link to the LZ-A2 discussion thread should you find yourself interested in joining in the conversation (LINK).
There is no financial incentive for writing this review, and this is my honest opinion of the LZ-A2. I hope my feedback is useful for my fellow Head-Fi members as well as for LZ.
I'm a 44 year old father who listens to a lot of electronic and metal, although I do listen to a wide variety of music. I'm primarily a portable audio enthusiast and have been in he game since the venerable Shure E2C was first released. Bought one, plugged it into one of my many MD players, and have been hooked ever since. I do enjoy listening at home and am becoming increasingly interested in building up a nice desktop setup. As with a lot of people my age, my hearing isn't perfect but I've be listening for a long time and feel confident in assessing audio gear.
Since the LZ-A2 are a DIY IEM, there's no packaging. You simply get the LZ-A2 and accessories in a clamshell case.
LZ-A2 + ACCESSORIES
In all, you get LZ-A2, narrow bore single flange tips (S, M, L), medium bore double flange tips, cheap foamies, stabilizer fins, ear guides, shirt clip, and clamshell case. It'd be nice if they provided some wide bore tips because that where the magic happens with these. More later...
BUILD & ERGONOMICS
I'll attack this section in pictorial format, commenting on what I like and what I think could be improved as I go. LZ-A2 WITHOUT TIPS
The earpieces are aluminum with plastic nozzles that are wider than your typical IEM, making it a bit hard to tip roll. Finish isn't the best, with some rough edges here and there. Lucky they weren't in places that touched my ears. Strain reliefs are pretty short. Despite the vent hole being very exposed on the rear of the LZ-A2, it didn't make them especially prone to wind noise. That was a nice surprise. And if you look carefully, you'll see "LZ-a2" and L/R markings on the earpieces in very low-contrast text. It'd be nice if it were easier to see the L/R markings since these are a symmetrical design. Y-SPLITTER, CINCH, 3.5MM PLUG
The 3.5mm jack and y-spliter are metal with a knurled finish to make gripping them easy. The cinch is plastic and does a fine job of staying in place. The cable feels like the one used on some Vsonic IEM I've purchased in the past. It's got what feels like a silicone coating and isn't overly prone to tangling or microphonics. Again, the strain relief isn't the longest, but I'm assuming it'll do its job just fine. LZ-A2 SUITED UP AND READY TO ROCK!!!
Here are the LZ-A2 with one of the two pairs of tips I settled on, the stock medium-bore double-flange tips. These tips were pretty comfortable, and the LZ-A2 sounded pretty good with them. That said, I ended up using a pair of wide-bore single-flange tips I had sitting around most of the time. I'll go over that later. FIT LZ-A2 can be worn down or over ear. I like both options and split my time 50/50. If I'm headed out, I wear them over ear. If I'm hanging out in the house, I'm more likely to wear them down. Both are comfortable for long periods for me. I can see the wide nozzles potentially causing some long-term comfort issues for those of you with small canals, though. The ear guides LZ threw in are some of the softest I've ever used. That said, as a glasses wearer, I hate ear guides with a passion and once I tested them out I put them away never to be used again. SOUND Those of you who know me know I listen to a lot of electronic and metal. You might even know that I've been jamming a lot of classic rock lately, as well. I typically listen to music from Autechre, Behemoth, Bjork, Candlemass, Depeche Mode, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Iron Maiden, King Diamond, New Order, Rush, and Sigur Ros during my time with new gear. I might throw in some hard bop jazz or modern minimalist composition every now and then. Just wanted to make sure you know what kind of music I listen to for context. Unlike some other reviewers, I don't keep to a strict playlist. Instead, I choose songs I know well and feel like listening to. I feel it's more organic that way. Anyways, on with the show, eh...
When I first got the LZ-A2, I placed them on my burn-in rig with pink noise at a moderate volume for a couple days. After that, I tried them with my iPhone and the Lotoo PAW 5000 DAP I recently got in for testing. I also tried them with different tips. I'll go over that stuff in a minute. For now, I'd like to tell you what you'll be getting with LZ-A2. These are what I like to call an "audiophile fun" sound signature. You're going to get (very) extended, elevated bass, neutral-ish mids that might be just a tad recessed, and relatively smooth treble. Over in the LZ-A2 thread, these have been called anything from an L-shaped signature with flat response other than the elevated bass to a v-shape. I definitely wouldn't call them a v-shape at all. Personally, I'm hearing them as more of an L-shape. Something that always seems to come up is the need to find a pair of headphones with a similar sound signature, and these have been compared to Audeze LCD2. I haven't heard LCD2, so I can't confirm that. Looking over FR graphs for both, I can see how the comparison would be drawn, though.
After burning these in, I left on the stock Medium narrow-bore single-flange tips and plugged them into my iPhone and was a bit disappointed. The bass sounded boomy and sloppy. I've had this experience with my iPhone before, so I wasn't too surprised or judgmental. I didn't feel like this was a good match, so I moved on to the PAW 5000. The bass sounded a wee bit less bloated now. Better, but not perfect. So I decided to try out some other tips. First, I tried the stock Small narrow-bore single-flange tips with deeper insertion. Nope, pretty much the same for me. How about the stock medium-bore double flange tips? Yes, these are better. Bass is tamed a wee bit more but still not where I'd like it. Over on the LZ-A2 thread, people are all about the very wide-bore JVC Spiral Dot tips with LZ-A2. I don't have any of those, but I do have a lot of tips roaming around the house (kids...), so I grabbed a pair of Medium wide-bore single-flange tips and slapped those on. Yup, this is where the action is! Bass was knocked down a bit more and sounded tighter. Now I'm feeling like the bass is in better balance with the mids and treble. Nice!
Now even though I tamed these a bit, please don't get the idea that they're neutral nor is neutral what I was after. The goal for me was to achieve better balance while retaining the fun sound signature. I think I got there with a better source plus the wide bore tips. I've been listening to the FLC8S a lot recently. They're tunable, and I've got them set up with the maximum sub-bass filter, medium bass filter, and maximum mids + medium treble filter. In comparison with the FLC8S in that configuration, LZ-A2 definitely has increased, harder hitting bass however FLC8S has sweeter mids and is more resolving. Again, LZ-A2 proves its bombastic nature against the more refined FLC8S. FLC8S also has better spacial cues (soundstage and placement of sounds). Then again, FLC8S is one of my current favorites and costs three times as much as LZ-A2, so the fact that I'm comparing these two in such favorable terms lets you know how much bang for your buck I think you're getting with LZ-A2.
I also used LZ-A2 for audiobooks and movies, and I have to tell you I really like this type of sound signature for those. The audiobooks I listen to typically have male narrators, and the LZ-A2 gives their voices a nice, rich tone that makes listening to books a real pleasure. With movies, I was genuinely shocked at the rumble coming from these bad boys. I haven't heard IEM with such deep bass extension before. I'm sure they exist in more basshead-centric IEM, but to hear that depth in such a balanced IEM was amazing.
Shifting back to music for a bit, I listen to metal with rapid-fire kick drums which can be hard for dynamic drivers to deal with. Sometimes they just can't keep up, and the drum hits start to blend together. Not good. The interesting thing about the LZ-A is that they've got a dynamic and a BA driver covering the bass, so bass notes have good, fast attack but don't decay super fast. It's a best of both worlds situation. So in those songs with rapid-fire kick drums, the drum hits have distinct drum hits but don't end up sounding staccato like they can with BA-only IEM. I like i!
Back to the mids and treble, they're pretty smooth without being overly polite. It's a nice balance that keeps the LZ-A2 fun but not exaggerated. Again, I like it!
Can you tell I like these? Ignoring the price, I don't see myself choosing these over my current faves, the FLC8S. However, for the asking price and to get a more "fun" sound signature with great, quality bass without veering off into Beats territory or into v-shape land, these guys are a steal! Are they perfect? Nope, they're not. The build is okay but not fantastic. The nozzles are wider than typical IEM, making tip rolling a bit challenging while also making insertion hard for those with narrow ear canals. And you'll need to seek out some better tips to tame the bass and balance out the sound signature. In my opinion, none of these are showstoppers and be overcome pretty easily.
Unfortunately, the LZ-A2 are discontinued. So why am I reviewing a pair of discontinued IEM? Good question! Well, the first reason is that these push a lot of the right buttons for me. The second is that LZ is coming out with a new IEM right after the Chinese New Year holiday that looks like it'll be the LZ-A2's successor. It's called the LZ-A3, and I'm really excited to hear it. I hope after reading this and the other great reviews out there that you're excited, too. Be on the lookout for impressions and reviews of the upcoming LZ-A3 from myself and others in the next couple months. Man is it a good time to be in this hobby!
To wrap, I'd like to give a big thanks to Faith Audio for providing me with a pair of LZ-A2 for review and to LZ for making such a great IEM. Keep 'em coming, LZ!
Before we begin I feel it’s important for everyone to understand what a hybrid in-ear monitor is and how it works.
For a long time in-ear monitor sounds were created by one of two different types of drivers. It was done by either dynamic or armature drivers.
Dynamic drivers are basically the same thing you see in a speaker at home, using ringed magnets, a round voice coil and a cone to move air and produce sound. Dynamic driver sound can be manipulated by changing the venting on either side of the cone. Because of the need to utilize venting on either side to tune the sound, isolation is more of a factor/issue with dynamic designs. For the most part a dynamic driver is able to move air with more force than an armature driver, resulting in a more impactful and satisfying bass response, but often times have less detail and accuracy throughout the midrange and treble frequencies.
An armature is a similar in how it produces sound, but in a more controlled environment. They use magnets, a voice coil and a membrane, but it is done inside of its own independent housing. An armature driver uses an arm that suspends between the magnets and voice coils and is attached to a driving pin that leads to a membrane. This produces the sound which is then delivered through a port on the housing of the armature. They have an exact frequency output that has been predetermined by the armature manufacturer. The result is a more controlled and accurate sound, giving an opportunity for manufacturers to use multiple armatures in combinations to produce one cohesive and customized sound. Isolation is less of an issue with an armature design, allowing listeners to enjoy their earphones at lower volumes. Earphone designers can take a combination of armature drivers and tweak them with resistors, crossovers and dampers to shape the sound. For the most part armature drivers are known deliver a level of detail and accuracy that trumps many dynamic drivers, but often times without the same impactful bass.
With each driver explained, it is clear that each type of technology brings something different to the table. Where one is exceptional, the other is not. This is where hybrid technology comes into play. It is the concept of utilizing the “best of both worlds” from dynamic and armature drivers, turning it into one pair of kick arse in-ears. Bass tones are produced by a dynamic driver while midrange and upper frequencies are presented with armature drivers. This is usually done with a single dynamic driver in combination with one or two (sometimes more) armature drivers. This not only makes hybrids more costly because of the number of components, but also more of a challenge for manufacturers to make one cohesive sounding earphone. Hybrid technology is amazeballs when it’s done right, but can also be a major letdown when not executed correctly. Over the last couple years we have been treated with some really amazing hybrid technology, but usually the more successful designs come at a premium price.
A few companies have released hybrid in-ears hoping they can fall under the one hundred dollar price point and compete with the big names in hybrid monitors. Despite the fact that they fell under the price barrier, almost all have failed in terms of bringing the goods in terms of overall fidelity. Well, that is until now. Today I have the pleasure of introducing the first hybrid in-ear monitor that myself as well as other trusted Head-Fi participants can say has “cracked the code” and brought a product to market with sound quality that competes with just about EVERY hybrid in-ear monitor there is. Introducing the LZ-A2.
When I first heard about the A2, a few guys who got their hands on them were raving about them, but to be honest I try to not succumb to the hype these days and let my ears be the judge. When my friend Charlie said he had some review samples available I had to jump on the chance. Of all the reviews I’ve written this year, this is probably the one I’m most glad I’ve participated in. The LZ-A2 was more than a pleasant surprise, it was a revelation for hybrid in-ears.
I was given an opportunity to review the LZ-A2 in exchange for my honest opinion and review. I am in no way affiliated with LZ. I would like to take this time to personally thank Charlie and the guys at LZ for the opportunity to cover such a great sounding earphone.
I AM NOT a numbers and graphs audiophile or sound engineer. Personal audio enthusiast? Absolutely! Headphone junkie? Possibly…
There’s something about quality DAPs, DACs, Amplifiers and Earphones that intrigues me, especially if they can be had for low prices. I will buy the $5 to $500 earphone that looks promising, in hopes that I will discover that one new gem that can compete with the big names in this industry. If you look at my Head-Fi profile you will see that I have purchased MANY different headphones and earphones, ranging from from dirt cheap to higher end products. For me, this hobby is more about getting great price to performance ratio from a product, and have a variety of different gears with varying builds and sound to mix and match. With personal audio gear, we tend to pay a lot of money for minor upgrades. One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that just because a headphone has a higher price tag, it doesn’t mean that it has superior build and sound quality.
I’m always looking for great audio at a great price. I’m after headphones and IEMs that give me the “WOW” factor. I can appreciate different builds and sound signatures as long as they are ergonomic, and the sound is pleasing to the ear. It is my pleasure to share my experiences with audio products and make recommendations based gear I have owned and used.
The LZ-A2 was shipped to me by a friend for review. I didn’t receive a formal packaging, and to be honest I’m not sure if these things to ship with packaging. I don’t know, and honestly don’t care. If they cut corners to put all their resources in the package it is well worth it.
Specifications *Product Name: LZ A2 Dynamic and Armature 3 unit Headphone *Brand: LZ *Model: A2 *Type: In-ear *Impedance: 16Ω *Headphone sensitivity:120±3db *Frequency range: 2-24000Hz *Interface: 3.5mm *Cable Length: 1.2m±5cm *Weight: 25g *Color: Gold *Whether with Mic: Optional *Headphone plug type: Through Hole *Headphones category: HIFI, Monitor *Applicable type of music: Classical symphonic concert *Drive unit: dynamic and complex double unit armature (3 unit drive)
Accessories *1X semi-rigid cloth covered zipper clamshell case *1X shirt clip *1X pair of frosted over-ear guides *1x pair of silicone fins (for securing fit, similar to Dunu fins) *1X white silicone dual flange tips (M) *1X red memory foam tips (M) *3X red/gray silicone single flange tips
The LZ-A2 housing is a combination of machined aluminum and plastic. It’s a gold powdercoated metal barrel shape with a rounded metal aluminum back. The back of the housing has a vent for the dynamic driver. The front of the housing and nozzle are constructed of attached plastic. The nozzle is a weird shape and is very wide and short. This makes tip rolling, and getting the earphones to seal well a challenge.
Cable, Y-Split, Cable Jack, Strain Reliefs
The cable is a semi transparent rubbery material similar to the Fidue A73 and A65. It has very little memory and a bit of spring. The cable sheathing has a tendency to grip anything it rubs against which can be a hinderance but also works very well for over the ear fitment. The Y-split is a very simple black metal jacket. There is a black plastic chin slider attached that works well and comes in handy (especially with over the ear fit)
The cable jack is a black straight barrel design that is very simple and sturdy. It follows the same theme as the Y-split and has a somewhat generic LZ logo printed on it. Strain reliefs at the housings and jack are short rubber jacketing that goes in between the cable and the housings/jack. They seem discreet and adequate, but could be better done.
There is no microphone or remote. The LA-A2 is a plug and play device designed for sound quality. Plug in, play music, enjoy the sound, repeat.
Ergonomics, Fit and Microphonics, Isolation
I had a hard time coming up with a tip that made the LZ-A2 fit because of the wide and short barrel. None of the stock tips, guides, fins helped me to come up with a consistent and secure fit. What I discovered it that using a smaller tip than I normally do helped me achieve a good seal. Despite tip rolling being more of a challenge than usual, I was able to stretch a pair of medium Sony silicone tips around the nozzle and they work excellent.
The A2 can be worn under or over the ear. Once a good fitting tip is found, the straight barrel promotes a fairly simple and comfortable wearing experience. As is the case with most earphones, I personally preferred an over the ear fit in combination of the chin slider to snug things into place. Your mileage may vary, just make sure to use all the accessories and tip options you can come up with to try to get the best and most comfortable fit. Just like with all in-ear monitors, the better they seal your ears, the better they will sound.
I did my demo with my usual gear. I used an LG-G3 with the latest firmware for portable and smartphone use, and either my Shanling H3 or Sony Walkman F806/Cayin C5 amplifier for a high fidelity portable use. For desktop use I used my Toshiba Satellite Laptop in combination with a HIFIMEDIY Sabre ES9023 USB DAC/Bravo Audio Ocean Tube amplifier with a Mullard 12AU7 tube for higher impedance, and a Fiio E18 USB DAC & Amplifier in both high and low gain. Both were run at 24 bit, 96000 Hz. I also tested them with other DAPs and amplifiers as well. I used Google Music downloaded in its highest download quality (320 KBPS) and I also streamed FLAC via Tidal streaming service. I also used purchased and downloaded tracks in MP3, FLAC, WAV and DSD. I make sure that any gear I test has sufficient playtime before writing a review.
I used my usual same songs for testing gear:
“Limit to your love” by James Blake (bass speed, punch, response)
“Doin’ it Right” by Daft Punk (sub bass)
“Get lucky” by Daft Punk (bass to midrange transition resolution, male vocals)
“Madness” by Muse (soundstage, separation)
“Some nights” by Fun (soundstage and male vocals)
“The soundmaker” by Rodrigo y Gabriela (texture and imaging)
“Bassically” by Tei Shi (bass to midrange resolution, female vocals)
“Skinny Love” performed by Birdie (female vocals, acoustic playback)
“One” by Ed Sheeran (male vocals, acoustic playback)
“Outlands” from the Tron Legacy Soundtrack (symphonic presentation, imaging)
“Sultans of swing” by Dire Straits (detail, separation, balance)
“And Justic for All” by Metallica (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
“Ten thousand fists” by Disturbed (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
Note: Other tracks were used, but the listed songs were primarily used to asses and break down the gear’s response.
These earphones are incredibly easy to drive. I couldn’t turn the A2 up to half volume on my smartphone before they became too loud to listen to. There is no need for amplifiers or high power sources with the A2, nor did I find any benefit from using them.
The bass forward tuning makes them somewhat forgiving with poorly recorded music and low bit rate files, but they also scale well with better files because of their incredible detail. From what I’ve experienced, the A2 sounded most impressive with a neutral source and high bitrate music files.
I was blown away by the sound quality from the first listen. The first thing that came to mind was my favorite earphone, the Fidue A83. They have a similar tuning with a forward and dynamic bass response with a slight V-shape from what I hear and incredible resolution from top to bottom. They are a combination of musicality and detail that definitely gives me that “WOW” factor I’m after.
LZ-A2 measurement (left and right channels) taken by my Vibro Labs Veritas. This device is not %100 accurate, but accurate enough to give you an idea of the LZ-A2 sound signature.
Bass on the A2 is a dynamic combination of punch and rumble that I find to be very satisfying and works with all genres of music I listened to. It definitely has a forward presence, and the bass extends well into sub bass regions. There is a considerable amount of midbass, but it is tastefully done, and the way the armatures are tuned in combination with the dynamic driver it doesn’t make male vocals seem overly weighted.
The A2 midrange puts on a clinic in terms of neutrality and resolution. the way the sound is split it is very cohesive yet still separates the sound so each frequency isn’t overshadowed. It reminds me of a very high end stereo system where high quality speakers are aided by a sub woofer. What I mean by this is the midrange distinctly sets itself apart from the forward bass response with a very airy, natural and well defined midrange that gives me that “best of both worlds” dynamics and separation that elite hybrids have. Because of the forward nature of the bass, some people will say they are warm, but listening closely I don’t get that impression. What I hear is a very well done dual armature supported by a dynamic driver bass boost that is very tastefully done. Upper midrange is somewhat relaxed but not significantly rolled off. I like how this tuning takes a lot of the edge off of most instruments and vocals and prevents the A2 from being shouty with any genre.
Treble is somewhat relaxed with a small bump or spike somewhere up top that gives it a nice sense of energy. From what I hear, It might be somewhere around 3 kHz. It’s enough to put a nice bite on vocals and adds needed life to the upper frequencies without going overboard. Despite the lift in upper frequencies the overall impression is slightly V-shaped yet still relaxed, and very entertaining.
Soundstage and Imaging
Because of the tuning and extension on both ends of the frequency response in combination with the incredible resolution, I will say that the soundstage is great. It’s not best I’ve heard but definitely in the top ten. Imaging is also better than average from what I hear.
Fidue A83 ($275 to $350 USD on many sites)
The A83 sits on the top of my list of favorites because it checks every box in terms of what I look for in an in-ear monitor. Their stock cable is ridiculously awesome, and overall design is pretty spectacular and well thought out. They offer an incredible case and accessories package, and the sound? Amazeballs!
You might be asking yourself why I would compare a budget in-ear monitor to a flagship model that costs almost four times more. Simply put, THE LZ A2 SOUND QUALITY RIVALS THE FIDUE A83, AND MANY OTHER TOP OF THE LINE IN EAR MONITORS. I’m confident enough to say that if I did a blindfold test and popped both of these in your ears and asked which one was more expensive, I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t be able to tell.
Yes, the A83 destroys the A2 in terms of ergonomics, fit, and accessories. I won’t even go into detail on that, just know the A83 is better at all of them.
BUT, in terms of sound its really a close contest. If Fidue released the L2 sound in their next generation model, I would probably buy it. I consider the sounds to be sidegrades to each other. Bass response on both earphones is eerily similar, almost identical to my ears. Even lower midrange is somewhat similar from what I hear. The A83 is a more lively and aggressive tuning that infuses more energy to the track. I noticed more forwardness going into mid and upper midrange tones. Extension is better with the A83, but to be honest it almost took away from the listenability to my ears as compared to the A2. The biggest difference between the two was the more relaxed and laid back upper midrange of the A2, which in my opinion sets up for longer listening sessions but at the expense of losing a bit of excitement and energy. Although I feel the A83 might impress a few more people, I can almost say that for the sake of longer listening sessions, I might reach for the A2 more often.
Sony H3 ($300 to $350 USD on many sites)
So, here I go again, comparing the A2 to another top of the line hybrid that costs almost four times more....
The Sony H3 is a beast of an earphone, featuring detachable cables, a unique fit, and awesome accessories package. Again, it’s not a contest in terms of build quality and accessories, the H3 wins in these categories.
Now for the sound! The A2 is a flat out better sounding earphone to my ears as compared to the H3. Better bass, better midrange, better treble, period. Bouncing back and forth between the two, the A2 makes the H3 sound like a midbass bludgeoned cluster of haziness. While the H3 does offer some great separation of sounds and good timbre, it can’t hold a candle to the A2 response. The A2 is more responsive, more detailed, and much more clear. While many like enjoy the H3 for modern genres, the A2 offers the more audiophile friendly experience, while still offering some bass thump.
The fact that I did comparisons to earphones that cost MANY times more than the A2 should tell you just how great these things sound. Although the build and design could be better, their price tag makes this a non issue for me. When someone tells me they are thinking about purchasing their first hybrid in-ear monitor without breaking the bank and can’t decide what to get, I am going to recommend the A2 one hundred percent of the time. LZ has taken the words budget and hybrid and combine it into one awesome pair of earphones with sound that is truly incredible.