Chain: Tidal > Topping D50s > Cavalli Liquid Spark > Z5 + Arete MKIV cable + Symbio Peel tips
For perspective, the ‘highest end’ gear I’ve owned include the TH900, ZMF Ori, HD650, EX1000, Fearless S8F, and iBasso IT04. I’ve auditioned the Andromedas thrice, twice out of an iFi Micro BL, and once out of a Chord Mojo.
Of the headphones listed above, I consider the Z5 driven by the Liquid Spark to be the most impressive and remarkable, in terms of its combination of technical competence and tonal representation.
Much has been said of the Z5’s bass and soundstage, but with the right chain, they’re also wonderfully cohesive, with the most natural tonality across the spectrum of the headphones I’ve heard. Combined with their remarkable openness, they also present a stark, life-like realism I have not heard before.
Bass is authoritative yet composed, with proper decay and texture. They’re not concussive like the TH900, but match their power with naturalness.
Midrange is my favourite of the headphones I’ve heard: wonderfully even and full-bodied, and a match for the Verum 1 in terms of timbre. This is the most natural and realistic midrange presentation I’ve encountered, and not the overdone, overly romantic midrange found in the HD650.
Treble. Perhaps a controversial opinion, but as with its midrange, I think the Z5 has the most natural treble I’ve heard. It’s airy, even, and well-extended, with no distracting emphases in any region. I have an above-average appetite for treble, and have been really, really into V-shaped signatures for the past 2 years. While the Z5 are not bright by any measure, they certainly do not suffer from any lack here.
Soundstage is unlike anything I’ve heard in an IEM (to be sure, I have not heard the Z1R), with a scale and presentation that matches full-sized headphones, coupled with a remarkable sense of openness and fantastic separation. The Andromeda, in comparison, still sounds decidedly like an IEM in this regard
These things scale dramatically. Moving from the iFi Nano BL (285mW @ 32 ohms) to the Cavalli Liquid Spark (2.4W @ 32 ohms) widened the soundstage tremendously.
The Z5 are the first IEM I’ve owned that revealed stark differences between cables, much more so than with any upper-mid fi IEM’s I’ve owned. In the past, I struggled with consistently hearing any immediate or distinct differences between cables. That’s not the case with the Z5 at all.
I was initially listening to the Z5 with the FiiO LC-3.5D, a silver cable, and found them surprisingly bright and lean. Then I swapped to a copper cable, the Null Arete MKIV, and the Z5 showcased a different signature altogether: smooth, natural, full-bodied, and expansive. Returning to the Fiio cable again, they are now eminently unlistenable.
Of the tips I’ve tried — including the Symbio W, Spiral Dot, Acoustune AET07, Final E, SpinFit CP100, KZ Starline, Azla Sedna — the Peels stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sound quality, and, for me, comfort.
Compared to the more popular Spiral Dots, the Peels present an even larger, more open soundstage, and superior separation, clarity, bass definition, and treble presence and extension.
For my own tastes, I disliked the stock, Final E, and KZ Starline tips, all of which narrow the soundstage significantly and result in a much more dark and closed-in sound.