LZ A2S: Entirely Underwhelming

Greetings!

Today we are going to be checking out the A2S, a dual-driver hybrid and successor to the well-received LZ A2.

Given all the positive feedback the LZ A2S was getting from some Head-fi’ers I follow, when Head-fi sponsor Gearbest put them on a sale I figured they should be added to my collection. It was now or never. Do I regret this decision, or is the LZ A2S another stellar earphone among the many bursting onto the Chinese earphone scene at the moment? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer:

The LZ A2S was purchased from Gearbest during their summer sale in July. I am not receiving any financial compensation for this review and all comments and views within are my honest opinions. They are not representative of LZ, Gearbest, or any other entity.

The A2S can be purchased through Penon Audio, Gearbest, AliExpress, and a number of other online retailers.

A Little About Me:

Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread and being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own reviews. Fast forward a couple years and I’ve had the opportunity to write about some great products for wonderful companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, and Meze. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done.

The gear I use for testing is pretty basic composing of an HTC One M8 cellphone, Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Plantronics Rig USB amp. An XDuoo X3 (shout out to my cousin Rob!) has recently been added to the crew, and was used for the majority of my testing. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. When it comes to signature preference I tend to lean towards aggressive and energetic, but I try not to limit myself to one signature only. I also tend to listen at lower than average volumes.

Enough preamble. Let us dive into the good stuff shall we?

Packaging and Accessories:

Unfortunately my A2S’ package arrived looking like the box Jim Carrey successfully delivered in the opening scene of Ace Venture: Pet Detective.

Had the package arrived fully intact as I am sure Gearbest had intended, it would have been nice. Nice if you ignore the odd statements printed on the outer sheath that is. “Old Faithful Hifi Audio” is written in a cursive-ish font on the front. Old Faithful, huh? Don’t worry, it’s expanded upon on the back with “The prison system: old faithful hifi audio.” Now I completely understand.

Allllrighty then….moving on.

Slide off the questionable sheath holding in the goodies and you are treated to the A2S nestled comfortably in a foam insert. Below it is a plain black cardboard box which contains some of the plethora of accessories. Underneath the box is a nice little hardshell carrying case that is barely large enough to hold the A2S as a result of it’s large, generously relieved y-split and somewhat chunky 45 degree angle jack.

Back to what was in the little black box. Well, we’ve got earhooks, a shirt clip, and high quality yellow single-flange eartips in small and large (mediums are preinstalled) that are very reminiscent of the ones that come with the Brainwavz BLU-200. You also get another complete set of fairly generic but good quality, single flange, small bore eartips in s/m/l sizes, a single pair of dual-flange tips, and some foam tips. Overall this is an excellent selection and should ensure you find something that works for you, but then again you might not.

Outside of the weird statements on the packaging, the unboxing experience while basic is quite pleasant. The included accessories are generous though the inclusion of two sets of very similar single-flange tips seems unnecessary. Personally, I wish they ditched the second set of single flange tips and added a set of wide bore tips instead to give you some additional variety if you weren’t a fan of how they sounded when using a small bore.

Build, Design, and Comfort:

The A2S’s all-metal shells feel very solid, hefty, and reassuring. They are a little heavy, but the excellent ergonomics ensure this doesn’t become an issue. This is a very comfortable earphone. The nozzles do seem a touch thick, but with my preferred JVC HA-FXT90 tips installed this never came across as an issue. Cable noise while worn down is minimal, and non-existent when worn cable up.

Speaking of the cable, when I first saw it all I could think was, “Oh, this looks familiar. QKZ W1 Pro anyone?” Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced my W1 Pro’s cable so I can’t directly compare the two but I’m 99.9 percent sure they’re the same. What does that mean? It means the A2S comes with an exceptionally plush and memory resistant cable that behaves very well, though it tangles easier than preferred. Finally, the cable is amply relieved at the 45 degree angle jack and y-split. The strain relief attached to the shells is too stiff to be of any use.

The design of the shell itself is a pretty basic barrel-shape with a large seemingly non-functional vent at the rear. I say nonfunctional because the sound doesn’t change at all when covered. There is a tiny little vent on the nozzle. I was very pleased to see that the A2S, or at least my copy, does not suffer from driver flex. The faded Gold color looks good and is fairly subdued in person. It doesn’t stick out and look overly flashy like the shade of gold Accutone chose for their Pavo model.

Physically, the A2S is a winner. They look great, feel very durable, have a top notch cable and are quite comfortable.

Microphone and Module Performance:

With a simple single-button control until, you would be excused in thinking that I would gloss over this feature. No sir, not today.

The single button control unit is basic, sure, but it does everything I want it to and does it with ease. The button is easy to find, gives of a nice tactile click, and works well with my HTC One M8 offering all the media and call controls I need. No fuss.

The real reason why I added this section is for the in-line mic. It is really quite good! Callers always heard me loud and clear without any complaint. When I tested it in recordings, it performed nearly as well as my top tier benchmark, the JVC HA-FRD60/80. Voices were clear and crisp without sounding overly thin or even remotely sibilant. They just came out sounding natural and realistic, not something you can normally say for a basic headset mic. Wind noise wasn’t blocked anywhere near as well as it is on the JVCs, but that’s really my only complaint. Well done LZ!

Sound:

*Tips: I really didn’t like any of the included tips and after spending some serious time playing around with my tip collection, settled on an old favorite; JVC’s stock single flange mediums that come with most of their earphones. They allows the BA to give it it’s all (which I found out isn’t much), and toned down the overly enthusiastic mid-bass.

* Amping: Not necessary in my opinion. The A2S is very easy to drive and sounded pretty much the same from my HTC One M8 as it did filtering through the Topping NX1 amp. The only reason I chose to run them amped with the XDuoo X3 as my primary was because those two together further reduced the mid-bass presence (are you seeing a pattern here?).

Now we are onto what is arguably the most important aspect; how does the A2S sound? I’ll admit that on first listen I was thoroughly underwhelmed. After about 10 hours and a ton of tip rolling, device pairing, and patience, I was slightly less underwhelmed. After listening for some more (I stopped counting after 10 hours) I chucked them onto my “burn-station” for LZ’s recommended 200 hour burn and hardly touched them for nearly two weeks. When I finally came back to the A2S I expected to feel the same. What I got was initial excitement followed by disappointment leading to a mixed opinion.

On first listen the A2S did not sound as I would expect a hybrid to sound, and it still doesn’t. It had all the dynamic stuff down pat with warm, deep, impactful bass, though it came across as overly mid-bassy. It had some good punch and was somewhat quick. Sub-bass extension was merely acceptable, or at least it was with the right tips. Mids were very warm and inviting, right up there with the Havi B3 Pro 1 for my preferences. It’s just too bad all that mid-bass occasionally decided to stick it’s head in there and muddy things up.

Where the A2S fell down for me was in treble energy and detail. I was expecting they would be fine here even though I knew coming in that they were supposed be a fairly relaxed listen. When I first tried them out I gave them a go with a live King Crimson track, ‘Indiscipline’ from their On Broadway release. The crowd clapping and cheering was a horrible, dull, muddy mess with no definition. ‘Cat Food’ from The Great Deceiver set was even worse. Hmmm…

I know burn-in is a hot-button issue for some which is why I almost never mention it in my reviews. My “burn-in” is also usually done through regular listening so if there are any changes my mind has already adjusted to the signature and I’m unlikely to notice them. This in mind, when I tossed in the A2S after not using them for nearly two weeks and went back to my King Crimson test tracks, I wasn’t expecting anything different.

Well slap my chin and call me Billy-Goat McGrufferton, was I ever proven wrong. The crowd clapping and cheering sounded like human beings. There was detail! Actual detail and definition to the noise being pushed down my ear-drums. Mid-bass wasn’t invading the midrange to the same extent it was before but it’s still too boosted and unbalanced. The midrange is nothing if not outstanding. Picture a thicker sounding B3 Pro 1 here and you’ll understand.

Where the A2S fails me is in their emotion and energy. On some tracks this earphone just feels dull and comes across as if its simply going through the paces. If any of you are familiar with King Crimson’s track Starless and Bible Black, after a very slow build (around 9 minutes 10 seconds) the band explodes into a chaotic jazz piece. It’s one of my favorite aspects of any track and it’s completely lifeless on the A2S. They just don’t convey any energy or excitement. There’s no gusto. No hooplah! They also fall down in the chaos and the song ends a disorganized, jumbled mess. Such a massive disappointment. Same experience with track from The Prodigy’s The Day is My Enemy and numerous other high energy bands.

What it comes down to is that I can’t listen to certain music or bands with the A2S. King Crimson, The Prodigy, and other like groups that bring a ton of energy to their music just sound sterile and lifeless. All the edge and excitement is sapped out and you’re left with an empty husk. Less energetic stuff or music that focuses primarily on vocals sounds fine, though you better hope the mid-bass stays put.

Overall:

The LZ A2S is a well-built earphone with off putting text on the packaging and a solid if not somewhat redundant tip selection. Their signature is warm and inviting with a lush midrange and fleshed out low end. Where they lose it for me is in their energy. There’s just not enough of it and as a result the A2S comes across as dull and little more than a decent earphone. Not great, or outstanding, or something I would recommend. It’s just decent. Okay. Average. Not bad. It can have one of my thumbs in the up position, the other sitting horizontally.

I really wanted to like them and do with some tracks, but on the ones I want it to be good at, i.e. most of my favorite tracks, it stumbles and falls far short of expectations. I will continue to use them because I like the design, comfort and in-line mic, but for music they are far from my number one choice or recommendation as a top tier budget earphone.

Thanks for reading.

– B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Test Albums and Tracks:

 

BT – This Binary Universe

Gramatik – The Age of Reason

Incubus – Movement of the Odyssey Parts 2/3/4

Infected Mushroom – The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Skindred – Roots Rock Riot

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

The Crystal Method – Tweekend

Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

 

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)

King Crimson – Cat Food (Track)

King Crimson – Night Watch (Track)

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