Welcome to part 2 of our dive into the world of Knowledge Zenith. Today’s post will be dedicated to KZ’s ED series which is by far the largest and most varied of their existing naming conventions. While I haven’t tried every ED series earphone, I’ve collected nine over the years so I think we’re covered.
I found the ED series of earphones to feature a fun, v-shaped signature with punchy bass and bright, sparkly treble. There are a few exceptions as we will see, but for the most part, when you order an ED series KZ you’ll know what you’re getting into.
Let’s get started!
While the EDR2 and EDse look the same, minus a change in color, they couldn’t be more different. The EDR2 ditches the cast iron housing for lightweight aluminum and shortens up the nozzle which I found made tip rolling way easier. These two changes in the housing make the EDR2 very light, very comfortable, and much easier to wear as a daily driver when compared to the EDse.
When it comes to sound, the EDR2 comes out swinging with a quality, hi-fi focused signature. Out of all the earphones in this comparison, they come the closest to neutral with minor lifts at either end giving them a very mild u-shaped signature. Treble is well-extended, smooth, detailed, leans towards a thin presentation. This really helps with their airy and accurate presentation. Their midrange is very clear without any mid-bass bleed. There is a touch of warmth that helps give both male and female vocals a natural and even presence. The EDR2 comes across as somewhat bass-lite due to their toned down mid-bass presence. Their extension into sub-bass regions is shockingly good, entirely capable of hitting the same notes as the ZS1 and ED8. Unlike those two, the EDR2’s bass isn’t “always on”. It’s there when you need it, gone when you don’t.
The combination of a lightweight, comfortable housing, high quality sound, and a price tag routinely hovering around 5 USD makes the EDR2 one of the best value propositions around.
The EDse was first among my collection, along with the Micro Ring. I got them around the same time as the Xiaomi Piston 2.0 which was still in its prime as an amazing budget earphone buy. The Edse was one of the KZs that really put them in the spotlight because to many, it one-upped the Piston 2.0 in sound quality at an even lower price.
The EDse is another heavy KZ. The design is certainly eye-catching, but not for everyone. The cable is one of my favorite cables at any price. It is smooth and doesn’t catch on your clothing, it is free from memory, doesn’t tangle, and is well relieved.
Sound on the EDse is quite nice. Treble is well extended and offers up lots of detail, but for my preferences is too loose and splashy. Mids are mildly recessed but clear and fairly natural. Bass hits hard and digs deep, but rolls of before hitting those rumbly sub-bass notes that the ZS1 pulls off so well.
The EDse is an older KZ that is still well worth your money.
The ED3 continues the trend of KZ with heavy metal housings. They also offer up a similar sound to the EDse, but with significantly different tuning.
The ED3 is one of the more neutral KZs, but with a notable treble lift. They bring to the table lots of detail and clarity. I welcome their slightly forward mids. Bass is greatly reduced, but is exceptionally quick and punchy. If you are a fan of bright and energetic signatures this is a great KZ to start with.
The cable is very similar to the one found on the EDse but slightly sticky in comparison and a result tangles slightly easier. Still, it’s not that bad and is in my opinion a good cable. Strain relief is the same as on the EDse, which is to say it’s quite good.
While the ED3c (can also be found online as ED3m) shares their design and name with the ED3, they could not be more different when it comes to sound and weight. The ED3c is much lighter, likely made of aluminum, and has a cable nearly as nice as that found on the EDse. As a result of these seemingly minor changes, the ED3c is one of the most comfortable KZs out there.
Where the ED3 is bright and energetic, the ED3c is warm and relaxed. Bass presence borders on being too much, and is a touch slow and almost wooly. On paper this may sound a negative, but in practice is quite pleasant. It makes for a relaxing listen and really doesn’t detract from the experience at all. Mids share the same silky smoothness of the ZS1, but are more forward. I especially like them with female vocals and live instruments as the timber is quite natural. Treble on the ED3c is like the mids, smooth and with a certain essence of naturalness that you do not often hear at this price.
The ED3c is a quality product that could really only be bettered by offering up better detail retrieval, as long as it is not at the expense of smooth, natural sound that makes them stand out.
You can check out my full review here; http://www.head-fi.org/products/kz-ed3c-in-ear-monitors/reviews/14976
**Since the ED4 and Z1 I own sound nearly identical, I’m grouping them together.**
What a wicked earphone the ED4/Z1 is. Aggressive is a word that comes to mind. Vicious is another. They are polarizing and not for those who are treble sensitive. They are not for those who want to relax and listen for long periods. To me the ED4/Z1 is what you bring out when you want to get your heart pumping. They’re for sprinting, not long distance running.
Subbass is endless. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but it digs deep and then adds a couple more feet for good measure. The suppressed mid-bass makes for an even more prominent and intense sub-bass. Vocals are forward and shoved down your ear canal. Guitars are grimy and crunchy. Treble is bright, extremely sharp, and full of detail. They sound unnatural, almost digital. Despite giving you a completely in-head sound, they also somehow still manage to sound spacious and airy.
What a weird, entertaining, and unique earphone the ED4/Z1 is.
My full review of the ED4 can be found here: http://www.head-fi.org/products/knowledge-zenith-ed4/reviews/15115
KZ ‘s ED8 is quite an interesting earphone. Take the house sound of the ED lineup, crank up the bass, toss it in one of their heaviest, most polarizing designs yet, and give it a giant soundstage for good measure. The ED8 is awesome in every sense of the word.
Treble is energetic and enthusiastic, with great extension. Detail is quite good but suffers a bit due to a lack of focus. The ED8 can be a little splashy, similar to the EDse and ED9. Treble presentation is also a touch thin which really helps give the ED8 their overly large sound. The midrange is pulled back a bit giving the ED8 a decidedly v-shaped signature. While I found it quite clear, it was also on the colder side and not quite as well-suited to female vocals as male. Bass is where the ED8 shines. It’s big, bold, extremely punchy, shockingly well-controlled for the quantity, and digs really, really deep. The sub-bass rumble on the ED8 makes them perfect for EDM and hip hop.
My only real complaint with the ED8 is their size and weight. The housings are truly massive and extremely heavy. It doesn’t help that the nozzles are also quite short making the fit quite shallow. All this comes together to make cable-down wear a little more cumbersome than is preferred, though when worn cable up they are very comfortable and hold a seal quite well.
The ED8 is a fantastic sounding and looking earphone hindered by their size and weight.
The ED9 is one of the most popular and most recommended KZ’s of the bunch, and for good reason. They do mostly everything right, in addition to sporting a nice party piece; interchangeable filters.
Unlike many iems with such a feature, these filters make a massive difference to my ears. The Gold filters (G), which are my preference, boost bass and treble. The Brass filters (B) bring a more reference sound to the mix, balancing them out across the board. They still have boosted bass with either filter in place, but less so with the brass filters.
I can’t help but feel that the ED9(G) and EDse are more or less interchangeable given how similar the sound is. Outside of the the tighter treble on the ED9(G), the two earphones are quite comparable. The EDse produces a smidge more sub-bass, and the ED9(G) is a touch brighter, but they share excellent mids, soundstage, and other descriptive adjectives.
The ED9(B) brings out the reference side of KZ. These filters allow for mildly deeper insertion and open up the soundstage. Where the (G) has clearly defined limits to its soundstage, the (B) opens that up. Unfortunately, it also makes the treble too splashy for my liking, and as I experienced with the EDse it gets distracting and ruins the experience. Those who can get around this (which I suspect is most of you) will find improved dynamics, intense detail, and mids brought more forward into the mix. Bass tightens up and gains some extra kick. In general I feel they are much more aggressive with (B) installed. Normally this is more my style as I love aggressive sounding earphones (hence why I have a few of JVC’s carbon nanotube earphones), but that treble sidetracks me every time.
Moving away from how they sound, they have a pretty cool design. An open-backed, octagonal housing, great strain reliefs all around, and what I think is a pretty good cable apart from the bounciness. They don’t have the premium feel of ANV or solidness of the ED3, but they’re no slouch either. The ED9 is an outstanding earphone, and like most KZ products hits a level of competence far above what you would expect from its humble price.
Ah, the winner of my original KZ Shootout! How do they stack up against the all the newcomers? Well, much better than I was expecting to be honest. The ED10 won last time because compared to the rest of the field, I felt they were a step up and offered the most refined experience.
The ED10 looks fantastic with a unique design that to some seems inspired by the Ostry KC06. I don’t see it, but enough people have brought it up so I figured it was worth mentioning. The cable is standard KZ fare, well relieved at the housings, y-split, and 90 degree angle jack. I love that the left and right markings are the complete word printed in cursive giving the ED10 an extra bit of flair really only found on some of KZ’s older earphones like the ANV.
When it comes to sound quality, most KZ’s fail to meet the standards set by the ED10. Bass digs deep, is quick, extremely punchy, well-textured, and is overall pretty darn impressive for something so cost efficient. Mids are lightly recessed, but natural, detailed, and a pleasure to listen to. Metal and hard rock sounds awesome. Treble on the ED10 might come across bright to some, but this is a style of energy I appreciate; exaggerated but not uncomfortably so. They’re so lively and full of energy with all aspects of their signature balanced in a way that puts a smile on my face.
To add onto this pleasant signature, the ED10 is technically competent too. Imaging is excellent with clear stages of distance presented within a fairly spacious soundstage. Detail and clarity is also quite good, and not just for a $10 earphone. I never feel that they are failing to present nuances of a song.
The ED10 is good, really good. If someone asked me which KZ to buy to get into the brand, it would be a tossup between these and the ED9.
Another pretty big misstep in KZ’s lineup can be found in the ED12. The ED12 has the looks, features, build quality, and design to be another hit. Just look at that custom influenced shell and quality, removable two pin cable. It’s a good looking earphone!
Unfortunately, KZ forgot to tune the ED12 releasing it with some pretty wonky balance. In fact, just read the CM9’s description and that’s pretty much the ED12 in a nutshell; “For some reason their bass is explosive and in-your-face, while both mids and treble are recessed and hollow.”
Oddly enough, listening to the ZST and ED12 back-to-back, you hear many similarities. How could the ED12 go so wrong while the ZST does everything right? Could it be that the ED12 uses the ZST’s dynamic driver but without the balanced armature there to complete the tuning?
Coming from the ZS3, ATR, and ZST all released around the same time, the ED12 clearly didn’t receive the same love and attention to detail as those other models. It’s a real shame.
The ED15 takes the ED series into the realm of hybrids with a 1+1 setup. The all-metal housings have a traditional barrel shape and the weight we have come to expect from KZ’s earphones in this lineup. They’re heavy. The fixed cable will be to most a welcome upgrade since it is the same braided unit they’ve been using elsewhere. Fit and comfort are overall quite good, as is the build quality. This one feels quite tank-ish.
While there is a lot to like about how the ED15 sounds, it has one critical fault that I can’t get past; sibilance and lots of it. If you follow my work you’ll know I’m not overly sensitive to treble or sibilance. The ED15 exceeds my tolerance levels which is too bad because otherwise it’s not bad. The bass is beautiful, so much so that I’d argue it is some of the best KZ has produced. Deep, textured, controlled, and extremely visceral. It’s outstanding. Looking past the sibilance, the mid-range is a touch lean but has enough warmth to it to work equally well with male or female vocals. Timbre is pretty decent for a KZ too. Treble I found quite sharp and tiring with too much upper range emphasis. Shimmery effects cut deep and as such these are something I can really only listen to as very low volumes.
While I found them a disappointment, I can see them being an absolute steal for someone willing to EQ out their faults, or perform some extensive physic mods to take the treble and sibilance. If you’re not willing to take those steps, pass on this one.
The ED16 is a weird one with an odd story. Rumor has it that it was meant to be a limited release and unfortunately, was very poorly received in China. It made its way to North Americans though, was adored, and continued to sell like crazy. It is starting to become harder to find though, so if you want one you’re going to have to get a set ASAP.
Build is all-plastic along the lines of the ZST, ED12, etc. and really nothing special. Apparently it borrows the basic shape from Aurisonics products, and I can see the resemblance. Unfortunately, I find that design extremely difficult to fit in my ears comfortably and as a result the ED16 gets pretty poor marks for ergonomics in my books. Most seem to have no issues with them though, so keep that in mind. One thing I found interesting is that this is the only other KZ model I’ve come across to use the same tiny, semi-proprietary, 2-pin plugs that the ZSA uses. But, while the ZSA’s plugs are angled, the ED16’s are straight. Cool!
When it comes to sound, the ED16 is quite similar to the ZSR. The ED16 has more upper treble energy giving it some extra sparkle, a smaller sound stage, and less sub-bass emphasis. Imaging is equally good, as are layering and separation. Personally, I prefer the ZSR’s larger, more bombastic presentation, and less fatiguing treble presentation. To my ears the ZSR has more character which makes for a more engaging and entertaining listen.
You can check out my full review here.
I know this isn’t an ED model, but the name starts with an E sooooo…yeah. Okay, maybe not the most sound of logic. Anyway, the 1+1 hybrid ED4 follows the same visual design precedent set by the ZS10. It has a clear plastic housing. Under the face plate the crossover is the dominating visual factor. Some says this design looks cheap. I’ll respectfully disagree. The quality of the plastics are good, fit and finish is nice, and the large KZ-branded crossover is distinctive. The ES4 is an attractive looking earphone to me.
Sound is another story. The ES4 has it’s fans, but I’m not among them. I like the fairly detailed, relaxed treble in the same vein as the ZS10. The mid-range is prominent and isn’t drown out by the bass or treble. That’s where the good ends in my opinion. The mid-range is veiled and lacking detail. Vocals lack the sense of crispness and clarity you get from other models in the lineup. Bass rolls off early and has too much mid-bass emphasis leading to a bloated, bloomy presentation. The sound stage is confined and congested. I still think the performance is okay for the price, but this isn’t something that holds my attention or begs me to listen to it and as such isn’t much more than a discussion piece.
I’d only recommend this one to someone that meets the following criteria. 1) They have to own a KZ. 2) It must be a hybrid. 3) They are treble sensitive. If you don’t meet those criteria, there are tons of other products, both within KZ’s lineup and from other brands, that handily outperform the ES4.
And there we go! That’s all for this post. Next time we will be looking into the the ATx, HDx, and Zx series of earphones.
Please feel free to comment and discuss these and any other models you have heard, and check out part 1 if you haven’t already.
Until next time, thanks for reading!