Welcome to the long overdue finale of my coverage of Knowledge Zenith and a plethora of their earphones, both new and old.
Today we will be closing things out with a couple top five lists. The first will cover my personal favorites, something that was admittedly quite difficult to make. The second will cover the five models I most recommend for purchase when first diving into the brand.
In no particular order, my personal favorites are;
- Micro Ring 2. ANV 3. EDR2 4. ED10 5. ZS1 (original)
If you really only care about which to buy, here’s what I recommend;
- ZST 2. ZS3 3. ED9 4. ATR 5. ED10
If you care about the ‘why’ for these lists, keep reading!
B9’s Favorite KZs
The Micro Ring was the one that started it all for me. First impressions were terrible too. The left housing wasn’t glued together and only one of the included pairs of tips was designed for this style of earphone. Since tip-mounted micro-driver earphones generally have very broad nozzles, nothing I had in my collection worked all that well. To add insult to injury the tips were torn and wouldn’t seal.
The rest of the design and build was pretty nice though. The open back and additional venting lining the spine were cool touches. The cable, while pretty thin, looked nice in blue, retained no memory, and did not tangle easily. It’s still one of my favorite cables to this day.
Due to the above-mentioned problems I set them to the side and spent all my time listening to the EDse which arrived at the same time. Eventually I went back to the Micro Ring to give them a second chance. I glued the housing back together, found a set of tips from Huawei that fit quite well, and tucked in for an extended listen. To my pleasant surprise, the Micro Ring sounded amazing!
In contrast to the EDse’s energetic v-shaped sound, the Micro Ring was warm and neutral with a lush, engaging mid-range. I loved the open soundstage and imaging qualities which drew me into my music. To this day, and amidst all the excellent earphones I’ve been lucky enough to try, most of which are much more expensive, the Micro Ring still proudly sits among my top picks for pure listening enjoyment.
I almost passed over the ANV based on all the negative feedback they were receiving in the forums at the time. No bass, harsh treble, etc. etc. etc. Eventually I gave in and picked up a pair. Had to hear this for myself. How bad could they be?
When they finally arrived after taking the long trip from China to Canada, I was immediately impressed with the build quality and design. The fit and finish on the heavy metal housings was excellent. I loved the left and right were not simply denoted by a small L or R, but the entire word in cursive. The cable was fairly thick, did not retain memory at all, and was well relieved. Months later I realized that hidden at the y-split was a chin cinch. Fantastic design.
The sound was great as well, but not without one critical flaw which I’ll get to. The ANV was well balanced with a treble tilt, bass that was smooth and detailed with just enough sub-bass extension to satisfy. It’s mid-range was wonderfully forward, excelling with guitars and male vocals. Treble though, was slightly harsh and metallic. After a bit of toying around, I found a way around this issue; Sony Hybrid tips with a bit of fabric to absorb the treble.
With this mod in place the treble was softened and warmed a touch. I was devastated when a few days later one of the drivers died. I tried a cable swap to see if that was it, but nope, driver failure.
“Oh well”, I thought.
“I’ve got the EDse and Micro Ring to keep me company”
That lasted for about two days before I hopped back onto AliExpress to order a new pair. I noticed most of them were labeled “2014 Edition” and figured I would order one to see if there was any difference. When the replacement arrived, I was one heck of a happy camper.
The 2014 model has been slightly revised. Build was the same, but the treble presentation was immediately smoother and lacking the edginess of the original model. Bass had better extension and a bit more umph to it, a change I did not expect to enjoy so much. While the above mod was no longer necessary, I’ve left it in place and only remove the filter when I’m in the mood for a slightly more exciting listen.
When I ordered the EDR2 I was expecting to receive what was more or less the same product as the EDse, but in silver. That’s not what I got.
The first thing that was immediately noticeable was the weight. The EDse is a hefty little earphone and carries around with it a fair bit of weight. While the EDR2 looks identical, minus the less flamboyant paint job, KZ chose aluminum for the housing this time around. The difference this makes to comfort is astoundingly positive.
Second was the sound signature. The EDse is a fun v-shaped earphone that competes well with the Xiaomi Piston 2.0, a very well-regarded budget earphone that still holds up well even after all these years. The EDR2, or at least my pair, is much more balanced and is about the closest thing to neutral you’ll find in KZ’s modern arsenal. This to me made it unique and instantly appealing. That it’s very competent on a technical level is also a huge plus, as you would expect.
The only reason you won’t find it on the recommended buys list is because opinions are extremely varied, so what I’m hearing isn’t necessarily what you’ll get. That inconsistency knocks them out of the running, but doesn’t stop me from loving the pair I own.
The ED10 was my favorite KZ for quite a while. From the moment I first heard it I knew it was good.
It took the sound of the ED9 with gold filter and refined the treble ditching the splashiness inherent in that model. Bass remained largely the same but with more emphasis on sub-bass regions which is right in line with my preferences. I also found the soundstage to be more open which is always a plus.
Add to it’s great sound a design that was extremely comfortable and matched the shape of my ears quite well, and the ED10 was pure win for me. Even now after the release of the ZS3 and ZST, the ED10 still ticks all the right boxes and is my preferred listen over those two models, although the ZST can’t be touched when it comes to detail and clarity.
The ZS1 is definitely one of my favorite KZ’s, and earphones in general. Not because they sound amazing, but because they entertain like nothing else. While their obscene bass presentation is clearly the focal point, they still have an outstanding mid-range and very clean, detailed treble. You just don’t notice it because your eardrums are being hammered by the low end. It’s awesome.
Add to that a form factor which fits perfectly in my ears and memory wire which bests any other I’ve tried, price not-withstanding, and the ZS1 is also one of the most comfortable earphones I’ve used. Despite the killer bass I can wear and listen to them for hours and hours without fatigue, something I can say about few other earphones.
The ZS1 is pretty much my perfect basshead earphone and I wouldn’t have them any other way. I also love that this particular model is somewhat unique. The current revision no longer has the crossover or brass ring in the nozzle, instead being built (minus the cable) and sounding just like the ZN1 Mini. Not a bad thing as that’s a good earphone in it’s own right.
Honorable Mentions: The ZST and ZS3 get an honorable mention because while I think they are both stellar earphones and could easily be considered some of KZ’s best, they didn’t have any staying power for me. I found myself picking up other earphones instead, not because either are bad, but because those others better matched my personal preferences.
B9’s Recommended Buys
When I first heard them I was thrilled to see that they were bringing something new to the table. Minus the ZS3, KZ’s releases were starting to lose their luster and admittedly get a little stale.
You had a million variants of the ATE, the ED4, ED3c, EDR2 and other similar products, some of which were really good but not really doing much to move the brand forward. Then, pretty much out of nowhere the ZS3 showed up with a unique design, removable 2-pin cable, and snazzy new packaging. While the sound signature wasn’t really anything new from KZ, it was refined and entertaining. You can read my review of it here. Shortly after the ZS3 dropped the ED12 came along with another excellent new design and further use of a 2-pin removable cable. Finally, there was the ZST.
A few years back after I wrote my first KZ Shootout I reached out to KZ to see if they had a Balanced Armature (BA) product in the works. They stated that at the time nothing was planned given the earphone would need to be priced too high. Well, times changed. KZ skipped making a BA-only earphone and jumped straight to a hybrid with the ZST.
I wholeheartedly recommend the ZST because it’s a feature rich earphone with technical abilities that exceed pretty much everything you’ll find at this price. You get a removable two pin cable, an ergonomic, attractive custom-look design, an in-line mic can be included, and the sound. The signature is an aggressive w-shape with well-extended and highly detailed (if not occasionally overbearing) treble, a prominent mid-range (better suited to male vocals imo), and bass that can hit hard and deep when called upon.
At this price, you can’t really criticize too harshly. That KZ managed to bring something this good to market, and a hybrid at that, while maintaining their usual sub-20 USD pricing is crazy.
I’ve really said all I need to about the ZS3. It retains the bassy signature of it’s ZS1, ZS2, and ZN1 Mini relatives and refines it while adding some additional technical improvements and flair; removable two pin cables and what is essentially the same housing as the InEar StageDiver series of earphones. Depending on the model, those start around 400 CAD.
Obviously the StageDiver will be on another plane of existence when it comes to sound quality, but a lot of research and effort when into the design which means it is sublimely comfortable once you seat it properly, and it isolates quite well.
If you like a warm, bassy sound with a liquid, smooth mid-range and a relaxing treble presentation, here you go.
The ED9 is a special earphone in that among KZ’s modern offerings it was their first real step towards a more audiophile sound. The two filter options give you either a fun v-shaped sound (Gold filter), or tone the bass down for a more balanced sound (Brass filter). You’re essentially getting two very competent earphones in one.
The build quality is great as well, though the cable is a little unruly in that is quite bouncy. Still, it’s durable and well-relieved, and far better than the usually thin, cheap cables you find on earphones from other well-known brands who have offerings in this price range.
While I find the treble presentation somewhat hit or miss which reduces my enjoyment of their sound, I’m in the minority here. The ED9 is one of, if not the most recommended KZ for a reason. It’s an excellent sounding earphone in either configuration and is a fantastic value.
The ATR is another model I was hesitant to drop the cash on initially. There were already so many ATE variants on the market, and I was quite pleased with the ATE. It seemed redundant to own both.
After some comments from a Head-fi’er I greatly respect mentioned the ATR was a direct refinement of the ATE sound, and it showed up on Gearbest for ~6 CAD, how could I say no? When it arrived I realized,
“Yup, this is definitely the ATE sound but improved.”
I found the ATE a mid-focused earphone with rolled off bass and treble. The ATR evens things out a bit by improving extension on both ends and adding a little bit of much needed energy to the top end. The additional ventilation on the bottom of the housing also served to improve soundstage a bit. I can’t express enough how minor these changes are, and yet they make it so much more enjoyable of a listen.
To add onto that, build quality is improved with well-defined nozzle ends that make fitting alternate tips a reality. I had to take a nail file to the ATE to give them a proper nozzle lip so that tighter fitting tips wouldn’t slide off.
While I still love my ATE, the ATR is flat out superior in every way to my ears and eyes.
The ED10 is the best of the bunch if you just want something fun, yet still very competent technically to listen to. It nails the primary qualities that make the ED series of earphones so great and offers the highest quality treble of the bunch. The bass is addictive in it’s depth and sub-bass presentation. The mid-range, while a bit recessed, isn’t overshadowed. Vocals are clear and prominent and guitars have awesome texture and crunch. If you listen to a lot of EDM, hip hop, or classic rock like I do, these will be perfect.
I recommend getting them with an in-line mic because they’re good traveling earphone. Comfortable, small, and they isolate decently well.They’re also well built with excellent strain relief and have proven themselves durable.
Honorable Mentions: The RX and HDS1 are both really good earphones, either of which could have easily been included in the list above. The HDS1 is tiny, comfortable, and is one of the more balanced options. It’s really only let down but a sticky, thin cable and a bit of mid-bass bloat. The RX is a slightly more detailed version of the ED3c and while heavier is more ergonomic, and to my ears comfortable.
One more for the road! This is a headphone and didn’t really fit the theme, but it is a KZ and a worthy one at that.
The LPs as far as I am aware was discontinued a while back, but if you can pick one up I highly recommend it. Not only do that look awesome, “borrowing” their design pretty blatantly from V-Moda, but they are extremely well-built. At the ~35 CAD I paid, this is one of the best deals in portable audio I’ve experienced to date.
Not only do you get a decent sounding and durable set of cans, but two cables and a nice hard carrying case. My set did have a problem initially in that one of the removable pads had a hole burnt in it and was too small to fit the ear cup properly. This meant the LPs was pretty much unusable for almost two months while I awaited a replacement pad. However, once that arrived it was game on!
The LPs in stock form is a warm, unapologetically bassy set of cans with smooth treble and a somewhat veiled mid-range. Soundstage isn’t bad as they are heavily vented, and imaging is pretty decent. They are at least as good as most headphones in the 50-100 CAD range that I’ve tried but crush nearly all in terms of build and accessories, most of which are cheap plastic and devoid of extras.
That said, if you feel like pad swapping you can quite easily modify, and in my case, improve their sound further. I picked up a pair of Brainwavz HM5 velour/pleather hybrid pads to try with my HifiMan HE350. That pairing sounded horrible. Tried them with a few other earphones but they too all paired poorly, especially the AKG K553 Pro. Finally, I squeezed them over the LPs’ earcups and wow! What a change for the better.
The additional depth pulls the drivers away from your ears improving soundstage significantly. The semi-open, heavily vented pads reduce mid-bass notably and boost treble presence making the LPs much more balanced and detailed, but don’t get me wrong; they are still bass heavy. Going back to the stock pads, the reduction in performance is unbearable. Comfort too also increases drastically with the HM5 pads as your ears no longer touch the drivers and fit fully within the generous opening.
For you LP/LPs/LP2 owners out there, I cannot recommend enough giving the HM5 hybrid pads a go. They are an excellent match for this headphone.
And that concludes my look at Knowledge Zenith! I hope you found these four articles interesting or at the very least helpful, and that whether you’re buying your first or fifth KZ you get something you enjoy. If you haven’t already read the other parts, what are you waiting for?
Be sure to comment and ask any questions below! We are all individuals and hear things differently. I would love to know what you favorites are.
Thanks for reading!