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 narrow down. 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 w/ crossover)
If you really only care about which to buy, here’s what I recommend;
- ED9 2. ATR 3. ZSN 4. ZS10 5. BA10
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.
B9’s Recommended Buys
The ED9 is certainly not new at this point and stands out as something special, even 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 it 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 with earlier releases of the ED9 I found the treble presentation somewhat hit or miss which reduced my enjoyment of their sound, that is no longer the case. The ED9 was graced with updated titanium coated drivers (previously bio-diaphragm) that resolved these treble concerns. The signature remains unchanged, they’re just so much more controlled and free of the uncomfortable splash that was on display before. These are still well worth your time and despite being one of the cheapest in the lineup are still one of the best.
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.
This is KZ’s best earphone in the 20 USD price range since the ED9 was first released. This surprised me as it came in while KZ was dropping release after release, many of which shared the same 1+1 hybrid configuration. How different could it really be?
Well, it took everything that was great about the ZST and flat out made it better. The same shell design is in place but the basic plastic was updated with higher quality acrylics and a wonderfully machined metal face plate. The cable and 2-pin connectors were upgraded substantially and are some of the best KZ has released to date, if not the best. The same basic sound signature as the ZST was in place, but so much more refined. It breathed new life into an old design, and did it very, very well.
This is an outstanding earphone that calls into question why you would ever spend more when you can get this performance from something so affordable. This is KZ in a nutshell, and an earphone anyone can confidently purchase.
You might be asking why this one is here. Well, it’s a damn good earphone and if you enjoy a mellow, smooth sound with clean mids and plenty of bass, there aren’t many in KZs modern lineup to choose from. The ES4’s tuning follows the foundation set by this five driver maestro, but to my ears is is so vastly inferior it is absolutely worth spending extra for the ZS10.
In addition to the pleasant sound signature, the design is distinctive and KZ all the way. You aren’t going to be mistaking this one for another brand’s earphone. It is a big earphone, but the rounded edges and smooth shell are extremely comfortable. This plus the tuning choice makes for an earphone that you can listen to long periods, fatigue free.
The ZS10 unfairly gets a bad rap in my opinion. It is much more capable than many make it out to be, and especially now that the price has dropped considerably from what it was on release, it is well worth checking out.
This one is a no brainer. If you are looking for the most for your buck within KZs lineup, look no further than the BA10.
I cannot stress enough how wonderfully build this earphone is. The machining it flawless. The fit and finish is flawless. The cable is a solid upgrade from other KZ offerings with thicker, less tangle prone strands and a more upscale look. Yes, fit can be hit or miss but you can fix that easily enough with some aftermarket tips if it’s a problem.
As well constructed as the BA10 is, the sound quality is what truly sells it. Deep, quick bass with gobs of texture. Forward, natural mids with wonderful articulation. Well-extended, highly controlled treble that gives the presentation tons of space and air. The presentation has that effortless feel you often get from much more expensive earphones. It all pulls together to provide an amazing experience you can easily lose yourself in. If you can afford it, the BA10 is the best KZ has to offer. For now.
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!