Today we’re checking out the Series 4 from The Fragrant Zither (TFZ).
I’ve reviewed a slew of TFZ products to date, many of which share housings, packaging, and other aspects with the Series 4. You can only say the same thing in so many ways, and as a result many aspects of this review will sound familiar. That’s because the Series 4 is familiar. There is a lot of redundancy in TFZ’s lineup. That can be good in that you know you’re getting a decent product. It’s bad in the way that you’ve seen and heard one, you’ve kinda seen and heard them “all”. Feel free to skip to the sound section if you read my reviews of the Exclusive lineup or Series 2.
Let’s take a look at the Series 4, yet another perfectly solid outing from TFZ.
The Series 4 was provided free of charge for the purposes of a fair and impartial review. The thoughts here are my own and are not representative of TFZ, Penon Audio, or any other entity. There is no financial incentive for writing this review. The Series 4 currently retails for 99.00 USD over on Penon Audio; https://penonaudio.com/tfz-series-4.html?search=series%25204
For at home use the Series 4 was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp or straight out of my Asus FX53V laptop. For portable use it was paired with an LG G5, HiFi E.T. MA8, F.Audio S1, or Shanling M1, all of which brought it up to listening volume without any effort.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, MacaW GT600s, and thinksound On2 offer examples of signatures I enjoy.
- Sensitivity: 108dB / mW
- Impedance: 16 ohm
- Frequency response: 5-40kHz
Packaging and Accessories:
The Series 4 comes in the same elongated matte black cardboard packaging as the Exclusive 1,3, and 5. TFZ and Series 4 branding can be found on the front, and contact information for TFZ on the back, all printed in a contrasting silver font. Lifting off the lid you find a cardboard sheet backed in foam which is there to protect the Series 4’s outer metal face plates from scratches while they are nestled in a plastic tray. Inside the tray in the cable, neatly tied up with a Velcro strap, along with the foam tips. There is also a smaller cardboard box containing the rest of the accessories. In all you get;
- Series 4 earphones
- 2-pin 0.78mm silver plater removable cable
- 4 pairs of wide bore silicone tips (s/mx2/l)
- 3 pairs of small more tips (s/m/l)
- 1 pair of foam tips
- Carrying bag
- Shirt clip
This is a pretty extensive kit of accessories and should be pretty much everything you need to get going.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The Series 4 uses a very large, familiar shell that can be found in use on a number of other TFZ products, like the Series 2, My Love II, and the Exclusive King. The plastics are dense and durable, as is the metal faceplate. This thick metal plate and the hefty 12mm drivers within make the Series 4 surprisingly heavy, just like the King and the all-steel Exclusive 5. The shells are quite ergonomic though, which combined with an over-ear cable does a good job of spreading out the weight resulting in something that it still quite comfortable.
The cable is the same braided one found throughout the TFZ lineup, for better or worse. The cable itself is quite nice; flexible, fairly well-relieved, low on memory, and slightly thin and tangly above the y-split due to the built-in cable guides. The y-split is a massive hunk of rubber imbued with the TFZ logo. The straight jack is not particularly long, but is overly thick which will cause issues for those looking to use these with case protected cell-phones.
As with every other earphone using this shell, isolation was mostly just okay. Sitting at my desk at work, using them to passively block sound (no music helping out) I could clearly hear myself type, cars on the nearby road, people chatting as they walked through the parking lot, birds chirping, and everything else under the sun. Tossing on the included foamies boosted isolation to the point where I could hardly hear any outside noise. A pretty stark difference really. If strong isolation is important to you, I highly recommend picking up some extra foam tips at the time of purchase to get the most out of the Series 4’s varied isolation capabilities.
Tips: The medium wide-bore tips seemed to give the most balanced sound whereas the small bore tips boosted mid-bass slightly. I stuck with the pre-installed medium wide bore tips since they provided the right fit and sounded good.
The Series 4 seems like a good entry to go with if you like the TFZ look, but have been turned off by reports of boosted treble. The Series 4 has similarly good extension at the King and Exclusive 5, but is a little harder to drive and shifts frequency emphasis around at the extremities, dialing back sub-bass umph and both upper and lower treble. While they definitely sound like they would slot naturally into TFZ’s Exclusive lineup, they’re a bit more relaxed and easygoing.
Treble is tight and quick with a smooth decay but comes across a touch dull, lacking the sparkle and shimmer of the Exclusive 5 and King. Detail retrieval falls just behind those two as well, more in line with what you’d get from the Exclusive 3, but without that model’s more natural tone and timbre. The Series 4’s presentation is less tiring though.
The Series 4’s mid-range is typical TFZ, and that’s a good thing. Set slightly back behind the treble and bass, it remains clear and coherent even during complicated tracks and with big bass threatening to bleed it’s way up into the lower mids. The Series 4’s slightly dry tonality makes them a little more suitable to male vocals in my opinion, as female vocals tend to lack warmth and fall a little empty.
Bass is mid-bass focused with good extension but too little sub-bass emphasis, at least for my tastes. Those who found the Exclusive 5 too sub-bass heavy should be right at home here. Bass here is a little on the slower side, especially when running up against the King and 5, but still punchy and well controlled and with the same amazing texturing you’ll find everywhere else in TFZ’s lineup.
Sound staging comes across spacious, but again, less open than what you’ll get with the King or 5. Are you seeing the trend yet? Imaging is precise and layered with good separation of individual elements, but the more intimate nature of the Series 4’s presentation takes away from those qualities ever so slightly.
Overall I find the Series 4 a good earphone and a nice listen, but compared to the equivalently priced Exclusive 5 and King it almost always feels a step behind.
The Series 4 is a good earphone and had I come across it as the first of the TFZ lineup, not one of the last, it undoubtedly would have left a greater impression because it’s a fantastic all-rounder. However, it really doesn’t do anything to make me want to choose it over any other TFZ. The Series 5 has more visceral, impactful and engaging bass. The King is more detailed and has a more expansive and capable sound stage. The Series 3 performs technically about as well but at a much lower price and via a smoother signature. The Series 2 and My Love II perform almost as well, but are much less expensive and as a result are the better value.
I just don’t see where the Series 4 is supposed to fit because it does nothing to carve out a niche for itself in what is a very capable, but redundant lineup from TFZ. Unless of course that is the point. It’s meant to be the ultimate do-all. I suppose my conclusion would be; if you’re having a hard time deciding between a number of TFZ models, get the Series 4… It’s is a little bit of everything without being the best at anything. It’s the best form of “settling”.
Thanks for reading.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Album)
Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bone) (Album)