LZ is a brand that rapidly gained traction in the hifi community a couple years back with the A2 hybrid, releasing it before the boom of budget hybrids we are currently experiencing. It came along and offered up a high quality sound in an attractively priced package. Then along came the Z03A, A3, and the revamped A2S, none of which made quite the splash the A2 did. Last year we saw the release of the A4 which included an extensive filter system and a refined sound that gave the venerable FLC 8S a run for it’s money, all while retaining a fair price point. It was another big hit with the community.
Now we have the A5 which takes on a tried and tested, low profile design in the spirit of the Shure SE846. It too features a tuning system, but this time relegated only to the nozzle resulting in four tuning options down from the 18 possible combinations on the A4. Inside the A5’s aluminum shells, LZ moved from the 2+1 hybrid configuration of the A4 to a 4+1 hybrid configuration with a single dynamic driver and four balanced armatures, per side.
I’ve had the A5 since January 19th, 2018 and as such have spent quite a bit of time with both their original filters, and the newly tuned filters that I purchased off Ebay and have been using since April 12th, 2018. I’ll admit that with the original filters, I was not a huge fan of the A5 finding it harsh and abrasive in the treble with only the red and gray filters offering acceptable to positive listening experiences. The new filters vastly improved the A5 for me, and made moving forward with this review a much more positive endeavor. Whereas before I would have advised to pass on the A5, now I can confidently recommend them to someone that enjoys an extremely detailed, v-shaped signature.
Since the re-tuned filters have become standard issue with the A5, they are what the following writings will be based around. Let’s go!
Thanks to @peter123 for assisting with the arrangements of a review sample of the A5 through LZ directly. Thanks to LZ for trusting me to review your product. My apologies for the tardiness in competing and releasing this review, however, I think you’ll agree the extra time and personal purchase of the updated filters was wise. All the thoughts within are my own and do not represent LZ or any other entity. While there was no financial incentive provided for writing this piece, it is my understanding that the A5 does not need to be returned following the completion of this review.
At the time of this review the A5 retailed for 269 USD and could be picked from any number of retailers online, and maybe even locally depending on your location.
I purchased the new filter set here for 25 CAD plus shipping. Thankfully, they have lowered prices to a more reasonable 20 CAD since then; https://www.ebay.ca/itm/232745120777?ViewItem=&item=232745120777
Packaging and Accessories:
The A5 arrives in a large, textured black cardboard box with only the LZ logo and ‘LZ HiFi Audio’ appearing on the lid in a contrasting, reflective black print. Lifting the magnetically sealed lid you’re greeted to a metal tin, the same one included with the 2000 USD HiFiMan RE2000 actually. Here it has LZ branding lazer printed onto the lid. To the right of the case nestled in foam cutouts are the ear pieces and a small block of aluminum into which three of the four sets of filters are securely threaded.
Lifting all this out you find the MMCX equipped cable, a QC card, and a manual. Inside the case are the extra ear tips. In all you get:
- LZ A5 earphones
- MMCX cable
- Sony-hybrid style ear tips (s/m/l)
- 1 pair of medium blue foam tips
- 4 pairs of acoustic filters in grey, red, black, and blue colors (black is preinstalled)
It’s a fairly basic package, especially for something at this price, but the case is nice and the tips are top quality. Some additional tip variety, such as foams in various sizes, wide bore silicone tips, multi-flange tips would have been welcome.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
While it does nothing new or spectacular, the A5 is well constructed. The aluminum shells are uniformly painted black with each part well machined and put together with attention and care. The pink winged logo, currently used by the Honda brand that was established 70 years ago, is cut neatly into the exterior of the shell. The threading for the nozzle filters is well machined too, both on the ear pieces and the nozzles themselves, allowing them to screw in without any binding or hassle. The MMCX ports lay flush with the housing and the cable clips into place with a visceral snap. Once in place, the cable can swivel freely, but isn’t so loose as to cause concern.
Given the common grape-like shape and medium sizing, the A5 sits perfectly in the outer ear. The rounded edges are smooth and free of any sharp or edgy bits. The nozzle sticks out at an angle of around 60 degrees which for my ear feels very natural. This is one of those few earphones that you can just slip into your ear and forget, or it would be were it not for the cable.
The cloth cable is one of the better ones I’ve come across in terms of material and build. It is quite thick with a fairly tight weave, but even after only a month of use was starting to show signs of mild fraying at common bend points. Microphonics are well-managed for a cloth cable, but still not to up par with cables using more traditional sheaths and as a result, up goes the chin cinch to compensate. Memory is non-existent, and tangle resistance is impressive. The jack is an excellent 90 degree angled unit that fits well in device cases and has extremely effective strain relief. It’s quite reminiscent of the jacks Dunu attaches to many of their products. The y-split is a nicely machined metal unit with excellent strain relief leading into the bottom portion. The top section slips away to reveal the aforementioned chin cinch.
Further up we run into some issues; memory wire and plug length. The memory wire itself is okay. It holds shape better than that used by some brands like FLC and Campfire Audio, but still falls behind the excellent memory wire budget brands like Knowledge Zenith provide. The plugs themselves are unusually long, and as a result I found I couldn’t bend the memory wire far enough back to have it tightly wrap around my ear. This leaves the A5 feeling less secure than it should.
Isolation is pretty average and should be fine for most activities. The back of the housing has a single large vent that seems to let in a fair bit of noise. Throwing on the included foam tips helps a lot and are recommend for use in situations where high levels of isolation are required.
- Drivers: 1 dynamic and 4 balanced armature, per side
- Sensitivity: 105dB
- Impedance: 16ohms
- Frequency Range: 8-36,000Hz
- Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.2%
- Rated Power: 5mW
- Cable Length: 120cm
Tips: I personally really enjoyed the A5 with both the stock silicone and foam tips, with my preference leaning towards the medium silicones due to convenience and comfort. I found wide bore tips accentuated the already prominent treble more than I liked given the signature balance of the A5 is already quite v-shaped.
The A5 comes with four sets of filters. I recommend visiting this post (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/lz-a5.867896/page-71#post-14245866) on Head-fi for measurements from a reliable source, Brooko.
As mentioned in the intro, the new filters reinvigorated my enjoyment of the A5. While only the grey filter shows any significant departure from the tuning of the original filters, I found all made the sound less edgy and abrasive, especially the blue filters which apparently measured nigh identically to the originals. Whether it’s a placebo or not I don’t know, but I’ve spent six months with the A5 flipping between both sets of filters and that’s still how I feel about them.
Red, the most mellow of the options, is my preferred filter. The others leave low end emphasis alone and start shifting up middle and upper mid-range emphasis around 1K with gray being the least emphasized, blue the most, and black falling in between. Minimal added emphasis of a few dB over the red filters is evident and carries through from around 4K with all four filters falling back into line from around 11K on. What does that translate into in terms of actual listening time? A vibrant, v-shaped signature with massive sub-bass, lean but clear mids, and brightly emphasized treble that is full of energy, building additional presence as you work your way through the filter set.
Despite being someone that’s not particularly sensitive to treble quantity and sharp peaks, blue and black are a little too intense for me and get tiring after a while. These two give the greatest impression of sound stage and spacing between notes and effects as result of their upper peak around 7K and the slight mid-range lift. The gray filters sit in a good place being bright but not quite as aggressive as the black and blue filters. They don’t sacrifice the vocal presence and sound stage of the others unlike the red filters which still feel spacious, but slightly more intimate. This is most notable when running through BT’s experimental album, “If The Stars Are Eternal Than So Are You and I”. The red filter gives the mid-range the most warmth and body which is one of the reasons I prefer it over the others. The boosted emphasis really seems to thin it out with the other filters. While this does a great job of putting focus on and showing off the impressive detail and clarity of the A5, it also takes away from the realism. The red filter simply sounds more natural to my ears letting me listen to the music, and not the earphone.
The balance of the red filters also helps out the low end to my ears, letting the A5’s somewhat reserved mid-bass stand up and share presence with the sub-bass. The A5’s low end is skewed towards sub-regions, a lot like the NarMoo S1, but without the gaping hole in the mid- and upper-bass that model suffers from. To my ears, the grey, black, and blue filters seem to shift focus so that the extra sub-bass really stands out, almost too much at times. I love boosted sub-bass, but it needs to be balanced appropriately which I don’t think is the case on the black and blue filters, improved to a lesser extent with the grays.
Select Comparisons: Volume matching completed using Dayton Audio iMM-6
Accutone Gemini HD: The single dynamic driver equipped Gemini HD, like the A5, features a simple nozzle-based swappable filter system with three options; bass, balanced, clear. Where the A5 focuses on mids and treble, the Gemini’s focuses on bass. For this comparison the A5 is equipped with red filters while the Gemini is equipped with it’s blue ‘clear’ filters which tone down the bass considerably.
The Gemini has a warmer, thicker presentation than the A5. Emphasis in the presence region allows it to compete with the A5 on sound stage and general airyness, despite being less emphasized overall in the treble. The A5’s multi-driver setup helps greatly with layering and separation, with instruments and notes playing in more well-defined spaces. The A5’s balanced armatures also give it a major edge in precision and detail up top, with a snappier decay that helps with congested tracks. The Gemini’s mid-range is more prominent with greater note thickness. I find this gives vocals more presence in instances where they are set a little too far behind on the A5 such as on the Big Grams duo tracks, “Born to Shine” and “Run For Your Life”. While the A5 is ahead in micro-detail, the overall presentation comes across too lean to give guitars and other instruments appropriate heft. Leading into the low end the Gemini shows greater balance between mid- and sub-bass emphasis. It’s not as quick or controlled as the A5 though, nor does it display the same impact and visceral depth that makes the A5’s bass so juicy.
In terms of build they go punch for punch. The Gemini’s housings seem to be a mix of aluminum and steel and lean heavily towards style over function when compared to the A5. They’re comfortable, but the wide, flat face the nozzles screw into has a habit of touching your ear and causing hot spots. Not an issue with the A5 whatsoever. The nozzles are similar in quality and both are very well-machined, though Accutone’s seem more complicated. In addition to the varied filter materials, they have additional insert and vent holes that allow them to alter the Gemini’s sound with more variety than what you get out of the A5. Still, like the A5’s filter set they’re not perfect and could use something that dials down the low end even more. In terms of cables they’re both hit and miss. The Gemini’s cable is a more traditional rubber coated affair with some great qualities. It is extremely flexible, transmits very little noise from movement, and has next to no memory. On the negative side, it’s thin and comes across a bit fragile, it is fixed in place, and strain relief is non-existent. The MMCX connectors are also proprietary, unlike the A5.
Dunu Titan 1: The A5 with the red filters installed I would say is a near direct upgrade sonically. Tonally they are exceptionally similar. The Titan’s mids are slightly more forward and have more body to them, but bass doesn’t extend as well. The A5’s sound stage has more depth with improved layering and separation, and in general it just sounds smoother and more refined than the Titan 1. In terms of build I personally think the Titan is more impressive. It’s cloth cable has held up surprisingly well in the two and half or so years I’ve owned it, fraying less than the A5’s cable has in 6 months. It’s design is a little more flexible with fit too, though you need to swap channels for over ear wear, a no go for many. Isolation is also worse than on the A5 given the extreme ventilation.
The Titan 1 is probably nearing classic status at this point being that it’s over three years old, an eternity with the speed at which new products are released nowadays. That said, comparing it to a new earphone, and a good five driver hybrid at that, show it’s still very capable and worth checking out. Unless you already own one, or course, and want to upgrade. In that case, check out the A5.
FLC 8S: The FLC 8S has 36 tuning combinations to the A5’s four. It’s a somewhat fiddly system though with many tiny pieces. Heck, FLC includes a set of tweezers to help out with the process. The FLC is much more customizable as a result, though even with this flexibility I couldn’t get it and the A5 to line up in signature. The A5 is simply too bassy and mid-range set back, so we’ll go through technicals instead.
The 8S has a larger sound stage and immediately sets you a ways from the stage, so to speak. The A5 has a closer, more intimate feel yet I found it to offer a greater sense of depth. I found the two more or less comparable in terms of pulling detail with the A5 stepping slightly ahead in terms of clarity. It’s note presentation is better formed and tighter knit compared to the FLC which feels a touch looser. The FLC’s drivers come across lighter and more nimble to my ears with a more snappy decay. This is especially notable in the low end where the A5’s bass notes linger. Still despite the big bass of the A5 and the comparatively anemic low end of the FLC, both are equally articulate when it comes to congested tracks. In terms of tone, the A5 with it’s touch of added warmth comes across the more natural sounding product to me, at least in mids and the low end. Up in the treble regions it is too polished and shimmery. It sounds good, but not as accurate as the FLC.
In terms of build the FLC looks and feels like the more premium product it is, to me at least. The stock braided cable is stiffer and noisier and free of memory wire which allows me to get a perfect fit, something I can’t say about the A5 with it’s stock cable. The housings are plastic but are finished in a way that makes them look and feel like aluminum, and they don’t have someone else’s logo tacked on. They’re tiny too, betraying the fact that there are three drivers crammed inside in a hybrid configuration; one DD, two BAs. In the A5’s favour the FLC’s 2-pin system isn’t nearly as universal making it tough to find replacement cables. Don’t even get me started on the packaging and accessories which are much more interesting and plentiful than the A5’s basic kit.
Suggestions for Improvement:
More filter variety: While the new set is an improvement over the original, something with treble and mid-range presence between red and grey would be welcome. It would also be nice if there was a set that focused on toning down the abundant low end.
Ditch the memory wire. Once this review is up, the stock cable is going back in the box and a third party cable is taking it’s place, one that is either free of memory, contains a more malliable wire, or utilizes pre-formed ear guides. I haven’t decided yet.
LZ, you already have a logo. You don’t need to use Honda’s.
It’s probably safe to say at this point that the A5 is unlikely to gain traction with fans of the brand quite to the extent of the A4 before it. I’d attribute this to lack of tuning variety compared to their previous model, the tuning of the original filters being quite redundant, and the decision to go with a more traditional shell design that is nowhere near as unique and interesting as the A4 or A3.
Looking past that, the A5 has proven itself a solid product in my half a year with it. I love the metal case, the Sony-style tips, and the outstanding comfort of the shells. The detail and clarity it outputs is impressive and in line with what would be expected from the price range. The low end is big and boisterous with amazing sub-bass extension, yet the mid-range retains fantastic coherence and prominence. It’s imaging and layering qualities are standouts too, giving the A5 an engaging presence with media outside of music.
Had the A5 gone through some additional stages of refinement prior to release, avoiding the need to backtrack and revise the tuning filters, I truly think LZ would have had another hit on their hands. As is, the A5 makes for a fun listen and with the new filter set I think it’s definitely worth checking out if you value earphones with technically adept, v-shaped signatures.
Thanks for reading.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Material:
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)