Today we’re checking out another new hybrid from Knowledge Zenith (KZ), the ZSA.
At this point, there isn’t much I can say about Knowledge Zenith that I haven’t already said in my numerous reviews and other coverage of their products. For me, KZ is THE company to beat in the budget segment. No one else comes close to matching their lineup of interesting, high quality, and yet still inexpensive products. Today we’re looking at another one of them.
The ZSA is a 1+1 hybrid, down a driver or two from the jam packed models they’ve been releasing since the ZS5 first appeared. Like the ZS6, the ZSA’s shells are crafted from machined aluminium. Unlike the ZS6, the ZSA is very compact, easily one of the smallest products in recent memory from the brand. The pictures really don’t do it justice. The build quality is absolutely flawless, and somehow manages to best even the ZS6. The beveled outer edges and rounded inner edges look and feel phenomenal in the ear, as does the lightly pebbled texturing. Fit and finish is stellar too with the outer face plate lining up perfectly, and the black painted metal nozzles flowing smoothly with the tapered inner face of each ear piece. One of my issues with the ZS6, addressed with later variants, was the lack of a nozzle lip. While minimal, they do exist on the ZSA and work to keep tips securely attached.
The new 0.75 2-pin connectors remain securely attached too. They are slightly smaller and more compact than those used on previous models and recess into the ear piece giving them additional resistance from bending and tugging. They also wrap around the female plug which has a rounded edge on one side, helping ensure the cables are always plugged in correctly. That is of course assuming they weren’t wired out of phase in the first place, something other members of the community say they have experienced. I myself have not run into such an issue despite owning tens of modern KZs, and cannot comment on it first hand. The rest of the cable is the same as that KZ included with the ZS10, and it’s a great upgrade over their previous stock cables. It features a fairly tight braid below the y-split and a slightly loose one above. The cable above the y-split is also hilariously long, measured at 19.5 inches between the memory wire and y-split, letting it tangle easily if you fail to store them neatly. There’s no chin cinch either, something KZ really needs to look into adding to their products. The memory wire is excellent in that it actually works and holds the shape you set it to, something the memory wire from other brands fails to do as successfully. Strain relief is acceptable at the V-Sonic inspired 90 degree angled jack and y-split, but could be better.
Fit, stability, and comfort with the ZSA is a bit of a mixed bag it seems. Comfort itself is outstanding. The earphone is small and light, free of sharp edges that could cause hot spots. Fit and stability, however, might be slightly awkward depending on the shape of your outer ear. With the ZSA, the nozzle protrudes out and away, quite far from the body of the earphone. This is due to the way the face of the inner side tapers out towards the nozzle. This means that when they’re inserted into your ear, there really isn’t much supporting the ZSA beyond the ear tip and the memory wire, if you’ve got it bent in a way that it clasps your ear. With other over-ear models, the body of the earphone usually takes up a good portion of your outer ear. The housing can rest on certain sections, spreading the weight fairly evenly. This makes the fit more stable. Since the ZSA fits more like a traditional barrel shaped earphone but is designed like a low profile, over-ear earphone, you get something that doesn’t quite work. Tip selection ends up being very important. My suggestions are to roll with a longer tip like something from Spinfit (my preference), or wear it like a shallow fit earphone and use a very wide, shallow tip (large Sony hybrid for ex.) letting the body of the earphone rest on your outer ear. You could also stick with the stock Starlines but don’t push them all the way down the nozzle, leaving 1mm or so of space. A fellow Head-fi’er uses rubber spacers on the ZS10 to lengthen the tips extension. Something like that could work too.
In terms of isolation, the ZSA is fairly average. The semi-open back design lets in some noise, like the clattering of keyboards or cars driving by, but it’s not so loud as to ruin the music. Not my first pick for transit use, but not terrible either.
When it comes to argueably the most important aspect of any earphone, how it sounds, the ZSA absolutely nails it. That beautiful shell isn’t left hanging with the ZSA fullfilling the promise of a high fidelity experience. It supposedly sports a newly developed balanced armature, meaning it’s not going to be the same one found in KZ’s original hybrid entry, the ZST. I can believe it too. Pitting the ZSA against the ZST sees notable improvements in terms of control with the ZST displaying a level of splashiness not present in the ZSA. Micro-detail is improved too, with fine nuances like the cymbals on Metallica’s “Sandman” showing more texture and a cleaner definition between each hit. It is overall a smoother experience. It’s not as silky smooth as the ZS10 though. Detail retrieval is also very good, though not quite as impressive as the ZS6. When it comes to the mid-range, the ZSA’s BA does a great job. It has a slightly warm, lean presentation with very clean and coherent vocals. My only issue with the mid-range is it could stand to be slightly more forward. On tracks with low tones or especially quiet background vocals, they don’t quite get lost in the mix, they just feel just a couple dB too quiet. Still, when it comes to guitars the crunch and tone is well done with other instruments sounding correct too. The ZSA has some of the best timbre of any KZ, up there with the ED9 and some of their older models like the Micro Ring. Bass on the ZSA is slightly elevated but not overly so. Texture is excellent and it’s surprisingly quick and nimble. Listening to Kavisnki’s “Solli”, extension into sub-bass regions seems to roll off quickly and additional emphasis could be placed on the region, however, it is well-balanced with the mid- and upper-bass with no particular region feeling overboosted or bloated. Thankfully, there is no bleed into the lower mids that I can detect. The ZSA’s sound stage is about average for the segment. The lean presentation really helps out here giving the earphone impressive instrument separation for a budget product, letting it’s layered sound stand out. It’s not quite as impressive the ZSR, ZS6, or ZS10, but it’s not far behind either. Imaging is quite accurate though, with channel sweeps showing great precision. Using the ZSA while playing the Wipeout Omega Collection on PS4 showed this off nicely as I could pinpoint where other racers were behind me, hear incoming weapons fire, and more. It kept me in the game and focused on the track ahead, avoiding the need to check my back as often as I would with other earphones.
When it comes to packaging and accessories there is nothing to get exciting about. You get the same small, white box we’ve become accustomed to with a wireframe-like image of the ZSA on the front, specs and contact info for KZ on the back. Inside under a clear viewing window is the ZSA nestled within a plastic tray. Underneath are the spare “Starline” tips in small and large, medium comes pre-installed, and the cable, all stored in their own individual plastic bags. There is also an instruction manual. Personally I like the presentation quite a bit. It looks good, it’s all of decent quality, and it helps keep extraneous costs down so KZ can focus their time and attention on the earphones.
The ZSA brings to KZ’s lineup a more refined and “hi-fi” sound than their more recent releases. If you appreciate a more analytic sound with a leaner presentation, one that values detail and clarity over thwomping bass, you’d be well off checking out this one. In addition to sounding great, the materials and build quality shames more expensive products. Fit might be hit or miss but can be addressed with the right tips, and the accessory kit is tylpical KZ, basic. Still, to my ears it remains one of KZs better products.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Thanks to Lillian with DD Audio for sending over a copy of the ZSA for the purposes of this review. The thoughts within this review are my own and are not representative of KZ, DD Audio, or any other entity. No financial incentive was provided to write a positive review or otherwise
Amazon with 5% discount Black: https://www.amazon.com/gp/mpc/A3D2CBHLK13879
Amazon with 5% discount Gray: https://www.amazon.com/gp/mpc/A3UKF78SAVY8IJ
With that out of the way, know that I had already purchased a ZSA for myself almost a month before I found out DD Audio was sending one over. Since I purchased it with the intent of writing a review, this would have happened one way or another.
In home use saw the ZSA powered by my desktop amp, a TEAC HA-501, with my ASUS FX53V laptop running source duty. Portable use saw the ZSA powered by my LG G5, F.Audio S1, or Shanling M1. Since it’s easy to drive, I didn’t bother to amp most of the time, though it sounded great through the Auglamour GR-1. Hiss free and plenty punchy.
- Frequency Response: 7-40,000Hz
- Impedance: 18ohms
- Sensitivity: 101dB/mW
- Cable: 2-pin, 0.75mm
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (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 Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)