Today we’re checking out Knowledge Zenith’s (KZ) second balanced armature (BA) only offering, the BA10.
The BA10 is KZ’s most expensive earphone to date and for some that is going to be a hurdle they just can’t surpass. For those who do, you’ll be rewarded with an outstanding sounding earphone, albeit with some questionable ergonomics that will be hit or miss from person to person. Let’s take a closer look.
Thank you to Lillian at DD Audio for arranging a review sample of the BA10. All thoughts within this review are my own and are not representative of KZ, DD Audio, or any other entity. There was no financial incentive provided to write this review. Price at the time of this review varied from 76.00 USD to 88.99 USD depending on which source you purchased from.
AliExpress (76.00-77.00 USD)
Amazon (88.99 USD)
Linsoul (88.99 USD)
Source and Amping:
For at home use the BA10 was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp with my Asus FX53V laptop sourcing music. For portable use it was paired with an LG G6, Shanling M1, HiFiMan MegaMini, or HiFi E.T. MA8, with an iFi iEMatch tossed in the mix too. The BA10 is very easy to drive so an amp isn’t needed. A clean source is though, as it is very revealing. For example, it highlights all the electronic interference my old G5 displays when interacting with the device.
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, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer examples of signatures I enjoy. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when reading my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
- Drivers: 5 balanced armatures, per side
- Frequency Response: 20-40,000Hz
- Sensitivity: 105dB
- Impedance: 14ohms
Packaging and Accessories:
The BA10 features the same packaging we got with the AS10. The matte black cardboard box is large, borne only with only the KZ logo written in a contrasting glossy font. On the bottom are a couple stickers, one showing the model and variant (cyan, no mic) and the other provides KZ’s address and contact information.
Opening the lid you find a dense cardboard plate glued to the back. On it is the KZ logo and the statement, “Don’t forget. The original intension is use headphones to enjoy music.” While the message is a little jilted due to the slightly broken translation, it’s still a good one. Inside the box the BA10’s ear pieces are set flush within a large, laser cut foam insert, left and right printed in large white font underneath. Further down in a wide metal plate engrave with the KZ logo, the BA10 model designation, and the notification that they feature 10 balanced armatures. They did the same thing with the metal plate with the AS10, and it’s still a pretty cool addition here.
Lifting out the foam insert you find a small bag containing the small and large “Starline” tips (medium come pre-installed) and another bag holding the cable. There is also a QA certificate to appease those worried about KZ’s quality control, a surprisingly detail manual, and a warranty card for the BA10’s one year warranty. How easy that will be to use for those outside of the Asia Pacific region I have no idea, but if my past experiences with dozen of reliable earphones from the brand is any indication, you won’t need it.
As I felt with the AS10, the BA10’s large packaging is wasteful considering it holds the same meager accessory kit you get with every other KZ. Tips, a cable, and some documentation. They could shrink this down to half the size, keep the nice metal plate which is befitting the BA10’s flagship status, and the experience would be just as nice.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The BA10 brings back the premium build quality of some other recent KZ’s. Unlike the plastic AS10, the BA10 is made from finely crafted aluminum, just like the ZSA and ZS6. While it still features a boxy design language, KZ went with their own unique look this time instead of borrowing from others. This is both good and bad as a result. The good is that it certainly looks unique, especially with the Iron Man like red/gold color scheme. Bad is that the ergonomics are just plain weird, like a larger ZSA. Comfort itself is fine for me, though I can see the bends in the housing causing hotspots for those with smaller ears. The nozzle protrudes similarly to the way it did on the ZSA leading to the same weird hybrid fit. I never really experienced the BA10 falling out, it just never feels particularly secure.
The cable is KZ’s best so far. It may look like a clear sheathed version of the braided/twister copper cable provided with a number of recent KZs, but it’s not. It’s slightly thicker and more flexible. This extra thickness above the y-split is great because it makes the cable less prone to tangle than their other braided offerings. The 90 degree angled jac and y-split are the same hunks of angular rubber we’ve become accustomed to on other KZ cables. Memory wire makes a return too. I personally think KZ does memory wire significantly better than most because it retains the shape you bend it to. I’d still rather have a preformed ear guide, or nothing, but this works well enough.
Isolation with the included silicone tips is about average. Some sound leaks in but not a ton. Toss on some foams and the BA10 isolates quite well. I suspect this will vary person to person since these are not a deep fit for me. With longer tips, the isolation increases quite a bit.
Tips: I spent a lot of time tip rolling on the BA10 but ended up going back to the stock tips. Spinfits made the insertion depth just slightly too deep causing discomfort. Wide bore JVC tips didn’t seal consistently well enough. Ultimate Ears tips routinely broke seal after a few minutes. Various other tips didn;t do anything the stock tips weren’t already doing.
I found the BA10 to have a pretty well-balanced signature. Like the AS10, is eschews the deep v-shaped signature of other KZ’s and provides a more well-rounded sound. Treble is very well extended with a pleasing emphasis. I didn’t find it overstepping boundaries as products in this price range are apt to do in order to provide some wow-factor out of the box. The BA10’s treble provides some nice shimmer and sparkle to cymbals along with a fair bit of airiness and space between notes. Decay is rapid too, as is to be expected of balanced armatures.
The mid-range is set back a bit but not so excessive to where you struggle to hear vocals or instruments that should be playing a primary role. I have been using these a fair bit to watch racing which usually mmeans VERY sibilant announcers. The BA10 mitigated this quite effectively keeping sibilance well within acceptable ranges. Though, where it was already present with aplomb it still stuck out like a sore thumb. The Crystal Method’s “Grace”… I’m looking at you. Vocal resolution is excellent with lots of detail. Timbre is fairly accurate as well with a more natural feel to it than most KZ’s and hybrids in the price range which tend to filter over with a lighter, brighter feel. Notes are well-weighted with a solid thickness and body to them. Overall a pleasant mid-range.
The BA10’s low end, like on the AS10, digs pretty deep for an armature and does a great job providing visceral feedback on each hit. Mid-bass is less present giving the low end leaner presentation that let’s the mid-range and upper regions stand out a little more. Still, I don’t think anyone is going to find the BA10 bass-lite as they can still kick with authority. Give Dillon Francis’ “Look At That Butt (ft. Jarina De Marco” a whirl. There is a good mix of shimmery treble bits, vocals, and bass which shows off the BA10’s balance quite effectively.
Sound stage is excellent for an in-ear. Default positioning for the listener is fairly intimate with instruments and effects swirling way off into the background. I especially enjoy the placement of background vocals which often find themselves notably back and to the sides, spreading away from your head in a wide v-shape. Some excellent instument separation and layering are on show too, as evident tossing on King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”.
Select Comparisons: Volumes matched with Dayton Audio iMM-6
KZ AS10: My opinion of this comparison hasn’t really changed from my initial preview. I find the two very similar with the BA10 receiving some tweaks that make it the more technically accomplished of the two. Mid-bass on the BA10 is dialed down slightly giving it a slightly leaner mid-range than the AS10 and giving it a more balanced feel. The AS10’s mid-range, in addition to being slightly thicker, is also a touch more intimate. Treble in the BA10 is better extended and slightly more elevated giving it a lighter, airier feel than the AS10 which comes across a touch darker and more mellow. The BA10’s treble is also tighter and better controlled. To sum it up, the BA10 sounds to me like a less bassy, more refined AS10, though the differences are fairly minimal.
TFZ Series 4: The Series 4 has a smaller sound stage with less depth than the BA10. Listener positioning is less forward though, putting you further away from the artist. Treble on the BA10 is more prominent with a stronger shimmer and greater clarity. The S4’s mid-range is similarly ephasized but shows more sibilance and a touch of shoutiness not present in the BA10. Timbre also sounds less accurate through the T4 with instruments having a brittle feel to them. Bass on the Series 4 is excellent with a similar balance to the BA10, but with greater depth and physical feedback. Speed goes to the BA10 though, with it’s balanced armature displaying greater articulation.
Check the comparisons section in my AS10 review (https://thecontraptionist.blog/2018/08/13/kz-as10-slow-clap/) for an idea of how the BA10 compares with other products in this price range. It is similar enough to the AS10 make most comparisons redundant.
The BA10 takes the AS10’s excellent signature and performance, refines it further, then sticks it in a unique, higher quality shell with a better cable. Unfortunately, ergonomics take a hit in the process making the BA10 less of a universal fit than the AS10’s more traditional bean-shaped, though still quite large, low profile shell.
While I found the BA10’s ergonomics their Achilles Heel, they’re still comfortable. They just require some finagling with tips or the memory wire to get the most secure fit. If you’re okay with that and are more interested in getting excellent sound and build quality for your dollar, along with KZ’s best cable to date, the BA10 is a safe buy. For my personal tastes, the AS10 is still top tog in KZ’s lineup. It’s more comfortable, less expensive, and while it’s performance isn’t quite as good, the warmer, bassier signature is more attractive to my ears.
Thanks for reading!
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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)