Knowledge Zenith: A great place to begin your audiophile journey (Pt. 4)
Welcome to the newest addition to my look through KZ’s crazy lineup of earphones. A couple years back, KZ released their first hybrid earphone, the ZST. This was a landmark for the brand and a product style that has taken over their lineup. However, KZ recently stepped into the world of balanced armature only earphones. I was originally quite skeptical of this since they always used dynamic drivers for bass. This brand is also known for being on the bass heavy side which is not a quality armatures are known for, for the most part. When I got to finally listen to their first all-armature release, the AS10, my concerns were immediately thrown to the wayside. KZ’s low-range armature can kick and is the perfect substitute to their dynamic drivers.
Part 4 of this series of articles was previously the finale, but this new style of product also came with a new naming scheme, and as such warranted it’s own section. Let’s take a look at the all-armature models, shall we?
The AS06 is KZ’s third all-armature release with three drivers per side. The shell is the same as the AS10 but eschews a visible crossover for the design you see above. It looks quite tasteful in my opinion. Comfort and build quality are overall quite good, though I found the AS06 to isolate a little better than the AS10 despite using the same shell. The AS06 was released after the ZSN and as a result features the same excellent preformed ear guides instead of the memory wire of it’s predecessors.
The AS06 has a more v-shaped signature than the other models in KZ’s armature series, but I still consider it quite balanced overall. Treble is well extended with a good mix of upper and lower presence resulting in something crisp and detailed, but not piercing. The mid-range is light and nimble, excelling with female vocals which sound unusually sweet and engaging. Bass is provided via the same driver in the AS10 and BA10, and as such kicks @$$. It is quick and controlled like you’d expect from an armature, but wow does it dig into sub-bass regions well. I’d say it even shames some iems using dynamic drivers for the low end, like the TinAudio T2 and BGVP DMG. I adore this low range driver and even prefer it over Knowles’ driver of the same name; 22955. Sound stage is nice and airy too. I really like the way this earphone is tuned and can’t really find much to complain about for the price (~40 USD).
If you want an all-armature model from KZ and can’t afford the BA10, get the AS06. My full review should be out in the coming weeks, to keep an eye open.
The AS10 was KZ’s first all-armature model and in my opinion was a great step in the right direction for the brand. It was their first time rolling with an all-armature product and used new tech for KZ, that being a 3D-printed insert inside the shell which holds the drivers and guides sound to the nozzle, something that carried over to the AS06 along with the shell. The AS10 takes it’s main design queue from the ZS10, that being the prominent crossover visible through the face plate. Overall I find it quite comfortable despite being a fairly large earphone.
The AS10 was the first to feature KZ’s 22955 low range driver and just as in the AS06, it kicks. Great depth, speed, impact and texture. This driver leaves me wanting nothing. The AS10 pushes the mid-range forward and shares pretty much equal space with the bass. It has lots of texture and weight with sibilance only showing up if already in the track. The mids are good here and shouldn’t leave many wanting. Treble is where the AS10 falters, especially for my preferences. Despite two drivers running the show, it is not particularly prominent and lacks the same level of refinement found on the AS06 and BA10. Good for those who are treble sensitive. Thankfully the lack of treble doesn’t hurt the AS10’s sound stage which is open and spacious.
The AS10 is a very nice earphone and while I think the BA10 and AS06 overshadow it, it remains a landmark product in the brand’s history.
You can check out my full review here.
The AS16 is KZ’s flagship at the time of writing. With 8 balanced armatures (BA) per side, it is clear KZ is going all out in terms of BA usage and with cramming as many drivers into a shell as is possible.
But what a shell it is. Quality acrylics with a heavy metal faceplate inspired by Fidue, the AS16 certainly feels the part of an expensive product. And at ~125 USD the AS16 certainly pulls KZ out of the budget realms, so it would need to feel special to justify it in my opinion. It would be helped along further if it wasn’t just a heavy modified AS10 shell, but as it does the trick.
Sound is where the AS16 falters having a very bright, bass light presentation. It puts out tons of detail and have fantastic clarity and texture top to bottom, but overall it’s too unbalanced and the treble peaks to sharp to be worth a pickup for anyone but treble heads. A nice try, but it needs some work.
Feel free to peruse the full review.
The BA10 was released shortly after the AS10. Nicknamed “Iron Man” for it’s gold and red color scheme, many figured it would be a re-shelled AS10 since it shared a 5 armature driver layout. Yeah, that wasn’t the case.
First up, the build quality on this thing is amazing. Like the ZSA, the machining and fit and finish are second to none. Other brands can learn a thing or two from KZ when it comes to the build of their aluminum shells. God damn, they are gorgeous! KZ should have consulted someone for ergonomics though, since the BA10 suffers from the same issue as the ZSA. The odd design results in something that fits like a barrel-shaped earphone, but sits like a low profile earphone. It just never feels as stable as it actually is.
Sound is where the BA10 constantly wows me. When I first wrote about it, the AS10 was my preferred model of the two. However, the BA10 has most definitely grown on me. Bass is dialed down in quantity a little compared to the AS10 and it’s mid-range made thinner. Treble is boosted and better controlled giving the BA10 a more detailed, airy, and spacious sound. I’ve been listening to some pretty good products over the last couple years and the BA10 holds it own against stuff costing many times what it does.
If you want the best performing KZ on the market right now and are willing to deal with the fit (trust me, it’s worth it), you have to get the BA10.
You can check out my full review here.
There we go! That’s it for KZ’s armature-only earphones for now. I’m sure we’ll see more released in the future. If so, I’ll try to get my hands on a set and update accordingly.
In the meantime, feel free to start a discussion in the comments! Have you heard any of these earphones and what do you think?
Until next time, thanks for reading!