Ever since Knowledge Zenith (KZ) dove into the hybrid market with the ZST, they’ve gone absolutely bonkers with their hybrid releases. The ED16 we’re checking out today is an especially weird one since it sounds like it was meant to be either a limited release, or possibly not even released at all.
It also has a bit of an identity crisis being officially named the ED16 with ZS7 printed on the shell itself, as well as on the front of the package along with the ED16 branding. This use of the ZS7 name is even more confusion since there is now a ZS7 model on the market using a 4 balanced armature (BA) + 1 dynamic driver (DD) hybrid setup crammed inside a ZS6 style aluminum shell. KZ’s naming conventions have always been a little nonsensical, but the ED16/ZS7 takes it to another level.
Regardless, the ED16 has garnered a bit of a following among the budget audiophile community. I had the chance to listen to one belonging to a local audio fan a few months back and was pleasantly surprised. The shells looked decent, it fit well once I found the right orientation, and it came across as a more balanced sounding ZSR, one of my favourite hybrids from the brand.
Let’s take a closer to look at the ED16 to see why this triple driver hybrid is so well liked.
The ED16 was sent over by Linsoul Audio for the purposes of review. The thoughts within are my own based on my time with the ED16 and do not represent Linsoul, KZ, or any other entity. Would love to provide a link to the ED16 on their store, but it’s not up for sale at the time of writing. https://www.linsoul.com/products
The ED16 was powered primarily by either a Shanling M0 or ES100 paired over LDAC to my LG G6. It was also enjoyable with the F.Audio S1 and HiFiMan Megamini. The ED16 is easy to drive and does not need to be amped. I prefer it with neutral to warm sources. Bright sources like the Ruizu X02 and Walnut V2S sound too harsh.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
- Driver: 2 BA + 1 DD
- Frequency Response: 10-40,000Hz
- Impedance: 25ohms
- Sensitivity: 105dB/mW
Packaging and Accessories:
The ED16 arrives in the same style of packaging as the majority of KZ’s modern offerings. The white exterior sheath features a wire frame like image of the ED16’s ear pieces as well as model info, while on the back you find specifications as well as locations and contact information for KZ. Sliding off the sheath reveals the ED16’s ear pieces set within a black plastic insert protected by a clear viewing lid. Lifting it all out you find the accessories below. In all you get:
- ED16 earphones
- 0.75mm 2-pin copper braided cable
- Silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Manual and warranty card
This is a very standard accessory kit from KZ. Nothing new here. I like the included ‘Starline’ tips. Their are made from a very durable, flexible, high quality silicone and for most models in their lineup pair very well and provide a good seal. As always, it would be nice of them to include a case or carrying bag, but for the price I can’t be too disappointed.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The Aurisonics/Fender inspired shells are all transparent plastic and neatly molded with good fit and finish. Printed on the left shell in beautiful cursive is “Dynamic Balanced Armature”. On the right right shell you find “ZS7”. Wait, ZS7? Despite being called the ED16, KZ printed ZS7 on the shell. It’s found on the packaging too. Why they didn’t change this at any point during production, especially now that there is a legit ZS7 on the market, I have no idea. Just another reason for KZ collectors to pick this model up, I guess. At the end of the lipless nozzle is a neatly installed, fine metal mesh that protects the drivers within from dirt, wax, and other undesirables. The two pin connector at the top of the housing is slightly recessed. While nothing special, the plastic and shell construction are overall perfectly fine.
The cable features the same brown and beige candy cane look as the ZSR’s cable and uses extra compact straight plugs similar to the angled plugs found on the ZSA. Memory wire is present and does what it needs to do, that is, hold the shape you set it too. Memory wire is never ideal in my opinion, but KZ’s is better than that found throughout most of the industry. I’m glad KZ moved on to preformed guides on their newer products regardless. The rest of the hardware is old school KZ, mainly found on products that came out prior to the ZS3. The y-split is a compact hunk of rubber with thin, spidery strain reliefs at both ends. The rounded 90 degree angled straight jack is well relieved too. I much prefer these parts to the angular VSonic inspired pieces KZ moved to later on which aren’t relieved quite as well and tend to catch on edges and clothes.
This style of housing sits vertically in the ear. I have tried a number of products designed in a similar manner, like the Whizzer Kylin and Auglamour R8. As with those products, getting an ideal fit was a challenge, purely dependent on the tip selection. The stock tips weren’t long enough leading to the bottom peak poking into my ear and causing a hot spot. I had to resort to some long bi-flange tips from another earphone which allowed me to get a good seal while keeping the body of the earphone from touching my ear. Spinfits also worked fairly well, but as the silicone warmed up I found they would lose their effectiveness. From what I’ve seen in the forums, most people have no issues with the ED16 and find it exceptionally comfortable so consider my experiences uncommon. You’ll probably be fine.
Isolation is quite average. The ED16 has two vents on the inner body, one for the dynamic driver, the other probably for tuning or pressure relief. This combined with a shallow fit allows outside noise to bleed in without a ton of resistance. Throwing on the foam tips is recommended if you’re planning on using these on the bus or in other similarly noisy areas.
The ED16 doesn’t really bring anything new to KZ’s hybrid lineup, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It still has a v-shaped signature but brings down the bass slightly allowing the mid-range to stand out more.
Treble is fairly balanced between presence and brilliance regions with upper treble taking some precedent. This keeps the ED16 feeling fairly light and airy with good shimmer on cymbals, chimes, and other high range instruments. It can get a little harsh if you’re listening loud, as I experienced running through The Prodigy’s most recent album of complete bangers, ‘The Day Is My Enemy’. Overall it is well done with a fair amount of detail and good control. Splashiness is kept in check, something that will immediately turn me off an earphone.
The mid-range is set back slightly in emphasis when compared to the treble and bass. Notes tilt towards the lean side in their presentation which to my ears better suits male vocalists like Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and David Sanchez of Havok. That said, it does suit some female vocalists nicely like Nicki Minaj who is well-represented by the ED16. Timbre is reasonably accurate as noticed when comparing to my ever reliable JVC HA-FXT90, though a little on the light side. Sibilance is present but minimal, well within my thresholds of what I consider acceptable for a budget hybrid.
Bass is reasonably full-bodied with good depth, though roll off is quick once it starts and as such the ED16 leans on it’s mid- and upper-bass for the most part. There is plenty of texture on hand with speed in abundance and as such the ED16 handles metal quite well. Like most of KZ’s dynamic drivers, it presents bass with confidence, control, and a nimbleness that makes it an all-round solid performer, regardless of the genre.
Thanks to the ED16’s upper treble bias, it has a pretty nice sound stage for a budget hybrid with sounds dancing around the outer edges of your head. It will occasionally toss sounds way off in the distance as I noticed when playing World of Tanks, so you may experience moments where you remove them from your ears thinking someone is in the room, or that your name was called. Imaging is quite good with smooth transitions from channel to channel. Layering and separation are handled effectively keeping the ED16 from sounding congested even on busy tracks like King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”. I have no qualms with their spacial presentation.
Select Comparisons (volume matched using Dayton iMM-6):
ZSR: The ED16 is quite similar to the ZSR. The ED16 has more upper treble energy giving it some extra sparkle, a smaller sound stage, and less sub-bass emphasis. Imaging is equally good, as are layering and separation. The ZSR has thicker more lush mids and additional bass presence. Personally, I prefer the ZSR’s larger, more bombastic sound and less fatiguing treble presentation. To my ears the ZSR has more character which makes for a more engaging and entertaining listen.
ZSN: The ZSN is darker and warmer with a thicker mid-range. Vocals sound crisper and more defined on the ED16, but not quite as far forward. Bass on the ZSN digs deeper and is more impactful thanks to additional mid-bass punch. Treble on the ED16 is more emphasized in the upper regions . It is less smooth though, with clarity and detail sitting about even. The ZSN has a wider, deeper sound stage with more pronounced layering and similar separation. Imaging is improved on the ZSN. The ED16 has a more analytic signature but still loses out to the ZSN in technical performance. There’s a reason I say the ZSN is the best 20 USD earphone KZ has released since the ED9.
Auglamour R8: The R8 is a highly overlooked earphone in my opinion and compared to the ED16 has a coherency to it’s single dynamic drivers that KZ’s hybrid setup is lacking. The ED16 has more treble emphasis vs. The R8’s lower treble focus. ED16 is more airy and offers up improved detail and clarity, but the R8 is less fatiguing. The R8’s mid-range has more body and no sibilance, though it is more recessed and not quite as clear. Bass on the R8 has better extension and more sub-bass emphasis, though it is not quite as textured. ED16 has a more confined stage but sharper imaging and better layering and separation. I’m not really sure which I find more enjoyable. The R8 is smoother, non fatiguing, and more coherent, but it gives up technical ability to the ED16. These two compete with different listeners.
KZ is a tough brand to follow given how many models they offer at any one time, and how iterative they are from release to release. The ED16 is a solid performer
Overall, the ED16 is another solid release from the brand. It has an interesting history full of rumour and speculation that I think appeals most to KZ collectors or completionists, though if you simply want to buy an earphone that gives you solid bang for your buck would, you will likely be entirely pleased with the ED16.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
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)