KZ AS06: 3rd Time’s A Charm
Today we’re checking out the AS06 from Knowledge Zenith (KZ), a new triple balanced armature (BA) offering from the budget friendly brand.
KZ has done an amazing job of winning people over through the years by offering inexpensive earphones that, more often than not, provide a level of sound quality simply unthought of within the price range. A few short years ago they started making some of the most inexpensive hybrid earphones on the market, and now they’re doing the same for armature-only earphones. The AS06 is their newest take on this style of product, bringing with it three armature drivers; one for the highs, one for the mids, and another for the low end.
I quite enjoyed their prior armature only models, AS10 and BA10, both of which feature five BAs per side, and was excited to listen to a simpler, more budget friendly take on the concept. How does the AS06 fare? Let’s take a look.
A thank you to Lillian with Linsoul/DD Audio for arranging a complimentary sample of the AS06 for the purposes of this review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions and do not represent KZ, Linsoul, DD Audio, or any other entity. At the time of writing you could pick up the AS06 for 42.00 USD. You can check it out through these affiliate-free links:
For at home use the AS06 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 into the mix. The AS06 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 G5 displays when interacting with the device. My TEAC also needs to be set to the lowest damping setting else you hear a fair bit of background noise.
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: 3 balanced armatures per side
- Frequency Response: 20-40,000Hz
- Impedance: 15ohms
- Sensitivity: 105dB
- Cable 0.75mm 2-pin braided copper
Packaging and Accessories:
When KZ released the AS10, they introduced a more premium style of packaging. In that review I said,
“They could shrink this down to half the size, keep the nice metal plate which is befitting of what is currently KZ’s most costly but still affordable earphone, and the experience would be just as nice but more friendly to the environment.”
The accessory kit was no different than what was offered with their other earphones and as a result such a large package served no practical purpose. It simply came across as wasteful. Well, I don’t know if KZ was listening, but the packaging for the AS06 does exactly what was suggested above. The complete package is virtually identical and retains the more premium feel of the AS10’s, but it is now much more compact. The same glossy KZ logo can be found on the lid while the base contains a couple stickers with model info and contact information for KZ. The lid is still weighted with a dense cardboard plate containing the following slogan that I love; “Don’t forget. The original intention is to use headphones to enjoy music.” KZ kept the cool metal plaque they included with the AS10 and BA10, though now it is tailored to the AS06. While it doesn’t add any real value to the package, it does serve to elevate the armature lineup as the most premium of products in KZ’s dense catalog. Lifting out the foam insert the AS06’s earpieces are nestled into you find the accessories beneath. In all you get:
- AS06 earphones
- 0.75mm 2-pin cable
- Single flange silicone ear tips (s/m/l)
- Instruction manual
- Warranty card
This is the same accessory kit KZ has been including with their products since they started integrating removable cables into their designs. While I think this is fine, if not only because their ‘Starline’ tips are some of the best in the business (in my opinion), I get why some are getting tired of a lack of extras, like a simple carrying case. They’re not expensive and would add to the already great value. No matter how you look at it, this is a nice unboxing experience with a fairly barren accessory kit that provides only what you need to get going and little else beyond that.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The AS06 features the same shells found on the AS10. The shells are all plastic with a clear face plate. Unlike other recent KZs the AS06 hides the crossover and replaces it with what looks to be a metal plate. On the plate L and R logos are stamped for easy channel differentiation, as well as “6 Balanced Armature” in a clean font. I prefer seeing the crossover since it satisfies the electronics nerd in me, but I can’t deny this new look is quite handsome. I suspect it will find a number of fans within the community. The rear half of the shell is black plastic, just as it was on the AS10 with a single pin hole vent to prevent pressure build up. Printed on the rear edge of the each housing you find “AS06-Left/Right, 6 Balanced Armature”, just in case you forget the model and what’s inside. Out the top is the 2-pin port, keyed with one rounded edge to ensure users install the cable properly, and slightly recessed to protect the pins from damage due to bending. The nozzles are quite long. Inside is a recessed fibre mesh set over top of the sound tubes to protect the drivers from dirt and debris. A neat note is that the sound tubes are part of a 3D printed insert which holds the drivers. While the AS06 lacks a traditional nozzle lip, there are three triangular fins present to hold tips in place. They don’t work quite as well as a regular lip, but they’re certainly more effective than nothing.
The cable is the same copper-braided unit they’ve been including with a number of their products lately. It’s a nice cable that is quite flexible, even in cold weather, and resistant to microphonics. The y-split is still set way too low, however, leading to easy tangling if you store them hastily. KZ is continuing to remove their memory wire, replacing it with the excellent preformed ear guides first seen on the ZSN. The new ear guides are present on the AS06’s cable, and they are fantastic. When little fitment issues I had with the AS10 are gone. While KZ does memory wire better than most, with preformed guides as good as these I won’t miss it when they phase it out completely. The rest of the hardware is classic KZ with the y-split and 90 degree angled jack featuring the same chunky, VSonic inspired styling we’ve seen before. Overall I quite like this cable and think it is a price appropriate. If KZ could just raise that y-split and maybe toss in a chin cinch, they would have something great on their hands.
The AS06’s shell is on the larger side, sitting somewhere between the ZS10 and ES4. They’re not as deep as either though, enabling a lower profile fit. This is nice for those windy days since the AS06 lets the wind pass by smoothly without creating a ton of noise and interference, something that was a major issue with the Campfire Audio Polaris and exacerbated by the public facing vent. Given the AS06’s low profile, light weight, decent ergonomics, and the including of preformed ear guides instead of memory wire, I found it really quite comfortable. Tips more than anything were the cause of any discomfort. The stock Starlines were fine but after messing about I settled on Spintfit CP100s due to their softer silicone and that they do little to alter the stock signature.
To my surprise, the AS06 seemed to isolate a lot better than what I got out of the AS10, despite using the same shells. Maybe there were some internal changes that improved this, or maybe it was the move from memory wire to a preformed ear guide that improved fit and therefore the seal? Whatever it is, I’m impressed with how well the AS06 silences your environment. Using it in noisy areas doesn’t require drastic volume compensation, and tossing on some foam tips just makes it better. These would be a nice choice for transit use.
Unlike KZ’s prior two all-BA offerings which have five BAs per side, the AS06 makes due with “only” three; one for treble, one for the mid-range, and another for bass. If you’ve heard the AS10 or BA10, you’ll feel right at home with the AS06.
KZ’s low range armature is probably my favourite of all like armatures I’ve heard. It provides physical feedback like no other, including the 22955 Knowles low range armature that has been finding it’s way into a ton of earphones as of late, like the Shozy & Neo CP and Tenhz P4 Pro. The depths it can reach shame some dynamic drivers all while providing the speed and texture armatures are known for. In the AS06 quantity is dialed in to be less than the AS10 but more than the BA10, but it’s still got quite a robust feel to it. If you are a fan of electronic music as I am, liquid drum and bass in particular, any of KZ’s current earphones featuring this driver should satisfy your bass needs without feeling bloated or bloomy. It’s simply well-tuned and addictive, unless of course you are looking for a neutral low end.
The mid-range is slightly recessed but never so much that I had issues comprehending vocalists, including Aesop Rock and his obscenely dense lyrics. Through the AS06 you can enjoy the reality of “Churro” from Malibu Ken, or the heartwarming tale of the family dog saving it’s owner’s child from drowning in “Ruby ’81” from Aesop’s seminal offering, Skelethon. Female vocals by Elizabeth Fraser on Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” holds up well too with her seductive, gentle voice reproduced wonderfully. In terms of sibilance I didn’t find the AS06 particularly susceptible. The majority of consonants sound perfectly fine with only the occasional S coming in hot. Timbre is good too, though a bit darker than is ideal as noticed when comparing to my benchmark, the reliable old JVC HA-FXT90.
The AS06’s treble lacks the raw energy of past KZ products which should come as a relief to many. I suspect some will still find it on the brighter side, especially when compared to something like the warm and mellow CCA C10, but to my ears it is simply tastefully elevated and fair evenly balanced from lower to upper regions. This is noticeable when comparing to the TinHiFi T2 Pro. On Broken Bell’s “Mongrel Hearts”, cymbals are much too aggressive and overpowering through the T2 Pro, highlighting it’s extreme treble boost, especially in the brilliance regions. Whereas through the AS06 they slot in more naturally with the rest of the mix and it comes across as a more coherent experience. Detail and clarity is good with a solidly weighty note presentation and acceptable air and space between notes. It is well controlled too without coming across loose or splashy. I personally would like just a hint more upper treble to improve shimmer and sheen, but as is the AS06 is plenty enjoyable.
Sound stage on the AS06 has decent width and depth with a fairly even representation between the two. Imaging I found very accurate with extremely smooth channel to channel transitions. I really enjoyed it with Dirt Rally since it placed you within the car in an appropriate position. Layering and separation are fine too. The AS06 handles the chaotic closing minutes of King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black” with little to no drama.
Select Comparisons (volume matched using Dayton iMM-6):
KZ AS10/BA10: Treble on the AS06 is more lively, crisp, and more prominent than on the darker, more mellow sounding AS10, and ever so slightly more prominent than on the BA10. BA10’s treble is cleaner and better controlled. The AS10’s mid-range is darker and thicker with less clarity, though emphasis is similar to the AS06. The BA10’s mid-range is more forward but similarly weighted and more coherent. The AS10 is slightly bassier than the AS06, mainly in the mid-bass, but with similar extension. Bass on the BA10 has a similar presentation to the AS06, but is lesser in quantity and more evenly balanced. Sound stage goes to the AS06 which comes across larger and more spacious. The AS06’s imaging quality is on par with the AS10 and BA10, but it falls behind in terms of layering and separation. All three share qualities. AS10 is the dark bassy one, the AS06 somewhat v-shaped with nice clarity, and the BA10 the most technically competent and balanced. If I were to rank them based on my preferences, it would be BA10 first, AS06 second, with the AS10 pulling up the rear.
TinHiFi T2: Compared to the T2, the AS06 is a fair bit bassier. The AS06’s low range armature digs deeper, hits harder, and is slightly more textured than the T2’s dynamic. The AS06’s mids are darker, denser, less forward, and not quite as clear, but the extra weight gives vocals more impact and presence. The T2 sounds quite lean in comparison. Timbre between the two was closer than expected with the T2 sounding more natural and realistic. Treble emphasis is similar with the T2 being tighter and cleaner with better extension and more air between notes. The T2 can’t push sounds as far as the AS06, but its leaner sound and more airy treble lends to the perception of greater space. While I think the T2 is the more technically accomplished product thanks to a more even, neutral leaning signature, I prefer the AS06. The T2’s bass roll off limits genre variability and going back and forth between the two, it ends up sounding somewhat blunt and dull.
With their new armature lineup, KZ is really hitting their stride. The AS06 doesn’t really do anything new, but what it does it does very well. The shells are nicely constructed and comfortable. The packaging is an improvement over the previous iteration used for the AS10 and BA10, though accessories are still scant. Compared to the AS10 and BA10, the sound signature is somewhat v-shaped and more in line with other products in their lineup, though you get the added benefit of armature speed a technical ability to back it up. I don’t really have much to complain about with the AS06. It’s an inexpensive, reliably entertaining earphone that’s nice to wear and cool to look at. For something that costs less than 50 bucks, the AS06 doesn’t leave much on the table and is a good value for the performance on tap.
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)