KZ ZS10 Pro: Earns The “Pro” Moniker
Today we’re checking out another release from KZ, this time a Pro update to the venerable ZS10.
The ZS10 was released around late-April/early-May in 2018 and was an exciting product. It brought to the budget market a driver packed setup with four balanced armatures (BA) and one dynamic driver (DD) per side. It also brought back the use of the crossover, something missing from KZ’s multi-driver earphones, save for the original ZS1. The ZS10 received mixed impressions, though I enjoyed it’s warm, smooth sound which was unique among the modern generation of KZ products (post ZST).
The ZS10 Pro maintains the original’s driver layout, and that’s about it. The original shell has been retired for the ZSN’s more ergonomic design and the sound has been completely retuned to something more reflective of the “Pro” tagline.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
A huge thanks to Lillian with Linsoul Audio for arranging a sample of the ZS10 pro for the purposes of review. The thoughts here are my own subjective opinions based on time listening to the earphone. They do not represent KZ, Linsoul, or any other entity. At the time of writing the ZS10 Pro was retailing for around 45 USD. You can order yours through Linsoul or their AliExpress store, DD Audio.
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.
Mobile: Shanling M0, Shanling M0 + FiiO uBTR, ZiShan DSD
@home: TEAC HA-501 with Shanling M0, ZiShan DSD, or Asus FX53V acting as a source
The ZS10 Pro is easy to drive and very revealing. If you have a noisy source, it’ll pick it up. Clean source, clean files, clean sound.
- Sensitivity: 111dB/mW
- Impedance: 30 Ω
- Frequency: 7-40,000Hz
Packaging and Accessories:
The ZS10 Pro’s packaging is as familiar as my own hands at this point. The white exterior sheath contains a digital image of the earpieces, in colour, with the model info and some driver specifications in the bottom left corner. On the back you find some KZ branding, the full specification list, as well as contact and location information for KZ. Sliding off the sheath reveals the ZS10 Pro’s earpieces nestled in a paper cover foam insert set under a plastic viewing window. It’s nice to see that KZ has finally added a tab to help lift the viewing window, something they’ve been doing with their sister company, CCA, since day one. Underneath the foam insert is the familiar KZ accessory kit. In all you get:
- ZS10 Pro earphones
- Braided 0.75mm 2-pin copper cable
- ‘Starline’ single flange silicone eartips (s/m/l)
- Plain single flange silicone tip (m)
Just like every other KZ product, they give you just what you need to get going and nothing more. I’m fine with it. The cable is nice, the tips high quality, and the overall unboxing experience unremarkable yet pleasant.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The ZS10 Pro uses the same high quality acrylic shell as the ZSN and as such feels like a more upscale device than it’s low price tag would suggest. The weighty steel face plate, polished to a reflective mirrored finish and secured in place with three tiny Torx screws, certainly helps with this impression. Further adding to the quality construction is the protruding 2-pin setup which is also screwed in place, as visible through the clear acrylic body. The drivers are neatly aligned too, with four in the main body (three armatures aligned around the dynamic driver) and one tucked neatly into the metal nozzle. It all looks and feels as good as any earphone above 100 USD I’ve got on hand, and better still than most. The polished chrome look is a matter of taste, however. I personally think it looks fantastic, though it does scratch easier than I’d like, a complaint that can be applied to nearly any earphone that takes this material approach.
The cable should also be familiar to any fan of the brand at this point. The brown copper cable is neatly braided with the usual VSonic-esque, angular hardware at the 90 degree angled jack and y-split. Heading up to the earpieces we see the same excellent preformed ear guides and more durable ‘Type-C’ plugs KZ introduced with the ZSN. I personally am a fan of the cable despite it being quite easily tangled above the y-split. It’s light, it doesn’t transmit a lot of noise, it is very flexible, and memory of bends and kinks isn’t an issue.
Comfort is outstanding for me. This earpiece has been a staple across a couple brands in my experience with mild tweaks being made to the nozzle angle and quality of the plastics. With the ZS10 pro, it fits perfectly with little to no effort required to get and maintain a good seal. The preformed guides hold the cable securely around the ear resulting in an earphone that is stable under pretty extreme movement, even despite the weight of the steel face plates. If you have little ears or they’re a particularly odd shape you might have issues with fit and comfort, but I expect everyone else to find these a pleasant product to wear.
Isolation is rated at 26dB, and I believe it. Going back to the original ZST which uses a variation of the same shell shows just how well the ZS10 Pro blocks external noise. With no music playing and the ZS10 Pro in my ears (stock preinstalled medium silicone tips in place), a firetruck blasting by, alarms and horn blaring, was still audible. However, the difference between it with the ZS10 Pro in versus out was night and day. This is an excellent earphone for commuting or use in noisy areas as a result.
Tips: I conducted my listening with the preinstalled medium tips. Starlines sounded the same but the preinstalled set was a tad more comfortable. Wide bore tips made the treble stick out a bit too much for my liking, while small bore tips tamed the treble a bit and brought up the midbass. Personally, medium bore tips like the stock options sounded the best to my ears.
While the ZS10 Pro shares it’s driver layout with the original ZS10, that being four balanced armatures and one dynamic driver per side, their signatures are quite different. The ZS10 Pro has a treble and midrange prominent sound with a low end that backs it up. The Pro is in no way light on bass, but it’s not a main focal point the same way it is on other models from the brand.
Treble is emphasized and elevated with a skew towards the upper treble regions. This gives cymbals, chimes, etc. a lot of energy and air as noticed on Broken Bell’s “Sailing to Nowhere”. Lower treble has just the right emphasis giving the ZS10 Pro’s presentation a lot of clarity without coming across overly aggressive. Notes are well controlled, though there is some splash on cymbals that I wish was absent. Not the type of presentation for the treble sensitive, but still pretty nice.
The ZS10 Pro’s midrange is more forward than most KZs, with a presentation that tilts towards being somewhat lean and fairly colourless in tone, if not slightly cold. Vocals are really quite detailed and cut through on every track. Sibilance is present, but it’s one of those cases of highlighting it where it already exists, not adding it where it doesn’t. Aesop Rock’s “Blood Sandwich” is a pretty sibilant track, and that is VERY noticeable with the ZS10 Pro. Can say the same for the ZS10 Pro’s cousin, the ZSN Pro, but we’ll dive into it’s problem with sibilance in it’s own separate review. Given the Pro’s midrange tonality, it seems better suited to male vocalists. Female vocals lack the weight and warmth I prefer.
Bass on the ZS10 Pro is snappy and well controlled with a subbass bias. Midbass is fairly reserved but offers a solid punch and avoids bleeding into the lower mids. Subbass digs quite deep and gives off a very visceral rumble. There is plenty of texture from this dual-magnet driver, leading me to believe this is KZ’s best use of a dynamic yet in one of their hybrids. Better even than the ED15 thanks to it’s more balanced presentation. Using it with tracks filled with rapid bass, such as those on the Havok album, ‘Time Is Up’, shows off the driver’s capabilities nicely.
The ZS10 Pro’s soundstage sets listeners fairly close to the action giving it a somewhat intimate vibe. It has no issues tossing sounds way off into the distance though, and can easily surround you in a track, film, game, etc. Imaging is sharp and precise with smooth, accurate channel transitions. I had no issues following footsteps around me in PUBG. Stage depth and width are appealing helping tracks sound layered and well separated with instruments having adequate space between them. Even on busy tracks like the last few minutes of King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”, the ZS10 Pro does a good job keeping individual elements just that, individual.
Select Comparisons (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6):
KZ ZS10: The original ZS10 and ZS10 Pro couldn’t be much more different. The ZS10 places the main focus on it’s bass, with a midbass bias, and downplays the midrange and treble. The ZS10 Pro is much more balanced with a more even representation of treble and mid-range in conjunction with the low end. Unlike the ZS10, the ZS10 Pro skews bass focus to the sub regions. The ZS10 Pro’s move to a dual-magnet dynamic worked wonders in making the Pro’s bass tighter, faster, and overall more competent. The ZS10 gives the impression of a more spacious sound stage. It sets the listener further back from the performance and can toss sides further to the sides, but doesn’t have nearly the depth of the ZS10 Pro. As a result it comes across more flat when listening to the two back-to-back. Imaging, layering, and separation and more impressive on the ZS10 Pro. I find these two complimentary since they offer very different experiences. This is how you do a “Pro” version right.
KZ AS10: The AS10 was KZ’s first all-armature model and it’s still a baller. Treble on the AS10 is not as pronounced giving users and more relaxed experience. While I prefer the Pro’s extra energy, it’s treble is more dry and less natural and organic sounding. The AS10’s midrange is thicker but similarly pronounced. Detail and clarity go to the ZS10 Pro. Bass on the AS10 is handled by a balanced armature vs. the dynamic driver in the ZS10 Pro. It is more midbass focused with good extension, but does not quite match the ZS10 Pro. AS10’s low end offers up a bit more punch and is quicker, but isn’t as textured. The AS10 has a slightly larger sound stage and like the ZS10 Pro is evenly rounded. Imaging, layering, and separation performance is pretty equal, though the ZS10 Pro’s leaner sound gives it an edge. The AS10 is good for when I want to listen to a more relaxed earphone, otherwise I’ll take the ZS10 Pro.
KZ BA10: The ZS10 Pro and BA10 show similar levels of emphasis through the midrange and treble with the Pro offering a more sparkle in the upper treble. Clarity, detail, air, tonality, etc. are all on par. The main differences come from the low end thanks to the BA10’s use of a low range armature instead of a dynamic driver. While the ZS10 Pro extends further, it’s not particularly noticeable on most tracks. The BA10 does a great job balancing subbass presence and keeping midbass from being the dominant force, similar to how the ZS10 Pro is balanced. Texture is about on par with the BA10’s low end being the quicker, more controlled of the two. The ZS10 Pro and BA10 set the listener about the same distance from the performance, but the BA10 ends up with a wider, deeper sound stage. Imaging feels a hint more precise on the BA10 while layering and separation are on par. The ZS10 Pro almost feels like a response to those that enjoyed the BA10 but found the low end lacking. Personally, I enjoy the BA10 more and still feel it is the best product currently available in KZ’s catalogue, though that could change with the AS16. We shall see.
KZ ZS6: The ZS6 was a monumental product for KZ, though not always for good reasons. Either way, it’s one of my favourite models in the lineup, though it is showing it’s age when compared to the ZS10 Pro. Treble on the ZS6 is peakier and less controlled. ZS10 Pro is upper treble biased, but it’s still more balanced than the ZS6. The ZS10 Pro’s midrange is more forward, thicker, and warmer. ZS6’s vocals also have a slight hollowness to them not heard in the ZS10 Pro. Bass on the ZS10 Pro has more punch and better extension giving off more visceral feedback. The ZS6 has the larger more open sound stage and holds it own in terms of imaging, layering and separation. Overall, the ZS10 Pro sounds more balanced, more natural, and much more refined. I thought this comparo was going to be closer to be honest, but the ZS10 Pro shows a fairly significant evolution from the ZS6.
KZ ZS7: The ZS7 and I got off to a bad start thanks to a poor pairing with the XDuoo Nano D3 which added in many dB of unwanted bass turning the ZS7 into a relentless bass cannon. That problem resolved, the ZS7 and I get along just fine now and it’s quite an enjoyable earphone. When there was mention of measurements over on Head-fi comparing the ZS10 Pro and ZS7 that showed they were nearly identical, I was pretty surprised. That said, after spending a fair bit of time comparing the two I can certainly hear how similar they really are, minus some shifts in emphasis in certain areas. My observations have the ZS10 Pro displaying more upper treble energy, less midbass, and a slightly more forward but thinner midrange. Timbre, tonality, detail, clarity, texturing, etc. are all quite similar. The ZS10 Pro also feels like it has a smaller sound stage with more accurate imaging and similarly good layering and separation. Overall these two are both top tier KZs. If you like a brighter, more traditional KZ sound but with bass reigned in, the ZS10 Pro is the one for you. If you prefer something a little warmer, bassier, and less treble heavy, the ZS7 is a great pick. I feel they perform more or less at the same level.
CCA C10: The ZS10 Pro has more treble energy than the C10 helping to highlight detail and improve overall clarity. Since upper treble is also more emphasized, the Pro provides more sparkle and air. ZS10’s midrange is slightly more forward as well as a touch colder and thinner, but quite similar overall. The presentation of the Pro has me preferring it with male vocals while the C10’s extra warmth has me leaning towards female vocalists. Bass on the C10 is more midbass focused giving it a heavier presentation. ZS10 Pro’s low end is much more textured and digs deeper offering a move visceral experience. The ZS10 Pro sets the listener closer to the performers than the C10 and as such comes across as having a smaller stage, though I find it can provide a better sense of width and depth in some instances. They both image well but I find the Pro more precise. Layering and separation is equally excellent.
TFZ Exclusive King: The King and ZS10 Pro are similarly tuned. The King is similarly emphasized in the treble with it’s main peak sitting lower down. This gives it an edge in clarity and detail with the Pro sounding slightly more airy and offering a bit more sparkle. The King’s midrange is slightly more forward and crisp though not as warm and as such not quite as natural sounding, particularly with female vocalists. Bass on the King is slightly quicker and even more subbass skewed. ZS10 Pro’s midbass is more forward and punchier, but nowhere near to the point of being bloated or bleeding into the midrange. Personally, I prefer the ZS10 Pro’s low end, even if it isn’t as textured. It just feels more well-rounded. Sound stage on the King is wider and deeper with the listener sitting around the same distance from the performer. I’ll giving imaging to the King with the ZS10 Pro’s drivers doing a better job of keeping tracks elements layered and separated. Overall these two offer variations of the same signature to my ear. If you want more bass and upper treble sparkle, go with the Pro. If you want something a bit more balanced, go with the King.
The me, the ‘Pro’ moniker means a product aims to become more of a tool than a piece of entertainment. It’s for professionals, hence ‘Pro’. Unfortunately, ‘Pro’ seems tagged to existing product names more for marketing purposes. The TinAudio T2 Pro simply cranked the treble and made the product sibilant unbalanced. Addressing the T2’s downfalls by offering better low end extension and more detail would have been more ‘Pro’. The TFZ King Pro was warm and bassy. This tune was quite mainstream and consumer-friendly tune when compared to the neutral-bright Exclusive King it was based on.
The ZS10 Pro uses the ‘Pro’ moniker well since it offers a much more focused and accurate experience than what we got out of the original ZS10. While it is skewed a little too much in the upper treble, the overall tune is well-balanced, very detailed, good end-to-end extension, and is much more tool-like than the much more casually tuned ZS10 ever was. I doubt it would be entirely suitable for a monitoring environment, but at least it’s not as coloured as most earphones in this price range and is quite analytic for something under 50 USD.
The use of the ZSN shell for the ZS10 Pro was also a wise change. Comfort is much improved, as is isolation. I think the polished steel face plate looks pretty awesome, but it scratches easier than I would prefer so it needs to be babied if it is going to remain pristine for more than a couple days. KZ’s braided copper cable remains better than most stock cables, but they really need to do something about that low y-split. Either raise it or add a chin cinch to address how easily it tangles above the y-split. It’s been in use for a while now and this is a complaint echoed constantly.
Overall I’m quite pleased with the ZS10 Pro and think most who pick it up will be too. While similar to other models in the lineup, the overlap is minimal enough for the ZS10 Pro to get a pretty easy recommendation.
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)