KZ ZSN Pro: Side Step
Today we’re checking out one of KZ’s newest models, the ZSN Pro.
During the last quarter of 2018, KZ dropped the ZSN which was more or less an updated ZST. Higher quality acrylics, a more capable signature, and other quality of life changes brought their original hybrid release into the modern age. I quite enjoyed the ZSN for a number of reasons, from the premium feeling build to the new 2-pin connectors, to the more refined but still v-shaped sound.
The ZSN Pro doesn’t veer far from what made the original ZSN popular. It still has a metal face plate, metal nozzle, the new 2-pin connectors KZ is converting to with newer releases, and a single dynamic, single balanced armature (1+1) hybrid setup. The price is only a couple dollars higher too.
So what did they do to make the ZSN go “Pro”? Let’s find out.
A huge thanks to Lillian with Linsoul Audio for arranging a sample of the ZSN 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 ZSN Pro was retailing for around 20 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 ZSN Pro is easy to drive. No amping needed.
- Sensitivity: 112dB
- Impedance: 24 Ω
- Frequency: 7-40,000Hz
Packaging and Accessories:
The ZSN Pro 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 ZSN Pro’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 ZSN Pro’s ear pieces set within a paper covered foam insert protected by a clear viewing lid. Lifting it all out you find the accessories below. In all you get:
- ZSN Pro earphones
- 0.75mm 2-pin copper braided cable
- Starline silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Single flange silicone tip (m)
- Manual and warranty card
This is a very standard accessory kit from KZ. Nothing new here. I always like seeing ‘Starline’ tips included. They’re 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 ZSN Pro is built pretty much the same as the original ZSN. The same quality acrylics are used for the main body while the updated face plate is made from a heavier, thicker zinc alloy material versus the ZSN’s aluminum alloy. That said, I prefer the original face plate by a pretty wide margin. The Pro’s version looks more plastic than metal, with the soft, raised ridges lacking the cut precision seen on the original ZSN. The reduction in the number of screws holding it down also leaves the design looking somewhat barren. The blue acrylic also doesn’t look quite as nice as the transparent black used on my ZSN, though others might feel otherwise. The 2-pin ports are screwed in place just as they were on the original ZSN. The metal nozzles see a return as well, swapping the gold colouring for a more subtle silver. All together, the ZSN Pro ends up looking somewhat cheap, even though it in no way feels cheap.
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 standard 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 ear piece 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 ZSN 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.
Unlike the ZS10 Pro which has an isolation rating of 26dB, I haven’t been able to find anything for the ZSN Pro. That said, it’s got to be similar based on my time with the two products. Any differences are hardly noticeable, if present at all. With no music and a Linus Tech Tips video playing on my laptop in the background at my normal listening volumes, everything was still audible and I could follow along, but just barely. Using them in my local coffee shop was much the same experience. The noise and chaos around me was audible, but significantly decreased in volume. Bringing music into the equation makes all that outside noise a non-issue. These are more than suitable for use on public transit, even more so if you commonly use foam tips.
The ZSN Pro was an eye opener at first thanks to it’s initial “wow factor”, but that wears off quickly. The resulting earphone is a fun, v-shaped product that in my opinion is less ‘Pro’ than the more balanced ZSN it is based off of. That said, you’re still getting plenty of earphone for your 20 bucks..
Treble sees a hefty bump over the original ZSN giving the ZSN Pro quite a sparkly, bright presentation with good detail and lots of space between somewhat lean notes. At low volumes it is quite nice since it retains a bouncy, high energy feel, though that gets pretty tiring at higher volumes where it can be somewhat too aggressive. The presentation is pretty capable overall, though it feels like the treble boost was put in place more to justify the ‘Pro’ moniker than provide a legitimate bump in clarity over the original ZSN. Note that for the longest time I thought the ZSN was brighter than the Pro version, and than I sat down and really compared the two. At low volumes the original ZSN does have a bit more lower treble energy, but as you increase the volume the ZSN Pro’s upper ranges really kick in and overshadow the ZSN.
The mid-range is more forward than on the original ZSN. Being that it is fairly prominent, especially for a v-shaped signature, I never found vocals lacking or being drowned out by the added treble and mid-bass. Males and female vocals are well-represented with female vocals seeing the most benefit from the added mid-bass. They’re warmer and more intimate and overall sound more natural. Guitars and other instruments sound like they should and display a satisfying amount of texture. I would like a bit more bite on grungy electronic effects, but the ZSN Pro doesn’t leave me wanting too much. Except in one area. Sibilance. It can be quite unpleasant and intrusive at times. That extra brightness in the signature combined with those forward upper vocals makes some vocal heavy tracks hiss and sizzle quite prominently.
Bass on the ZSN Pro is going to please those that like it bold and forward. The added mid-bass hump heard here gives the Pro’s low end tons of body and warmth. The dual-magnet setup helps keep hits controlled and quick, though it is lacking texture and at times can come across slightly bloated. Extension is excellent and sub-bass notes provide a deep, visceral rumble. With less mid-bass, the ZSN Pro’s low end would be absolutely killer. As is it’s still quite good.
The ZSN Pro’s sound stage is larger than what you’ll find on the original ZSN, most notably in terms of width, despite the listener by default sitting closer to the performance. The extra treble and resulting air allows sound to move further to the sides and in my opinion is a bit more immersive. Imaging is just a good with accurate movement from channel to channel and no vague zones. Layering and separation are similar too with the ZSN Pro having a very mild edge.
Select Comparisons (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6):
CCA C10: The C10 and ZSN Pro are similarly tuned with warm, bassy signatures, however, the ZSN Pro is the brighter and more energetic of the two thanks to it’s more prominent upper treble. This also gives the ZSN Pro and edge in clarity and detail top to bottom. The C10’s midrange is warmer and slightly less forward with it setting the listener further from the performance as a result. This also gives it the impression of a larger sound stage, though I found effects to travel about the same distance, though with more precision on the ZSN Pro. Layering and separation are slightly more prominent on the Pro.
KZ ZS10 Pro: The ZSN Pro and ZS10 Pro share some qualities, though the ZS10 Pro is superior to my ears. Treble on the ZSN Pro is even more exaggerated and not as well controlled, in addition to losing out on detail. The ZS10 Pro’s mid-range is a bit cooler and absent of sibilance, except where it is already present in a track. The ZSN Pro adds sibilance where there is none. Bass on the ZSN Pro is more mid-bassy verses the ZS10 Pro which skews things towards sub-bass regions. Speed and control is similar with the ZS10 Pro showing more texture and no mid-bass bloat. The ZS10 Pro’s sound stage is wider and deeper. Imaging, layering and separation are all just a little better on the ZS10 Pro.
With the ZSN Pro I am reminded of TinHifi and what they did with the T2 lineup. The original T2 was beautifully tuned with a signature that did a lot more right than it did wrong. Tagging on the ‘Pro’ moniker resulted a product that was slightly more capable, but at the expense of balance and general listening enjoyment. With the ZSN Pro, the increase in treble brings with it a larger sound stage and more detail but it gets quite tiring. The mid-range also becomes more sibilant hindering any gains to be found there. The extra bass just further throws off the balance, even if it is handled reasonably well.
While the shell, ergonomics, overall build, and wearing experience remain virtually identical from the ZSN to the ZSN Pro, the changes to the face plate design are, in my opinion, a step back. The softer edges and protruding accents look kinda cheap, even it if all feels fantastic in the hand.
The ZSN Pro is a fine earphone and worth the asking price, I just wish it didn’t have ‘Pro’ in the name. The more balanced original ZSN is more worthy of such a title, and is still the one I’d recommend if forced to choose between the two.
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)