Unboxing and first impressions
Apart from certain models, Knowledge Zenith usually packs its earphones the same way. This one makes no exception: white box with earphones, three pairs of starline eartips plus a silicon medium pair already attached on the earbuds, some manuals and a cable. Luckily, this is a better cable rather than the ones I usually see on KZ models (like ZS3, ES4 or ZS7), because it doesn’t have that bad memory hook with the metal reinforcement inside. I still don’t like the brownish color, and the L plug shape, but these are not functional critics, just aesthetic ones. CCA earphones have a similar cable, but a little bit better in my opinion. The shape of the IEMs is finally smart, because it hints at the shape of a custom earphone. Differently from ES4, this model is well built and good looking. The metal faceplate is really a nice touch, and I’m glad KZ took this way in various models (for example, the new ZS10 Pro). The new sister-brand CCA is doing the same. The fit is surprisingly good (only the ZS7 were good for me that way, but ES4 were uncomfortable and ZS3 were bad too for me), but not so stable. Better than CCA C10, which are a touch too big for my ears.
My sources: FiiO M7, Mi MIX 2 with DAC Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and MacBook Pro 2012 with USB audio interface Focusrite 2i2 first gen.
My files: DSD, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, M4A
My music: “Colour the Small One” by Sia, “Djesse Vol.1” by Jacob Collier, “Where are You?” by Frank Sinatra, “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay, “O” by Damien Rice, and many other tracks by Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Radiohead, …
I got these together with the ZS7. With no great expectations, because I didn’t like the previous KZ monitors. KZ7 (here my review) were honestly surprisingly good, not only for the build quality and the nicer presentation, but also for the sound provided. I think they need a refinement on the low end, but they are surely enjoyable: ZS8 will be great if they manage to mitigate the mid-bass. These ZSN are good, too. But differently from the ZS7, they are less bass-oriented and more on a balanced side. Honestly, I feel they are the best tuned KZ I’ve tried.
Bass is punchy, pretty quick, but not overwhelming. It extends well in width, not so well in depth, but mid-bass is controlled and that’s the good point: mids are not covered.
Mids are a bit recessed, and it’s not surprising because these are consumer-oriented earphones, which have to be fun, even in their balanced character. Luckily, they don’t feel buried or lacking air, because the tuning is fine. I like vocals, which feel natural, and instrument separation is better than average. We are talking about entry-level earphones, so I obviously don’t expect miracles. But honestly these feel like one of the better choices on the price range. They just feel overload when the mix is really full. For a 20€ dual driver, it’s fine.
Treble is nice. I’m sensitive to sibilance and I admit there is some, but it’s not so disturbing. I hear no strange picks or notches; instead, a smooth yet precise reproduction of the high frequencies. Higher vocals are enjoyable too.
The soundstage follows the bass impressions: the width is okay, the depth could be better. Imaging is honest, precise but it’s like having some “steps” instead of a smooth reproduction around the space.
What I have to underline is the background noise, which is really exaggerated. It goes away by using an amp, but I believe that 20€ earphones are meant to be easily driven by smartphones. I think they presented the ZSN Pro because they needed that kind of upgrade, or refinement. Maybe if I’ll get them too, I would compare the two and verify this thing.
TRN IM1: really poor quality control on that model, and a strange tuning, make difficult for me to appreciate that model over anything else. I appreciate the effort of a custom-like cheap earphone, but driver flex, lack of air passing through, are serious defects. ZSN are cheaper (because of the materials, I believe) but sound way more mature. I put this more as an advice than as a real comparison.
TRN V30: another TRN, another QC problem for me (nozzle filter gone). V30 look like KZ ES4, which I didn’t like for build quality, neither for sound. At least, I can appreciate the V30 for their sound. The soundstage is wider and deeper than the ZSN, and the background noise is way inferior. The tuning is comparable, while I prefer the materials and the build quality of the ZSN for sure.
RevoNext QT5: this is a difficult comparison. I love the QT5, because they are so complete for the price. Honestly, they have the same accessories and a very similar price, so I have to judge the build quality and the sound. Both are well built, but I don’t like the 2pin of the QT5 because they are too deep for most aftermarket cables (5mm vs average 3mm), and I don’t like the ZSN ones too, because they protrude too much. Sound wise, the tuning is more relaxed on the ZSN, while more on a reference side on the QT5. I generally prefer the QT5 tuning, but their sibilance is too much for my taste. They don’t have that background noise, though. If I had to choose, I may pick the QT5, also because of their steampunk look. If you ask, I’m a music lover and a design lover, too. Sound matters, and so does the look. I don’t write just for audiophiles, but for everyone looking for an overall good choice. Earphones are not just tools – some of them are, and this is not the case – but also aesthetic items, for me.
CCA C10: a bit more expensive, these are a slight upgrade of the ZSN, but you have to appreciate more mid-bass to prefer them over the KZ. Honestly, I’m not that person: ZSN have a balance that I’d rather than the warmness of the C10, which are also bigger and the fit is not that comfortable for me; they tend to fall easily. What I prefer on the C10 is the absence of hiss, which is for me the only real disadvantage of the ZSN for their price range.
ZSN are one of the better choices on the market for 20€. Honestly, my previous experience with KZ, even in the same price range, hasn’t been that good. These are the first expression of their new design, and I hope they’ll keep this way. I’m just disappointed on the background noise, but the tuning is becoming more and more mature with the new models, and I believe the ZSN Pro really can be an improvement on this area. Before suggesting to buy these, I’d wait for my impressions of the Pro version, which have a very similar price, if I manage to get a pair.
Design and build quality