Knowledge Zenith KZ ZS5, the first $30 Hybrid Earphones with 4 Drivers in 2017?

Skip to Sound and Impressions if you are only interested in its sonic qualities.

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Long Story

It’s been a few months since I got my Astell & Kern (with JH Audio) Michelle, a pair of 3-way UIEMs with 3 BA drivers. These boyz are doing good for most rock music, with powerful bass kicks and beautifully presented trebles and midranges that make guitars sound so awesome. However, ever since I got the, I’ve been questioning myself whether they were really worth their $499 price tag (or THB19900 here in Thailand). So I’ve been buying and testing cheap budget earbuds from China for 2 months now and together they cost cumulatively approx $420 (THB 15K) now. I have bought roughly 20 pairs of earbuds and 2 DAPs altogether, Hidizs AP60 and Xduoo X3, with the latter of which being my current favorite player. My love for Budget-Fi has since found a place in my heart. After I thought I’d found my ultimate sub $20 earbuds, I started to hunt for Chinese budget IEMs last month which is the time KZ ZS5 was launched. And after reading many positive impressions on Head-Fi, it’s time to order one.

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Build, Fit, Accessories, etc.

My pairs are from the first batch and came with older and bigger packaging without transparent display window. The cardboard box seems find. There’re 6 pairs of eartips and a manual in the box. Since my SpinFit TP100 fits well with them, I do not use any of the eartips provided. I once tried the small size tips and the fit and sound impression was outmatched by the SpinFit. The build is solid metal, though not unibody. The matte body features bevelled angles, thin letters, and a hole (for assembling and dissembling or for acoustics?).

Since the KS5 design is a replica of Campfire Audio but without screws, we can safely assume these fit nicely and do not protrude much from the ears. These moderately light IEMs definitely fit better than my AK JH Michelle.

Sound and Impressions

Being hybrid helps decrease a lot of hissing. All my sources do make my AK JH Michelle hiss at audible level, with hiss from AP60 being the loudest despite its very weak power output. But the hissing decrease dramatically with KS5. I suspect dynamic drivers draw more power and juice to them resulting in decreased fraction of power supply to the BAs. I wonder if these will benefit from good amping.

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When first plugged-in, what I immediately noticed was the IEMs’ large soundstage. Its staging is really good, with considerable length and width. The separation is superb for the price, it allows following a certain instrument more easily.

The lows and bass extends well and with the presence of sub-bass, making the lower region feel warm. The bass can be too boomy at times for someone fancying fast metal or rock songs. Bass kicks are also not as powerful and realistic as Michelle’s. It’s like the upper-bass is a bit loose. AK JH Michelle performs much better with its convincingly strong bass kicks and realistic timbres, despite its driver units being pure BAs. Vocals are subtly forwarding, with smooth texture and relaxed tone. The upper midrange is smooth and I can listen to these all day without fatigue. I love the presentation of trebles of these IEMs, it’s HIGH and easily separated from higher-mids. Though the trebles roll off quite early, they still extend far enough without giving a feeling of being in a dark room.

While the tonal balance is neither V-shaped or bass/mid/treble-oriented, it is not a flat one. It has warmth in the lower range with brighter vocals and mids, and smooth trebles which are a pleasure to listen to.

With the qualities, they’re perfect for me when listening to soft rock, unplugged recordings or live sessions. They sing Eric Clapton’s and Grateful Dead’s songs quite very well. I tried them with a more demanding tracks but the bass just doesn’t kick enough asses. I’d not recommend these IEMs for those in love with Grado-style sound, you know, bright clear mids and highs with little but ass-kicking bass. I’d also not recommend the model if you’re looking for fun IEMs to be used with your more aggressive genres.

*Sources: iPhone 6s, Xduoo X3, iPod classic 7G, Hidizs AP60

**Test units equipped with SpinFit TP100 eartips and with an upgrade silver-plated cable

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