KZ AS10: Knowledge Zenith Growing Up (Updated)

This review was updated with some brief comparisons to the Tin Audio T2 with vent modification. More in-depth analysis between the two can be found here: http://www.antdroid.net/2018/08/tin-audio-t2-vs-kz-as10-in-depth.html



Knowledge Zenith (KZ) has been making IEM headphones for a few years now and they seem to be releasing several handfuls of models each year. This latest flagship is a 5 balanced armature per shell earphone that may change many people’s opinion’s that KZ just throws as many drivers as possible into a shell and call it a day. Or perhaps they got lucky with this one, because it’s surprisingly good!

Disclaimer: The KZ AS10 was provided to me by Lillian of LinSoul and DD Audio store for review purposes without bias. The following review is my own unbiased opinion on this headphone. My headphone reviews incorporate my own listening and measurements taken from the MiniDSP EARS measurement rig. 


Amazon Link: https://smile.amazon.com/KZ-Earphone-Resolution-Headphone-Cancelling/dp/B07G34D6PB/


AliExpress link: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32902758060/32902758060.html


Packaging/Build/Comfort


The AS10 has an upgraded box compared to their previous models. The significantly larger black box flips open to show the pair of IEMs and a metal nameplate. Below the foam insert is an upgraded copper braided cable and card information.

The new cable is a significant upgrade over last year’s flagship, the KZ6, whose cable was a disaster to use and wear and full of microphonics. Braided cables need to be standard with all IEMs and ear buds. This cable however has the awful memory wire shrinkwrap on it and is a bit messy to use for a braided cable. It's still an improvement upon the previous cables used by KZ. I opted to use my own braided cables using 2.5mm balanced connector.

The housing is a half-moon shape with a transparent clear acrylic face. The transparency allows you to see board which houses the BA drivers. The opposite ear side is opaque with angled canals for insertion into your ear. These must be worn over-ear which I prefer personally.

The shells are rather large, but they do fit comfortably in my ears and feel very secure. Build is good, though not as premium as some of their metal alternatives like the ZS6 and ZSA.



As for tips, the standard star-tips are included as with many of the KZ models. These tips fit very well for me but I opted on my own silicone tips instead. I did not have success getting good fit with SpinFit CP145, and CP155 tips did not seal well enough for me. I also had some issues getting good seal with the foam tips I had available.

Isolation on these were good and above average. They isolated plenty of exterior noise for me, even in louder environments so that I can focus on the music. They are not at the level of Etys or the like, but they are an improvement over competing IEMs like the Tin T2. It's very comparable to the Hibiki in isolation given that they have similar design and shape.



Sound

Overall, these IEMs have a slight V-shape, but are the closest to neutral I’ve heard KZ ever do. They do have recessed mids, and elevated low end but as I’ll describe below, it’s nowhere near the exaggerated levels of other KZ models.

For this review, I listened to several songs for multiple days. I listen typically to all different genres ranging from rock to jazz to country to electronic music. The majority of this review was based on music selections including: Chris Stapleton, Chvrches, Balhmorea, Vince Guaraldi, Fleetwood Mac, Radiohead, Daft Punk, Cocteau Twins, U137, Tracy Chapman, Marit Larsen, Slowdive, Olafur Arnaulds, Alvvays, various acoustic and post-rock playlists and various EDM tracks.





The Bass is slightly heavier than what I call neutral and has some kick to it. I’d call the bass medium speed (not planar speed – but good for BA). The punch/impact of these is noticeably tamer than other KZ IEMs, but is substituted with more texture and detail, something that is a breath of fresh air.
The mids are recessed, but with the reduced bass and treble gains compared to previous KZ offerings, they do not feel lost in the mix as their other brandmates.

Both male and female vocals sound somewhat natural, albeit flat at times and sometimes miss a little bit of zing due to the recessed mids. EQ responds well in this region and adding a slight gain around 400Hz to 800Hz and 2-4kHz helps fill in the voids. Other than that, both male and female vocals are full-bodied sounding while at times can be flat and dry. Sibilance is never an issue on these IEMs, which on the KZ6 was a dealbreaker for many. Vocals are very smooth overall.

In my measured Frequency Response graph, there was a noticeable drop off at around 4KHz. It was a steep collapse that reminded me of something I’ve seen in some planar magnetic headphones. This drop does cause some unnatural instruments and a little lost of edge. I don’t know if this is where a cross-over between BA drivers are or not, but EQing this area was a bit challenging. Raising it to fill in the void caused severe tinny sounding vocals and instruments and the only way to correct it was to raise all the mids with it, but that messes up everything else along with it. In the end, I only raised this region by 3dB similar to what I did at 400Hz.

The treble region is tame and rolls off around 14KHz, but I never feel like I am missing any detail or hearing any lack of energy or air to cymbals and violins in rock, jazz and classical tracks. This area is not bright and is very pleasant to the ears.





Detail/Clarity/Soundstage/Etc.

Instruments are well separated and these IEMs pick up a surprising amount of detail. I was very impressed with this aspect of the KZ ZS6 and while it’s been several months since I’ve last listened to the ZS6, I believe the AS10 exceeds them significantly in detail retrieval and separation. During some transitions between the upper bass and low mids to the upper regions, there may be some slight loss of detail due to the recessed mids though. This is more apparent when listening side-by-side with something more neutral like the Tin Audio T2.

Soundstage is very open, natural, and wide gives the impression that strings and guitar plucks are coming from either side of me; not within my head.



Overall:

I enjoyed listening to this IEM overall. It’s easily the most refined and mature sounding KZ product I’ve heard so far with a warm-neutral presentation and reduced v-shape signature. The AS10 has impressive clarity, detail and width, while retaining a smooth, relaxing mid-range. The biggest drawbacks are relatively minor for this price range – rolled off treble and slightly recessed mids.

I’m impressed with this KZ product and looking forward to their next product, the BA10. One thing to note, is that I think people who enjoy the Tin Audio T2 with Vent Mod (i.e. covering the inside hole with a piece of tape to increase low end response) will enjoy this IEM. That said, you will be trading some more forward sounding intricacies and detail from the T2 with an overall smoother, warmer and more bodied sound in the KZ AS10.

Some Comparisons:



KZ6 – this was talked about several times in the review

Tin Audio T2 – The T2 is one of the closest to neutral sounding IEMs under $100. It’s a much leaner sounding IEM and may sound cold compared to the AS10. Vocals on the AS10 will be more full-bodied, natural, and less harsh than the T2. Detail retrieval is similar on these two with the T2 being a little more forward sounding with the T2 maybe a smidge more detailed and AS10 having slight muddiness between the transition between upper bass and mids that lose some details here and there. The AS10 has a larger soundstage and improved imaging. The AS10’s low end is warmer and slightly exaggerated while the Tin Audio T2 is closer to linear in the bass department with some roll off sooner.  

Update: Tin Audio T2 with Vent Mod Comparison -- The T2 with vent mod increases the bass gain while retaining a similar sound signature in the mids and treble. The Vent mod actually is punchier and heavier in many tracks compared to the AS10. The T2 however remains very detailed throughout the mids and treble and may sound a little more detailed than the AS10 does.

https://smile.amazon.com/TIN-Double-Dynamic-Earphone-Headphones/dp/B07DL2FPBL/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&keywords=tin+t2





Shozy Hibiki Mk2 – While the AS10 is somewhere in-between a V-shaped and a neutral headphone signature with the slightly recessed mids, the Hibiki Mk2 is mid-forward with heavy emphasis on vocals. These are practically opposite sounds. They both share a warmer sound, but the Hibiki is much more narrow width and can sound very congested and claustrophobic, while the AS10 is very open and wide.





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