I know this is long overdue, and I know for a fact that a lot has been looking forward to read a take on how these three new hotshots from the Chinese company called Knowledge Zenith or KZ will fare against each other. Sure it is interesting to see comparisons between different IEMs, cans, DAPS, amps or DACs but this is quite even more interesting given the hype these three bad boys was able to generate since they were launched a couple of months back. I mean, let’s face it, given the price of each of these IEMs, these will definitely appeal to a lot of enthusiasts particularly the new ones who would like to venture into the hobby without shelling out blood, sweat and tears just to have one. The question left now is, which one to pick?
Build seems to look pretty much the same for ZST, ZS3 and ED12. Each are housed in acrylic shells which all seems to be made just right for the price. Each are also armed with a 2-pin detachable cables which means you no longer have to throw away the entire thing should the cable becomes faulty over time nor to get the IEMs rewired which for me is highly impractical considering how cheap you can get them (I mean, come one, if you got your KZ ED9’s cable frayed nor damaged, just go get yourself a new one for Christ’s sake!). With the introduction of the detachable cables, you will now have an option to get what KZ launched alongside these IEMs, that is, SPC replacement cables! Yes! They did come out with such just so consumers will easily have access to a replacement in case the need calls for it. You can also go fancy and get these kids an upgrade cable to go with these IEMs to your heart’s content (although I don’t see the point on getting a DHC cable just to be used with these IEMs considering the cable alone can cost about 10 times of one of these babies). The stock cables also sport 3.5mm TRS plugs which means you can pretty much use these in most portable sources (phones or DAPs). Perhaps the only difference is that the KZ ZS3 comes with a stock cable that has memory wire on it unlike the other two.
I would like to remind you, my dear readers, to take the following things with a grain of salt. Again, our preferences vary from each person to another, and I would recommend that each one carefully weigh your options by auditioning each before making a conclusion on which one to get if you are planning to get one.
KZ ZST – seems that this carries a better sparkle compared to ED12 and ZS3 in terms of brightness. This fact also makes the mids shine a bit better compared to ZS3/ED12.
KZ ZS3 – plays the low end a lot better than the ZST as it is punchier and deeper. Seems tighter to me too, although I liked the extensions on the low end better with the ED12 compared to ZS3.
KZ ED12 – the bass tends to overpower the mids a little bit, although not really to the point of making it sound muddy. However, this fact puts the vocals a bit behind.
Let’s try these kids with some choice tracks. Please mind that I am using my Onkyo DP-X1/Xduoo XD-05 (with Muses01 opamp mod) stack for the test:
Another Day In Paradise (Ronan Keating, BBC Radio 2’s Sounds Of The 80s)
Mr. Keating’s vocals should be the aces in this track, and fair enough, all three did quite well. Only that, of the three, ZST won the contest, hands down. Ronan Keating’s vibrattos are most explicit with ZST, and as you may know my typical signature by now, the sparkles are quite lovely with the ZST. I also liked how bass was controlled with the ZST.
Without Me (Eminem, Suicide Squad The Album)
Naturally, I would say with this track, the bassier IEM would win given the genre. However, I found the ED12 a bit too much when it comes to bass. ZS3 is the better choice for me, as it presented the jiggy nature of the track appropriately without going over the board. ZST seems good too with the track, but ZS3 won it by a good inch. ZS3 is definitely tight!
Fallin’ (Alicia Keys, Songs In A Minor)
It seems a tie for me between ZS3 and ZST for this track. Sure, the beat driven by ZS3 is really enticing, but ZST does a better justice with Alicia Keys’ soulful voice. As the track is really more of a fusion between soul and R&B, it is quite natural to like the track using either ZST or ZS3. I guess it will just be a matter of the listener’s preference. ED12 is totally out of the picture here, not that it plays the track badly, but simply because the first two did a better job over ED12.
One thing that gave the ZS3 an edge for me is the comfort I get while wearing it. Yes, ZST and ED12 are lightweight and are very comfy, however, I got a better fit with ZS3. Also, with the absence of memory wire, I commonly find myself hooking the wires back to my ears while using ED12 and ZST. Isolation seems a lot better with ZS3 though given that fact that it easily locked in my ears. Again, this will be totally subjective to the person using the IEM.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the ZST. It has the kind of sparkle that I like with my IEMs. It sounded, well, for the lack of better term, axenic compared to ZST and ED12.
As for the ED12, it is sadly the least of the three. Not that it can’t carry any good value, but it pales into comparison with the other two. However, as this is the cheapest of the three, I will not really complain about it.
Do not get me wrong though, these are not something that you will use to replace your Dunu Titans, Audiotechnica IM50/IM70s, or your Yamaha EPH-100s. These three are good, but in no way can be compared to anything over $100. These babies cost somewhere between $15-$20, and they are damn good ones for the price range. However, if you are looking for something while toting a budget of more than how these babies are worth, you will still be better off with something else. Personally, I won’t even pit these with $40 budget IEMs.
Nevertheless, these are all good buys depending on your preference. It will just be up to you which one suits your taste best.