So much bang for your buck

Monday, 26 August 2019 3:56 pm

There’s been a lot of hype about low-cost Chinese in-ear brand KZ, so digitalDrummer checked out the ZS10-PRO model.

The KZ ZS10-PRO in-ears are attracting a lot of interest from audiophiles and musicians alike, prompted mostly by the bang-for-buck promise – five drivers on each side for less than $40.

At that price point, the in-ears virtually sell themselves, and KZ doesn’t have to do any marketing at all.

What’s in the box?

In a market which is becoming increasingly sophisticated, KZ has not gone to any trouble. The in-ears are represented in a simple cardboard box containing a clear plastic display pack. There, we find the two in-ear units, a cable and four spare silicon tips.

There’s no carry case, no cleaning tool, no ¼” adapter. In short, there are no frills with these guys.

The focus is clearly on the base product – a pair of solid-feeling in-ears, each featuring five drivers. In each shell, made of metal on one side and clear-coloured plastic on the other, are four balanced armature drivers and one dynamic driver, putting the ZS10-PROs into the company of products costing more than 10 times more.

The cable, measuring 1.25 m, is a pro-looking twisted pair, housed in a clear covering and ending in a basic 1/8” right-angle jack.

In action

The first step is to connect the cable to the two-pin connectors. While the illustrations show a large L and R signifying left and right, in reality, it is very hard to see those on the clear plastic connector.

The shell of the in-ear is quite large, so initial fitting takes a bit of jiggling around. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a comfortable fit with any of the three tip choices and had to raid my supply cupboard for a soft foam tip from another pair of in-ears (these take the same tips as AKG, JBL, Ultimate Ears and some other models). I’m a big fan of triple flange tips, but couldn’t readily locate any that fit the KZ.

The fit with the foam tips was fine – not great, but it was good enough to ensure a decent level of isolation.

Sounds like …

Plugged into a drum module, the first striking feature of the ZS10-PRO is the volume. Rated at 30 Ohm, these in-ears deliver tons of grunt and I had to dial my reference module, the Roland TD-30, back to 9 o’clock.

Most of the grunt is at the low end, with these in-ears delivering plenty of bass – almost a barrage of bass. While there was plenty of low end, bass notes seemed quite cold and stark, rather than warm and resonant.

Mid-range is sometimes lacking in in-ears, but here, the ZS10 was a good performer, with solid mid tones especially on the toms.

If there’s one weakness, it’s probably the treble reproduction. While I certainly heard all the cymbal tones, they lacked the tingle that I have enjoyed with many in-ears, even the single-driver Etymoic ER4.

But overall, the sound was impressive – immersive, latency-free and without gaps. The soundscape is well suited to e-drums, with a frequency response of 7 Hz to 40 kHz. That performance is more than adequate for the full band sound if you are using the in-ears instead for stage monitoring.

Bottom line

In-ears take some getting used to, especially for anyone who has spent years listening to over-the-ear headphones. For anyone looking for their first pair of in-ears, the ZS10 is a great starting point.

But even seasoned musicians will be impressed with the sheer grunt of these in-ears.

The price point makes them a no-brainer – either as back-up for your more expensive in-ears or as an experiment. It could well be that the shell shape and the supplied tips work perfectly for your ear. Spending another $10 on aftermarket tips like those from Comply will still not break the bank – and may deliver a workable solution for any gigging drummer.

KZ is only available online, so there are no options for listening or looking before purchase, which is probably another reason for the low price.

I was sceptical before trying them, but after using them for a while – in the middle of testing in-ears costing way more – I certainly recognise the value for money in the ZS10 PRO. So much so that I will continue my hunt for some triple flange tips.

  • Stay tuned for a comprehensive headphone/in-ear/monitor report in our November magazine.