KZ ZS10 IEM - very, very impressed for $50

fuzzybabybunny

Moderator<br>Digital & Video Cameras
Moderator
Jan 2, 2006
10,449
29
91
Holy crap.

So I was looking for a cheap backup pair of IEMs. I usually listen to Westone W60s on a DragonFly Red DAC. The W60 has six balanced armature drivers in each monitor and the sound is superb.

During my research for a backup I stumbled upon the KZ ZS10. Each monitor has four balanced armatures and a single dynamic driver for the bass. And it costs less than $50.

https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/kz-zs10.23034/reviews

For less than $50 I figured why not? There is literally no other IEM that comes close to the number of drivers in each monitor for this price.

I just got them and I'm incredibly, incredibly impressed. Coming from a $1,000 Westone W60, I'd be happy using the $50 ZS10s as my daily drivers. I've listened to an awful lot of different IEMs (like over 30) and these ZS10s stand out. I'm having a ton of fun listening to EDM with these.

- There is a lot of detail and separation in the midrange and the soundstage is pretty wide for an IEM. There is very little shrouding going on.

- Cheaper IEMs usually turn into complete mud or crunch in the low range, but these still have good detail in the lows that don't muddy up the mids.

- Cheaper IEMs also tend to overcompensate on the highs by being too sparkly. The sparkle gives the illusion of clarity, but it only ends up hurting and fatiguing your eyes with extended listening. There IS sparkle on these, but it's not too bad. I use an equalizer to bump down the 4k and 6k frequencies just a tad and they become excellent and you can listen to them for ages.

- With 4k and 6k bumped down, vocals sound excellent.

- The lows get more boomy than my W60s. The large dynamic driver has less detail for sure and there's not much punchy, tight, accurate bass, but they give these a nice warm, full sound.

- They're big and the ear ports are pretty wide, so they might not be comfortable for people with smaller ear canals.

- Huge bonus points for using detachable wires with I think a standard two-pin connector. No more tossing out a perfectly good pair of monitors just because the wire's gone bad.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say these are the best IEMs you can get for $50, period. Full stop. I've listened to quite a few $300 IEMs in the past and think the ZS10s are better.

There's a thread on HeadFi about DIY IEMs. You can buy Knowles balanced armature drivers yourself and with a lot of difficulty make your own six-driver IEMs for hundreds of dollars cheaper than if you bought Westone or UE for example. So I don't believe that good, detailed, fun sound is so elusive that you can't get it for a couple hundred bucks or less.
 

monkeydelmagico

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2011
3,949
126
101
Great review. At that price I might give them a run. By chance have you ever auditioned a set of Etymotic Research buds? They are my "gold standard" set. I'm sure the Westones are even better but I've never had the opportunity to try them out.
 

fuzzybabybunny

Moderator<br>Digital & Video Cameras
Moderator
Jan 2, 2006
10,449
29
91
Great review. At that price I might give them a run. By chance have you ever auditioned a set of Etymotic Research buds? They are my "gold standard" set. I'm sure the Westones are even better but I've never had the opportunity to try them out.
Unfortunately no, no Etymotics. I'm actually surprised that I haven't but when I was demoing buds I was a bit overwhelmed with all the different brands and models and I guess the store didn't carry Etymotics.

Anyway, I just realized that KZ (stands for Knowledge Zenith) has more models coming out with five drivers per ear.

KZ-ZS10
4 balanced armatures, 1 dynamic each side

KZ-AS10
5 balanced armatures each side, thinner than my ZS10, more expensive than ZS10

KZ-BA10
5 balanced armatures each side, metal case, ported, more expensive than AS10.

The BA10 doesn't seem to be released yet, but the reviews of the AS10 seem very good. Because it doesn't have the dynamic driver like my ZS10, the bass is more accurate and punchy, but less rumbly than the dynamic drivers.

I'm totally guessing here, but the ports on the unreleased BA10 is perhaps to give those low-frequency balanced armature drivers more rumble while still retaining punch and accuracy.

I've confirmed that Westone uses "customized" balanced armature drivers made by Knowles. The KZ IEMs also use Knowles drivers, or at least the model numbers printed on the drivers (seen in teardown videos) match Knowles model numbers.

So we've got one IEM that's $1,000 that uses Knowles. And one that's well under $100 that also uses Knowles and sounds great. And the end consumer can buy individual Knowles drivers from places like Mouser Electronics for $15 a piece. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Westone is jacking up the price tremendously compared to the total material costs of the buds.

Give KZ another year or three and I'm sure they'll have something like an AS16 with 8 Knowles balanced armature drivers on each side for $250, rivalling the Westone W80 at $1000++
 

gorcorps

aka Brandon
Jul 18, 2004
30,622
356
126
Hmm... I've been very hesitant to try any of their products because slickdeals seems to be full of paid shill accounts promoting KZ headphones recently. Maybe I'll try them for $50, but I'm more interested in the DIY IEM idea you mentioned. That could be a fun project
 

fuzzybabybunny

Moderator<br>Digital & Video Cameras
Moderator
Jan 2, 2006
10,449
29
91
Hmm... I've been very hesitant to try any of their products because slickdeals seems to be full of paid shill accounts promoting KZ headphones recently. Maybe I'll try them for $50, but I'm more interested in the DIY IEM idea you mentioned. That could be a fun project
Interesting. KZ definitely has a big following on HeadFi and there are numerous teardown videos on YouTube that show and test out the individual drivers.

BTW, I was wrong about them using Knowles drivers, I think. The drivers have the KZ logo stamped on them and the model numbers seem to match Knowles model numbers, but a number of HeadFi members say that they're not Knowles but rather Bellsing. Or maybe KZ actually develops the drivers in-house.

I personally really like mine and want to see what the BA10 and AS10 offer.

My $1,000 Westone W60s recently had a shell crack. I don't have the original receipt and Westone has said they don't do shell repairs. In fact, they don't do repairs on my model, period.

So that really really sucks.
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY