Knowledge Zenith [KZ] is known for quality low cost Chinese audio gear; mostly in-ear-monitors, and rarely lets down at their price points. For between $4-$35 KZ has made it possible to get a great sounding IEM without breaking the bank. KZ had the ZST, ATR, and ZS3 in 2016 as their former ‘flagship’ IEM’s, but in May 2017 they brought the 2BA + 2DD four driver ZS5’s to the market. There has been some recent controversy that shows KZ may be cheating with the ZS5’s, claiming a 4 driver setup, but only providing port holes for sound to exit into the ear with only two of the drivers. Unfortunately it has not been verified by a third party yet, but as the second batch of pre-orders finally start arriving we should then see some tear downs from some more trusted members of the community.
The international version of the ZS5 comes in the standard KZ packaging that most everyone who has owned KZ IEM’s in the past knows. The Chinese version of the packaging is much more elegant and premium. Inside the box you receive:
- 2x KZ ZS5 IEM’S
- 1x Cable
- 6x Ear Tips (3 sizes, 2 each)
You can order the ZS5’s with a standard cable, or a standard cable with a Microphone included in line. My Microphone was unfortunately dead on arrival and does not seem to work well with my PIxel XL. There are also recent rumors of KZ replacing the microphone in the ZS5 cable, so the one that I received may be a much larger known problem. KZ and several third party sellers also offer an upgraded silver cable which does not have a microphone, but provides a bit more rugged feeling and in my opinion, some better styling. All of the ZS5 cables seem to come with the memory wire in them, which for some may be great, but I usually cut the plastic near the top of the wire and pull out the memory wire with pliers. Long hair and the memory wire do not work together very well.
Isolation gets a very low rating from me. It is worse than the KZ ZS5’s and any model I have tried. The Tennmak’s I own also have much better isolation. I imagine this is due to the port holes around the seams. I have tried many tips on these, but they really never get better in terms of isolation. This is one of the biggest failure points of the KZ ZS5’s.
The KZ ZS5’s are entirely tip dependent, but you do run into an issue where the actual stem is too short and smooth to keep many tips actually on the IEM. The old KZ Starline tips that I liked slowly fall off on their own. The new KZ starline tips that are included with the KZ5’s are roughly the same, but actually stay on the ZS5’s. I have however had one of the included ear tips come off in my ear while I was pulling them out, which almost ended in a trip to urgent care. I highly recommend finding ear tips that fit snug onto these or you’ll be using tweezers to fish tips out of your skull fairly often.
The ZS5’s are made of plastic and they fit in the ear nicely. Some may have issues with pressure points on the edges, but I find these perfectly comfortable once I find the right tips. I get no fatigue or pain from using these. The design of the ZS5’s are a copy of some other very high end IEM’s, but I do find the design to be very pleasant and modern.
KZ is known for producing great audio for a cheap price, and they definitely do deliver with the ZS5’s as well. The ZS5’s do sound very similar to the ZST’s which are a more V shaped sound that lack a lot of the mid range, but the ZS5’s bring forward some of that mid range. These IEM’s are very tip dependent and I’ve found my tri-flange to be the absolute best at providing a more neutral sound signature with a fun low end. The ZST’s had a very sibilant high end that took quite a few days to get used to and unfortunately I find the ZS5’s also have that same sibilance. The mid range of the ZS5’s is there, but they’re not completely what they should be for having a dedicated mid dynamic driver. I really hope they come out with a second generation with tuned mids. The lows are fun and bouncy but are definitely more forward than the ZST’s. Between the ZST’s and ZS5’s, their clarity is so apparent that you are turned off by music that was recorded poorly.
Soundstage on the ZS5’s is very impressive, even beating the ATR and ZST. This is where I think KZ really exceeds. With proper recordings, everything flows around your head, instrument & stereo separation is outstanding.
At $18-$35 (depending on current sales), these are definitely work the price. Once given some time for your brain to adjust to this sound signature, these will absolutely make you smile. Like I said above, I do hope KZ takes some of this feedback and introduces a new version with some better tuning and potentially better isolation. You can’t go wrong with the ZS5’s.