Review: KZ ZS5 – The Great Pretender

Specifications

For the nit-pickers and nerdy ones here, I’m giving the specs and technical sheets . For all the other, you can just go to the next page to see how the amp performs.

Full specs
– Type : IEM – Hybrid
– Crossover : 2 way
– Drivers : 10mm dynamic drive x2 / 30095 Ultra treble Balanced Armature x2 / 6.4 Mids Balanced Armature x2
– Socket : 2 pins (detachable cables)

– Frequency response Range : 20Hz – 20kHz
– Sensitivity : 106dB
– Impedance : 16ohms
– Price : 25$ https://tainghe.com.vn/tai-nghe-kz

Hybrid Dynamic and Balanced Armature

 

Usually, an IEM uses either dynamic drivers or balanced armatures. The first are known for deep, impactful bass whereas the second are famed for their speed and resolution. High-end IEMs get multiple armatures to cover the full audible spectrum, each driver covering a precise range of frequencies.

But, sometimes you can get an hybrid, joining both worlds in a symphony of mayhem. This taboo can lead to great sounding IEMs, although most of the time you obtain a painful cacophonia. Building a crossover for a hybrid isn’t for the fainthearted and more than a few didn’t make it.

A good hybrid, should have the best of both world : lush lows, wide sound stage, cutting edged highs and smooth mids. With a combination of two balanced armatures and two dynamic drivers, I’m not very optimistic for the KZ ZS5 as double dynamics rarely work correctly….

Sound performance

Overall signature

Let’s get straight to the point, for twenty-five dollars, I don’t think you can get anything better than the KZ ZS5. Seriously, I know they look like a Polaris rip-off but sonically I prefer the KZ…

The sound signature isn’t flat by any means, bass is deep and sometimes a bit too present, but they are never overwhelming. You could never get this type of bass on a BA IEM, this toe-tapping bass that could drive you for miles and miles on a bike. If you’re a bass-head and miss a good, hifi-grade, IEM in your collection, you should seriously take a listen to the ZS5.

My biggest surprise came from the overall signature, I have a few hybrids in my collections and none of them achieved what KZ did here : a good crossover.
On all my other ears, you can clearly hear the moment where the dynamic driver crosses with the balanced one. Like a bridge with a toll, everything seems uneven as if every car came to an halt. This leads to thin mids and absent voices, the exact opposite of what we want.

On the KZ ZS5, voices are clearly distinct but blend accurately with the other frequencies. A good track to test it ? Hounds Tooth by Dope Lemon, the bass is buzzing during the whole tune and on bad hybrids, the voice is completely veiled by the hum. It’s never the case here.

Tonality

Let’s begin with the highs. They aren’t too bright or aggressive, even with a distinctive bump around 8kHz which can lead to pronounced hi-hats. There is no sibillance whatsoever, a good thing for me as it’s one of my main deal-breakers. My test track for this is Customer is King from Solomun, between 6:00 and 6:15 you only have highs and hats, a painful experience with a bad IEM. Not here fortunately.

The mids are good, nothing much to see here. The soundstage is wide, not amazingly large but, again, for TWENTY FIVE dollars I can’t complain, in any way. Try it on Hotel California from The Eagles (remastered) and at the beginning of the track you still get dizzy from the left/right pan. Special prize for the guitars, they sound amazing and I clearly prefer dynamic drivers for this instrument especially. What you loose in precision you gain in realism, try it !

Finally, the lows. It’s a bit unfair to compare the KZ ZS5 to classic IEMs, dynamic drivers always win the bass battle ! A DD can move a lot more air and the ZS5 is no exception, it’s a real pleasure to hear a bass slamming this hard on an IEM. I was curious to hear how it would sound, and this is, for me, the best trait of the IEM. Even my CIEM don’t compare, which is a shame…

Sensitivity / Hiss / Association

With 16ohms of impedance and 108dB of sensitivity, the KZ ZS5 can be driven by nearly anything. Fortunately, they are not prone to hiss and I used them with various sources without problems. The crossover is a wonder, how could they manage to make it sound so good and not hissy at the same time, on a hybrid !

If I mainly used it with the iBasso DX150 and my iPhone 6S+, the best association came with the SMSL AD18. The bass sounded tighter and the highs a bit more prominent. V-Shaped you say ? Maybe, but I really liked it. Another good pairing, the KZ ZS5 and the Cayin N5ii. The accuracy of the player produce delightful mids, voices came as a surprise, a good surprise.

Conclusion

Unless you haven’t read the review, you should know what I’ll say here : get a pair of KZ ZS5. It’s a cheap, great-sounding, hybrid IEM. Commonly, cheap + hybrid + chi-fi doesn’t equal success but KZ proves me wrong withe the ZS5. It has been my daily driver for a few weeks now and they never fail.

The build is sturdy, which is great for my daily travelling. The bass is astounding and the mids can surprise you more than once, thanks to a carefully designed crossover (the real hero here). It’s comfortable, so light you’ll forget them (I did) and you can fit all the cables you want. The only real drawback being the highs, not as refined as you’d expect… for a classic 4 drivers IEM.

Sure, you can get better IEM with wider soundstage or more detailed mids. Sure you can get fancier ears with Campfire and their Ceratoke finish. But, for T-W-E-N-T-Y F-I-V-E dollars ? I don’t think so, and that’s why you need a KZ ZS5, or two, in case you lose the first. This is a Recommended Buy for sure!! Thanks again to tainghe.com.vn for sending us these!!

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A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.

    27 Comments

    • Reply August 23, 2018

      siavash

      The gem in ED series that you haven’t tried is the KZ Ed16.
      In my opinion its even a better deal than ZS5 at 17-20 usd.

      • Reply December 31, 2018

        NanoTechnos

        I’ll try this one too then 😉

    • Reply August 24, 2018

      4ceratops

      Voila! The official website in english is:
      http://www.kzacoustics.com/En/#home

    • Reply August 27, 2018

      JeroenW

      I always enjoy a good review of the more budget friendly options on the market so thanks for this one!

    • Reply August 30, 2018

      hp customer support

      The quality and the design is too good.I was thinking this to be a small piece of magnet. But it is simply awesome.

    • Reply September 9, 2018

      Nicolas

      What version of the KZ ZS5 is this? I bought the KZ ZS5 (V2) with the balanced armatures butted right against the nozzle and they sound…awful! The bass is too much, the highs are screaming and the mids are hollow. I am not impressed with the comfort either. The sharp angular edges dig into my ears.

    • Reply September 14, 2018

      ross

      OMG….. Kann to Mojo to Portaphile Micro through the first upgrade cable suggestion above.
      All the rest connect through Moon Cables silver dragon and black dragon.

    • Reply September 19, 2018

      gal

      woooo i love this artical and i have bater headphone in a bater price
      https://ebay.to/2QBQJ0J

    • Reply October 3, 2018

      Sayan Dutta

      Nice post

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    • Hello, I fixed my pair by opening them and cutting one of the wires that goes to the BA treble drivers, which essentially disables one of the BA drivers. They sound great now. If you face any issues then read Fallout 4 Won’t Launch On The PC Blog to get the best solution by the experts.

    • Reply December 31, 2018

      BT

      No way this is actually better than what it pretends to be, Cheaper, yes. But better?

      • Reply December 31, 2018

        NanoTechnos

        Actually… it is ! I was surprised too when I reviewed it, but across the whole spectrum it’s more even, more consistent and simply… better.

        Sure you don’t get the aluminum finish, but soundwise, for me, it’s a league over. You really have to try for yourself 😀

    • Reply February 5, 2019

      MG

      what do you think about ZS5 at 25 usd vs ZS10 at 32 usd? what would you pick?

    • Reply February 6, 2019

      Auralen

      Who says that ZS5 v2 sounds bad should wash his ears or replace It in case is a defective sample, actually It sounds better than any other KZ I have tested, included the KZ ZS5 v1, and I have tested almost all KZ except the latest ZS7, BA10, ZSN, AS06, in these days I should receive ZS7. The only problem of ZS5 is the cheap and fragile case, for some reason ZS6 has a quality case with same configuration but doesn’t sound as good (significantly less soundstage), I hope ZS7 could offer a better experience.

    • Reply February 23, 2019

      Reynaldo

      Fastidious answer back in return of this matter with genuine
      arguments and describing everything regarding that.

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    • Reply June 21, 2019

      Nikolas

      … just bought two pairs (ZS5 & 6) and I can not believe what I am hearing in terms of sound quality – highs taken consciously !!! I am using it with my baby HiBy R3 … Plenty of fun, thanks for the review !!!

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    • Really I like your article it is easy to reading. You are a good blogger pls keep it up. Thank you so much.

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    • Reply October 29, 2019

      Gene

      I recently paired my kz zs5 (v1) with venture electronics Odyssey and it sounds out of this world.

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