Today we’ve got another budget earphone from Knowledge Zenith, the KZ ZSN a 1BA + 1DD hybrid in-ear monitor. For the price, this is an amazing earphone with an awesome build, great cable and really nice sound. I think it might be their best budget-level model yet.
Stupid fun sub-bass that will rock your world
Impressive resolution for a budget IEM
Good quality cable
Very comfortable and lightweight
Great value for money
Position of Y-split means cable gets tangled easily
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Package and Accessories
Keeping consistent with their other lower-priced models, KZ has opted for a simple and small box for the ZSN. The box is white in colour and has an illustration of the monitors on the front.
On the back of the box is a list of specifications and company information. Inside the box is the familiar black, moulded plastic tray with the earpieces on display just above the KZ logo. Below the plastic is, of course, the accessories. Here’s what you get:
KZ ZSN earphone
Detachable 0.75mm 2-pin cable
4 pairs of silicone Starline tips
Build Quality and Design
This earphone is available in 3 different colours: black, silver purple and cyan. I received the black version and I’ve gotta say that this is a great looking IEM for the price.
The faceplates are made of aluminium alloy and have an interesting pattern of zigzag lines. The shells are made from a smoky grey imported resin. The inner side of the shell has a single pinhole-size bass port.
The earphones are lightweight but look and feel well-constructed. There is no glue residue visible and even the shell’s interior (which is clearly visible through the transparent resin) looks tidy.
This looks the same as the twisted 4-strand cable that came with the KZ AS10 and KZ BA10 but it’s a bit more supple and FINALLY, KZ has got rid of that memory wire! Instead, this has pre-formed ear guides which feel so much nicer.
Starting at the top are the translucent angled 2-pin connectors with the new enclosed pin style, followed by the pre-formed ear guides. We find the same plastic Y-split as the KZ AS10 which is fine and has good strain relief but it’s still placed way too far down the cable. Because of that and there being no chin slider this cable tends to get tangled easily.
Terminating with a plastic L-shaped plug with decent strain relief, this cable is a great accessory for such an affordable earphone. Do I like it more than the ZS4 cable though? Hmm, almost but not quite!
Comfort and Noise Isolation
For my ears, this is the most comfortable KZ I’ve tried to date, even easily surpassing the AS10. With their ergonomic shape and fairly long nozzles, the earphones fit naturally in my ears and I could wear them all day.
Noise isolation is average or just above average, meaning for most everyday situations the ZSN will be perfectly suitable. Noise leak is low too, so you’re not likely to bother other people with your music.
The KZ ZSN has a mild V-shaped signature with a particular emphasis on the sub-bass. Apart from the sub-bass the rest of the presentation is fairly balanced but quite lean with a slightly recessed midrange.
Like all KZ earphones the ZSN is easy to drive and will work fine plugged straight into your phone or DAP.
The ZSN’s sub-bass is fun as heck. It feels so powerful and impressive yet it is tastefully rendered. It only comes out to play when it’s needed so it doesn’t intrude or dominate on the track. When it does come out get ready to party. It hits hard and causes a physical reaction in your ears.
Fire up “Smartz” by Scarface and wait for those sub-bass notes to drop. With some IEMs you might not even notice it’s there at all. The ZSN not only brings it with fire but it’s non-destructive to boot. Mid-bass is fairly conservative in contrast. It is boosted, yes, but it still lines up with the mids and treble, maintaining a good tonal balance.
The upper midrange peaks early at 2.5kHz then has a slight dip at 3kHz before peaking again at 4kHz. From that point, it falls off fairly rapidly. By doing this it avoids any stridency but does make the midrange notes a bit thin and introduces some dryness. Certain instruments like high piano notes and horns can grate on the nerves at moderate to high volume because of the boosted upper mids.
Vocals still sound quite vibrant though, with the help of a little warmth carried over from the bass. Instrument separation and timbre is good throughout and a couple times I had to recheck the price of this monitor just to make sure it actually was a mere 20 bones.
The ZSN’s treble is probably better than it should be for a $20 IEM as well. It’s crisp and lively with good extension but doesn’t have any harshness. The peak at 8-10kHz provides plenty of clarity and some sparkle. There’s nothing offensive about it and it gives the sound some airiness. Notes have a pretty good timbre and decay.
The soundstage is fairly average in most regards. It has an average size, depth and height. Imaging is pretty solid with good positional cues. Instrument separation is quite strong with average layering.
ZS ZSN vs KZ ZS4 ($18 USD)
Although the bass looks very similar on the graph the ZSN hits harder than the KZ ZS4 (review here) because of its slower decay and more elevated sub-bass. The ZS4’s midrange is more recessed and also has less clarity than the ZSN. Vocals on the ZSN are more forward and a bit richer.
Treble is similar on both models but the ZSN is a bit more lively thanks to more presence between 5-8kHz. The ZSN’s treble extends further too and has more sparkle which also gives it a larger soundstage.
There’s no doubt the ZS4 is still a great earphone. It may be more comfortable for some people and it has better noise isolation. However, in terms of overall sound I feel that the ZSN outdoes it handily.
KZ ZSN vs Auglamour F200 ($20 USD)
The Auglamour F200 (review here) has a more mellow presentation compared to the ZSN which is more aggressive on all fronts. The ZSN has noticeably more bass, particularly sub-bass.
The F200 doesn’t match the ZSN’s clarity but is instead much smoother. Vocals sound more lush on the F200 but aren’t as vibrant as the ZSN, especially female vocals.
Treble on the F200 is very subdued in comparison, again giving it its smooth characteristic but lacking energy and sparkle. The F200 is a great choice for those who might be treble sensitive and the ZSN for people who want a more vivid and energetic sound.
KZ ZSN vs bboooll BOT1 ($20 USD)
The BOT1 (review here) has a similar level of mid-bass but it’s faster and more nimble than the ZSN. The ZSN has a fuller and deeper sub-bass with slower, more powerful rumble.
In the midrange, the BOT1 is leaner as it stays closer to neutral. That, as well as its tighter and less aggressive bass, gives the BOT1 a thinner overall presentation. Notes are thinner on the BOT1 with faster transients but still have good timbre. The ZSN brings mids and vocals more forward but is also a bit more shouty in the upper midrange.
The ZSN also has a brighter top end which is balanced by its hefty bass. The BOT1 has similar treble extension but is drier up top. With it’s more nimble bass and thinner midrange the BOT1 has a slightly larger soundstage but the ZSN’s imaging is stronger.
Well, I wasn’t expecting another KZ model to take the ZS4’s budget IEM crown so quickly but the KZ ZSN is going to replace it on our best universal IEMs list. The ZS4 is still a strong recommendation as well, of course, but I feel that the ZSN just does everything that little bit better.
For the price, this is simply a great earphone from top to bottom in terms of build quality, comfort and sound. If you’ve only got around $20 to spend on an in-ear monitor then the ZSN should be at the top of your list.