LZ is an earphone manufacturer who has had some iconic releases in the past. They were one of the first to bring a true hybrid earphone to the masses at an affordable price. Well, today I’ll be reviewing their latest release, which has been stirring up a lot of interest since its release – meet the LZ A4.
Disclaimer: This product was sent to me for the purpose of this review. I’m not affiliated with the company and all opinions and observations are my own, based on my experience with the product. I’d like to thank LZ for the opportunity to test the A4.
The LZ A4 is available at several AliExpress stores and also at Penon Audio.
The A4 comes in a plain, black box with red print on the front. Upon opening, you find a foam sheet with the included ear-tips and the earphones. Underneath that are the carry case, metal filter case, cable and other accessories. It’s a decent bundle for this price range but unfortunately, like so many other IEMs all the supplied ear-tips are too small for me.
The cable is dark grey in colour and is smooth and very flexible, similar to the one found on the LZ A2S. There aren’t any strain reliefs on the MMCX connectors but hopefully, this won’t be an issue. There’s a nice rubber Y-splitter with a cable cinch and the cable terminates in an angled 3.5 mm plug that has good strain relief. Even when worn down there is very little microphonics present.
Build, comfort and isolation
The housings are metal with a large plastic tear-shaped attachment where the MMCX connectors are. They look quite large at first glance but are actually very ergonomic and can be comfortably worn cable up or down without having to reverse sides. Each earpiece has a Left or Right indicator and although the markings are black, they’re still easy to see. Build quality is very solid and these should be very robust.
I find these very comfortable and can wear either cable up or down for hours on end without a problem. Since they’re equally comfortable for me both ways I change depending on my situation: if I’m sitting at home or in the office I’ll wear them cable down but if I’m on the move I switch to over-ear.
Despite having a semi-open back design these isolate noise quite well and also have minimal noise leakage so they should be fine for commuting or other situations where you need to consider other people.
The A4 is a tunable system, meaning there are a series of rear and nozzle filters for a total of 18 different combinations, all with a slightly different sound signature. Rather than try to explain them all I’ll just insert the filter chart kindly provided by fellow Head-Fier Tamal (RedJohn456). The filters are very well machined and are easy to change, making the process fast and painless. My personal favourite combinations are Black/rear and Red/front or Red/rear and Black/front, most often the former as I like some extra weight in the low end while still remaining smooth up top.
The A4 are not hard to drive and work well straight out of a smartphone or budget DAP.
Westside Connection – Terrorist Threats album [flac]
Mathias Eick – Midwest album [flac]
Miles Davis – Tutu album [flac]
Jazz At the Pawnshop – Arne Domnerus Group 2cd album [flac]
For this review, I’ll be describing the sound using the Red/rear and Black/ front or Black/rear and Red/front filter combination. Note that while the filters genuinely alter the sound, the overall characteristics of the IEM remain the same – something to keep in mind while reading this. Those overall characteristics I would summarize like this: deep, controlled bass, beautifully clear midrange and detailed, airy but smooth treble.
Sub-bass digs deep, especially with my preferred filters installed. They extend very low and can bring the rumble that I crave while remaining remarkably well controlled. Similarly, the mid-bass is very well textured and has great impact but never overpowers the other frequencies. Of course, the intensity can be changed with different filter setups but the core characteristics remain – extension, texture and control are always present. The bass works well across all genres and can be specifically fine-tuned with filters if you listen predominantly to a certain type of music but for me, the aforementioned two filter combinations sound great no matter what I’m listening to. Overall the bass is superbly executed and perfectly compliments the mids and highs.
The mids have exceptional clarity and tone making vocals, strings and acoustic instruments come alive. Separation is excellent across the board allowing you to pick apart every instrument during busy song sections. Classical music sounds fantastic with wonderful tonality in piano and string instruments (in everything really). And if the crescendos start to become uncomfortable you can just change the front nozzle and you’re good to go again. Male vocals carry nicely, sounding rich and natural. In “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers his raspy notes are smooth and articulated. With the Divas of Jazz 4 album, there’s a song by Ella Fitzgerald called “My Melancholy Baby” that has little bass and lots of loud peaks in the vocals. It’s not a great recording and I’m not sure when it was recorded but am fairly sure it was before the days of limiters and compressors. This song can be grating on the ears as if someone is poking needles of ice into your head but with the LZ A4 equipped with red nozzle filters, I can begin to appreciate it.
How anything can retain so much detail whilst staying chocolaty smooth is a wonder but that’s what I find with the A4. There’s also an airy lightness about the treble that lifts music with nice extension but is non-fatiguing. For roughly the last third of “No Man’s Land” by The Pineapple Thief there are a lot of crash cymbals that can sometimes be a bit painful to my ears but the A4 pulls them off really well, leaving their extension and vibrancy without any signs of artificial (or physical for that matter) dampening. They’re just masterfully tuned and the treble nears perfection to my ears.
Soundstage is excellent, taking sounds outside of the “headspace” with great depth as well as width. Imaging often suffers from such a wide soundstage but that’s not the case here as 3D positioning is precise, allowing you to picture which direction sounds are coming from. This is yet another aspect of the A4 that combined with the other characteristics and makes these overall probably the most impressive IEMs I have heard to date.
Some might question a comparison between dynamic and hybrid earphones but as we’ve heard often it usually comes down to the tuning and build rather than driver count/type. These both retail at just under $200 at the time of writing this review so in my opinion make them ideal to look at side by side.
Both have a fairly balanced signature but the sub-bass on the TFZ has a bit more impact than that of the A4. Each has great clarity in the midrange but the A4 manages to pull a bit more detail and separation out of the sound. Both have a relaxed but well-extended treble but the TFZ lacks the airiness of the A4. Also, the A4 has a wider soundstage with more depth probably due (in my opinion) to the semi-open back design.
The Balance 2M has better noise isolation but the LZ is no slouch here either. When it comes to comfort I’d say the Balance 2M pulls slightly ahead. Each of these is among my current favourite IEMs for different reasons and if I had to choose between them it could very well come down to a coin toss.
Now we have the same driver configuration of a single DD and dual BA but a fairly large difference in price. The Moni One is currently retailing at around $70. It is the more V-shaped of the two, particularly in the treble which can get a bit splashy at times. The Moni One actually seems to me to have better micro details but this comes at the cost of slightly thinner midrange and edgy treble.
They each have very good bass, with the Moni One slightly edging ahead for quickness and control. Overall the A4 has a more balanced sound and is technically superior. If you’re not willing to go into the price range of the A4 then the Moni One is a very solid alternative.
LZ A4 Conclusion
I think I’ve said pretty much everything already. The LZ A4 is a stellar performer offering outstanding quality sound at a reasonable price. With its open and airy yet warm, rich sound it’s engaging, musical and elicits an emotional response from the listener. It can be sophisticated and fun at the same time and can be tuned more towards either direction with the fantastic filter system that makes it so versatile. Soundstage, imaging, timbre and air abound.
Detachable MMCX means you can use a third party cable but I can’t see why you would want to as the default one is already superb. The one minor complaint I have is that ALL of the provided ear-tips are too small for my ears but this is almost always the case for me personally and as such, I don’t feel it worth taking off any points. These are at the moment arguably the best sub $200 IEM you can buy and if they’re within your budget then I suggest you get yourself some as soon as possible.