Hey everyone. Today I’ll be reviewing the TFZ Exclusive King so without further ado let’s get down to it. TFZ or “The Fragrant Zither” burst onto the IEM scene not so long ago but since then has gained quite the name for itself amongst enthusiasts.
Starting with the “Series” series which were regarded as having some pretty serious bass, they followed up with the Balance 2/2M which were indeed fairly balanced but still had a heavy dose of the low end. Fast forward to the present and TFZ has a new series going by the title “Exclusive”. The Exclusive King Experience Edition is soon to be released as the Exclusive King Formal version. The Formal version will have detachable cables in place of the fixed found on the original.
Good build quality
Great looking earphone
Upper midrange a little shouty
You may be wondering what the heck a zither is. Being the considerate person that I am, I shall provide a brief description –
zith·er ˈziT͟Hər,ˈziTHər noun a musical instrument consisting of a flat wooden sound box with numerous strings stretched across it, placed horizontally and played with the fingers and a plectrum. It is used especially in central European folk music.
“He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Packaging and accessories
On this occasion, the King’s carriage comes in the form of a classy silver box emblazoned with shiny silver print. Under the lid is the striking blue IEMs laid out before you in their snow-white plastic tray, the colours contrasting wonderfully. You’ll also see the white carrying pouch here, adorned with the TFZ logo on the front. Underneath the pouch is a recessed pocket with the cable coiled up and held with a Velcro cable-tie.
Lifting out the tray reveals a few extras and a smaller silver box containing the rest of the accessories. All together you’ll find:
warranty and information cards
3x pairs silicone tips (S, M, L)
1x pair double flange silicone tips
1x pair foam tips
1x pair silicone ear-guides
It’s a nice package overall with an elegant presentation and gives you pretty much everything you could want to accompany your new IEM.
Build, comfort and isolation
The King is constructed with shiny, blue metal face-plates covering a transparent blue, plastic housing. The shells are smoothly contoured with high-quality construction and feel every bit as good as they look. There’s quite a bit of heft making them feel substantial and solid but they don’t feel as heavy as the Balance 2M and don’t feel heavy when worn.
The angled nozzles have a good length and a raised ridge to prevent ear-tips from sliding off and getting stuck in your ears. There’s also a metal grill in place to prevent debris and earwax from entering the housings.
Coming out from the top of the shells are the translucent strain reliefs with the cable embedded inside. Farther down is a translucent Y-split and chin slider/cable cinch. The cable itself is pretty nice, a clear, twisted affair that has a good thickness and weight to it and terminates in a translucent, 45° angled plug with TFZ branding printed in red.
For my ears these very comfortable, especially with shorter, third-party tips (all the provided ones are too small for my ears). There’s no memory wire in the cable so it can easily sit over your ears and is barely noticeable. Unlike many other UIEMs (including the B2M) these don’t cause any hotspots for me so I could really wear them all day without a second thought.
For isolation, I find these pretty good too, mostly due to having large ears so the shells sit nicely in the conch of my ears, almost as if they were customs. Your mileage may vary of course as we’re all special little snowflakes with unique anatomy. With music playing quietly I don’t hear much outside noise and when the volume is turned up I am oblivious to what’s going on around me.
It’s often the case that as you go higher in price then you’ll get less V-shaped signatures with earphones and that’s true with the King. It has a more balanced sound and is aimed towards the enthusiast group who are looking for a more refined or unique presentation, so there’s an emphasis on the higher midrange and lower treble with very little of the colouring that you find in the general consumer targeted products.
There’s bass here. Not a lot in terms of quantity but ohh this is all about the quality. You won’t hear any bloat, or woolly beats (unless the track was recorded that way). Rather the bass is punchy and fast with next to no bleed into the lower mids. There’s an almost hybrid-like separation of the bass from the other frequencies all wrapped up in a coherent bundle.
Sub-bass can let out a growl when it’s called upon and displays nice extension but never overexerts itself or becomes too boisterous. Kick drums and bass notes have a great edge to them with fast attacks and decay and drive the music along without blurring the lines.
Midrange is allowed to shine as it doesn’t need to compete with an overly aggressive bass. Sure it’s a little on the thin side but it’s smooth with great instrument separation and chock full of detail and clarity. In the Addictive Glance “How Far You’ve Gone” Evgeny Lebadev remix all the minute pitter-patter, sounds are easy to distinguish amidst the energetic, driving bass.
Female vocals get special treatment via the slightly emphasized upper mids like in “The Moment” from The Gentle Storm’s The Diary – Anneke van Giersbergen’s voice rings out sounding natural and uninhibited. In the lower spectrum the male vocals in Katatonia’s “Residual” come off as a touch dry but it’s a worthy trade-off when you hear the great drums backing them up.
When it comes to treble this is perhaps the King’s weakest point. Actually, let me rephrase that because it’s not really a weakness – the treble is not quite as impressive as the bass and midrange. It’s prominent enough to give the overall sound a bright edge and at times borders on being a bit aggressive but I wouldn’t call it abrasive or harsh. There isn’t any real shimmer or airiness to it though like I find in the Whizzer A15’s treble. Still, the timbre is very true to form and it’s a very good match for the overall signature of the King’s sound.
Soundstage and imaging are definitely above average for an IEM at this price. These have really good soundstage depth and the stereo imaging is nothing short of excellent. You can get a real sense of distance and positioning which is so often hindered by heavy bass and midrange thickness in a budget earphone.
The ms02 sounds more organic while the King has a digital like cleanliness that is full of detail. Bass has similar levels on both but is more defined with a cleaner edge on King. Thniksound’s ms02 has a warmer overall sound but is still lively in the treble. Both are comfortable but the ms02 is even more so with its traditional barrel-shaped housing that basically leaves only the ear-tips making contact with your ears.
You can’t go wrong with either of these as they’re both great performers with the deciding factors being over-ear or cable down wear along with whether you prefer a brighter, more detailed sound (TFZ) or a slightly warmer and smoother one (ms02).
These each have their own unique approach and differ greatly in sonic presentation. On one hand, you have the King with its upper tilt focus while the Gemini HD is more about lower mids and mid-bass presence. Treble is much more pronounced on the TFZ compared to a subdued one on Accutone’s offering and as a result, the Gemini HD has a darker, non-fatiguing sound.
Build quality is fantastic on either one but I find the TFZ more comfortable because the Gemini HD has a straight back edge that causes hot-spots in my outer ear after prolonged use. The updated version of the King (Formal edition) will also have the benefit of a detachable MMCX cable that could prolong its longevity and also gives the user the ability for some customization.
Like I said earlier the TFZ King is not targeting the average listener as it’s more tuned for audiophiles. Actually, I really don’t like that term because after all what is an “audiophile”? Just a snobbish term for an audio enthusiast! Jokes aside though, the King has a lot going for it technically, aesthetically and ergonomically as well as a good accessory bundle that makes it pretty impressive for the price.
The tuning might not suit everyone but I am certain it will appeal to a lot of more seasoned listeners looking for something outside of the common V-shaped sound. For $99 the TFZ Exclusive King Experience version is in a small, select group of products that aims to please a more demanding demographic. TFZ has created something that is truly unique in this price bracket and for that reason alone you should aim for an audience with the King.