KZ ZS6: A budget neutral reference IEM that you need.

In audiophile world, the price over performance ratio has always been one of a buying factor. The recent price hike in audio world ignites the concern of most audio enthusiast and audiophile globally. Headphones like HiFiman Shangri-la, Susvara, and Sennheiser HE1 are the big names in the end spectrum and it does not stop there. Custom or high-end universal IEM could even go up to $3000 to $4000 range. There will be more brands that aim for a state of art headphones in justifying their price tag. Most people in audiophile society are a mid-class level that only had the opportunity to listen to high-end setup at a convention, audio shops and meet. Well, the general rule in this hobby is a more expensive gear tends to provide a better quality; however, there are numbers of brands that punch above their price and KZ brand IEM is one of them. KZs are well-known for They have high praised IEMs lineup like KZ ZST, ED3, HDS1, ZS3, ZS5 and many others. Recently, the company release yet another great flagship IEM called KZ ZS6, a better version of the already amazing KZ ZS5.
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Order and Package

It took about a month from the order date and the day it arrived in my mailbox. Unboxing experience is regular, nothing fancy; you will get three sizes of S, M and L ear tips, 2-pin cable with in-line mic (if you choose mic option upon ordering), documentation and the IEM itself. The cable has a decent quality, not the best but not the worst, and the microphone is quite good; better than my KZ HDS1 at least. I ended up getting a silver cable for aesthetic and build quality purpose. Not expecting any change in sound quality but it might bring something to the table.

Build and Comfort

The design is pretty similar to ZS5, albeit ZS6 a slight bigger. Despite a little larger than ZS5, it feels more comfortable and has a better fit than ZS5; this might differ in person, but it has a good fit with my ears. However, after an extensive number of hours on it, I realized that the tip could come off easily. I am not talking about the Starline ear tips, I am using the JVC Spiral Dot, but it happens occasionally. The housing feels solid with a gorgeous color option: black, red and green. Personally, I love the color lineup compares to ZS5 and I go for red because it is one of my favorite colors. Build quality is amazing for its price; KZ uses aluminum alloy houses instead of plastic which is a great addition to this lineup. I am using them with the wire over my earlobe and I am pretty sure that you can’t use them under ears.

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Specification

Shell: Aluminum alloy

Driver unit: 2 dynamic, 2 balanced armature

Impedance: 15 ohms

Frequency response: 7 Hz–40 kHz

Sensitivity: 105 dB +/- 3 dB

Noise cancellation: active

Cable: 47.3 in (120 cm) +/- 2 in (5 cm), removable 2-pin

Connectors: 3.5 mm                                                                                                                  info from KZaudio Aliexpress page

Included

IEM: KZ ZS6

Cable: original 2-pin removal cable

Tips: S, M and L sizes

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Gear used:

IEMs: KZ ZS6, KZ ZS5v2, KZ ZSR, Westone 30, AAW Nebula One and Fiio F1

DAC: Holo Spring DAC Level 3 Kitsune Edition, iDSD Nano BL

Amp: ECP DSHA-0, Emotiva BasX A-100, Marantz PM8005, Aune B1S, Aune B1

DAP: Pioneer XDP-100r, Colorfly C3
Note: Review is made after more than 100 hours of burn in but constantly tested in 100 hours period. Mainly tested on Tidal Master > Singxer SU-1 > Holo Spring Level 3 > ECP DSHA-0 Balanced > KZ ZS6.

 

Review Song

Daft Punk – Lose Yourself to Dance

This song is quite complex and there are a lot of things going on in the song. Everything just mixes up to but in a harmonic way. The ZS6 breathe perfectly throughout the song and I can hear every drum, guitar, the vocal that came out from multiple directions with ease. I enjoy this song with full size as it gives more impact and faster transient response. The ZS6 lacks in speed with this song but the retention time filled with a flow of rhythm. I utterly enjoy this song with ZS6.

Melody Gardot – Our Love is Easy

Female vocal is the emphasis of the song accompanied by jazz and orchestral mixed background. Layering and separation is the strongest trait on ZS6 and as you would expect, it does not disappoint and in fact, it’s doing quite well with female vocal in general. The mids is engaging and the spacious sound let you focus on the singer performance. Although the midbass is somehow lacking, the overall bass is accurate and well controlled.

L’Aupaire – Dancing in the Moonlight

The song starts with guitar strumming followed with drum kicks that provide a relaxing but impactful opening. Every instrument that comes into play were there but somewhat hazy. What I meant by that was that it doesn’t sound too natural. However, I love the vocal because it gives a good presence of the singer without excluding the background instrument.

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Sound
0 – 50 hours burn in

It felt a little muffled at first. I have the same exact experience with KZ ZS5 and after 3 – 4 hours, the sound started to come to life. It has natural and lively mids but bass is subpar with overwhelming treble extension; the treble might be a little too much for some. The vocal and upper mids sound harsh coming from Westone 30. The guitar player from Hotel California sounds over emphasis to a point it doesn’t feel natural. The soundstage has a good width and depth for IEM and it is above average. I personally feel like the bass has too much quantity but not punchy and less impact. It is great for most songs but sometimes the midbass is overstated that cause the sub-bass to roll off or not pronounced especially with a song like On My Level by Wiz Khalifa. The mids is the strength on the ZS6 and it never struggles with any female or male vocal song. Every word is pronounced accurately but there is a spike around 4 to 6kHz that exaggerate any word that ends with S. For long listening, if you don’t have any warm amp, it could be fatiguing.

50 – 100 hours burn in

Not much or no improvement ever since. The sound still retains, and the nasty treble is still there. I am not too sensitive to treble as how I used too but at times, the ZS6 treble does bother me. Although I am not a fan of EQ, I find that it might help if I tone down the 4 kHz for 2 or 3 db. I decided to add Schiit Loki to the chain and it does bring more pleasant listening experience. Not by a whole lot but it is noticeable. I also bump up the low end to few dbs and I love how it adds more quantity and texture to the bass.

After 100 hours

Honestly, I can’t remember when does this starts but I felt like the spike toned down a bit and the bass are more apparent; more body and enjoyable. Then, I use the ZS6 with my portable setup again to see if there’s better synergy. The first thing I noticed was the vocals; smoother but retains clarity. The bass is more articulate but still on the soft side and less impact. The ZS6 has a good tonal balance albeit the spike in the upper midrange. It is more on the neutral side and works perfectly for acoustic and classical song. For modern songs like EDM and pop, while they sound great on ZS6, I would personally go for other IEM in this regard.
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Pairing

I have it paired with a few pairings from full-size desktop amp to portable amp. I am also using a third-party silver cable and change the ear tips for better results. I found that the best pairing is as shown below:
Desktop
Tidal Master/Foobar > Holo Spring Level 3 > ECP DSHA-0 > KZ ZS6

Portable
DSD > Pioneer XDP 100r > Idsd Nano BL > Aune B1s > KZ ZS6

Both setups tones down the nasty spike but at the same time maximizing the detail retrieval. It brings more holographic sound to the setup. I found that it sounds more musical with my portable setup but more detail and neutral with my desktop setup. It also has more bass response with my desktop setup. Although, I enjoy the ZS6 with both setups and mostly use the ZS6 with my portable setup because I have more capable full-sized headphones to be used with my desktop setup.
IEM comparison

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Vs KZ ZSR ($28)

More neutral, better clarity and brighter. ZS6 is more neutral and good for audio purist that wants to avoid any coloration to their IEM. ZSR has more relaxed sounds with a larger soundstage. The tonal balance in ZSR is more to my liking as I can enjoy more songs with ZSR. Although, clarity is the tradeoff as I put ZSR in my ear. ZS6 has more detail retrieval and but also can be a little congested at the same time. ZSR has more space to breathe and the bass response does surprise me because it has more body and well-controlled compares to ZS6 that I find to be lacking in this regard. ZS6 is more on the brighter side while ZSR sparkle at the right amount but never roll off by any means. In my ears, ZSR has a better fit while ZS6 easily comes off. Overall, if I had to choose only one between them, I would go for ZSR because it suits more genre and good for a long listening session.

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Vs Westone 30 ($235)

Better clarity and brighter. While I love ZS6, I don’t think that it can top off my most favorite IEM all times by far. ZS6 is a clarity monster but that might also result from the increase in the upper midrange. Westone 30 has better tonal balance and more articulate highs with well-extended bass. However, the mids on W30 sound recessed when both were compared together. Soundstage goes for ZS6 but imaging has a different presence on them; ZS6 tends to have more separation and it seems like you were in a front row of a show. However, in W30, it seems like you were on the stage with the performers. W30 has a faster transient response and more speed; that’s what I like with the IEM. ZS6 can be a little slow in dynamic response and less forgiving. It stays true with any track you throw in. Overall, they are different and in fact, very different. It is a matter of preferences and mine goes to W30 but of course at almost 6 or 7 times ZS6’s price.
Conclusion
There are times that I prefer ZS6 especially when I listen to acoustic or classical songs. But, I would go for different IEMs with another genre. Earlier, I mentioned that ZSR is the more capable IEM because it goes well with most popular genre. But for its price, ZS6 is a great IEM that competes in a considerably saturated market but managed to make its way up and well received by consumers. Note that, a setup synergy will be important to bring out the best from KZ ZS6.

 

 

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