Till a few years ago, wired headphones and earphones were popular with buyers looking for budget audio products; Bluetooth was still too expensive for many people. Things have since changed, and it's now possible to buy true wireless earphones for less than Rs. 1,000. Although there are still plenty of takers for basic wired earphones that sell for around Rs. 300, most mainstream buyers seem to prefer wireless options. Now, other than the extreme budget end of the market, wired audio is becoming the domain of the audiophile, particularly with the announcement of Apple Music's upcoming Lossless Audio tier.
If you're looking to set up a basic audiophile kit on a budget, you'll need a decent pair of wired earphones that can work with a good audio stream fed by high-resolution files. One such option is the KZ ZSN Pro X, a pair of wired earphones priced at Rs. 1,899 in India. With a detachable cable and a dual-driver setup, this pair of earphones promises audiophile-grade sound on a budget. Find out just how good the KZ ZSN Pro X is, in this review.
KZ Audio – short for Knowledge Zenith Audio – isn't too well known outside audiophile circles, but it's a popular name among enthusiasts because of its focus on sound quality while keeping prices competitive. The KZ ZSN Pro X earphones look very different from typical wired earphones, with large casings made of clear plastic and metal, and an interesting braided cable. You can see right through the backs of the earpieces, while the outer sides have a patterned metal cover of sorts. I quite like this unconventional look.
Like many audiophile-focused earphones, the braided copper cable of the KZ ZSN Pro X is detachable and replaceable, and has soft ear hooks for a secure fit. You can use any compatible 2-pin 0.75mm cable with the earphones – just make sure you get the right connector plug that fits around the inputs on the earpieces. You could also get a Bluetooth cable and use the KZ ZSN Pro X as a wireless headset; the possibilities are vast thanks to the detachable cable.
The cable that's included with the earphones is very good, and also has a single-button remote with a microphone, making this useful even as a hands-free headset. The earphones are available in either black or gold, and weigh around 27g with the cable attached. A total of four pairs of silicone ear tips of different sizes are included with the KZ ZSN Pro X.
The KZ ZSN Pro X has a dual hybrid driver setup, with a 10mm dynamic driver (for the lower end of the frequency range) and a balanced armature driver (for the higher end) in each earpiece. The frequency response ranges from 7-40,000Hz, with an impedance rating of 25 Ohms and a sensitivity rating of 112dB. The earphones can be driven by even basic smartphones and portable DAC-amplifiers with ease.
There are plenty of true wireless headsets available for less than Rs. 2,000, so options such as the KZ ZSN Pro X are for listeners who prioritise sound quality above the convenience of wire-free listening. Indeed, that's what you get, especially if you're using a decent DAC in between the source and the earphones and have high-resolution music to listen to.
Unlike most wireless earphones in this price segment, the KZ ZSN Pro X has an audiophile-friendly sonic signature which gives frequencies across the range their due recognition. This helps bring out detail, especially in good audio streams and recordings. I used the earphones with my collection of high-resolution audio tracks on a OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition, with the Shanling UA1 DAC-amplifier in between.
Although marketed as having a V-shaped sonic signature, the KZ ZSN Pro X didn't sound a lot like most mainstream options. The upper end of the frequency range gets quite a boost, practically matching the lows in terms of response and pace. The mid range isn't a lot lower in sensitivity than the lows and highs, providing plenty of room for detail and definition in vocals, as well as the upper and lower ends of the bass and treble range respectively.
Listening to a high-resolution version of 9,000 Miles by Pendulum, the combination of earphones and DAC-amp delivered loud enough sound at even the 30 percent volume level, and it became increasingly detailed and immersive going up to around the 50 percent mark. The KZ ZSN Pro X earphones weren't even slightly hassled by the pace of this fast drum-and-bass track, handling the snare drums and cymbals impressively while keeping the bass tight and deep.
This was the general theme of things with high-resolution audio tracks; the KZ ZSN Pro X kept up with the pace of fast, busy tracks while offering plenty of detail and a clean, reasonably balanced sound. Even with compressed streaming tracks, the high volume and strong bass made for an enjoyable listening experience.
We Don't Talk Anymore by Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez on Apple Music without the use of the DAC sounded full, immersive, and beautifully detailed. The lows were punchy and attacking despite the gentle pace of the track, and the vocals shone through despite the deep lows and sharp highs. While the DAC provided a more cohesive and louder sound, the performance on the earphones was still pretty good even without it.
As I had stated in my review of the Shanling UA1, the KZ ZSN Pro X, despite its Rs. 1,899 price tag, sounds better than even the best true wireless earphones, provided it's paired with a good DAC and decent source audio. The sound is insightful, cohesive, sharp, and immersive in every way, reminding me just how different the wired listening experience is compared to wireless.
It's hard to sell the average user on the utility of wired earphones today, thanks to the increasing quality of affordable wireless and true wireless earphones. However, Apple Music Lossless Audio will change the game a bit, and should help popularise the pursuit of good sound quality on a budget. The KZ ZSN Pro X earphones fit into that specific requirement, offering impressive sound quality that exceeds what you can expect from even the best true wireless earphones.
Of course, this isn't for everyone; the KZ ZSN Pro X uses 3.5mm connectivity so you won't be able to use it with many modern smartphones unless you have a DAC or adapter in between. The excellent detachable cable and impressive looks are added bonuses to this excellent pair of affordable wired earphones, and this is definitely one to consider if you're looking to set up a budget audiophile kit.
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