Last Updated On: 4-3-19
KZ, founded circa 2013, is a new and still relatively unknown brand, but they’ve already got an extensive lineup of in-ear headphones that has started to make impressions in the audio world. The inexpensive ZS3 is currently one of their most popular products, and, according to some, the best sounding budget earphone at its price point.
The packaging is nice, a definite step up from the normal plastic sleeves budget earbuds come in. The cover slides off to reveal an inner packing piece with the earbuds. The wire, which is separate, and two different sized replacement tips are below in the opaque baggies, along with a small manual.
The buds are big but have a specific fit, kind of diagonally inverted, that feels decent. That lower ridge thing secures them between the tragus and antitragus of the ear (google it) .
The ZS3 is designed to be worn inverted, with the wire going over the ear. The two advantages of this style are that, one, the earbud won’t annoyingly pop or get ripped out, and two, it helps reduce microphonics, which is the noise you can sometimes hear through the earbud when the wire rubs against your shirt or whatever else. The buds and wire are separable via a two pin connector, which obviously allows for each part to be individually replaced if necessary and is a pretty fancy feature for a budget-tier pair of earbuds.
The plastic tube thing that extends a few inches down from the top of the male connector is malleable and allows you to fit the wire around the ear exactly the way you want it.
It took me a little while to figure these out and get a good fit, but once I did it felt quite solid, though the tube things aren’t as nice as actual behind-ear pads that come with more expensive earbuds.
The individual pin wires and 3.5 mm wires after the joint are exposed and just kind of wrap around each other. Out of the right headphone they feed through a basic in-line mic with a single on/off call button. I would have liked a second layer of insulation here, but, I suppose this is one way they keep the cost of these to a bare minimum. One thing I worry is that something could get caught along the wire, but, just be careful about that I guess.
All in all, though, these are well designed and nicely fitting earbuds that are an emphatic level up from typical similarly priced competition.
Spec/Performance Discussion, Listening Impressions, Other Related Observations
These sounded very solid, frankly better than anything else that costs the same or less that I’ve listened to so far. There weren’t any immediately perceptible specific flaws, and the general sound signature was good – nice and even with good clarity and detail. There was slight boxiness and recessed mids, sometimes, but that’s about all I noticed, and pretty barely for that matter.
The bass was also quite good – various drops I listened to that normally lose tone, pitch, and volume with cheap headphones didn’t with the ZS3. There was a little bit of resonance and fatigue on some thumpy EDM songs, but I’m somewhat biased against that whereas other people love that sensation.
The quoted response range is 10 – 20k Hz which is about as good as it gets with budget headphones, and I can tell from listening that KZ isn’t fudging it here.
The sensitivity rating is 98 which is a bit on the low side – I had to turn up my devices a little bit to get to optimal listening volume. The impedance is only 16 ohms though, so pretty much anything should be able to power these and get them loud enough just fine.
I’ve seen these called “noise cancelling” headphones in some places but they’re not really, they’re merely isolating headphones, but they do a good job of it. These are definitely usable as commuter headphones in noisy environments.
The KZ3 has a one year warranty which is pretty minimal, but about as good as it gets for something as cheap as it is.
I don’t have too many specific notes on the songs I listened to with these because they did a decent job on most of them, and the notes I do have are fairly minor.
Specific Play-through listening notes:
- Daft Punk; Give Life Back to Music – background guitar on vocal part is recessed, otherwise sounds solid
- Daft Punk; Get Lucky – solid overall, great clarity
- Daft Punk; Lose Yourself to Dance – beginning bass was solid, little bit of resonance
- An Endless Sporadic; Impulse II – sounded solid, no specific/perceptible complaints
- The Choir of Trinity College; Ubi Caritas – sounded solid, particularly good actually
- Clean Bandit; Rather Be – sounded solid, no specific/perceptible complaints
- Steely Dan; Peg – sounded solid, no specific/perceptible complaints
- Lil Wayne; A Milli – drop came in nice and strong, little bit of fatigue
- The Chainsmokers; Wake Up Alone – drop sounds good once again, full tone/pitch, ambient middle instruments a little quiet
- Earth, Wind & Fire; September – brass/strings feel a little far back and quiet, tried turning up volume but percussions got too loud and harsh
- Deadmau5; The Veldt – sounded solid, no specific/perceptible complaints
- Metallica; One – beginning guitar sounded nice and detailed, distorted guitar sounded a little flat and underwhelming, final guitar solo held together nicely
- Pantera; Cowboys From Hell – bit of grain and lack of clarity, bass recessed a bit, but sounds pretty good overall
- Ludovico Einaudi; I Giorni – sounded solid, no specific/perceptible complaints, nice and even, no lost instruments
- Nas; The World Is Yours – midrange recession very apparent, both beat and vocals were a bit forward and harsh, backing track is quiet
- No Doubt; Hey You – sounds solid, no specific/perceptible complaints, guitar nice and punchy, harpsichord solo sounded good
- Petit Biscuit; Memories – beat was pretty forward, significant thumpy fatigue, mid-song build up sounded really good
- Rage Against The Machine; People of the Sun – sounded solid, no specific/perceptible complaints
- RÜFÜS DU SOL; Sundream – sounds solid, no specific/perceptible complaints
- Rush; YYZ – good tightness and clarity, Peart’s drumming sounded good
- Vanilla Sky; Umbrella – sounds solid, no specific/perceptible complaints
Overall Take, As Compared To The Competition
These are really good sounding earbuds for a minimal price. The buds are a bit bulky, and it might take a bit of time and effort to figure out a good fit, but they feel solid and comfortable once you do. They also have good noise isolation for those who need it. At less than $15 dollars these honestly might currently be the best all around earbuds you can get. I don’t know why this company isn’t more mainstream-popular, probably due to under-marketing.