KZ – As10

I recently picked up the KZ As10 to try out.  I paid pre-order pricing and have received no incentives of any kind for this review.  Being wholly honest, I debated not even getting this one after the disaster that was the Zs10 and the heftier than normal tariff for the As10.  This represents a definite up-turn in KZ’s pricing as it is the first to break the $50 barrier in initial price and while it may drop precipitously as some other models have, so far it is holding steady in the $55-$65 range depending on vendor.

Packaging:

Gone is the standard KZ white box in favor of a black pressboard side opening box with embossed KZ logo on the front and silver lettering for the right and left earpieces on the interior tray along with a metal Plaque announcing the KZ AS10 in English and Chinese. Under the tray, the normal accessories are present so while the presentation has been amped up a bit, the kit remains pretty much standard KZ.  Three sets of tips (mediums installed large and small in a bag), the cable, manual, and warranty information.  Strangely, and looking a bit like they forgot when they made the box to print them, the inside lid has a pressboard panel glued on with the KZ emblem and logo reminding us that the purpose of headphones is to enjoy music (slight paraphrasing).

Build:

The housing is black plastic on the inside and smoked clear plastic on the faceplates to expose the electronics in a fashion similar to the Zs10 and ES4 models.  Size is closer to the ES4 than the Zs10 but still a bit on the large side so those with small ears may need to consider fit.   It is worth noting that the thickness of the earpiece is substantially less than either the ES4 or Zs10 so it does sit more flush with the ear than either of those.   The nozzles have the mesh embedded so not as easily removed as the glued on the surface version used on some previous models and also lacks a lip to retain the earpieces but do have some small studs that seem to work equally well.  Also worth mentioning is the bore of the nozzle is wider than the bore of the provided tips so tip rolling may change the sound signature.  I found that I like the Auvio wide bore large tips better than any of the provided tips for my listening.

Inside the shells are 5 balanced armature drivers per side featuring a new driver for bass and some of the same drivers we have seen previously (30095 and 31005) in other KZ products.  While this may lead some to immediately think the As10 will have the same recessed mids and heightened treble of other KZ products, it is important to remember that other factors influence tuning and indeed the As10 sports a new crossover design as evidenced by the visible components.

The cable is exactly the same one shipped with the ZsA that I reviewed this past week.  You will pardon me for simply copying that text here.

 Cable:

The cable deserves its own section as KZ has stepped up its game when it comes to cables on recent models.  The Cable is brown with black fittings and braided nicely.  Starting at the 3.5mm Jack the cable exits at a 90 degree angle with minimal strain relief and runs roughly ½ the length of the cable to the splitter.  Again, the splitter has minimal strain reliefs and with the split being so far down the cable a chin slider is really needed. Unfortunately, no such thing is provided.  I improvised with a dental braces rubber band which effectively moves the splitter up to more normal position.  At the earpiece end are memory wires that are easily removed for those that don’t prefer them and .78mm bi-pin connectors.  Overall, I’d love to see the split moved to the ¾ mark, a chin slider, and better strain reliefs on the next generation, but at least these are a marked step forward from earlier revisions.

Isolation: 

I found Isolation of the As10 to be below average for an all BA iem.  My thoughts on this are the surface area of the faceplate and as thin as the material used in the faceplate is, it allows too much sound to enter the body of the iem.  The small vent on the inside to equalize pressure may also play a role in how poorly the As10 isolates compared to some others.  Having said this, I still find the As10 usable, but would probably avoid using it on commuter trains or in other high noise situations.

Sound:

First off, the As10 doesn’t need a lot of power as it has good sensitivity and relatively low impedance so use of a portable DAP or smartphone is well within its wheelhouse.  I did find the As10 to be somewhat source dependent so my sound impressions are based on listening while paired with the AK70Mk2.

Bass: 

The Bass driver is the new kid on the block and was the biggest question mark going into this review.  How well or poorly the As10 is received was going to hinge in large measure on how well this new driver could deliver a satisfying, full, deep bass.  The good news, is that it does so considerably better than I had expected.    Extension is good but not fantastic and mid-bass is somewhat emphasized, but gone is the booming bass of the Zs6, replaced with a much more textured and nuanced low end that while not as punchy as some others in the KZ line has better control than any other KZ to date.  Attack and decay are very good as expected from a ba and that gives a nice crisp sound without any mud.

Mids:

I hate to say it, but mids are still the weakest suit in the KZ’s hand.  Not as much so here as on other models, but they are still recessed in comparison to both ends and still not as detailed as I would prefer.   Vocals are well rendered and fairly full but are a bit smoothed over at times and some small details are lost as a result.   The good news is the lower mids respond fairly well to EQ and some of that recess can be adjusted for.  It does not bring the detail back, but at least it levels the playing field a bit.    The Upper midrange has obviously been tuned to avoid fatigue as it is well set back of the lower treble with a particularly notable recess from 3kHz up into the lower treble range at about 5kHz.   While this does prevent fatigue, it also degrades the attack on percussion and is particularly evident on snare.   Unfortunately, this behavior seems built into the crossover and EQ did little or nothing when tried at 3-4kHz.

Treble:

The As10 uses the same two drivers for high frequencies as the Zs10 and it shows.  The lower treble is somewhat recessed as already mentioned but starts to push forward again as we reach the 6kHz range and by 8kHz is well forward.  This gives some air and sparkle but with the treble extension being somewhat limited keeps from becoming harsh or overly fatiguing.  I’ll admit that I find it odd that the ZsA I recently reviewed comes off as bright with its single BA handling the upper-mid and treble duties while the As10 comes off as slightly smoothed over and polite by comparison.   Proof that tuning means as much as driver count once again.

Soundstage:

The As10 manages to fool you on sound stage as it sounds better than it really is due to  good instrument separation and a lack of congestion.   After several listening sessions, I came to the conclusion that soundstage is only average with it being wider than deep and not having particularly demonstrable height on any of the tracks I look for it in.  Having said that, I never found the stage to sound congested or compact and I think this is largely due to excellent imaging and instrument separation.

Thoughts:

I must say that I went into this not expecting much.  The Zs10 was a train wreck in many regards and with the As10 sharing so much with it, I wondered if there was really any way to redeem that mix of parts.   Turns out, there was and KZ did a good job of sorting out the good from the bad and keeping the things the Zs10 did well (detail level and imaging) while replacing some of the odd sound signature issues of the Zs10 with a more coherent and polite sound.   I think the As10 fits well at its price point and will give those who want a bit more bass energy than the Tin Audio T2 or BQEYZ 2s provide a viable option.   KZ seems to be getting better as they go (with a few false starts along the way) and has now proved they can compete in a price bracket above their usual.  I’ll be interested to see the next evolution as KZ.

 

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