Articles, Reviews

KZ’s Best IEM (KZ ZVX)

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The audio brand KZ needs zero introduction as they’ve been in the market seemingly since the dawn of the IEM hobby (roughly 2010). In the 13 years they’ve been in…

The audio brand KZ needs zero introduction as they’ve been in the market seemingly since the dawn of the IEM hobby (roughly 2010). In the 13 years they’ve been in business, they’ve built a mixed reputation, having both insane worshippers to absolute avoiders in the community. These massive gaps in public response were primarily due to many business practice controversies, which we’re not going to cover in today’s article. Secondarily, KZ hasn’t produced many products that resonated with the audiophile community and currently have no IEM actively competing in the new highly competitive market, until now. Introducing the new KZ ZVX, a well-tuned, budget single dynamic driver IEM that surprised the entire community. How good is it, and how does it compete against the other budget IEMs? Let’s find out! 

General Information

Driver Setup: 1 Dynamic Driver

Price (USD): $20/ $21 (no mic/ with mic)

Evaluation Equipment

Source: Topping A90 & D90LE

Graph Tool: Clone IEC 60318-4 Coupler (Clone 711)

Overview & Non-Sound Related

While I don’t usually cover comfort, as it’s highly subjective in IEMs, the ZVX has a noteworthy exception. The cable ear hook is rather stiff and could sometime pull the IEM out of position. One method to prevent this is to insert the IEM deeper into your ear and use the provided foam tips or other grippy ear tips to help hold the IEMs in place. On that note, the provided foam tips are good, and while I don’t usually prefer foam, I’m okay with using these. 

Build wise, it’s fantastic for $20; full metal body, sturdy, and rather premium feeling for what you pay. 

Tuning

The ZVX has a bassy neutral or mild v-shape tuning, both descriptors are applicable here. Bass is powerful, with engaging impact and slam that’ll please any bass fans. On top of that, the bass is well-controlled, correcting itself at 300hz, giving the lower mids a natural weight and warmth. My only nitpick is that the bass could use more definition. It slams hard but slightly blunted, though it’s not a big deal considering it’s $20, which is why it’s only a nitpick at best. In the context of the budget price bracket, this bass quality easily competes. 

The midrange on the ZVX is just as good as the bass, slightly warm lower-midrange leading to a natural-sounding upper midrange. The gain is not too much or too little; it’s nearly perfectly balanced with the bass, if not slightly bass-leaning. The presence region is also slightly boosted, adding energy and liveliness to vocals and instruments. This balance gives the ZVX a natural and relaxing listen without significantly sacrificing bass amount or midrange clarity. 

Treble-wise, the ZVX is mildly exaggerated in the mid-treble region, giving the ZVX more of a “planar timbre” than a naturally decaying dynamic driver timbre. It’s not by any means a deal-breaker, just slightly less natural. For context, most planars like Dioko, Timeless, S12, and Zetian Wu Heyday have a similarly exaggerated mid-treble. If you’ve experienced those IEMs, the ZVX timbre will sound somewhat familar. On the other hand, the air tamer. There’s enough air to give cymbals and other high-frequency instruments some life, but it could use more to add micro details and contrast. Though again, that was another nitpick, as for $20, it’s not a big deal. 

Technical Performance

Technical prowess is where most budget IEMs show their budget side, and the ZVX is no different. The main giveaway is the lack of incisiveness. The notes are not as cleanly executed and can feel one-dimensional. Instrument separation is also just okay, and micro details need work. 

Now, while all of these things sound bad, I have to repeat that for $20, these cons are acceptable and shared among other budget sets (Wan’er, Hola, Zero, etc.). 

Comparisons

With the review aside, the big question is, does the ZVX compete with the best budget IEMs on the market today? Next, I’ll compare them one by one.

7Hz Zero

Compared to Zero, the ZVX has more bass and treble, giving it a more fun-oriented signature. On the other hand, the Zero is neutrally tuned, with more forward vocals at the cost of bass quantity. The timbre on the Zero is also more natural due to a tamer mid-treble response. 

Ultimately, these two are side grades of each other. If you prefer more bass than vocals, then the ZVX is better, and vice-versa. 

Tangzu Wan’er

This comparison has more differences than the previous one. Tangzu Wan’er is a relaxed, vocal-centric tuned IEM with decent bass. The treble is very tame and smooth, which gives the Wan’er one of the best timbral decay in the budget space. In contrast, the ZVX is more bass heavy, and the vocals are not the star of the show. Treble is also spicier on ZVX, leading to a more lively timbre and slightly better clarity, but less natural sounding.

Even though I prefer Wan’er over ZVX, I see it swinging either way, as the improvements are not significant enough to give it a grade higher than ZVX. 

Truthears Hola

The Hola is the most relaxed, and out of all the IEMs being compared today, it has a down-slope-like signature that prioritizes bass and midrange and tamer presence region and treble. The Hola’s timbre is less natural than Wan’er or Zero but in the opposite way to the ZVX. The ZVX is less natural due to too much mid-treble, while the Hola is less natural due to too little mid-treble. 

Overall, the ZVX is a more v-shaped version of the Hola, with more bass and treble. The ZVX sounds less smooth than the Hola, but it’s more fun and lively. Side-grade once again. 

Summary

What can I say? I’m just as surprised and impressed as many of you reading this article right now. KZ has an IEM that competes with the best the price bracket has to offer. And with the release of the Ling Long, another decent budget IEM model, this truly feels like an anime redemption arc for KZ. One that we never expected would ever happen, but a welcomed one nonetheless. The ZVX gets a solid recommendation from me. For $20, it has the tuning to compete and the build quality that exceeds the asking price. Great job, KZ. 

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