KZ AS10-Knowledge Zenith’s budget flagship

KZ AS10-Knowledge Zenith’s budget flagship
Written by ngoshawk
Published 29 minutes ago

Pros – Fairly unique look.
Solid build.
Good overall sound, especially in this price bracket.
“Good” bass.
First silicon tip I have actually liked.
Good overall sound, with enough detail to keep you interested.
Does not have that typical (to me) treble boost at this price, and I’m glad.

Cons – The cable tangles.
No carrying case!
The cable tangles.
Many options at this price

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The KZ AS10 was provided to me by Lillian from Linsoul sound (DD-Audio store), and can be purchased at their Amazon site: https://www.amazon.com/KZ-Earphone-Resolution-Headphone-Cancelling/dp/B07G34D6PB/ or Aliexpress: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32902758060/32902758060.html. All that was asked in return was an open honest review. I would have it no other way.

Initiale:

From @b9scrambler, … KZ has been dominating the hyper-budget market for years now, partly due to raw saturation, but also because many of their products are straight up good and worth your attention. With the ZST, their first hybrid, KZ upped their game. Since then, they’ve delved deeper into the hybrid market releasing various models with a variety of driver configurations and in the process have seen themselves rise out of the hyper budget realm and up against more established competition.

The release of the AS10 sees a couple firsts for the brand. First off, it’s their first pure balanced armature model. Like the ZS10, it features five drivers per side. Unlike the ZS10, inside each ear piece is a 3D printed structure which houses the drivers, guiding sound to two individual outputs visible in the base of each nozzle, protected from dust and ear wax by a sheer filter.

The AS10 is also their most expensive model to date, firmly removing them from their roots in the sub-20 USD realm. It is worth taking a chance on the AS10? Absolutely.

*My initial notes, important here for the initial findings:

Cable is a mess…tangles every time I try to unwind it. Not acceptable. After roughly 50 hours of burn-in, I tried the AS10’s on a windy walk at our daughter-units Futbol practice. The cable (even with the issues) was quiet and functional. I burn in units of which I test because I feel that a potential customer will want to know what the unit in question sounds like after 2-3 months of use, not out of the box; since it will only sound that way once. Where-as a burned-in unit will be the state in which we use the item in question for a good…long…time. Whether you believe in burn-in or not is not the question, but as stated above the use after time is the important part.

Bass like A&D D2…overwhelming at times…tamed somewhat with time.

The first thing I noticed was a good seal utilizing the included silicon tips, which have a nice relief groove to them. Think making a cone, and how you cut the paper to make one and you get the picture. To me this makes sense in aiding the seal, giving a more form-fitting approach. Not sure I can tell the difference, but on this VERY windy night, the seal was quite good. And so was the quantity of bass. Running the critter through my QP2R, the sound was rich, and full of bass depth. That depth of bass was not the cleanest of which I have heard, but pretty decent nonetheless.

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The overall sound reminded me of the open-air bowl at which I heard Don Henley in San Diego many decades ago. Good and full, but it was obvious we were a distance from the stage. While the mids may have seemed recessed as a result, I hold that it was the laid-back nature of the signature, instead. There are IEM’ of which the mids certainly are recessed, but this is again the overall presentation, almost U-shaped to me. I may be wrong, but that is the impression at which I started.

Specs from Amazon site:

Product Name: Original KZ AS10 In-ear Earphone
Brand: KZ
Model: AS10
Earphone type: In-ear
Impedance: 32Ω
Earphone sensitivity: 105dB/mW

Frequency range: 20-22000Hz
Interface: 3.5mm Gilded
Plug Type: L curved
Cable Length: 1.2m±3cm
Color: Black, Cyan

Whether with cable: Yes
Earphone interface: 2 Pin

Whether with mic: Optional

Detachable cable: Yes
Driver unit: 5 Balanced Armatures Per Side

Songs used:

Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

REM-Losing My Religion
Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

Comparison equipment:

MEE M6 Pro Gen2
TinAudio T2 Pro
Meze 11Neo
AAW-Shozy Hibiki MK2

MacBook Pro through Audirect Beam
Shanling M0
Shanling M3s
Questyle QP2R
Aune M1s
Ruizu D05

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Unboxing:

Coming in a subdued black box, which opened like a book from the right, one is presented with the IEM at the top, and accessories below. As someone else stated (and I agree) the packaging while tasteful is wasteful. Especially since the KZ doesn’t come with a case. I find that more and more in the items received, and I must say I do not like it. Include a case…please.

Two plastic halves glued together of different material highlight the IEM. Fingerprint-prone black plastic holds the model number as well as which ear the critter goes into. Also listed is “10 balanced armature,” noting the TOTAL number of BA’s in the pair, since this is a 5/side BA pair. The other half looks like a small circuit board what with crossovers and resistor connections visible. I get the impression KZ wanted something a bit different, and they succeeded. I’m not sure if I like the look, but I rarely purchase an item for the looks (I drive a new Prius, so…)

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A detachable 2-pin brown cable give the KZ-AS10 a subdued look, which is counter to the circuit board. A nice touch, if it weren’t for the “tangleability” of the cable. The strain reliefs on both ends are semi-hard rubber, which give a good feel, counter to the cable itself. Memory sleeves are long and pliable, a nice touch. Don’t get me wrong, the cable is very nice, as it is tightly wound below the Y-splitter and gives a very solid sound; but this is one of the more tangle-prone cables I have encountered lately. In mountain-biking terms, I call this “Stiction.”

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No slider is provided to cinch the cable close to your head in activity-mode, but this isn’t really meant to be used for those purposes. Overall a nice cable, with drawbacks.

The included tips have that relief groove, and I must state that they seem to provide a better seal. To the point, where I haven’t even switched to my standard Comply’s. Good seal, good fit, good sound. Much to like there, and worth a look as an option to most included silicon’s. Something I do not think I have ever stated!

As per my standard bearing, after an initial listen I put the AS10’s on my Shanling M0/Opus #2 combo for over 50 hours. As stated previously, I believe this helps the potential customer understand how the critter will sound down the road. Believe in burn in or not, it doesn’t matter to me. I do it for your benefit.

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Initial:

My first impressions were coming off of some lower priced units, and I must state that the bass took me away. Deep, almost rumbly in nature, I was impressed. But knowing that this might have been placebo effect from the other cheaper options, which were oriented towards a brighter signature, I withheld judgement. I did read from a couple of reviews that the KZ is very good at the bass level for a BA IEM. I would concur as well. Hooked to the QP2R, as well as the Ruizu D05, the KZ happily came along for the ride. Another good initial pairing was the Shanling M0. A happy pairing all were. I did notice immediately that the AS10 is easy to drive, even at 32 ohms. On all, I had to turn the volume down several notches from the other I am testing concurrently. So, source should not be a bother.

Delving further:

Bass is strong and vibrant, but a bit muddled in Don’t Panic from Coldplay. Same on Dragonfly from Ziggy. I will say that the more I listen, the more accustomed my ears appreciate the bass. Think of that brighter Spring day, but with the first sign of allergies looming on the horizon, and you get the picture. Enjoy the sound of the bass for what it is, not what others are. On certain songs where I know the bass should be there, such as Senorita from Los Lonely Boys, I was left wanting a better push of that bass. Acceptable, yes. Better than many other budget offerings from the region? You bet, but a bit behind other manufacturers in the same category regarding quality. Good for a 5 BA unit as well.

I say this often, and it does again apply here: the mids hold the music together, but here it is from a recessed V-shape. Almost polite in nature the mids tend to hold down the fort though, in quiet confidence. Neither sharp, nor quiet you can tell that the mids lie behind the other sounds, and in this instance, it is all right. On songs such as Ziggy’s excellent Lighthouse you hear both cases. Behind the excellent vocals and guitarwork and tying the sound together. This is all right in my book, as I often find mids, which are too forward grating in nature, and become tedious in which to listen for longer periods.

That said, with good treble comes the benefit of the mids tying together the overall sound. I do not like peaky or brittle treble, and with the AS10, I am not disappointed. Neither shouty or peaky, the treble rings through true and accurate. Not the most accurate of treble I have heard, for this price it is quite good. Ringing through Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sensual Montreaux ’85 version of Life Without You defines pretty accurately the treble sound for me. Stevie’s voice can be gravelly and sensual in the same sentence. And here the KZ represents both accurately. I was not left wanting better definition in this range. Slightly warm in tone, the upper end was defined by the snap of snare, the succulent stretch of his guitar licks on the solo, and Reese’s melding of the keyboard into a sound, which was very good and listenable. I cannot say that about all I have heard recently with this same song. Good stuff, indeed.

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Soundstage/Separation/Instrumentation:

On the more closely guarded sides to me, the soundstage is neither wide nor deep. Adequate would be a good descriptor. Left in the vein of a middle sized-venue, the sound sits a bit forward and up in the soundstage box. As if you had a floor seat to an excellent concert looking up to the artist and music. That said, there is sufficient detail in which to know where each instrument lies. Separated through decent layering, I could differentiate where the instruments lay pretty well with a concerted effort. If I just listened, it became harder but not uncomfortable or worth the bother. Dragonfly comes through fairly well and clear. Here that bit of middling bass shines through, but not to the point that it becomes bothersome. I can live with it and be quite happy.

Comparo-extraordinaire (all done on the Shanling M0):

KZ AS10 ($69.99) v Meze 11Neo ($59):

Right off the bat, you can tell that the KZ has a deeper reach of bass that the Meze. There is more bass as well. The Meze has a cable prone to microphonics to boot. So, with that you might think there is nothing in which to compare the two, and it is a landslide for the KZ. Well, not really. While the AS10 is quite good for the price, the Meze does provide nearly the same sound for a bit less money. I find the detail retrieval of the 11Neo to be a bit ahead of the KZ as well. There is more mid-presence in the AS10 than the 11Neo, but not quite as well defined. The KZ is good, especially when you consider the price, but throw in the ability to wear the 11Neo down (and it stays) and you get closer to each other. Plus, the Meze does not have that tangle of cable…only the microphonics of cord. The 11Neo has a bit better reach up top, and control to me. If I had to choose, though the KZ AS10 would come out on top.

KZ AS10 ($69.99) v AAW-Shozy Hibiki Mk2 ($65ish):

Anytime IEM’s run in the same price venue, you would expect there to be somewhat minute differences between them. At least that would be what one expects. Here, though you do not really get that. The Hibiki has a more forward mid-centric sound, with less bass quantity. Compared to the KZ, the bass of the Shozy is quite tame. It is there, just not as punchy as the AS10. Driver count, and configuration can certainly account for this, but while I state that there is still much to like regarding the Hibiki. A quick listen back and forth yields a more open signature with the Shozy. Almost refreshing in nature, the Hibiki gains its following from a very solid midcentric sound (to me) as well as that openness of sound. Honest is what I called it in my review. I stand by that. Plus, it has a much better cable tactility-wise in my opinion. If you want deep, dark and rich go for the KZ. If you want a more open sound, then choose the Hibiki. You really cannot go wrong with either, though.

KZ AS10 ($69.99) v MEE Audio M6 Pro Gen2 ($49.99 + $15 for custom plate):

Much harder to drive through the M0, the M6 Pro G2 comes into this fight with a disadvantage. But, with better bass control, the playing field evens back out. Again, there is more depth on the KZ, but better control and better upper bass quality. Cleaner would be a good way to describe that difference. Running a bit wider sound stage, you get more air in the presentation through the MEE Audio as well. This little critter fast became a favorite upon arrival and is now my go to when working out. That said, the KZ certainly competes with that deeper reach and a bit less shouty in the mids. MEE told me they smoothed out the mid-section while giving better definition to the bass from the G1, and I would concur that they have indeed made a more pleasant signature. But the AS10 competes well and is easier to drive.

Cymbals sound a bit artificial out of the KZ, with the G2 sounding every bit like they should. The KZ sounds good overall but compared to the MEE a bit of artificiality comes through. Where the KZ shines is in true bass rumble. The MEE has some, but there is a hint as opposed to an actual punch. I was left wanting the bass rumble of the first gen but do find this signature quite acceptable.

KZ AS10 ($69.99) v Tin Audio T2 Pro ($59, retail):

Left late, the T2 Pro was a sudden addition to my queue, timed with the Linsoul Massdrop. Having been thoroughly smitten with the “regular” T2, I eagerly anticipated to Pro. I was not disappointed, either. But again, the KZ proved its worth against the newcomer. With better bass, it tilted towards a landslide. BUT, and that is a big but (haha) the T2 Pro had a trick up its sleeve…detail retrieval. In talking with others, and perusing the written word, the goal of the T2 Pro was better detail presence. And I can state that this is indeed what happened. Plus, the T2 Pro does better the AS10, by a good bit. If detail interpretation is foremost in what you are looking for, then you would be hard pressed to better the Pro. It is excellent in that area.

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Comparo du DAP:

As stated above, all of the comparisons between IEM’s was done with the excellent little Shanling M0. And a very nice little critter it is. Typicasl slightly warm Shanling sound, with enough power to drive most thrown its way, the M0/AS10 combo is quite pleasant. I know, I use that phrase a good bit, but that would be an apt description. Nothing stands out too much, either good or bad. A bit intimate of sound stage if you must ask for a downside. But well worth a listen.

Not so very long ago, the wonderful Aune M1s came my way as a result of a lucky win (wooHOO!). As I really liked the borrowed M1 I had at one time, the M1s raised the bar for Aune so-to-speak. With a more neutral sound, and better detail than the little M0, I thoroughly enjoyed the sound. Not only would I recommend the AS10, but wholeheartedly the M1s as well. Good wider sound stage, excellent layering and enough power for most, this is one fine pure music player. The KZ/Aune pairing is a favorite of mine recently, and one in which I can confidently recommend.

Moving up the food chain, I have yet to find anything, which does not work well with the QP2R. There is a reason it has displaced the Opus #2 as my reference DAP. Again, without the frills of WIFI and BT to encumber it, the sound is pure bliss. That said, here is where the AS10 starts to be out of its depth a bit. Only a bit. For once you set foot into this vaunted territory, you had darn well bring the goods. And while the KZ does, it simply cannot sound its best at this level. That lack of detail, and a slightly brittle upper end begin to show here. Masked successfully by the “lower” DAP’s, it cannot hide here. So, if you want the KZ AS10 (and you should), do not aim too high with your source.

Le Grand Finale:

So, all those words…many, many words above. Which if taken at face value make a pretty decent read if I may say so selfishly. But, those words are written with purpose and accountability. Purpose, because I find it my duty to present what I hear, whether it is good or bad. Accountability because sometimes I contact other reviewers for a Chautauqua regarding the critter in question. We talk (I listen/read) and respond about subtle nuances of what we have on hand. And since I am at the deficiency, I do rely upon what other reviewers hear by asking them how area X sounds when using unit Y. I rely upon this due to my aforementioned deficiencies. But sometimes, those same reviewers query me with what I hear, because they know I make up for my deficiencies by listening for those subtle differences. So, a nice two-way street results and we have no car crashes…

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As a result of the above, I can recommend the Knowledge Zenith AS10. If you want an affordable 5 BA/side critter, with very good bass for a Balanced Armature unit, then the AS10 might be just what you are looking for in an IEM. I would try and find a different cable to keep on hand as well, because I cannot recommend the cable. It is a tangle mess, albeit one that does sound quite good paired with the AS10.

I’d like to thank Lillian from Linsoul Sound for the continued faith in the reviewer, even in good or bad. It was again, my pleasure at reviewing this little critter, which is worth a listen.

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