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A bittersweet affair: Lots of hits, 1-2 misses, an Achilles heel = BIG question mark
on August 28, 2012
I'd like to get this out of the way first: I am not an audiophile and my review is not based on any scientific audio tests - just my subjective enjoyment or lack thereof. I'd also like to say that I'm harsh in my reviews of products because I expect a lot, especially for an item as expensive as this. I gave this a 3 but I think it is really deserving of a 3.5 (Amazon does not allow for 0.5 increments in ratings, so I erred on the conservative side).
I'm an early adopter of technology, so I bought this `sight unseen' the moment it was released. I had been in the market for a good wireless headphone/set and had been disappointed with what'd I'd experienced so far (most recently with the Novero Rockaways). So while I waited and tested other products, I continued to use my Bose QC2s. Ultimately, what I was looking in a headphone/set was (1) solid sound, (2) wireless/Bluetooth capabilities, and (3) solid headset capabilities. Fit was also very important and one of the reasons I started moving away from my Klipsch S4is - I could never get a good fit with those. And then lastly: battery life/longevity. Anything else would be a bonus. What appealed to me about the Ziks was all fancy gadgetry. With that all said, the following is how I came out on this set:
Sound/Audio Quality - This is paramount. I spend most of my time listening to music on my subway commutes and on airplanes, so this is by far the most important characteristic for me. I think the Ziks produce sound beautifully, really beautifully... but only when powered on (more on this below). I found sound fidelity to be rich - all the lows, mids, and highs were easily discernible even with music on my iPhone (much of which is compressed to 256kbps AAC). I never tried lossless, but from what I read, you that's when you can really, really hear these come alive. I also listen to a lot of Pandora and Spotify, some of which is, or course, lower bit rate than 256k. Unlike the Beats, which I've repeatedly heard over emphasize the lows and essentially drown some of the mids and lows, I felt that the audio quality with the Ziks was very well balanced. I felt the sound quality was at least on par with my QC2s (which is very good) but better than the Klipsch S4i (which actually sounded decent to me before, but now sounded a bit muffled compared to the Ziks). I was really pleased.
Much of my listening was with noise cancelling (ANC) on, which I think is really necessary. I get a faint `humming' with the ANC off (similar to what you'd get if you cupped your palms and put them over your ears). Some folks love the Concert hall effects and EQ controls, but I rarely used them because I felt that they drained the battery too much and didn't add a whole lot to my listening experience. As a side note, I think the noise cancelling was better than on my QC2s simply because I hear less of the `hum' than I do with my QC2s when ANC is on.
Now, everything mention above is with the unit powered on. Once you turn it off and use it passively with the provided audio cable, the quality takes a HUGE hit. In fact the first time my battery ran out and I resorted to using the unit passively, I actually couldn't believe how awful music sounded. Completely flat, neutral, and lifeless. I'm not joking when I say that it was worse/on par with the quality of the $20 headphones that come with the iPhone. When I recharged the battery and turned the set on, it was like the music came alive again. I felt so disappointed that $400 headsets can't replicate at least some of the quality when turned off. After all, I've used cheap unpowered, passive headsets before that sounded 10x better than these when off. With battery life issues (more on this below) this is a big problem and seems like an oversight/afterthought by the company. Like it or not, you're going to have to always plan on keeping these powered on. That said, I only knocked off a half point off for this issue because it is meant to be used power on... but still, it is inexcusable for a $400 headphone.
Design/Fit - Completely subjective but I like the design. The flat sides have a minimalistic feel (despite the size of the cans) and lend themselves well to the touch controls (which work very well). I've had train myself not to touch the flat side when adjusting the headset on my head because it toggles the play/pause function. Other than that, no issue with the design.
However, the fit is problematic. They're heavier than the QC2s, but that doesn't really bother me. This does: I have a small-average sized head but these feel like if I ran with them or bent down to pick something up, they'd easily fall off. The fit isn't snug. I would definitely not use these at the gym for that reason. They really should have made these more adaptable to a larger spectrum of head sizes.
Wireless/Bluetooth - I didn't have any dropouts as some have stated. It seems to have good range and I could consistently keep a link between the phone (which is usually in my pant pocket) and headset. So no issues here.
Headset capabilities - Admittedly, I've only tested this briefly, but the audio quality when on calls is nothing to write home about. But then again, I'm not looking for superb sound fidelity when talking on the phone - just need to make sure I can hear the other person very clearly and they can hear me well. I think the Ziks getting a passing grade on this, but they're certainly not raising the bar here.
Battery Life - Now for the Achilles heel. Battery life is the biggest problem and what prevents this from being a truly superb headset. [I should mention that I'm on my second set. The first set had sever battery problems and would sometimes drain at a rate of 1%/minute(!) with only the ANC turned on so I was getting less than 2hrs before it shut off. My exchanged pair is much better.] I'm not getting anywhere near the stated 18 hours with only ANC and 6 hours with all the features on. You should probably count on half (I'm currently getting about 9-10 hours with only ANC). I get amazing battery life with a single AAA battery in my QC2s.
This is one of the reasons I don't use the EQ and Concert hall effects - I just don't think they're worth it for the battery life hit I'd take. Given that this uses a proprietary battery that can't be charged outside the headset, I think this is the weakest link with this product. Especially given the fact that audio quality in this headset is unbelievably awful when powered off and used passively. As such, I knocked off 1 point for the fact that (1) the battery does last something even close to the stated amount, (2) it is proprietary, and (3) it cannot be charged outside the headset (at the moment). Buyers should be prepared to have 1-2 charged batteries at their disposal if you're going to use all the features.
All in all, I'm really at a crossroads with this product. I want to love it madly, but can't find it in me to do so. I Go back and forth between feeling I should return this and wanting to keep it. I LOVE all the nifty features (touch controls, mute when removed from your head, control through app, etc) - as a techy gadget freak, I eat all those up. But despite those features and the great sound quality when the device actually has some juice left it in, the appalling audio quality when you lose power, which you will often, and the nagging battery life issue puts me in a tough spot given then price of these headsets. At half the MSRP, I think this is a no brainer for a keeper. But at $400, I'm having difficulty determining whether I should bear the shortcomings. It's a lot of money and for the price, I need something I'd consider superb.
That said, the one thing keeps me from hitting the return button at the moment is the fact that, as an overall package with all the features and benefits and audio quality (when powered on, of course), there's just nothing that competes within this at the moment. At least not that I know of... not unless you want to spend $500+, which I don't.