KZ AS16 Review - Bang for Buck?

KZ AS16 Earphones review.

KZ AS16 Review

In this review of the KZ AS16 earphones we are taking a look at the latest earphone from one of the most popular brands from the Chinise Hifi explosion.

KZ or Knowledge Zenith as they are less commonly known are in part responsible for the remarkable growth of the chearp earbuds coming out of China.

They started gaining popularity with ultra cheap earphones like the KZZ ATE and ZST but have progressed to making more advanced models while at the same time keeping their budget friendly price structure.

So this is representing big change for the company both in terms of the design of the earphones but also with the demographic they are targeting. KZ products in the past have far outperformed similarly priced competition but now they are into another category where the competition is far stronger.


What are the KZ AS16?

KZ AS16 earphone review

The AS16 are a multi balanced armature driver earphone. In this case the 16 means there are 16 balanced drivers total with 8 drivers in each earpiece.

The theory behind multi-driver earphones is that by having individual drivers handle separate frequencies of the sound spectrum that you will get better sound.

Essentially you are not overworking a single driver in asking it to reproduce the full frequency range. In this case some drivers will be handling the lows, others the mids and some for the highs. Whilst more drivers doesn’t always equal better sound with earphones from the like of KZ and CCA being so popular it would be crazy to deny their popularity.

It should also be noted that this is going to be KZ’s most expensive earphone to date and with the large majority of the brands fans being drawn to them because of their ultra low price point it will be interesting to see if people can swallow the price increase.


The Packaging

KZ AS16 box and packaging.
KZ AS16 earphone review

The KZ AS16 come in a very small box. Far smaller than we are used to seeing but it has been done really nicely.Its a high quality cardboard affair and there is only a very subtle embossing of the KZ logo on the outside.

Open the box and you get a really nice presentation with the earphones layed into the protective foam. On the left hand side you have the KZ logo and the classic Chinese muddled english “Don’t Forget. The original intension is use headphone to enjoy music” ...almost got it right that time.

Benath the earphones is the accessories and thats about it. A very simple but nice presentation of the KZ AS16 earphones.

Box for the new KZ earphones the AS16


The Accessories

There are very few accessories with the AS16. Thats a good thing in this case because it helps to keep oveerall costs of the earphones down. In the box you just get a few spare ertips, a cable and a warranty card.

The eartips are fine and the usual mix of various sized silicone tips. Unfortunately there are no Comply style foam tips but so that will be an added expense if they are your tips of choice. The included silicone ones are fine but I think it would be well worth it to invest in some Spinfit tips to get the most out of the earphones.

The cable is nice, its a thin braided cable and our review model came with the inline microphone for calls. It is terminated in right angle 3.5mm jack with good strain relief. It has a good splitter section but unfortunately has no built in slider to cinch the cable. Finally, KZ has chosen to go with a 2 pin connector for the earphones and this one is quire different from the ones I am used to due to the elongated nozzle covering the pins.


The Build Quality and Design

KZ AS16 review. Earphones with 8 balanced armature drivers.
KZ AS16 earphones side profile view with cables and earths removed.

Build quality is excellent and KZ has come such a long way in the past few years. The AS16 feel remarkably well put togethe and the materials they are using differentiates them from a lot of the other budget earbuds on the market.

A metal baseplate is joined to an acrylic shell which in turn is bonded to metal nozzles. Those metal nozzles even have metal filters which is far prefered over paper of foam filters that are known to degrade over time. Throught the smoked acrylic housing you get to see the driver configuration and it is supremley neat and tidy in there with the 8 drivers stacked up side by side and neatly in line.

In all honesty im a big fan of the build quality and can see these lasting a long time. The only aspect of the design that I dont like comes in 2 parts.

The 2 pin connectors. 2 pin connectors seem to be well on their way to being replaced by the MMCX connectors and with that you dont have to be as careful so as not to bend a pin when changing cables.

The second part of my complaint comes with the fact that the 2 pin connectors are not recessed into the housing. From the looks of it the AS16 has crammed so much inisde that there is little room left for a recession into the housing. I think that these earphones will hold up just fine over time thanks to the cable skirt going over the connector but it will limit your options for buying aftermarket cables in the future.


Comfort and Isolation

I found the AS16 to be comfortable to wear over long listening sessions. The housing conforms well with the shape of my medium sized ears and there are no sharp edges that can cause discomfort. They are slightly on the headvy side but with the cable running over the top of the ear in a monitor style this is kind of a non issue.

Insertion depth was fairly deep for this style of earphone and when used with the right tips they are very good isolators and offer a significant reduction in ambient noise.


Sound Quality

KZ AS16

So on looking at some of the marketing the KZ AS16 Knowledge Zenith claim it to have sound equivalent to earphones worth 10,000 Yuan. That’s around $1400 USD. I havent got a clue what they are smoking in Guangdong because that is a ridiculous.

For comparison sake I have the Campfire Audio Solaris next to me which do cost $1500. Side by side its as you would expect  a massacre.

No these are not in any way competitors in that price range and I know that KZ are well known for talking nonsense or ripping off other companies Intelectual property. They stole various companies designs and even use clone knowles drivers in some earphones. Almost everyone knows this and almost everyone also knows that they do make good earphones for the money. So why don’t they just run with that rather than make outlandish claims.

KZ AS16 with detachable 2 pin headphone cable.

The KZ AS16 are a very very good sounding set of earphones for the money. Virtually indistinguishable if net the exact same as the CCA-c16 earphones.

Highs - The highs of the AS16 are quite bright and they do have a lot of detail. However on some tracks or on poor file quality tracks they at times get hot.

It’s close to sibilance but not quite there. Treble heads will enjoy them especially when compared to other earphones on the market but those adverse to a sharp treble should looke elsewhere. While top end detail is good there is only an average amount of spacing in the upper frequencies.

Mids - The midrange leans to the warm side and there is a lot of detail in it. Vocals sound good with this tuning and the speed of the drivers bring out a fair amount of nuanced detail. Upper mid has a source of sharpness, again not sibilant but it pulls to the hotter side. On the lower end the was very little in the way of muddiness, perhaps a slight bleed of the lows into the mids.

Lows - The bass is fast, tight and punchy but they fall short of being a basshead IEM by some marging. That said I would still consider the AS10 earphones to be more bassy than neutral and with a touch of EQ they can respond well to bass heavy tracks. I found that the combination of the bass and sparkling highs made them a good choice for electronitc music even though the did lack in the Sub bass that you might find on dynamic or micro driver earphones at this price point.

KZ AS16 earphones with detachable cables and metal grills.


Conclusion

The KZ AS10 are a very good set of earphones for the money although they are very similar to the CCA C16. I prefer the CCA’s recessed 2 pin cable but on all other aspects the KZ AS16 is the hands down winner. Build quality has come a long way in recent years and whilst I am not sold on more driver equaling better sound there is no doubt these are a well built, fun sounding earphone that punches well above its weight when compared to western brands. However given that KZ are known for their budget earphones it remains to be seen if people will stomach the hefty jump over the 100 bill mark.