The Elegant and Complex Parrot Zik Bluetooth Noise Canceling Headset

The Parrot Zik ($399)
I'm an audiophile, but I'm a human first. I like sexy. I like cool. I like to have fun. Human stuff...I'm human. The human in me gets a big kick out of these headphones. The audiophile, not so much. And therein lies the conundrum: whether or not you will like these headphones will depend on whether you can successfully identify with your basic human self, and put your inner-audiophile in the corner for a time out. It's just a matter of focus. In this case, I choose to focus on being human, and my inner-audiophile, it seems, is quite content to sit in the back seat and come along for the ride.

Parrot_Zik_Photo_SideDesign
The Parrot Zik, designed in collaboration with renowned designer Philippe Starck, is a beautiful headphone. It looks good, it feels good, it's a pleasure to engage with it. Metal, fabrics, and synthetic materials disappear into a seamless organic whole unlike any headphone I've previously encountered. The B&W P5 comes close, but it's a throw-back into old school sensibilities, vibing like a vintage Vincent motorcycle or Jaguar convertible of the last century. Lovely, to be sure, but not contemporary...not hip.

The Parrot Zik is beyond now. Sleek, sexy, curvaceous, like an apparition of things to come. Swooping bionic metal arms sprout from the headband holding ovoid ear pods connecting you to your music and those you talk to on the phone. Alien, and yet somehow familiar. Ear capsules are synthetic, yet warm and comfortable to the senses. It's not just a headphone, it's part art, part clothing, part post-modern communications. No, we never did get a flying car, but we now have the headset for it.

Whether or not something is appealing is a matter of taste, of course, but I have a hard time believing most wouldn't find these headphones very attractive. Have a look at the pictures, then realize that these cans look as good, if not better, in the flesh.

Build
Parrot_Zik_Photo_ArmThe build quality of the Parrot Zik is superb. The arms, which extend from the headband to a swivel and then attach to the rear of the capsules, appear to be an injection molded metal alloy with a lovely natural matte finish. Similarly sculpted and finished metal accents adorn and surround ports on both earpieces, and the caps on the end of the headband.

Headband and earpad covers appear to be high quality protein leather; the outer side of the headband at the top center has "Parrot" modestly embossed on it. Two cables are included (USB charging, and plain headphone cable), both are fabric covered and are terminated with stylish and useful connections. Connectors and headband ends have understated and attractive orange accents...a signature Starck touch. The headphone cable is terminated on the headphone side with a straight 1/8" miniplug, and a 90-degree angled plug on the player end. Unfortunately, the cable does not include a remote/mic, making player control and phone calls impossible when the battery runs out of juice.

The carry bag is a simple soft cloth fabric bag. This is one area Parrot should improve significantly. A headphone of this caliber should have a case to match. This one is pretty sad.

Comfort
Though a tad heavy, I found the Parrot Zik quite comfortable. The earcups are slightly small, and not particularly deep, but the memory foam gives them a plush and cozy feel. I was able to wear them for long periods of time without undue discomfort. The headband would benefit from a bit more cushion, and after a few hours I felt a bit of pressure at the top of my head, but again this was minor. The Ziks would likely be uncomfortably warm in hot, humid climates, but no more so than most cans of this type.

Earpads easily swiveled to a comfortable position on the nicely engineered arm gimbals. The headband adjustment is accomplished by pulling the metal arms in and out of the headband. Numerous closely spaced detents allow fine adjustment. The arms were quite tight in the headband--making adjustment a bit difficult at times--but once in position they were very secure.

It's time to talk about the features...and these cans have plenty of them. Let's turn the page.

COMPANY INFO
Parrot, Inc
3000 Town Center
Suite 2340
Southflied, MI 48075
(248) 354-5400
ARTICLE CONTENTS
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COMMENTS
drwild's picture

Hi Tyll,

Happy halloween and thank you so much for that Parrot Zik review! I've been waiting on it with baited breath before purchasing a new set of headphones.

I've specifically been waiting for your review as, of all of the reviewers available online, yours are the most useful and interesting I've come across; you've obviously got all of the technical and audiophile stuff in hand but remain useful and understandable for those of us who lack the audiophile ears but want something more useful than a cnet review.

I'm new to commenting and I don't want to muck up any thread so please feel free to delete this if its out of place here... I wanted to ask a couple of questions of you.

I've just stepped into a work role that requires a lot more travel, both plane and train, and need a set of earphones that block out noise, sound good (both these functions are very important to me) and are comfortable for long periods.

One of your comments stated IEMs are best for blocking background noise. The Jerry Harvey site claims -26 dB of isolation for their custom-mades. Shure claims "up to 37 dB of isolation" (but the sensaphonics site doesn't seem to state explicitly what their custom-made-for-shures achieve). Other reviewers suggest the JH's will achieve -35 to -40 dB of isolation. I'm not really good at reading your graphs, and can't seem to find any for the isolation values of these IEMs I've listed here, but will they achieve -26dB across the 'brown noise' range that you describe is descriptive of plane/train background noise? Or is it more?

I can't seem to find details anywhere on exactly how much better IEMs are at isolation in a travel environment than are noise cancelling headphones. Can you help?

And if i can stretch your advice to being a bit more personal to me... I'm no audiophile, but I'd like to get a better ear, and I can tell the difference between really bad headphones and the better ones but I would struggle to describe it. I'd say I have an okay ear but am definitely no audiophile. I listen to artists like Leonard Cohen, JJ Cale, Fleet Foxes and some classical. I tend to like systems more that are good with base and are on the warm side.

I'm happy to spend extra cash (cash isn't really an issue) to get the best option for this specific purpose of travel, but don't want to be a fool and spend extra cash on something that I won't be able to hear the difference on.

So here is my main question for you: Should someone with an okay ear and looking specifically for headphones for travel purposes go with these Parrot Ziks you've reviewed here (based on your comments that the noise canceling isn't far behind the Bose QC15's but the sound is better) or should I shell out more for the IEMs Shure SE535 ($800 total if I go with the sensaphonics which requires audiologist visit) or Jerry Harvey JH13 or JH16 ($1250 total with audiologist visit).

If the SE535s (at twice the price of the Ziks) or the JH's (at three times)  are going to make me that much happier and will probably last much longer, I'll gladly do it, but I don't want to be the auditory equivalent of the tool who buys a Ferrari but isn't good enough a driver to handle or enjoy it. And if the JH's are worth the cash, do I read correctly that you prefer JH13's to JH16's?

So I guess I'm asking, 'What's your Wall of Fame for the traveling man with the average ear'?

Thank you again for all your help and great reviews. Much appreciated.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

Having traveled with both noise canceling phones and universal and custom IEMs, I would recommend custom IEMs.  Especially if sound quality is important to you (even if not an "audiophile" per se).  I think you would be astounded by the sound quality of something like the JH13 or JH16.  For you, something like the JH16 is worth investigating as it is a bit more "fun" sounding than the 13 imo.  But there are a LOT of great custom IEMs out there from other reputable manufacturers like Ultimate Ears and Westone.  Custom IEMs are a LOT more portable, don't need batteries, seal out the world, and sound amazing.  Downsides are sticking something in your ear, which some people don't like; expense; time-comsuming to buy (audiologist, need to send back if fit is off).  Bottom line for me is if you have the money to spend and sound quality matters to you more than just a little bit, go for the custom IEMs.  You'll get more out of them.  If you just need something for planes and don't care THAT much how they sound, then the noise cancelers are the way to go.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Wut he said exactly.

drwild's picture

Cheers Dinny (and Tyll),

That's perfect. I really appreciate it.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

Let us know how it turns out.  Your input is important.

Limp's picture

I suspect the DSP chips used in the Zik are 16-bit, and truncation errors are to blame for the characteristic sound of these cans.

Come on, Tyll. You know bether than to come with such unfounded assumptions.

First of all, quantization errors occur at all frequencies, so everything from the deepest boom to the highest whine would sound 'papery', but it doesn't, because two: It's really really quiet.

If you don't believe me you could always try for yourself. Truncate your choice of 24bit music to 16 bits, or even 14 or 12, and tell me what you hear.

These myths about dither and high bit-rate music really do not need to be given added authority by respected journalists repeating them. And you do realize that you are perceived as a respected journalist, Tyll?

Other than it was a nice article about a pair of very interesting headphones. It seems that Starck had a bit more success with this design than a certain yacht recently unveiled. 

ultrabike's picture

I'm no audio engieer, but while quantization might introduce white noise, music may be more pink noise like. Because of this, maybe quantization reduces the SNR of the high frequencies more than the low frequencies.

More over, in terms of the equal loudness countours, we seem to hear the range between 2k to 4k loudest.

This frequency range corresponds to high mids (lower tremble region). Issues in this area are described as edge and crunch:

http://www.independentrecording.net/irn/resources/freqchart/main_display.htm

Given this, a higher (white) noise floor might be more evident in this frequency area.

Lots of maybes there cheeky

Consider also that DSP operations introduce a fair amount of noise depending on the number of operations, internal precission, and roudning technique.

Other than that, it could also be DSP is clipping in it's operations by using only 16 bits. Or maybe the equalizer is amplying distortion as well while compensating for the suck out from 2 to 10 kHz...

Willakan's picture

It strikes me that if DSP can make a mediocre headphone sound decent, it could do something rather special for a state of the art headphone design. I'd like to think that we see similar technology incorporated directly into the flagships of the future, but in an environment where even equalisers aren't widely accepted, this seems a long way off.

AstralStorm's picture

The one thing DSP is great at is evening out frequency response and perhaps damping low frequency resonances. However, good high end headphones don't have those issues.

Of course, tuning to HRTF, spatializers etc. can all be well implemented too and could improve the experience vastly.

Guitarist9273's picture

You mention in your conclusion that the Parrot Zik headphones are the best Bluetooth headphones you've used to date.

How do they compare to the Logitech UE 9000 wireless headphones you reviewed a month ago and named as, at that point, the best Bluetooth wireless headphones you'd ever used? Do the Parrot Zik headphones sound any better, or is the overall headphone experience with the Zik just better/more pleasing than the UE 9000?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I find the UE9000 to have too much bass when powered up; it's a bit cleaner in the highs though. Still the Zik provides a better balanced presentation, and the noise cancelling is better. OTOH, the UE9000 sounds MUCH better passivly on the wire. So, it kind of depends on how you're going to use them, and how much you want better sound.

Lawk's picture

While we are on the roll with bluetooth headphones, can we have a review of these:

http://www.compuexpert.com/TekNmotion-Airhead-BT-Bluetooth-Stereo-Headse...

There is a video of hifiguy unboxing these but as usual no real review or comments on the sound.

ultrabike's picture

Great to see that the DSP is indeed doing a great job there. Would love to see the characterization plots (FR and all) when the DSP is engaged!

Hopefully this approach at making cans will be successful, and hopefully we will see headphones that will sound great in passive mode, and eargasmic in active mode. Looking forward to advances in the DSP implementation and flexibility... A learning equalizer with arbitrary target curve would be super-cool!

Hope Parrot will further stabilize their interface, improve compativility with laptops, and offer good customer support.

Laurence Wayne's picture

drwild, since you asked:  my wife has come up with the perfect compromise/solution for air travel;  I place the Bose QC15-no cable-(great noise cancelation), over my AKG K3003 IEM (amazing reproduction) and I have the perfect combo.  Comfort, quiet and great music.  Of course you did say "cash really isn't an issue".

Laurence Wayne

Guitarist9273's picture

It's a shame you weren't able to measure the Parrot Zik in active mode.

I'm guessing it wouldn't take much movement to trick the Zik's auto-off sensor into believing it was on someone's head. I wonder if securely attaching a very small, very gentle & relatively quiet electronic vibrational component to the base of the measurement head would be effective...like a mild version of what's used in some cell phones. A tiny electric motor connected to an appropriately sized eccentric weight. But, I suppose the measurements would be thrown off by the frequency of the vibrations if they were too intense, or if the motor itself produced too much noise.

If all else fails...stand there and just shake the F'er! cheeky

Phos's picture

Trying to think of how the sensors could be fooled, I'm trying to think if inducing a slight magnetic field might via an electromagnet (switching on and off, of course) or just simple inductance via a magnetic field to fool the sensors.  If they're pressure sensors I imagine they just work by varying their resistance.  

latebeat's picture

 

Hi Tyll,

I am a new visitor here, and boy am I glad I found your website! It's so cool to find someone with such experience and can speak with such authority on headphones. I can't afford 1000$ headphones so the 100+ headphones that I'm looking at are usually reviewed by cnet or gizmodo or other big names that I really don't trust them to be objective or authoritative.

Anyhow, if you don't mind I have a question for you. I'm thinking of upgrading my current headphones to something nicer. I want a pair mainly for the stationary bike / cardio something to listen to dance and urban music. My current pair is the sony xba 500 with the huge black cushions and the big bass that you already reviewed about a year or two ago. I know that they are not the most accurate pair but, for that kind of music I like the feeling of a big, tight bass that you'd normally get out of a big system.

So right now, I'm thinking to go either with the Sennheiser Momentum or the Parrot zik. Normally, I wouldn't think twice about a bluetooth headset but I was impressed by your review and that you didn't dismiss them right away as sucking! Price wise they're both almost the same so I wanted to ask your opinion given the fact that you've reviewed both as well as my current pair.

Is the sound of the momentums a significant step-up from the zik or you wouldn't say? Or to phrase it differently, if I'd go with the zik, am I sacrificing significant sound quality?

Also regarding the zik, can I pair them with my laptop and still have the noise isolation?

Finally, if I were to wear them for >2hrs at a time which pair would be more comfortable?

 

Also one last thing; I experimented with some in-ear pairs which I never had done before and I experienced something weird.. I found that when the volume was low any movement of the cable would just resonate to my head. For example, if the cable was grinding ever so slightly on the zipper of my hoody the sound was almost multiplied and deafening. Should, I call it cable noise.. microphonics? Is it always like that with in-ears if they're sealed in the ear?

 

Thank you and keep up the great reviews! Definitely, bookmarking this site!

 

manishk's picture

Hi Tyll,

I regularly see you reviews on youtube. I am from India.

I want you comments on Harman Kardon BT Headphones. I want to how is the bluetooth signal strength. Does the headphone have good bass and clearity.

Most of the headphones which are reviewed by you are not available in India.

If possible can you please suggest should I buy the Harman Kardon BT Headphones.

Thank you

 

Manish K

 

 

MacedonianHero's picture

Did a second round of A-Bing these with the UE9000s and I prefer the Ultimate Ears cans in pretty much every area. One thing I found right off the bat, was that I couldn't extend the earcups completely down to cover my ears. 

 

The UE9000s just sounded more real to me and I really like the option of a great sounding headphone that can be run in passive mode. 

 

Great write up (as usual) Tyll!

StacyHB's picture

Hi Tyll, not sure if this is the appropriate place to post this, but you mention the lack of carrying case for the Ziks.  We at GOcase are making a premium case for the Ziks.   Check it out at http://www.mygocase.com/F-Type-Headphone-Case/dp/B00BHHO4V6.

Sérgio's picture

como dice el título, si. exelente, admiro la objetividad en un análisis. saludos

Lunatique's picture

For those of you who want to tame the strident sound of the Parrot Zik (in its default setting), here's my EQ setting in the Parrot Zik's Audio Suite app:

80 Hz = -4
160 Hz = -4
5.6 KHz = -6
10 KHz = -6
(The other frequencies remain the same)

This setting makes the Zik sound a lot more similar to the Sennheiser HD650, which was used as the reference for A/B comparison. It won't sound identical, but the overall sonic signature is close and the Zik sounds far more pleasant and neutral compared to its default setting or any of the included factory presets provided by Parrot.

Don't use the "Tuned by Lou Reed" because it sounds extremely colored and harsh--it's nothing but a useless gimmick (especially if you care about accuracy and neutrality in your audio reproduction).

Active Noise Cancellation doesn't mess with the sound too much (not to the point that it should bother you), so use it when you have to without feeling like you're doing something really negative to your listening experience. The difference is pretty much negligible.

As for the Parrot Concert Hall, that's mainly a subjective choice, so pick whatever sounds the most immersive and engaging to you based on the music you're listening to. I personally don't like too much coloration, so I tend to not use the settings with too much room coloration. Just a little makes the virtual listening environment a bit more lush sounding, and I tend to like the milder settings the most.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks for the input, Lunatique!
aliniazi's picture

I just love these headphones. They are the best. I've used these head phones extensively for few months now, they are hands down the best headphones I've ever used. The sound quality is crisp and clear, the Active Noise Cancellation works perfect, I've taken it on flights and they were wonderful. The battery life is great, lasts me all day, and the best feature is that once the battery is dead it can still be used with the headphones cable provided. I haven't found any other headphones that offer these features. Not to forget the free Parrot app is excellent, allows me to configure the sound the way I like it. If you're after good head phones, you will not find a better piece.

rolandclark963's picture

Blue tooth head set is a necessary and useful thing for everybody, most of people use headphones at the time of driving car or any other vehicles. There are various type of phones available in different looks and as per requirement of users they make the products.
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