The Elegant and Complex Parrot Zik Bluetooth Noise Canceling Headset Page 3
Sound Quality: Wired, Passive
Yeesh! The Zik will play music when the battery is dead or the unit is turned off, but it doesn't do it well at all. The sound in this mode is horribly sucked out, sounding rather like listening through a couple of Dixie cups on a string. Really bad. All I can say is buy the optional extra battery and keep it charged. You don't want to run out of juice with these cans.
Sound Quality: Wired, Active
Wow! Much better! With the Zik powered on and operating on the wire, but none of the app modes engaged, it sounds quite good. The overall balance is very good with modest emphasis in both the bass and upper-mids/low-treble. It's quite obvious the design team has put in a DSP filter to correct the headphone's basic performance in the wired, active mode...and have done a fairly good job of it. I think most casual listeners will be quite pleased with the sound of these cans.
Audiophiles, however, will readily note a somewhat artificial sounding treble response. The natural sound of cymbals and brush strokes on the snare are replaced with a papery sounding simulacrum. People have asked me before what I mean by papery sounding. It's sort of dry and unrefined, but not harsh or overly gritty. 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. This problem became more evident with MP3 and streaming compression, exaggerating the already artificial sound of these types of files.
I'd like to reiterate that I found these cans neither shrill or dull, neither murky or lean. The sound on balance is very tolerable, and without any gross failings. I would think most non-audiophiles would say they sound quite good.
Sound Quality: Bluetooth, no app effects
The Zik uses Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, and uses the SBC codec to receive audio to 345kbit/s. I found the audio quality over Bluetooth very modestly degraded relative to wired listening. The sound was marginally more grainy, but given the already somewhat unnatural sound when wired I felt that most people--even audiophiles--will simply store the wire and use these cans exclusively in wireless modes.
Sound Quality: Bluetooth, Concert Hall Modes
The "Concert Hall" component of the Parrot app has two types of control: room type and speaker angle. Given the already somewhat artificial nature of the sound due to all the DSP processing going on, I had little hope that this feature would be worthwhile. I've done a lot of listening to various headphone virtualizers over time, and was quite surprised and pleased with the Parrot implementation. No, it didn't really get the sound out of your head, but for a lot of older material (Beatles, old Bebop) this feature worked quite well to reduce the listening stress of hard panned recordings. Often, the EQ balance seemed a bit better with this feature engaged.
Generally speaking, I preferred the "Silent Room" or "Jazz Club" setting and a speaker angle of 90 degrees. The imaging improvement was readily audible on hard panned old jazz recordings. When adjusting the speaker angle, differences in stereo separation was quite obvious, and seemed to do exactly what I expected.
Switching between the "Silent Room" and "Living Room" the change was subtle, but for some material I did hear an improvement in the contextual organization of the sound in the "Living Room" setting, where the "Silent Room" mode felt a little "in-your-face" by comparison. There were slight EQ changes in the sound between modes as well. Generally I preferred the "Silent Room" balance a bit better.
The "Jazz Club" mode seemed to cause too much coloration for me, and the "Concert Hall" appeared to add a lot of reverberant information to the sound... much too much for me. After playing with them initially, I never found these two modes preferable.
Sound Quality: Bluetooth, Noise Canceling
The Zik does a very effective job of noise canceling. I would say it's nearly as good as the Bose Quiet Comfort 15, and that's pretty darn good. Turning the noise canceling on does effect the sound signature quite a bit, however, making the upper-mids sound somewhat hollow. It's as if you placed a large cup up next to your ear while listening to speakers. Strangely, this seemed like an additive effect, meaning that the fundamental sound didn't change, but you added something to the acoustic. Of course, that's pretty much exactly what's happening. With all the mics added in and the DSP doing its thing, you are essentially changing the acoustics of the headphones.
While listening to music in a quiet area I was somewhat disturbed by this coloration, but when immersed in an 80dB SPL brown noise sound-field (roughly the noise type and sound level of an airplane cabin) this coloration seemed very minor, in fact, it just seemed like part of the noise canceling effect.
Bottom line, the Zik provided nearly the noise reduction of the Bose QC15, but with moderately better sound quality. I think this is an excellent result!
Sound Quality: Phone Calls
I felt the voice transmission quality was good, but not great. Voices speaking on the Zik were slightly muffled sounding. It's not easy to know what was due to the cell phone service itself and what was due to the cans, but when the speaker on the other end of the line changed to some wired headphones it seemed somewhat cleaner sounding. Regardless, it was perfectly adequate to the task, and somewhat surprisingly so given the microphones are farther away from the speaker's mouth than with a wired mic.
The Parrot Zik is a stunningly beautiful headphone, and a remarkably ambitious engineering project. When I first heard of them, I expected a clusterfail of epic proportion. I'm pleased to report that I found them the best Bluetooth wireless headphone I've experience to date--a brilliant harmony of style and substance.
Yes, they're a bit rough around the edges with a few software bugs and a somewhat artificial sound that leaves them short of refined audiophile standards. But I have hope that the bugs will be fixed in future software updates, and I've heard exactly zero other Bluetooth headphones that meet audiophile standards. They're a bit pricey, but if you compare what you're getting with other Bluetooth headphones of this caliber, I think you'll find them to be a pretty darn good deal.
Like the Wright brothers first flight or the first manned space adventures, I think we'll look back at these headphones ten years from now as both a somewhat primitive but unique technological achievement, and a bold step into a new era of headphones. Both a bit sketchy and cool as hell.
The Parrot Zik is Wall of Fame bound as a great Bluetooth headset.
Here's a video on the Parrot Zik featuring the designer.