The Elegant and Complex Parrot Zik Bluetooth Noise Canceling Headset Page 3

Tyll Hertsens's picture

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
Parrot_Zik_Photo_ConcertHallThe "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.

Summary
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.

Resources
Parrot Zik Website.
Websites for Parrot and Phillipe Stark.

Here's a video on the Parrot Zik featuring the designer.

Company Info
Parrot, Inc
3000 Town Center
Suite 2340
Southflied, MI 48075
(248) 354-5400
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Comments
drwild's picture
Parrot Zik

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
I'm not Tyll, but....

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
Yup..

Wut he said exactly.

drwild's picture
Thank you!

Cheers Dinny (and Tyll),

That's perfect. I really appreciate it.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture
No Problem

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

Limp's picture
I suspect the DSP chips used

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
Some ideas

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

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
Not really

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
Best Bluetooth Headphones

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
Yes...

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

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
Kudos to Parrot Zik!!!

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
to drwild

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
Measuring Parrot Zik in Active/Wireless-Mode

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
Active measurements

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
Great review

 

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
Harman Kardon BT Headphones

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

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
Travel Case

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
Mi primes post leído (spanish)

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