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Shozy Zero: Zero or Hero? - [Review] 🇬🇧

Prolog:

Dies ist die englische Fassung meines Reviews des Shozy Zero. Die deutsche Version ist hier einsehbar: http://kopfhoerer-lounge.blogspot.com/2016/05/Shozy-Zero.html


Preamble:

A group of engineers and designers has worked as OEM developers and producers for audio products, acting in the background, until 2012, when they decided to found a company for audio products for hi-fi enthusiasts under their own name. And that’s how Shozy, a registered trademark of Cozoy International, was born.



It was some time ago that I had been in touch with Shozy regarding a product review of their sleek looking Cygnus earbuds. They then also mentioned that they had a new cheap single dynamic driver in-ear in the pipeline, a model with rosewood body and a competitive pricing of $50 while it was said to perform up to 10 times the price. Well, I’ve heard that story multiple times (, especially by some users claiming a $10-30 product would smash the $1000 competition, and in about almost every single case it had turned out as utterly nonsense, especially once when the $10 Ivery IS-1 was claimed by many users in its dedicated Head-Fi thread that was later removed to sound neutral and be technically superior to the Sennheiser HD 800, which I didn’t believe at all but took a shot and bought it, just to find out that it was one of the most bass-bloated and control-lacking in-ears I had ever tried, nonetheless there are indeed some in-ears that are over-performing for their competitive price tag, but not by that much) and I honestly told him that I wasn’t much interested, but he replied to me that he’d just throw in a sample of those rosewood IEMs that later turned out to be named “Zero” (http://www.shozy-hk.com/zero-earphone/) and that it was about me to whether I’d write a review or not.
So here we go now.


Technical Specifications:

Price: ~ $50
Sensitivity (at 1 kHz): 94 dB
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 18 kHz


Delivery Content:

The final retail packaging wasn’t ready yet and instead of waiting, I agreed that Shozy would just send me the in-ears and dedicated silicone tips. So there is not much to say here this time.




Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

Honestly speaking, judging by all pictures I had seen so far, I had expected an average quality rosewood, but it turned out to be really good. The pictures don’t do the product justice, mine do neither – one has to see the Zero in real life to appreciate its wood’s quality. Every Zero will surely look somewhat different due to the different grain of wood.
The in-ear bodies, y-split (that lacks a cable cinch, meh – but has nice “Zero” lettering engraved) and 3.5 mm plug (with engraved “Shozy” logo) are made of rosewood and look and feel really nice. Strain relief is good on the in-ears and connector and sufficient on the y-split’s lower section.
The side-markers are small letters on the strain relief and could be better distinguishable.
The cable: do you know Knowledge Zenith (KZ) in-ears? Zero’s is quite similar but the coat is darker. As also mentioned in my reviews of some of the KZ in-ears, the cable is pretty good, appears sturdy, is flexible, a bit rubbery and better than what a few other companies equip their more expensive models with.





Comfort, Isolation:

The in-ears are more on the smaller side of average and easy to insert. With my large conchas, comfort and fit are excellent. As with most in-ears of this kind, a wearing style with the cable over the ears is easily possible and also what I recommend and practise with about all in-ears. This also helps to drastically reduce microphonics, as they are very present with the usual “cable down” style because of the lack of a cable cinch.




I cannot see a real vent except for the gap on the nozzle collar that is however covered by the ear tips, nonetheless isolation is rather somewhat better than average and not excellent. Definitely not UE200 or SE425 levels, two in-ears with closed (non-vented) bodies that isolate extremely well.


Sound:

Just in case and as requested by Shozy, the in-ears were burnt in with symphonic music (for 200 hours, D’oh!) before listening started, although I suspect a greater burn-in effect (if any at all) with headphones.
For listening, I used the LH Labs Geek Out IEM 100, Leckerton UHA-6S.MKII, iBasso DX90 and DX80 as well as the largest included silicone tips. As desired by Shozy, I also used my iPhone 4, laptop (that puts out a flat signal except for a minor roll-off in the subbass) and AGPTek C05 DAP.

Tonality:

How is the tonality? In my ears, it is smooth, somewhat bassy and warm-ish but with a v-shaped tendency.

Bass is full, but it extends deep, doesn’t have too much lower midrange spillage and is tight, without boominess or being bloated (more on that in the “Resolution” section). It is forward but doesn’t become overwhelming; sound is musical and enjoyable but quite a bit bassier than the ER-4S’s and also UERMs’ neutrality (especially in the upper bass).

Although measurements indicate a bass around +12 dB, doing sine sweeps and EQ adjustments, it is rather ~10 dB in my ears compared to the very flat (diffuse-field target) Etymotic ER-4S and around 7 dB north of neutral compared to my UERM. The bass is full, somewhat big, but not really overwhelming and does not yet reach basshead levels. For my preference, there is somewhat too much (especially upper) bass most of the time, but that’s mainly because upper bass/lower fundamental range is already quite present and strong, something I don’t necessarily like much – in my opinion, upper bass could show somewhat less presence, being less kicking.
Bass starts rising at 800 Hz in my ears, reaching its climax at around 90 Hz but already being full between 100 and 200 Hz, with some rumbling (however with very good control) – the bass has more of a humped shape than straight rising tendency, adding some fullness and warmth to the fundamental range as well as lower vocals.
Yes, voices are more on the sweet and warm, somewhat dark side but I wouldn’t consider them as being really coloured or unnatural yet.
Between about 1 and 3 kHz, I hear a slight recession when doing sine sweeps, followed by a rising level above 3 kHz that extends into a broad-banded, above-zero peak at 5 and 8 kHz, with (just slightly) a bit less level above and really good extension past 16 kHz.

Overall sound is natural, musical. The bass is compensated by the treble that however doesn’t stand in the foreground too much, adding just the right amount of sparkle and perceived air in the upper ranges. Nonetheless, the middle and upper treble are undeniably forward in my ears when doing sine sweeps or listening to music – something that isn’t really showing on the measurement plots (in the middle highs) but rather the opposite, but in my ears, level is in the foreground in these areas. There might be some resonance in my large ear canals with the Zero.
Naturalness is good though, as the peaks are, as mentioned, broad-banded and decay in the upper ranges is just right (neither too fast nor too slow). At low listening levels, the Zero fits nicely in due to its sound signature, then sounding more balanced (keyword: loudness).

Resolution:

The Zero is not the super duper multi-driver killer. It is also not the best single dynamic in-ear. Nonetheless, it is a really nice offer for ~ $50 and stands well among other great dynamic driver budget offerings like the TE-02, B3 Pro I, A65 and M3 (direct comparisons further below). In fact, it even does some things better than those other budget offerings that could cost more, judged by pure sound quality.
Are most higher-priced dynamic in-ears overpriced or are all budget offerings (including the Zero) that are said to stand well against higher-priced stuff just sold at much lower prices than they could? Or is it probably a bit of both? It is up to you to decide. Taking manufacturing and buying prices into account, dynamic drivers, even the better ones, are usually much cheaper than BA drivers, and marketing, development and research costs are also things that play a role. So, good dynamic driver in-ears can naturally be sold at low prices if the company isn’t making huge profits from a single sold item and if engineering/research/marketing/design costs are kept rather low.
But enough introductory blah-blah, back to the Shozy Zero: it really does a good job. Could it compete with some other single dynamic driver models below/around $200? Yes. Is it technically better than most multi-driver BA in-ears? Not at all on the objective side, but you could still find it better on the subjective side if it really suits your tonal preference.

Bass quality is really really good for a dynamic driver in-ear. Punchy, quick, nicely controlled, without uncontrolled rumble. Quick music with fast bass lines? No problem at all for the Zero. Though, if we’re talking big boys, there could be a smidgen more bass details. Not a complaint at all for the price. If it was $500, I would desire a somewhat better detail retrieval in the lows, but not for $200 and especially not for $50, as the Zero is very easily worth that.
Midrange details are nicely presented. Not as liquid as with the LEAR LHF-AE1d, but with good minute details and good however not great speech intelligibility (no BA-levels).
Treble sounds natural and well separated, with good naturalness and air. If I was nitpicky, I could say that the violins’ overtones have some tendency to sharpness and if you don’t like a somewhat forward upper treble you might have problems at higher listening levels, but then again, no in-ear is 100% perfect (my UERM and even my beloved ER-4S aren’t) and decay appears neither too fast nor too slow in the upper range, is just spot-on.
For $50, you already get a lot of sound with the Zero, but that’s also true for some other budget offerings. Except for probably coherence, you will definitely get an improvement with good multi-driver BA-only in-ears between $200 and 500, but if you are more into the character of dynamic drivers, you will probably still prefer the Zero.

Soundstage:

Airy. Airy and well positioned. Do I need to say more? Probably not, but I know you want to read more.
Expansion to the sides is somewhat more distinctive than average, but not by much. It completely lacks congestion though. Spatial depth is nicely presented and layering as well as instrument separation are good. Size and airiness aren’t as present as with in-ears like the Havi B3 Pro I or DUNU Titan 1, but spatial precision and separation are really good. Not better BA-level but really good for a dynamic driver in-ear.

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In Comparison with other dynamic driver In-Ears:
So let’s see how the Zero stands up against other excellent budget offerings and some higher priced models.

Fostex TE-02:
Believe it or not, the TE-02 already is an excellent budget offering. Ignore its price tag, it doesn’t say anything about its sound. If I didn’t accidentally stumble across a German thread, I would have totally ignored the Fostex. It is one of the super budget (< $30) offerings, if not the only one, where I would personally easily see a price tag past $100.
The Fostex is the clearly more neutral in-ear, sporting a pretty flat bass, no real warm tilt in the lows and (in my ears) a somewhat darker, less present treble.
Overall, I just see a small advantage of the Zero in terms of midrange and treble details (especially as the upper treble decay sounds more natural), with both being on-par when it is about bass speed and control.
The soundstage of both in-ears is similarly wide but the Zero has somewhat more depth with comparable spatial precision.

Havi B3 Pro I:
The Havi B3 Pro I is an excellent in-ear - my only grief with it is that it doesn’t sound 100% coherent to me – besides that, it is a highly recommendable entry-level model. The Zero sports the better coherency with its single driver – but how about the rest? The Havi sounds more balanced, with less bass and fundamental warmth although it has some boost in the middle root range. The Zero has more middle treble whereas the B3 has little more upper highs with the stock black silicone tips I am using with the Havi.
Once again, I wouldn’t be able to say one is clearly better than the other. Both have comparable bass speed and control, resolution is very comparable as well.
The Havi’s soundstage is larger in both directions, with the somewhat better instrument separation.

Fidue A65:
The A65 – a really nice in-ear with titanium-coated diaphragms and built like a tank. Smooth, natural, very enjoyable and with really good bass quality and imaging (not really in terms of soundstage size but separation).
The Shozy sounds bassier and somewhat thicker, with more presence in the sub- and midbass. Treble is comparable though the A65 has somewhat less level in the upper and upper middle highs in my ears.
Talking resolution: the Zero has the very slightly quicker bass decay but the A65’s sounds more tactile, with the better body while maintaining the same if not even having slightly better control. The Fidue sounds somewhat more detailed in the bass. In the mids, both are comparable though I would give the very slight edge towards the Shozy. In the treble, I would say the Zero is slightly more natural as its decay isn’t as fast as the A65’s, but detail retrieval in the highs is nothing where I could make out a winner. It’s a tie.
Talking soundstage: the Zero’s is somewhat larger in both dimensions, but both are equally precise when it is about instrument separation and placement.

Brainwavz M3:
The M3 – a very nice in-ear, overall quite balanced, with just gentle “fun”. Great spatial depth. Average cable.
The Brainwavz has less bass and warmth. M3’s middle treble is more in the background but the peak in the upper highs is steeper, making it sound brighter there.
Bass speed is better on the Zero’s side. Control as well. When it is about midrange details and speech intelligibility, the Brainwavz is somewhat better. The Zero’s treble appears to be somewhat better resolving and little more natural.
Soundstage: the M3 has less width, more depth. M3’s depth is somewhat magical. In comparison, the sides feel somewhat congested on the M3 (imho). The Shozy sports the somewhat better spatial precision, sounds less blurry.

RHA T20 (“reference” filters):
The T20 is a well-built dynamic in-ear. It works well for Classic Rock. Midrange and treble details are quite good though the highs could be somewhat more even (there is some very minor sizzle). Over time, I realised what I personally don’t completely like about the T20 – its bass (not necessarily the quantity as I am rather flexible regarding that but the amount of upper bass and general quality). It is quick but somewhat rumbling. Not rumbling in a good way, but rumbling as in lacking control a bit. Yes, bass is better “distinguishable” therefore but that appears somewhat forced. Directly comparing the T20 to really good budget offerings, I realise that it is actually a bit overpriced for its bass performance alone.
Both in-ears have a similar upper bass level, however as the Zero is quicker and better controlled here, so it sounds a bit less forward – it sounds less bassy than the T20. It’s also because the Zero extends lower without roll-off. Upper treble is more forward on the Zero’s side.
Bass speed and especially control are better with the Zero. Much better distinguishable notes and lines, less rumble, quicker attack and decay. At first listen, it seemed like the Zero was more detailed in the mids and highs, but that was just because of its boost in the upper treble. Listening more closely in the next two hours, the T20 is somewhat better resolving in the mids and treble, but it is gentler and has more muted upper highs wherefore it doesn’t appear as airy at first glance. The T20 shows slightly more midrange details with minute singers’ variations – but it is just a little better and the Zero lacks the slight sizzle the T20 has at times. Bass quality goes quite clearly to the Zero. Treble and midrange quality are things where the RHA is slightly better. Is that alone worth the much higher price? It is not, as I would say because the Zero has the quite better bass quality, it is overall slightly better, especially if you value price-performance ratio where the T20 is, now directly compared to some really good budget in-ears, rather on the average side. But it sports the obviously superior build quality, more flexible cable, nicer packaging and the user experience is on a whole other level. And its soundstage is actually quite nice – a bit more width and depth than the Zero, the somewhat more precise imaging, better forward projection, but with bassier tracks it collapses a little in the upper bass, compared to the Shozy.
If you are willing to pay the upcharge for superior build quality, design, somewhat better soundstage and midrange details, the RHA T20 is still a quite solid dynamic driver offering – but rather expensive for its (especially lower note) performance compared to some budget offerings like the Zero that sounds more controlled, more rounded and just slightly less detailed in the mids.

LEAR LHF-AE1d (upgrade nozzles):
Here we go with one of my favourite dynamic driver in-ears of all time. Why? Good build & cable, variable bass, really natural sound with excellent midrange plus treble and excellent authenticity.
Bass quantity depends on where the LEAR’s screw is at. It can reach from sub-neutral to basshead levels with just a turn of the potentiometer. With the upgrade nozzles, the AE1d’s midrange is flatter, brighter than the Zero’s. The LEAR has got a more even and smoother midrange and treble, with a relaxed-dip around 5 kHz. As it is now, I have tuned the AE1d for a pretty neutral bass response.
The only category where the Zero is somewhat ahead is bass quality with better speed and control as soon as fast music is being played – as the LEAR’s bodies are vented twice, the bass is more on the softer side. Bass details are about comparable although the AE1d sounds less blunt. Midrange and treble resolution? It’s no competition, the LEAR is ahead, especially with its liquid, detailed mids and natural, well-resolving treble. Naturalness as well as authenticity are also things where the AE1d is extremely strong, hence making it one of my favourite dynamic driver in-ears.
Imaging/soundstage: the LEAR has comparable width but more spatial depth; the soundstage seems somewhat more natural. Instrument separation is about comparable.

Sennheiser IE 800:
It’s no fair comparison, I know. The IE 800 is a hell of a single dynamic driver in-ear. Its frequency response is tuned for fun. Bass is super quick and controlled. Separation is excellent. Though, its treble sounds somewhat artificial (cymbal crashes sound somewhat sizzling instead of crashing) and well, the cable is honestly some sort of bad joke at this price point (“What did those people think?! Creating a superbly sounding dynamic driver in-ear and using such a *cough cough average* cable?!”).
The IE 800 is more of a classical v-shaped nature, sporting present sub-bass and upper treble. The Zero doesn’t have less sub-bass at all but less perceived impact and pressure down there. Upper bass is about similarly impactful/present but as the IE 800 is more sub-bassy, it is perceived as somewhat less obtrusive. IE 800’s bass keeps out of the lower mids better. The Senn’s treble is of the typical v-shaped nature: somewhat recessed middle highs, elevated upper highs. IE 800’s upper highs appear more forward.
The IE 800 is overall ahead, but it better should at the price point: obviously better minute detail retrieval, even more control and bass firmness. The IE 800 feels more responsive, quicker, with better transients. Vocal, bass and treble details are better with the Sennheiser. Switching to the Zero, it feels like there is some sort of veil. The IE 800 is more refined, also in the treble where it however sounds somewhat artificial with cymbal crashes. Is the IE 800 12-14 times better than the Zero? It is clearly not. We’re talking about audio where we have a distinct law of diminishing returns with exponential price increase for differences here and there as well as a somewhat better performance.
Now all that’s left is a soundstage comparison. IE 800’s stage expands wide. Not super wide out-of-your-head style but wide. And it is precise. Separation and lateral placement are really good. Soundstage isn’t that super wide actually (no Westone 4R levels yet) but instruments are very finely displayed and it is easy to pick them out. Zero’s soundstage is not as precise and also not as wide but has some more depth and appears more round, circular.


Conclusion:




Sound is a total matter of preference – if a sound signature suits one’s tastes, chances are very high that the headphone will also be enjoyed, even when the objective sound quality doesn’t reach much better models. In the end, it is always a matter of personal taste and preference whether an in-ear will be enjoyed by folks or not.
If you like the character of dynamic driver in-ears with good musicality, some fullness and upper treble air, you get a lot with the Zero. It sounds very natural with most types of music and has a really good bass response. It fares well against other excellent budget offerings, even being somewhat better in some places, and even trumps models like the RHA T20 in some categories. In the bass, it is also somewhat better than my all-time favourite single dynamic in-ear, the LEAR LHF-AE1d, which on the other hand sounds even more natural and is audibly better resolving overall, but that should be expected at four times the price, just as that the Sennheiser IE 800 also trumps the Zero in everything except for upper treble naturalness where I always found the Sennheiser to be slightly artificially splashy sounding.
Is the Zero a really good budget offering? It is, although it is not noticeably better than other great budget offerings when compared face-to-face. Can it objectively compete with better multi-BA in-ears? No, not at all, but if you prefer the character of dynamic in-ears, it probably might for you.
It is no killer but a really good budget offering with natural, vivid sound. Good value? What does the question mark do here, Chris, it does have really good value, just as some of my other favourite budget dynamic driver in-ears I used for comparison. Is it a very enjoyable in-ear? Oh yes, it really is. For my preference though, upper bass could be somewhat less present – but that is a subjective thing.


With my usual 70% sound/price/value (97/100) to 30% build/fit/accessories (89/100 (might change if I get to see a real retail packaging)) weighting, the Zero gets 4.73 out of 5 possible stars.