This KZ AST Review Surprised Me!
Take this from the start; I am no fan of KZ; I think they have often got lucky to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach. About fifty percent of the time, I am bashing them, and the other fifty, I am praising them. Horrible cables and trash accessories are par for the course with the company, but good god, now and again, they do something outstanding and hit it out of the park. The KZ AST in this review is exactly that for all the flaws in the accessories. When I look at the price, it is just a damn fine earphone…. dare I say the best KZ has ever put on the market. Let’s take a look at why.
KZ AST Pricing and Availability
The KZ AST is available at a number of locations. We do not state current prices here but provide the links below so you can check for yourself. In the audio market prices are subject to change so we will only state that the RRP on launch was around $140 USD. Please view the links below to see up-to-date pricing and availability information.
Packaging and Accessories – KZ AST
There are slight improvements here from KZ 1, the same plain box with most of their higher-end headphones. The only differentiation is the sticker on the side that lets you know the model is the KZ AST.
On the inside will be the earphones presented in foam, and underneath, you will find the accessories. Sam pathetic eartips included in the box, check and just enough to get me through until I can root out an upgraded set to use with them.
Same plastic bag with the junky cable lurking inside……. wait…. what? Has KZ actually listened to my and everyone else’s constant bashing and upgraded the cable? It seems so, and this one doesn’t seem terrible. That’s not to say it’s a good cable, but it’s a big leap forward for a company that, in my mind, has the worst included cables with their earphones.
It’s a silver braid with 8 strands before the splitter leading into a quad braid after the splitter. It’s far more pliable than before and hangs nicer on the body. It still has a little memory after being wound out, but this remains for less time during use.
There is a metal 3.5mm plug on mine, which I believe is standard; it has good knurling for grip and feels quality. You also have a metal splitter but no cinch. At the top end, it also seems that improvements to the cable guides have been made, and you have the classic KZ hooded two-pin connectors.
While this isn’t going to set the world on fire and doesn’t come close to Shuoer and Tin IEM cables, this is a most welcome improvement.
Build Quality and Design – KZ AST
The KZ AST comes in three color options – Green, Black, and White. I have the white option, which you can see in the photos, is, in fact, silver. First impressions are positive, but my god, these are a huge set of IEM’s one of the biggest I have seen since the old school Denon Urban Ravers. I suppose there is only so much shrinkage you can get away with when cramming 12 balanced armatures on each side of an earphone.
Medium to large ears should only consider these; they will not be suitable for small ears. The size is significant in the amount the progress outwards instead of the circumaural area, but they are chunky for sure. On the plus side, they are not heavy, and the use of resin has allowed them to remain within the normal parameters of a multi-ba earphone when it comes to weight.
The faceplate is metal with a tasteful KZ logo embossed into it, and the body is crystal clear resing allowing you to see the insane stack of drivers on the inside. Very cool.
The nozzle is glued into the resin, and it’s all metal with medium shallow depth insertion. It has the usual metal mesh on the outside that will help prevent dirt and wax from getting near the drivers on the AST.
Finally, there is the small protrusion of the 2-pin connector port. I have explained this many times before, but I will do so again for those new to the site. KZ uses 2-pins to connect the cable to the earphones. This is a common hardware choice by many manufacturers, and traditionally you could have this in flush sitting or recessed designs. The flush is my least favorite as it offers little protection to the pinned connectors either by way of bending or corrosion. Traditionally the solution was recessed connectors, but this eats space inside the driver housing. It seems KZ went the other way and pushed the connectors out, and designed the cable to hood over the top of the pins. I actually like it as a solution, but it does mean options are limited for aftermarket cables.
Isolation and Comfort – KZ AST
Despite the size of the KZ AST, I didn’t find them uncomfortable, but your mileage may vary. After a few minutes, I wasn’t aware of them protruding too far from my head, but they do a bit when you catch yourself in the mirror. With correct tips installed (I used Spinfits), they stayed well placed in the ear, and I never felt they would fall out.
The earphones are worn with the cable over the ear, and as a result, they do not suffer from microphonic issues.
They isolate very well, and I recommend them to people using them in noisier environments such as workplaces and commuting routes. The dense packing of the drivers provides a barrier, and because the KZ AST is the balanced armature, the venting is not overly large.
Sound Quality – KZ AST
In my eyes, this is the best sounding earphone KZ has ever produced. Detail monster balanced armature sound but with surprisingly good quality and quantity bass. KZ got famous for their price to performance, and this earphone finally hits that spot that so many of its predecessors failed on. It just sounds like a more expensive and refined earphone. The tuning is great with no real offense area, and the clean, detailed sound with its ever so slight warm creating some smoothness made these a joy to listen to.
So let’s get into how the KZ AST sound.
Highs – The highs are brilliant, I complained about KZ often having metallic highs on many of their high en earphones in the past, but this is excellent. They have a fantastic extension with immense space and clarity right through the top end without crashing into sibilance even once in my testing. The creation of space for the overall tuning for the AST is set in this frequency, and it does it wonderfully well especially considering the amount of detail that they pull out of well-mastered tracks and a good source.
I say with a good source and tracks because these are a rather revealing set of earphones that can punish inadequacies in what it is being fed. The source doesn’t have to be super high-end, but you will benefit from something like a dragonfly or spectra if used out the phone or even a cheap audiophile DAP.
Mids – Mids are surprisingly smooth but wonderfully detailed. Price considered this is a top performer, and they blend great with both the low and high end; there are no overlap issues when moving between the frequencies. They also sound full and impactful, which I’m sure has to do with the large number of drivers pushing the sound. Nothin feeling or lack of depth in the midrange is a perfect thing and, to me, makes for a more intimate and realistic presentation.
Vocals are strong performers. Again that weight carried by the driver configuration pushes the fullness of male vocals. The detail retrieval plays with gravel voices well, and there’s lots of texture. Female vocals are also good with strong detail and an airy presence in the upper midrange, but really the male vocals shine here. If you like a flat and subdued vocal, you would be correct that these aren’t for you but for me. They are just about the sweet spot for how I like my earphones to sound.
Strings are also fine performers because the larger than normal soundstage helps carry the note deteriorations. No abrupt stops; instead, afloat off and fade out is observed. The micro-detail in this area impressed me, and I easily observed fretboard slides on guitars and pedal dampening on pianos. Speaking of micro-detail, the lips parting at the start of Autumn in New York by Diana Krall is crisp and present.
Lows are where I need to tread carefully. For a balanced armature at this price, it has excellent low-end performance. A slight bump to the low-end prominence helps counter the inherent drawback of balanced armature technology. That is that the quantity of air moved is not matched to the amount pumped into your ear canals on dynamic driver earphones. SO while we don’t get ethereal slam, we do get great texture and detail and a still powerful response when listening takes a turn to EDM and sub-bass-friendly genres. These are no going to be basshead earphones, but they can still slam fairly hard when required, it just not that eyeball rattling sub-bass, and someone who listens to that as their main genre would be better served by a TFZ No.3 or Shuoer Tape (original).
Conclusion and Final thoughts after a thoroughly enjoyable review – KZ AST
As I said right at the start, I am not the biggest fan of the company. However, the KZ AST earphone has finally got me interested in them again. Finally, there seems to have been a lot of care and thought into the AST, as configuring 24 drivers to work in total harmony seems like an absolute nightmare. But they pulled it off, and the combination of smart tuning and massive detail retrieval for such a budget IEM have impressed.
The cable improvements are to be noted as well. Finally, KZ has given us a useable cable with the AST earphones, and only the tips feel like a letdown.
Honestly, I really can’t find fault with the AST for the price other than the physical size and the terrible tips. They may not carry the characteristics of a Dynamic or EST driver earphone, but they accommodate that in sheer driver numbers.
In my opinion, this is by far the best earphone KZ has ever made, and if you are already a fan of the brand, then I can happily recommend you check them out. There are many good earphones at this price, but for an all BA model, I think this is one of the best I have personally heard. Thumbs up, and let’s hope KZ takes this new direction and sticks to it.