Rock Zircon: Great clarity and fun sound in a budget IEM

Rock ZirconAfter reading a stellar, 5 star review of the Rock Zircon IEMs at Audiobudget.com I knew I had to try a pair. I immediately ordered a pair from AliExpress, at the ridiculously low price of $10.99, with free shipping. 10 days later I was tearing open the box and put them to work with Rage Against the Machine’s Take The Power Back. From the very first bass drum hit I knew the Rock Zircon’s would be fun. A nice, full, impactful bass for sure but once the guitars and vocals kicked in I was pleasantly surprised at the level of detail and wide soundstage. The highs are there too, but not overly harsh or painful.

Next up was the New York Philharmonic recording of Verdi’s Dies Irae, one of the most power and dramatic classical works. Here too I felt the impact of the bass drums, the instruments and vocals were clear and sharp and the Zircon’s.

Curious as to just how good the bass is on these things, I tried them with Late Night Tip by Three 6 Mafia. The constant bass rumble was powerful and clear but at the same time the vocals and snare hits were sharp and clear. Very impressive for such a cheap IEM! How about the ridiculous Bassgasm (Ultimate Woofer Test) by Techmaster P.E.B.? This song is so insanely bass heavy that it’s basically unlistenable, seemingly made for car audio subwoofer competitions. But the Zircons handle the insane bass with aplomb, to the point where it feels like the bass is scrambling my brain from the inside.

While the Zircons provide a lot of fun, accurate bass the higher ranges don’t seem to be colored by it. An a capella track like Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner sounds completely clear and natural, every nuance of her voice can be heard, right down to the almost imperceptible sounds of wetness on the lips. A guitar heavy track like AC/DC’s Touch To Much sounds properly clear and bombastic, right up the threshold of bearable volume. The one weakness here is the cymbal crashes sound a touch washed out, not quite as clear and sharp as they could be. But again, for 10 bucks that’s a very minor quibble.

The build quality seems pretty good on the Zircons. They have a nice braided cable that doesn’t snag or tangle easily. The buds themselves are a little funky looking with their tapered shape but they’re fairly small and comfortable, I’ve had no problems listening for several hours. Due to the small size they do tend to move around a little but I suspect that if you used some compressible foam tips it would alleviate that issue.

The Rock Zircons are my new favorite IEMs, I even prefer them to my Shure SE215s that cost nearly 10 times as much. The sound is nearly as good and the Zircons are much easier to slip in and take off, and the cable is lighter and easier to deal with. You really can’t go wrong with these things. Amazon has them for $16.88 with free Prime shipping, in some places it’s even free next day shipping. I think they’re the best IEM for under $20, give them a try.

 

 

 

How to get the best fit for your IEMs

I recently tried a highly reviewed IEM and was appalled at the poor sound. Hollow, tinny, no bass, they were awful. But they had such good reviews from a wide variety of users. How could this be? Poor fit. I was using the rolled foam tips, which should give the best seal but in this case the tips were too narrow  for my ear canal and didn’t give me a good seal. I switched to the rubber tips and the IEMs came alive with rich, full sound.

When researching IEMs you’ll often see isolated poor reviews of otherwise highly rated IEMs. This is usually chalked up to individual variation and tastes but I suspect there are often fitment issues at the root of it. I briefly considered writing a guide to IEM fitment but there’s none better than The Headphone List’s excellent guide:

 

1) Is your earphone designed to have the cable go down, go over-the-ear, or either?  I have seen people wear over-the-ear earphones with the cable down resulting in a horrible experience.  The packaging and/or product page should show the proper wear style.  Also, make sure to follow the left/right markings.

 

It seems a basic point but many people aren’t aware that there’s more than one way to wear the cords and that some IEMs are designed for the cord to route up, over and behind the ear. There’s a lot of good info there so head over and check it out.

Link: The Headphone List Earphone Fit Guide

KZ ATE – The best budget headphones?

KA ZAT IEMsThere’s a lot of talk right now about the KZ family of IEMs, specifically the KZ ATE. I recently received a pair and have them under evaluation for a future review. I’ll give you a preview: they’re fantastic and live up to all the hype.

KZ is Knowledge Zenith, a Chinese earphone manufacturer making a name for themselves with some outstanding budget IEMs. Most reviews praise them not only for their excellent sound but much higher than expected build quality in the under $20 (and even under $10!) market.

Reddit user RMCPhoto gives them a very good review here:

Bottom line: 3.5/5 Great build quality, solid isolation, and distortion free analytical sound suitable for electronic genres. While the sound is crisp and clear it is not delicate and can be fatiguing. Good budget buy – no regrets.

I’ll have a review of the KZ ATE up soon. In the meantime, you can purchase them for a low as $9.19 at the Official KZ store on Aliexpress or on Amazon for slightly more. I paid $15.90 and had them in two days via Amazon Prime.