Friday, May 06, 2016

On vacation

Currently I'm on vacation. Will post my experiences nex week. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 02, 2016

Knowledge Zenith ATE Review: A Rough Little Gem

After more than 5 years, my faithful, much abused, Melectronic M6 is throwing the towel. No, not the driver, but the wire which gave up. So, after drying my non existent tears I shop around for the new IEM (in ear monitor). Yay.....?

As usual, the only place to research audio stuffs is ofcourse (I swear, this forum is so, so poisonous, it will poison you to spent hundreds or thousand of dollars to buy that beautiful sounding stuffs. So, don't you dare go there if you want to keep your walled thick. You've been warned!).
After reading the portable stuff on head-fi, I was eyeing the beautifully build Auglamour R8. But I'm not 100% convicted, because the reviewers said how the mid take steps back compared to bass and treble. So I shop around again and (almost) decided on Audio Technica IM50.

But, both IM50 and R8 priced around 50-60 dollars here. Because I am stingy broke, I looked around, again, for lower priced IEM. Enter Knowledze Zenith ATE. Reviewers seems like like it very much. Boosted bass? Check. Beautiful, warm mid? Check. Smooth, forgiving treble? Check. Cheap price? Double check.

At, a vendor sell it at IDR 140.000,- (which equivalent to 12-13 dollars). Several clicks later, the IEM are on the way. It arrived 2 days later. Read on for the review.

The box.
It came with pretty heart shaped hard plastic case. Inside is the IEM itself, placed on cut out foam, 2 pairs of silicon tips (small and large size, I think) and a pair of foam tips.

The Case
The Case

The Inside
The build.
The build quality is quite good. There's no creaks or flex, there is none of those driver flex like my old M6 used to have. The body and the cable is translucent, you can see the inside of the shell (the drivers and whats-not) and the braided cables. The cable coating is some kind of soft rubber, making it (almost) tangle free. There is no memory wire on the cable like my M6. Oh, and it has mic too, so you can use it with your smart phone.

It's light enough, heavier than my M6 was, but more comfortable to wear. I can use them more than 3 hours straight without discomfort, not like M6 which make my ears sore after 1 hour.

The Sound.
How does it sounds? Beautiful, warm, and smooth, with more than adequate bass.

The mids is the star here. Liquid, organic, warm and forward. Male voice are to die for. I played some tracks by male performers such as Il Divo (En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor), The High Kings (Galway to Graceland, Red is the Rose), Gotye (Heart A Mess), Apocalyptica (Not Strong Enough) and all make me close my eyes and melt. Seriously, it's that good. What price this IEM again? 12 dollars? Hell yeah!

The mid are warmer and more forward than my beloved Sennheiser HD600 (review here). Lower mid, especially warm. Upper mid and lower treble (where the female voice) take a step back, so they are not as good as male voice, but, it still good. Smooth, unoffensive, liquid are how KZ ATE render female voice.

The treble are soft, smooth, with dip in 5 khz, rendering those pesky bright female vocals smooth. I love it. Take that, Postmodern Jukebox's Historical Misappropriation!(*)
The treble extension are so so, you can hear how it rolled down early. For some, KZ ATE can sounded dark and muddy. To me, it's perfect, like darker, closed version of HD600. In fact, it reminds me to Goldring DR150 (review here) I had (broke the headband to pieces, still looking to cannibal a cheap headphone).

I played some instrumental and classical stuff and the rolled out treble punish ATE rather heavily here. I loved wind instrument such as flute, oboe etc, and with ATE, those good stuff take two step back. Roger Subirana - The Ritual at Dusk had this beautiful native American wood flute as center piece, HD600 render it as beautiful as it deserves, while ATE, it take two step back. I got similar result with Yasuharu Takanashi arrangement for Naruto OST titled Despair and Kaoru Wada arrangement for Inuyasha OST titled Bojou (Longing). All the flute (the good stuff) take two step back.

Other Side
Closer Shot #1
The bass is forward and BIG. Way bigger than HD600. Again, reminds me to DR150, except, ATE bass is more forward and hit harder than DR150 was. Most are in mid-bass tough, so for you guys who looking for ear shaking bass better look for other Knowledge Zenith IEMs. The deep bass are rolled quite early, although not as thin as HD600 bass, still won't win bass competition. It's still punchy and in your face bass.

The sound-stage (or head-stage, if you prefer that terms) is small. Thats ok, sound-stage is never IEM strength. And it quite closed too, ATE lack that breath of air HD600 had in abundance. Fatoumata Diawara excellent album Fatou just not as atmospheric, the excellent sound-stage and positioning diffused. But then HD600 is an open headphone, so it's no competition.

Comparing the sound-stage size to HD600, if HD600 sounded like the singer or band play in small, open venue, and you sit several row from them, ATE will sounded like they play in a closed middle-sized venue and you sit in front row, right in front of the band / singer.

ATE separation and positioning is just so-so. You could still tell where the sounds coming from, but it's rather mushy. I think my M6 separation and positioning is little bit better than ATE. This is the weakness of KZ ATE, I guess. Just don't compare it to HD600, that headphone positioning and separation is INSANE.

Closer View
Closer Shot #2
As good as the mids are, I found that KZ ATE sounded rather metallic. And vocals could be shout-y. Voice and instruments are not as organic as my HD600. But then, my Sennheiser HD600 is a 250 Euro headphone, equivalent to, what, 300-350 dollars? That's like 25 times ATE price! So, I can forgive this weakness no 2.

KZ ATE is a polite sounded IEM. I tried playing some metal / rock / hard core stuff on it, and it render them beautifully. Beautiful, not grungy as it should be. The speed, the attack, the rockiness or metalness (sorry for the made up words, but you get the gist) is just lack. It's like Dragonforce, Avenged Sevenfold, Seraphim and Linkin Park sudenly playing jazz or pop song. Definitely not for hard stuff.

KZ ATE strength is in jazz, acapella, pop, acoustic, and other vocal heavy music and stuff. It's sounds OK with instrumental and classical piece, and rather bad with metal and hardcore stuff. That rolled out treble is the culprit for this, although that punchy bass is OK for RnB and Dance music. Robyn's Dancing on My Own is toe-tapping stuff.

The Others.
KZ ATE is easy to drive. You don't have to buy separate amplifier to drive this, your phone can drive it well. I used it with my Xperia P and OnePlus One, and both sounded good on it. Even my tiny, old Sandisk Sansa Clip (the 1st gen) is able to drive it.

On Sansa Clip, this IEM sounded rather dark and muffled tough. Better pair this IEM with neutral or bright player. With Fiio E10 (the first gen, not the E10k. Impression here), ATE warm sound neutralize the slightly bright sound of E10.

The Conclusions.
Just buy it. Especially if you still listening music with your generic, 2 - 5 dollars generic, cheap no name earphone (shudder). Or if you still rocking the earphone included with your smart phone. Seriously, just chuck them at the garbage bin. Except Sony MH1, I read they are good. If you fortunate enough to have Sony MH1 included in your smart phone package, keep it.

For about 12 dollar (like what I paid for it) this is a steal. At online stores, they usually sell it from 15 to 25 dollar equivalent. I think at that price, it still a steal. Especially compared to that anemic sounded, over priced Apple earbud, earwax, iEar or whatever they called their loopy shaped IEM are.



note on (*): I love Postmodern Jukebox, but I think Historical Misappropriation album is mastered with boosted 5 khz, rendering it downright painful on my Audio Technica SJ33 (review here) and little bit too much on my HD600.

PS: Auglamour R8 is really beautiful! Google it! I swear, when I had money, I'm going to buy it! Just so I can take photos of it and parade it around! It's just beautiful!