Shozy have made a name for themselves in recent times with their astounding Alien portable player which far outperforms its meagre price tag so when the opportunity came to try out a pair of their incredibly affordable, wood-housed dynamic IEMs, I jumped at the chance!
The Zero is a compact, dynamic-driver IEM made from real rosewood and priced at just $59.90 from Penon Audio (pricing in USD I believe). That’s an exceedingly cheap price for a quality IEM and Shozy normally make quality gear so the combination of price tag and brand reputation made me instantly intrigued.
- Frequency response: 20 – 18,000 Hz
- Cable and connector: litz structure cable with gold-plated 3.5mm connector
- Sensitivity: 94dB
- Impedance: not published
The Zeros I received are a pre-sale sample so they came in a simple zip-lock bag with no packaging or accessories to speak of. No doubt the sale versions will be far better presented.
Design & Comfort
For the $60 price tag you are actually getting an earphone made from real rosewood, not some kind of dodgy fake wood or veneer. The front section of the Zeros is made from machined aluminium, while the back two-thirds is carved from solid rosewood as far as I can tell. The result is a beautiful looking earphone that’s also really small.
The earphones are complemented by a matching wooden Y-splitter and wooden plug along with a nice-feeling cable with an understated brown-grey colour that blends nicely with the wood tones. In short, the Zeros look classy, but understated. There are some really nice flourishes, like the carved Shozy and Zero logos, but no bling.
Thanks to their compact design, the Zeros are also very comfortable. They are light and small with a simple, straight bullet design. It’s very hard to go wrong with this sort of design as it accommodates most ear canal shapes and sizes. The nozzle diameter is also pretty standard so no nasty surprises to be had finding the right tips and then fitting them in your ears.
I personally always wear earphones like this with the cable pointing down, but I guess you could wear these with the cable going over the ear, but the soft cable may not stay behind the ear as well as on an earphone designed specifically with over-ear wearing in mind.
The sound from the Zeros is exceptional for the price. In my opinion they aren’t going to knock off any of the giants in the industry (despite some of the hype), but they are as good as you’re likely to get without spending 3-4 times the price! I honestly think they’re as good as anything I’ve heard up to about the $200 mark.
The bass from the Zeros is tight, well-controlled and with good extension. It’s full enough to make the music sound soulful and lifelike, but it never gets in the way of other frequencies. For a relatively cheap IEM to produce this kind of bass quality is really something and might be a case of Shozy flexing their audio muscles to show just what is possible at such a low price. $60 IEMs shouldn’t sound this good and a lack of bass or poorly controlled bass are common symptoms of budget constraints, but not here. As I’m writing this I’m trying to find a qualification of why the bass isn’t quite perfect, but it’s honestly fulfilling every expectation I have of an earphone anywhere up to flagship levels of price and performance.
The mids continue the strong form of the Zero’s sound so far. Vocals and instruments carry good weight and have a smooth, lifelike tonality. The mids are well-balanced with the bass and treble for the most part and allow the listener to really hone in on the vocals and instruments without forcing anything forward in the mix. The qualities of the mid-range fall a hair short of the glowing performance in the lower registers, but they still vastly out-perform the Zero’s price tag.
My only criticism of the mid-range from the Zeros would be a slight dryness at times and on certain sounds. It’s very slight and should really only be a nit-pick for a $400-500 earphone, not a $60 one, but I find the mids sometimes lack the perfect, creamy smoothness that I know is possible from some of the recordings I use to evaluate audio gear. It’s subtle enough that I would describe the Zeros as having just a hint of an edge rather than a real edge, but it stands in slight contrast to the beautifully rendered bass. Still, at anything under the $400 mark, the mids from the Zeros should be considered excellent in my opinion.
This is the one place that the Zeros disappoint me slightly – and I mean ever-so-slightly. My disappointment with the treble is more a reflection of the stellar performance in the bass and mids rather than a poor showing from the treble in isolation. My expectations are just so high from the other frequency bands.
The treble on the Zeros extends quite well and has a good sense of sparkle and shimmer while still being well-balanced with the mids and bass, but there’s something slightly unnatural in the treble at times – like a combination of a hole in one spot and a peak in another. On some tracks I don’t even hear the problem, but on other tracks it’s noticeable enough to spoil the Zero’s budget perfection, but it’s not bad enough to spoil their overall performance, particularly in context with their price tag.
To clarify how the treble sounds to my ears, there’s just a little bit of extra edge or harshness coming from somewhere in the Zero’s rendering of treble frequencies. Distortion from driver deformation perhaps? I’m not sure, but it reminds me of that sound and the driver in the Zero has to be relatively cheap given the price tag (again, not a criticism – the fact that they’ve tuned a cheap driver so perfectly deserves massive praise!!). Second to the slight harshness is a sense of hollowness in certain treble sounds like some cymbals. It’s like part of the splash is missing sometimes – not major, but noticeable enough that the treble is the weakest part of this amazing earphone’s overall performance.
Once again, this is a case where I am measuring each part of the Zero’s performance based on it’s best traits, but it’s best traits are so good that it’s really not fair. Measured on the worst traits alone (like the treble), the Zeros are still a fantastic earphone regardless of the price, but particularly when considering the price as part of the equation. Sure the treble is imperfect, but it’s still better than the treble of far more expensive earphones I’ve tried so don’t be turned-off by my discussion of this imperfection.
One of the things I love about dynamic IEMs is their coherency and the resulting sense of focus they can create in the soundstage. Most well-tuned dynamics are better at staging and imaging than all but the very best multi-balanced-armature earphones in my experience and the Zeros continue the trend of outstanding image clarity from dynamic drivers. It’s not quite flagship level, but hey, it’s a $60 earphone!
The soundstage extends nicely to each side and has a fairly good sense of 3-dimensionality – certainly more than the $1000+ Campfire Audio Lyras I reviewed just recently! There is good separation between sounds on either side and the middle of the stage is well-focussed. The only short-coming is that most sounds are either to one side or in a bit of a blob in the middle – it’s a bit like there’s a gap at the 45-degree angles with most sounds either merged into the centre or pushed to the edges.
Overall, the Zeros are very easy to listen to and these slight staging issues never prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the sound from the Zeros, but they do reveal why the Zeros cost $60 and not $600. Notice though that my higher price option there is $600? The sorts of issues I’m commenting on are problems for much, much higher priced earphones. At $60, the Zeros are flat-out awesome.
The Zeros are the victims of a curse – a curse of their own making. They are SO exceptional in so many ways that it is easy to spot the areas that aren’t quite as exceptional. That said, I don’t believe you will find a better earphone in terms of design, build, cable quality and sound quality without spending over $200 (perhaps even more).
They have a beautifully balanced sound with plenty of bass for soul and musicality, but no overall emphasis on a particular frequency range. They produce a very good image and soundstage, they look great and they’re comfortable. Honestly, what more could you want? For $60, any lovers of good sound should just order these immediately. What are you waiting for!?