The KZ ZSTs kinda suck.

To be perfectly honest, I got duped into buying them on a YouTuber’s brand recommendation.

If you’re a long-time reader of mine, you may know I did a quick review on these bad wireless earbuds by the Reject Shop. I’m a bit of an earbud connoisseur — I’m a stingy student and would rather spend my money buying multiple pairs of meh earbuds than saving up on fantastic earbuds. I have a habit of losing them. It makes sense for me in the long run given this poor habit. So when I see a cheap pair of earbuds, I immediately think “Hm. I should check those out when I lose my next pair.”

On my way to finding an MP3 player (see my previous posts about converting a cheap 2021 smart phone and a PSP into portable music players), I needed a pair of headphones to inevitably wrap around it. My regular runners — the pair that came with my old Oppo R15Pro (I miss you, you fine piece of hardware) — are finally starting to come apart at the seams, not to mention aren’t the most comfortable earbuds to wear while sleeping. I have tinnitus. This is an issue with headphones.

And so the hunt began. DankPods, a fabled Australian audiophile YouTuber, recommends KZ earbuds as a cheap alternative to expensive wireless Bluetooth earbuds. I’m on a bit of a budget, and $60+ is a little steep for me right now — so I ordered the KZ ZSTs.

My pair of KZ ZST wired earbuds (no microphone).

As much as they look cool as hell, my disappointment when I pushed these puppies into my ears was… I guess immeasurable. I’d been sold on KZ’s quality audio by this content creator I trusted — and I paid $30! You may be thinking “well, you got what you paid for, Deanna,” and you could say that.

But as a cheap earbud connoisseur, let me remind you that I have experienced value for money.

Let me introduce you to the competition.

The KZ ZSTs are going up against my personal collection of cheapest cheap earbuds.

For simplicity’s sake, we’re calling these the “Oppos”, the “Mokis”, and the “Envels”.

The Oppos came packed in with my Oppo R15 Pro — an Android phone that easily outclassed it’s competition during its time. They remind me of Apple’s earbuds and are fairly similar in sound, but have a distinctly expensive quality. Depending on where you look, you can find a pair of these online anywhere between $15 to $40 AUD.

And then you have the Mokis — my choice of earbuds since I was a teen with (usually) only $10 in my pocket. You can get these for $9 at your local Big W. I hadn’t bought a pair of these in a long while (and haven’t needed to, since I’ve been running the Oppos) and picked them up again the day of publishing this post, just to check whether my memory was right about their sound quality. They’re the same model of earbuds Moki has been selling for over seven years now. Don’t believe me? Here’s a photo of me on my way to Collarts wearing these suckers in front of the 2017 Skull Island at Southern Cross ad. I’d bought them for secondary college the year before.

On the way to university in 2017. I still own that hoodie, too.

The Envels sleep buds come from Amazon. They’re a simple earbud with a rubber casing, meaning you’re less likely to end up jamming the earphone into your ear while you’re sleeping. These go for $17 AUD on Amazon.

The KZ ZSTs also came from Amazon and cost me $27 AUD.

Are the KZs comfortable?

Once you get used to them? Yes. They’re the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever worn. They seal against my ears and block out sound. The cable is strong and does not tangle easily — however, the ear coils can get caught on anything and everything if you decide to leave them amongst other cords.

They fit surprisingly well in my ear.

They also look ridiculously cool.

Using them for sleep buds is great too, as they sit flush in your ear. I initially thought I’d have to put up with the cord behind my ears, rather than in front — but this truly isn’t something I’ve ever noticed.

You essentially forget you’re wearing the KZs — whereas, with something the Envels, you’ll always remember they’re there because of the rubber warming up in your ear. Not to mention that the KZs are far more sound-isolating than any other earbud on this list.

Do they sound good?

It depends on your definition of “good”.

Here’s the scale of sound quality of my owned earbuds.

  1. (Best) Oppo R15 Pro pack-ins (MHF3000)
  2. ENVEL sleep buds
  3. Moki HyberBuds
  4. (Worst) KZ ZSTs.

I usually test if something sounds great by putting them up against The Voice Someone Calls.

This is the same music track that caught out the FFalcon sound bar I bought cheap for Christmas back in 2020.

Because the track’s ambience sits so low on it’s register, it just opted not to emit certain parts of the track. I’d find myself without any sound whatsoever, when suddenly there was the song’s heartbeat and piano chords… until I was robbed of the ambience once more. That quiet drum beat underneath the whole track? It was gone.

Deanna Troy, 2020

I’ll do my best to describe how this track sounds from the perspective of the Oppos, the KZ ZSTs, and the Mokis.

The Oppo excels here. Any time the heartbeat thump thumps its way into your ears, you practically feel it in your chest. You register the sound directly in the centre of your head and it rattles downward. The vulture of circling ambience is just off in the distance — you can hear it, but it’s not in your face. This is el cheapo 3D audio, to the point of almost hearing the track behind you.

The KZ ZSTs don’t know what to do with the thump thumps, and they stay firmly in each ear. There is no hint at 3D audio. A zzzzzzz I didn’t realise existed fades side-to-side — and as I kept repeating the track, I realised it was meant to be the circling-vulture-ambient, but the drivers just aren’t equipped to facilitate the subtlety.

The Mokis are very similar to the KZ ZSTs, but the thump thumps are closer to the centre of your head (closer to the resounding heartbeat you hear with the Oppos) and the zzzzzzz vulture isn’t nearly as much in your face.

The Moki earphones I’ve been buying for a blue note at my local Big W since I was in Year 11 sound the same, if not better than the KZ ZSTs.

Here’s how I’d respond to other reviews of these earbuds.

Overall, these headphones will be better suited for bass-heavy genres.

RTINGS.com

They have very little bass. I’m not sure if the RTINGS team intended to counteract the lack of bass in the earbuds by forcing them to play more bass, but they will not play bass. For example, Bury The Light is a muffled mess in these things — and that’s a travesty. Seriously — I feel like I was hearing Casey Edwards give an underwater guitar solo by how much it was being submerged by bad bass.

A Victory For Audiophiles On a Budget

Aaron (Medium)

We just established my $9 Mokis are better in quality. To call the $30 KZ ZSTs are “victory” for audiophiles no a budget is blatantly false in this case.

However, I’m fairly certain Aaron reviewed a different version of the ZSTs. I’m not sure what changed, other than the cable.

Definitely a V shaped sound signature.

BulldogXTRM (Head-Fi)

Agreed. They sound great — but everything is in an almost laughable V-shape directly above your eyes.

If I can buy Mokis for $9, where’d my $30 go?

There is a perfectly valid reason for buying the KZ ZSTs. As much as I’ve just beaten you over the head with ZSTs bad, don’t buy!, they beat out the Mokis with their shape and cable.

See, the only thing really going for the Mokis is that they’re designed to not be lost. You can’t misplace a freakishly-neon-green cord. They’re for kids, teens, and those like me prone to losing their stuff. They can and will come apart. Part of the reason I had to buy a new pair was that my old ones finally split at the earpiece after three years. This is bad. When you buy earbuds, you want them to last for as long as you have ears. There hasn’t been too much change in the audio industry that your headphones from the 90s don’t sound good anymore — they sound almost exactly the same as when you got them, so long as you got a seriously good pair.

The other downside is that if I tug on this cable hard enough, I’m worried I’ll stretch/rip it apart. Not exactly something I should be worrying about when traveling! Not to mention that these things get uncomfortable after a few hours. They’re not really ergonomic in the slightest.

The KZ ZSTs, for all I complain about their sound quality, feel and look sturdy. Their cable is thicker than the green Mokis. They’re comfortable in my ears for long periods — hell, I forgot I was wearing them at one point. They don’t rub against my ears while I’m sleeping and cause irritation like the Envels, and are self-isolating in their seal that no sound bleeds in.

So you’re not paying for sound quality. The money you’re sinking into these is going into the build and comfort.

The Mokis, the Oppos, and the KZ ZSTs.

So: if you’re someone who values comfort, and maybe peace of mind about build quality, then sure. Go grab the KZ ZSTs.

But, if you’re someone looking for cheap earbuds because you keep misplacing your old ones and can’t afford to lose high-end quality ones… go to your local Big W. Or just use the earbuds that came bundled with your phone (assuming your phone still… you know… comes with earbuds). DankPods is cool and all, but don’t fall for audiophile content creators.

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