Are these the most advanced headphones ever?
The Parrot brand is probably best known for its hands free car kits and drones but I’d be willing to wager that their wireless headphones could soon be bigger than huge. So far there is literally no other headphone that comes within a bulls-roar of being as technically advanced the Ziks.
So what makes Zik 2.0 cans such a fancy option? For a start they’re Bluetooth connected. Before you roll your eyes and yawn, consider this; in addition to being wireless, they also have rock solid (erm silent) noise cancellation, touch controls, auto equalisation, customisable digital audio processing, text to voice (for announcing caller ID information), and automatic track pausing when they’re removed from the users head. In fact about the only thing missing with Zik 2.0 cans features-wise is the kitchen sink.
Look and feel
As their name suggests, they’re the second iteration of Parrot’s Zik range. This time round they’re lighter, more comfy, better sounding, and are definitely easier on the eyes.
Looks-wise the Zik 2.0 cans also sport a much softer, rounded – almost organic look. This coupled with the fact that the ear cups are covered in a faux-leather also gives them a distinctly high-end designerish feel.
Weighing in at a mere 270 grams, Parrot seem to have pulled off the near impossible feat of cramming a heap of smarts into Ziks without making them feel like a pair of bricks connected by a headband.
Cleverly designed ear cups and padding on the headband translated into a snug fit without my noggin feeling as if it were being crushed in an olive press. Getting comfort levels right with headphones is a critical thing. I was able to lean forwards without subjecting the Ziks to an impromptu pavement high dive.
The Ziks ear cups pivot on wishbone shaped alloy arms that handily allows them to expand. It’s a slick looking design that also offers enough adjustability for a comfortable fit on most heads.
Bells and whistles
On the audio front, both ear cups house a 40mm neodymium driver whose frequency response goes from 20Hz to 22kHz. In use this equated to plenty of bass, accurate mids and some treble, although there was a gap at the very upper end of the treble which is probably more to do with the use of active noise cancellation than anything else.
The left ear cup houses a removable 830mAh battery while the right ear cup has the touchpad controls, two bone-conduction microphones, a power button and micro-USB port, plus a 3.5mm line-in socket. Hidden away on the Ziks there is also what Parrot calls "presence sensors". These will automatically pause music when you take the Ziks off.
In use, the noise cancelling feature worked really well. This is in part due to a well thought out sound isolation design for the Ziks ear cups, as well as the six noise-cancelling microphones and a bunch of clever audio processing trickery. According to the Zik promo blurb, the Zik 2.0 is able to knock 30 dB of ambient noise out of existence.
Getting set up was sufficiently idiot proof that even I got it right first time round. If your Bluetooth pairing karma is as bad as mine, you’ll be pleased to know that you can tap an NFC-enabled Android phone on the left cup and t’ll automatically pair with the Ziks. That said, you can also go old-school and search for the Ziks from the Bluetooth settings menu should your phone not have NFC.
Surprisingly, either pairing method worked fine. The Ziks don’t need to put it into a fiddly Bluetooth pairing mode. This also meant that I was also easily able to pair them with a second phone as long as my other phone was powered off or out of range.
Listening music on the go using a smartphone has always been a total pain in the posterior. Fumbling with a smartphone to change tracks is a frequently cited cause for involuntary drop tests and costly repair shop visits. In-line corded remotes are also rarely intuitive to use either.
The folks at Parrot must have fumbled with their smartphones one too many times because they’ve put some serious thought into this vexing issue and may have it beaten.
Controlling music with the Zik 2.0 can is as simple as doing a horizontal swipe on the right ear cup. Swiping horizontally from front to back skips forwards, swiping from back to front to skips backwards. Pausing a track, or answering a call is as easy as tapping the right ear cup. Swiping upwards increases the volume and downwards decreases it. Equally handy is the ability to do a long-press on the ear cup to fire up Siri on an iPhone (or Google Now on Android devices). In use it is both intuitive and practical. This said, the touchpad could do with a tad more sensitivity. Another initial annoyance was the automatic pause feature. I found that it frustratingly paused audio when I turned my head. Thankfully it was able to be disabled using the Zik app.
While The Ziks will work with an IOS or android device straight out of the box, getting the most out of them requires the free Zik 2.0 app for either OS. The app allows users to adjust noise cancellation levels, change audio processing effects, fiddle with equaliser settings (the Zik app can also handily apply equaliser settings on a per track basis) or enable/disable Zik features. The app detects how much battery is left and provides an at a glance view of which features are enabled/disabled. Here’s hoping a windows phone version is launched soon.
Where apps bundled are typically throwaway features aimed at providing yet another ticked box for marketers confuse buyers and wow management, the Zik app is actually well executed. Take its equaliser for instance. Rather than fumbling around with individual frequency sliders (something that’s next to impossible on a cold day wearing gloves) you’re presented with a wheel to choose pre-sets. For audio purists who still want sliders, an old school equaliser is also available.
Zik 2.0 can also automatically download and add audio pre-sets to tracks by artists, album, song or even genre. In theory this means performing artists can tweak the Ziks to play their songs as they were recorded.
Battery life also impressed. The 830mAh battery delivered just over seven hours of playback with all the bells and whistles enabled. There is also a flight mode which delivers 18 hours. This magic is worked as audio processing effects and Bluetooth are disabled (instead you use a bundled 3.5mm audio jack cable to connect the Ziks to your phone). This said, you still get noise cancellation, making the Ziks a great travel companion.
Perhaps the biggest make or break factor with the Ziks is in their audio output. This was thankfully impressive. Using the Zik 2.0 app I liked the audio delivered. While there was a gap at the upper end of the audio spectrum, this was more than compensated for by the Ziks industrial strength noise cancellation. Bass was warm, punchy and controlled while mids were accurately delivered. Expecting muddy or shrill audio as is usually the case with most headphones, I was pleasantly surprised by the Ziks.
Another feather in Parrots cap is call quality. The Ziks support HD Voice. This resulted in crystal clear voice calls. Taking calls in noisy environments was not a problem either. The Ziks excellent noise cancellation kept most noise out of calls while bone conducting mics meant that environmental noise was not picked up either.
Parrot has crafted a set of cans that are about as close to being as state of the art as is currently possible.
For many, the temptation when given a brief to develop the most advanced and high tech headphones possible would be to bundle acres of marketing friendly yet impractical features. Parrots designers and engineers have instead sensibly opted for features that enhance the Ziks usability. Easy pairing, intuitive controls and a useful bundled app are all sure fire hits.
So what about misses? The auto pause feature sounded great on paper, but I couldn’t get it to work reliably for love nor money and ultimately ended up disabling it. The touchpad controls were also occasionally finicky.
This said, the good definitely outweighs the bad. Great looks, excellent audio and a whopping pile of genuinely useful features make the Zik 2.0 cans the cans that other headphone makers should aim to beat for the foreseeable future.
RRP: $599.95 Connectivity, Bluetooth 3.0 (Profiles supported: AD2P, AVRCP, HFP and PBAP), 3.5mm audio jack, Micro USB (charging firmware upgrades) NFC: Yes for pairing Drivers: 40mm neodymium loud speakers DAC: Built-in 192kHz – 24 bit Dynamic Range: 20Hz – 22kHz Battery: Li-Ion 830 mAh battery Battery life: 7+ hours with wireless use, 18 hours in travel mode, Standby: up to 8 days Equalizer: parametric equaliser (5 peak filters), Gain = from -12dB to 12dB, Slope = from 0.4 to 4, Frequency = from 20Hz to 20kHz Weight: 270g Dimensions: Width: 175 mm x Height: 202 mm x Thickness: 39.3mm