Parrot are most well known in the mainstream for their smart phone controlled quadro-copter the Parrot AR.Drone which has been quite successful and is a heck of a lot of fun to use. We've also seen an Android powered Car Stereo head unit from them the Parrot Asteroid, now Parrot is introducing us to a high end set of headphones, the Parrot Zik by Starck.
The Headphones have been designed by Phillip Starck, a French designer who has designed everything from fashion accessories through to Architecture(Virgin Galactic Spaceport in New Mexico), Yachts, Technology(MS Optical Mouse & LaCie HDD enclosures), Furniture and much, much more, his website lists a whole host of designs he has completed and many I found most fascinating. This is the second product I found on which Starck and Parrot have collaborated, there is also the Zikmu Hi-Fi Speakers which look simply stunning.
The headphone feature touch control on the cans for controlling volume and track forward and reverse, they also have motion sensors built in so when you put them around your neck they pause the music. NFC based Bluetooth pairing. Active Noise Cancellation reducing noise up to 25dB. Bone conduction sensor and built-in double microphone for noise suppression for receiving handsfree phone calls. Accessory wise, Parrot includes a Micro USB Cable, 3.5mm cable, 800mAh Li0Ion battery, Quick Start guide and a soft drawstring bag for storage.
With the NFC tap to Bluetooth pair, I feel there is going to be more appeal to Android users at this stage due to the proliferation of NFC enabled Android devices. The usage of NFC especially in Australia has been limited to a certain extent currently, we have some excellently run campaigns by Tapit for marketing and advertising, we have limited functionality of programming your own NFC Tags and we can also to a certain extent hack things such as Google Wallet to Android devices and spend $10 of pre-paid credit. This could be where Parrot comes in, so how do they handle?
What we like
First impression of the Zik headphones when taking them out of the box was that they would possibly be too heavy, the initial feeling though is dispelled when you first put them on, the weight feels natural and does not seem to weigh you down in fact they feel effortlessly comfortable to wear, a trip to Sydney on a bus was done whilst wearing the Zik headphones and weight was excellent, just enough to know you are wearing them but not enough to cause any concern.
The design of the headphones caused garnered quite a few questions from curious people who had no idea what they were, coming from my normal set of $8 over the ear earphones I had no idea that audio-philes were so interested in other peoples headphones, but quite frankly they look amazing to me.
The headphones are excellently manufactured and there is nothing that feels cheap or not thought out. The headphones have a faux-leather covering on the head strap which is embossed with the Parrot logo and makes it quite comfortable to wear. The cans are connected to the headband by metal earphone supports that swivel to allow it to lay flat for storage and allow you to extend or retract when adjusting for head size with a satisfying click, these same metal supports and headband keep the soft earphones connected really well to your ears meaning that the noise cancellation is fully effective.
Small touches like the removable plastic plate on the can which has small magnets built into it to hold it in place scream quality and the fact they have accounted for a future need to replace the battery is amazing. On the bottom of the cans are the controls and connectors including a microUSB port for charging and uploading firmware, you have a metal power button which has a two-tone LED behind it Red for Charging and White when the headphones are Powered On, there is also a 3.5mm jack to allow you to plug in when you don't have NFC available
Sound wise, I'm not going to lie, as I stated earlier my usual listening devices are a cheap set of earphones and a set of Plantronics Backbbeat 903+ headphones for jogging, they sound alright but never do much in blowing you away. These headphones blew my mind. That simple, they did it, I finally understand what the quality argument is from all the people who have argued for me to invest more money into my personal audio equipment. I sampled music using FLAC files and this was where the main difference was heard, the Ausdroid podcast still sounded like the Ausdroid podcast though there was nothing that increased the quality of sound there ;).
I have used noise cancelling headphones before but mainly as mufflers for sound when I worked in Data Centres which can be extremely noisy places, these were on par if not better than the Bose headphones I had tried in the past, the bus trip was made even more pleasing by the pure fact that all road noise was removed whilst I watched video on my Nexus 7 -yes NFC pairing works equisitely with the Nexus 7 as well.
The novelty of pairing with NFC becomes very natural and the ease with which it is done makes me see that there will soon be a whole host of Bluetooth accessories that initiate pairing using NFC, things such as Bluetooth hands-free kits are certainly on the horizon from Parrot, I would also like to see desktop speakers and even keyboards and mice.
Controls on the headphones are extremely intuitive, they have a capacative touch panel on the left can which supports volume control and track skipping. To increase volume you simply swipe up with your finger and down to decrease. To skip track you swipe forward and to reverse you swipe backwards. There is a sensor in the headphones that also allows you to simply take the headphones off to pause your current track. To Answer calls you simply tap the panel. I had no issues using any of these functions and they are such a natural way to do it you don't even have to think about it.
Parrot has provided an Android App -they also supply an iOS app, which is available for free in the Google Play store : Parrot Audio Suite 1.0 (Beta) the app description reminds you to ensure your headphones are up to date with latest firmware -mine was. Once you have installed the app and paired it with your device you can access everything I could think of wanting in terms of audio effects such as the Concert Hall Effects, Equalizer and Noise Cancellation settings. You also get access to a battery indicator which is a brilliant addition to the app, there is also a System component that will check and advise if there are firmware updates for your headphones and you also get access to a help menu.
What can be improved
What do I feel could be improved upon, not a whole heck of a lot. I wish I could keep these headphones or at the very least purchase them now but there are a few things which need to be addressed and they really are quite minor.
The app, in the app I can find nowhere in the software to advise it that I am an English speaker and it insisted on giving me the help information in French, it also appears to be just a picture or PDF which you can swipe around to view. Whilst my father and sister both have tried to educate me to be multi-lingual specifically in French, my only knowledge of forgein languages consists of an impressive array of swear words. I would like to have a quick tutorial handy, however as the headphones are very easy and intuitive to use this is only a minor annoyance.
Whilst the headphones are extremely comfortable to wear I did find that after a while they did feel like they were crushing my head slightly, it wasn't to the point of not being able to wear them but was enough to be noticeable. Over time I hope that the amount of pressure would relax slightly and get just a bit more comfortable to wear.
I had a couple of times where trying to use the headphones to initate or receive a call I was unable to hear the person on the line, I'm not sure whether this was because I initiated the call or some other reason however I found this to be a little annoying but with the amount of calls I make this is not terribly bad so not a deal breaker, perhaps this is an issue which could be resolved with a firmware upgrade or maybe I was just using them wrong.
The usage of Bluetooth 2.1 is understandable on these headphones as the amount of devices out there capable of connecting to Bluetooth 4.0 is limited, one of the advantages Parrot would gain by using Bluetooth 4.0 is power savings, perhaps in future iterations of the Zik we could see this technology used. The reason why power savings are important is that the included 800mAh battery gives 6 hours of battery life when used the way it's supposed to with all features active and this is usually enough, however a day of travel and using them left them unfortunately flat before the end of the day.
The last thing I to add to things I feel could be improved is the lack of a hard shell travel case. If I am spending this much money on headphones I would like to be able to travel with them or pack them in my bag safe in the knowledge that my headphones will not be crushed or destroyed by over zealous baggage handlers or some other accident, the drawstring travel bag is nice but limited in terms of protection.
- Neodymium Drivers
- Sound Pressure Level : 110dB per volt @ 1kHz
- Impedance : 32 Ohms
- NFC for pairing
- Bluetooth 2.1
- Hands Free
- Capacative Touch Panel
- Battery Life :
- With all Features active : 6 Hours
- With ANC Only : 18 Hours
- Standby mode : 24 Hours
- Width : 150mm
- Height : 198mm
- Depth : 80mm
- Weight : 325gms
ConclusionThe Zik headphones are extremely comfortable to wear, they give great sound quality, the option to use them as wired is an excellent thought, they look phenomenal and the addition of Bluetooth pairing using NFC is a huge plus. I have no hesitation recommending these to anyone who is willing to spend the money on higher end headphones.
Overall I like these headphones, I like them a lot. There is nothing in the to be improved section which prohibits me from sending them straight to the top of my Christmas list for this year -perhaps Santa won the Lotto, that said I can't personally justify spending $499 on a pair of headphones for my own usage, they are not a casual purchase and not aimed at everyone but in terms of quality and style they are a very nice high end set of headphones.
The Parrot Zik by Starck headphones will be available from leading department stores and consumer electronic retailers across Australia for $499 from next week or for those who don't want to wait and don't mind sending some cash Apples way you can purchase them now from the Apple Store for $499.95 with free shipping, a spare battery will be available at a cost of $49 later this month. Huge thankyou to Parrot for allowing me to try these out, I only wish I didn't have to send them back.