Parrot, makers of the AR Drone, Mini Drones and car stereos has brought a long-awaited update to its Zik headphones. Zik 2.0 (the company does like its decimal point version numbers) will come in a variety of colours and be available for purchase from Myer, Apple and other retailers next week. The asking price for the new Ziks is the same as the original – $499 – but Parrot’s packed them full of extra features.
We met with Chris Roberts, MD of Parrot Australia & New Zealand to take a look at the new Ziks, and find out what Parrot has in store for its first revision of the Zik line in a little over two years.
The most obvious difference between the 2.0 model and the originals is the splash of colour. The new Ziks come in six colour choices – black, white, mocha, blue, orange or yellow – and it’s not like they’ve just added a dash of colour here and there. All the leather parts – earpiece, touch panel and headband padding – will be in your colour of choice.
Besides the colour, Zik 2.0 is still noticeably Zik. The Phillipe Starck design remains, with the sweeping metal arms and outward-facing leather control pad with its touch-sensitive surface, but it’s been modified in a couple of subtle ways. The earpiece is now a little longer, the padding on top is now thicker and the whole unit spreads a little wider. Most notably, the headphones are now significantly lighter – 270 grams, about 17% less than the originals.
Parrot says it all adds up to a more comfortable fit, and despite a limited time spent wearing them it’s hard to disagree. The headphones sport a distinctive, classic design and they’re comfortable to wear. Most importantly, they also sound fantastic – and you get quite a lot of control over that sound.
Tech Inside, Design Outside
As with most things that come from Parrot, Zik 2.0 is crammed full of technology. Where other headphones have buttons and dials for controls, Parrot’s made the outside of the right earpiece a touchpad. Tap it to play and pause, drag up and down to control volume and forward and backwards to move tracks and long-press it to activate voice control. For calls, you can tap to answer, long-press to reject and control volume in the same way. It’s an elegant and simple control scheme.
NFC tap-to-pair is still present, as is the accelerometer that detects when the headphones have been picked up – and put down for a time – and starts and stops music playback accordingly.
Parrot’s proud of the new (and patented) noise cancellation system – Adaptive Noise Cancelling. There’s eight(!) microphones inside the Zik 2.0, six of which are used for noise cancelling, while the remaining two are used for hands-free voice controls. The system adjusts the amount of noise cancellation required according to your surroundings, so if you’re in a quiet room it won’t need to do much work but if you’re on a noisy bus or out in the street it’ll work harder for you.
Noise cancelling also works in reverse – Parrot’s new “Street Mode” allows you to hear what’s going on around you, so you can use the new Ziks while walking down the street and be confident you won’t miss anything important in your surroundings. Street Mode also kicks in while you’re on a call, so you can hear the sound of your own voice and won’t feel like you need to yell while you’re talking. Speaking of calls, the headphones can also support HD Voice calling, and even monitor the movement of your jawbone.
There’s one more neat trick on offer – text-to-speech. When you connect your headphones to the new Parrot Zik 2.0 app, the system will learn the names of the contacts in your phone book and read the name aloud when you receive a call. Better still, when you receive that call you can answer it (or not) with “accept” or “reject” voice commands.
Battery life isn’t as high as others at this end of the market, but with the headphones coming in lighter than the previous generation it shouldn’t be surprising – it’s still probably enough to get you through the day unless you’re always pumping the jams. In flight mode (without Bluetooth, using line-in input with noise cancellation on) you’ll get a good 18 hours from them but under normal circumstances (Bluetooth and noise cancellation) you’ll get about 6. You can extend this a little in “Eco” mode, but only to 7 hours. The headphones take about 2.5 hours to charge from the Micro USB port.
Zik 2.0 App
The hardware is all well and good, but the app takes the controls to the next level. The Zik 2.0 app is out now on iOS and Android, with a Windows Phone version promised in the next few months. Parrot says “you’re the producer”, and it’s up to you how you want your music to sound. Everyone’s tastes and preferences are different, so the app allows you to set things up just the way you like.
You can control the level of noise cancellation on offer to suit your own needs with a drag of your finger, change the equaliser mode by dragging a control point anywhere you like between Pop, Vocal, Cristal, Club, Punchy and Deep presets, and you can change the sound stage at the touch of a button (your choices are Quiet Room, Living Room, Jazz Club or Concert Hall, and you can also change the virtual speaker placement).
Changes are made in real time while your music is playing, and I haven’t heard such a dramatic change in the output from a set of headphones. The controls really change things in a noticeable way, and you can also save multiple settings as presets, appling them to an Artist, Album, Song or Genre. Since the app sees everything you play, it can adjust the preset in use according to whatever music is currently-playing.
Presets can be shared online with other Zik users, and Parrot’s going out of their way to get musicians to contribute presets that apply to their own music. Using the app’s presets, you can hear songs as the artists would like you to hear them or you can adjust the settings to suit your own preferences – it’s all up to you.
Wanna know more? Head on over to Parrot’s Zik 2.0 site. We’re expecting review units in a couple of weeks, and we’re expecting quite a scuffle to follow in the ranks to see who gets to take them out for a spin. Place your bets.
Will you be checking out Zik 2.0 next week? Tell us what you think in the comments.