Parrot’s Zik 2.0 headphones are some of the most expensive consumer grade headphones money can buy. They’re also some of the best, building on a reputation earned by the original Zik headphones over the past two years.
Parrot likes to cram their devices full of technology, and their Zik 2.0 headphones are no exception. We’re looking at Bluetooth headphones with noise cancelling technology built in. That’s not anything new in this market, but beneath the sleek leather-wrapped surface, you’ll find eight microphones (the original had five), a jawbone sensor, new noise-cancelling technology, and touchpad controls.
That technology’s all hidden rather well. Zik 2.0 presents just two types of surface – shiny metal on the arms and control surface and black leather on the earpads and headband (in the case of our review unit – a number of other colours like blue, orange, yellow, mocha or white are also available).
Zik headphones don’t look quite like anything else on the market. Parrot’s kept the distinctive design or the original but lightened it to 270 grams and elongated the ear pads slightly to better fit more humans’ ears – and those ear pads are very comfortable.
The metal arms sweeping down the back of the ear pads do take some getting used to. I’m used to headphones that are joined to the headband at the top, and the Zik ear pads can also rotate a little around forward axis to provide the best the fit over your ear. The L/R markings on the metal arms are so subtle as to be invisible, so I ended up having to remember that the power button always sits behind my right ear.
There are neat touches everywhere on the headphones. The (removable) 830 mAh battery is housed behind the left ear pad, which is attached to the body with magnets. The 3.5mm input jack sits at an angle that allows the cable to comfortably run down over your shoulder and the white/red LED inside the power button pulses nicely as the headphones charge. There’s a tiny, subtle orange hint to the body of the headphones where the arms meet the headband and this is carried over to the 3.5mm audio cable and Micro USB cables included in the box, which also have a nice braided look and feel that should stop them tangling.
Finally, the control method for Zik 2.0 remains unchanged from the original incarnation – the touchpad on the right ear pad is amazing. Tap to play/pause, flick forwards for next track, backwards for previous, and up/down for volume. It’s incredibly intuitive, and makes me wonder why everyone else is still stuck with knobs and sliders. There’s also a pressure sensor in the right ear pad that’ll pause your music when you take them off – if it’s connected via Bluetooth, anyway.
Despite all the praise for the design, it’s not a home run. For some reason, Parrot’s made some puzzling decisions for a company that prides themselves on design.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the right ear pad while other manufacturers favour the left. Almost everyone I’ve asked keeps their phone in their left pocket, so if you use the audio cable, there’s a good chance it’s draped across your body instead of dropping straight down to your pocket.
The power button – the only button on the headphones – is also not quite what I expected. Instead of the normal long-press I expected, it only requires a simple short press to turn the headphones on (they do take a few seconds to power up) or off. This meant the headphones would often knock something in my bag, switch on and just sit there using power. It can also be prone to wobbling around a little while walking, producing a bit of noise that the noise cancelling technology in the headphones can’t beat.
The final issue I have with the design is how the headphones sit on your neck when they’re not in use. My Sony MDR-BT10Ts and the Plantronics BackBeat Pros reviewed in December both rotate inward and down, so they sit comfortably on my shoulders and out of the way of my head. Not so the Zik 2.0’s – they rotate outward and upward and just hang there uncomfortably in mid-air. The only other alternatives are to leave them facing into my neck (and my neck’s really not long enough for that), or just take them off my head entirely.
Zik brings the Boom
The most important question about headphones is easy – how do they sound? In a word, they’re incredible. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard your music sound quite like this before, and you can crank the volume on these headphones to seriously high levels.
Zik 2.0’s noise cancelling is a new technology from Parrot that they’re calling Adaptive Noise Cancelling. The headphones don’t use all eight microphones together, just six(!) of them (the remaining two are for voice calls). It’s always processing the amount of noise in your surrounds and adjusting the amount of noise cancellation necessary for your listening pleasure.
It drowned out the sounds of the London Tube. It killed the sound of jet engines. Colleagues are having trouble getting my attention in the office. It’s hard to be more specific about just how effective the noise cancellation is. It’s not perfect (like most noise cancellation systems – and we don’t live in a vacuum), but it is damn good.
Sudden loud noises in otherwise quiet environments can still send it for six, but that’s more to do with physics than it is Parrot’s engineering team. I’ve sat next to people and attempted to explain the features of the headphones and they haven’t been able to hear me.
With a low noise environment sorted out inside the headphones, you’re free to enjoy your music. The aural detail offered by Zik 2.0 is amazing. You’ll hear details you didn’t notice before on tracks you’ve listened to for years, and you can configure the very clever equalizer’s settings with the companion app.
The companion app sends commands to the Zik headphones to change things like equalizer details, sound stage configuration and even specific changes to the audio waveform in Producer Mode. The configurability on offer is pretty amazing, and you can save presets for specific artists, albums or songs. You can also download presets by particular artists for their own music, or other Zik 2.0 users who’ve shared presets for any of the above conditions. You could find a preset that’ll apply to Michael Jackson’s Xscape album, for example.
The configurability offered through the app can also have a drawback – if you switch to corded operation, you’re stuck with the last settings you used. This led to some amusing aural experiences in flight (where you’re not supposed to use Bluetooth) when I ended up watching movies and TV shows with interesting voice effects on. Everyone’s voice echoed a lot more and even scenes set in police stations took on a far more epic feel.
There’s one other drawback to loading up functionality like Street Mode in the app – when people start talking to you, you have to fish your phone out of your pocket, unlock it, open the Zik app, wait for it to detect the headphones, and swipe over to the Noise Control panel. By that time whoever was asking you a question has probably gotten bored, wondered why you’re looking at your phone instead of them, decided you’re rude and wandered off. Parrot’s placed just one button on the headphones (the power button), maybe they should consider going for two on the 3.0 model.
Bang for buck
I’ve loved testing out Zik 2.0, but I still can’t get past that price tag. It’s $500. It’s halfway to $1000. You’ll be paying more than some phones, just for a pair of headphones. Is it worth it? It depends how much you use your headphones, and how you use them.
Occasionally I stood up on public transport while wearing the headphones and hit my head – or rather, the leather padding on the top of the Ziks – on an overhead bar or (on the London Tube) the roof itself. Every time that happened I was acutely aware that I’d just bumped a $500 item (or a $500 review unit) into something. Other headphones I’ll wear in the rain, but the outer leather on the Zik’s earpads made me take them off and put them in my bag.
On protection, Parrot gives you a carry bag with which to protect the headphones in your bag, but it’s really just a fabric bag with a Parrot logo printed on it and a draw string. Sony’s provided better than this with my usual MDR-10RBT headphones with a stronger material that’s more weatherproof (but lacks a drawstring). Of course, Parrot sells cases for their headphones too …
My final qualm with the headphones concerns battery life. While Parrot says they’ll last about 18 hours under certain circumstances (no Bluetooth, but with noise cancellation), it’s still less than you’ll get from competition like Plantronics who offer 24 hours on Bluetooth with noise cancellation). It feels like that little battery could stand to be a little larger. Still on the battery, you get no warning when the battery is running low – the headphones will just switch off and you’ll be left looking for a USB port. If you watch the app constantly (which I think nobody will do) then you’ll probably notice the dwindling battery %. Perhaps a notification, or even better an audible warning would go a long way to helping this.
Despite my misgivings on the price front, I can’t argue that these headphones are anything less than fantastic overall. They’re gorgeous and distinctive, and the sound quality is amazing. Zik 2.0 has ruined the enjoyment I get from my trusty normal headphones, which until a few weeks ago sounded just fine. Thanks a bunch, guys.