Long gone are the days of simple headphones that keep the everyday consumer largely ignorant of the listening experience they often miss out on. That’s changed drastically in recent times, with more consumer headphones designed to bring the same power and quality as professional devices, and Parrot are among the biggest and trendiest of this higher-end bunch. We take a look at their recently released Zik 3.0 headphones, an evolution of the popular Zik 2’s with a AU$600 pricetag and a whole heap of impressive features.
The Zik 3 comes with one of the absolute best noise cancelling offerings on the market, evident as soon as you cup these pillow-soft headphones snugly around your ears and the surrounding atmosphere is completely muted. Parrot have certainly designed these to best justify the cost as much as they could, even though they aren’t the most fashionable pair out there – unless you’re going for straight black. The unit I tested was Brown Croc, a deep milk chocolate hue that makes it look as if you have two giant Easter eggs sitting on your head – but in all honesty, who really cares how it all looks considering the excellent performance the Zik 3.0 offers.
The standard audio profile of the Zik 3.0 is impressive enough; there’s some good detail across all genres, clean and crispy with a deep bass that works best for hip hop, R&B, and house. But of course, Parrot’s focus is on complete customisation, even allowing you to download fixed audio profiles by different artists to maintain the brand’s desire and have you hear music the way it was intended – which, in marketing terms, is all the rage for consumer headphones right now, even though none of the market quite reach the level of adaptibility you can get here.
The accompanying smartphone app (also available in slightly condensed form for both the Apple Watch and Android Wear) that is part and parcel to why Zik 3.0 works so well is where all the magic happens, and you can only use it if you’re connecting the headphones to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Bluetooth and wireless headphones are on-trend right now, and unfortunately the same pitfalls that are associated with possible weak connections apply here.
The range isn’t all that great (I tested it with an iPhone 6 and a HTC 10) and is slightly choppy, as with all wireless headphones, if the device is sliding around in your pockets while you are walking. For those who want to avoid the connection issues, there’s a 3.5mm audio cable that comes with the set to allow for analog playback without the battery, but as mentioned above, you have to be on Bluetooth to get full use of the app. The micro USB port can also be used for hi-res audio at up to 24bit/192kHz, which is a much better option if you’re battery is running low.
The smartphone app is intuitive and quite easy to navigate, allowing you an unprecedented level of control over the sound quality coming from the headphones. Want the vocals to stand out a bit more? Simply touch and drag the vibration (a little orange dot) as close to the applicable edge you want, and adjust it according to the individual song and your individual set of ears. There’s so much room for experimentation here that it’d be impossible not to find the perfect profile for pretty much any user and any song. The problem is that once you get used to this – depending on your personal tastes – you’ll need to keep switching things around – the Zik 3.0 will raise your standards when it comes to the listening experience.
The noise equaliser on the app has six touchstones – Pop, Vocal, Cristal, Club, Punchy, and Deep – substantially affecting the sound. Of course, different genres will require a different location on this graph, but you can also play around to completely change the listening experience to both good and bad effect (if you’re going to throw on a club-focused hip hop track then don’t bother dragging the sound towards “Vocal”) with enough room to balance different variations by degrees.
To add even more layers to this you have the “Parrot Concert Hall” where you can switch between four levels of acoustics – Silent Room, Living Room, Jazz Club, and Concert Hall – all substantially affecting the sound even more and bringing in new angles to your favourite songs. Sometimes selecting the “Concert Hall” option while bringing the sound towards something more “Punchy” makes it seem as if you’re actually listening to the song being performed live (or at least a live version).
For those wanting something even more technically advanced, there’s another icon you can click on from the equaliser page which brings up a more complete EQ with digital signal processing features. Any profile created can be saved and then uploaded as a pre-set under your name.
Fiddling with the app is necessary if you’re trying to get the most out of more complex pieces like a John Coltrane record, which sounds best when the depth is taken away and you – of course – program in “Jazz Club” acoustics. Constantly playing around with these settings allows you to find dynamism you may have not even known as there in the first place, which is the ultimate value of these headphones and a large payoff for all the thought they have put into the technology and the app.
Controls are again either standard via the phone or through a tactile panel that’s located in the right headphone. Basic functions like volume control, track skip, or pause are accessible through simply touching the right headphone in an intuitive way – tapping will pause/unpause, swiping forward will skip to the next track, swiping back will go backwards, and swiping up and down will control the volume. There’s also a sensor that pauses the music as soon as you take the headphones off and place them around your neck, starting the music back up as soon as you cup them back onto your ears.
I do wish Parrot would have included a sturdier carry case; just having a soft pouch in which to store these very expensive headphones seems like a bit of an oversight, considering these aren’t the most compact pair on the market. It’d be easy to balance protection with portability with a carry case.
As should be expected with wireless headphones nowadays, the Zik 3.0 works well as a headset for taking conference calls (there’s even voice recognition), something augmented by the brilliant noise cancellation. You can even adjust the balance between external noise and your own voice: a nice touch they call “street mode”, designed so you don’t completely lose track of your surrounds. Being able to adapt the level of noise cancellation to each environment is impressive once you play around with it, coupled with the sensor which is built into the earpiece and helps pick up the lower frequencies in your voice to better adjust phone calls. There’s a lot of work going on beneath the surface of these headphones to optimise quality at all times, capturing noise and using an algorithm to generate opposing acoustic waves, creating noise reduction up to 30 decibels.
Battery life was a bit of an issue for Zik 2, and while there are improvements made here, there’s still a long way to go for tech like this to offer satisfactory and long lasting portability. 18 hours is what is promised and delivered on Flight Mode, but using it everyday like an average consumer would bring that down to about 10, still a nice improvement especially when considering the included Micro USB does it’s job pretty quickly (about 2-3 hours and it’s fully charged). There’s a metre in the app by which to accurately track how much battery you have left. There’s also wireless charging for those who have a compatible Qi charging accessory (an example being a Samsung Galaxy which uses the Qi standard).
If you can forego a weekend or two going out and throwing money at a bar, then it’s quite easy to save up and grab yourself a pair of Zik 3’s. The eye-opening level of control you have over your own listening experience is well worth the high asking price, and there are enough features thrown in to keep these servicing at an optimal level for a very long time.
Parrot’s Zik 3.0 is available in select stores in Australia (many Myer and Apple Stores seem to have them) for an RRP of AU$599. For more information and a list of where to buy them in each state click HERE.