KZ X-HBB PR2
Today I am reviewing the KZ X-HBB PR2. KZ has been on a tear lately and the KZ X-HBB PR2 is one of the reasons why there has been such a spotlight on the company. Certainly, it doesn’t hurt to run a collaboration with the well-known “Hawaiian Bad Boy” from “Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews” of YouTube renown. Another thing which helps the cause of this budget earphone giant is that they are offering the KZ X-HBB PR2 for a crazy low price of only $40. By the way, this set is a true Planar iem. Many of you already know how unheard of this is for a truly planar iem to be sold at such prices, but as the tech becomes more widely produced and manageable, I suppose the prices have dropped accordingly. It is a great time to be a fan of audio my friends.
I have always been a fan of HBB’s style, his delivery, that forthright and honest authority which he seems to speak with. Naturally I gravitated to his iems. Have they all been amazing? No, not all of them (I’ve never heard any of his more expensive sets), but by and large his iems have been very well tuned to his preference and coincidentally they are tuned nicely to my preference as well. For the most part anyways.
One thing is for sure, HBB seems to only put his name on something which he can sit back and be proud of. When you mix experience, passion and genuine pride in the end product I think you will most of the time end up with a good result. To me this is evident in HBB’s collab thus far. Always built well, always stylish, always tuned better than the OG of whatever iem he is tuning. With the PR2 there is high expectations and I believe those expectations have been met and exceeded with this set.
On a tear lately
I mentioned the absolute tear that KZ has been on in the last year or so and certainly within the last few months creating truly top level iems at their respective price points. I have reviewed some myself and even have some which are waiting in the wings to be published. Sets like the KZ ZVX and the KZ D-Fi are two iems that truly play within the top of their price segments. So, how does the PR2 fare against other KZ Planar iems of recent times or even other Planar iems from other manufacturers for that matter? Why don’t we take a look. Thank you for visiting my full review of the KZ X-HBB PR2.
Purchase Link: KZ X-HBB
-Nice timbre for a planar
-Tidy and punchy low end
-Midrange has good presence
-Price to performance
-Hard to properly drive (needs amping)
-Needs burn-in (just trust me)
-Cable is the same Ole KZ cable
-Nothing more at this price and for all that you get tuning wise
Gear used for testing
Not much to say here. Most of the time this is my first sentence in the “packaging” area of my review of a KZ/CCA set. KZ doesn’t typically offer much, but I am more than fine with that because they put so much into the earphones themselves. The box is the same size and shape as most budget KZ cardboard sleeve boxes. A picture of the PR2 adorns the front cover while there are some stats on the back. Take off the sleeve and you’ll notice the masculine looking PR2 sitting in a plastic holder. Under the earphones is a cardboard cover which houses the eartips and the cable. That’s about it my friends.
KZ included one pair of medium sized foam tips of decent quality as well as three pairs (S, M, L) of some of my all-time favorite tips, the KZ Starlines. This may not seem like much, but I believe the Starlines are some of the best tips (when you need them). They seal phenomenally and are very rigid. Also, you can invert them to a horn style using a screw and some elbow grease. Coincidentally the audio community refers to these as “Reversed KZ Starlines”. I actually stuck with the Starlines for this review.
The cable is a downer. I really was hoping to get something else with this collaboration but in truth… I would’ve swapped it out anyways, I always do. The cable provided is the same QDC style, OFC cable with the white rubber casing and right angle 3.5 se connector. I do believe that a balanced cable for balanced sources is likely the way most people will listen, being the power requirements are greater than your average set of earphones. I actually swapped the cable for an 8 core Fedai QDC, 2-Pin, SPC balanced cable. No there isn’t anything wrong with the included cable providing you have a good and strong source to power the PR2.
Build / Design / Internals / Fit / Drivability
The build quality seems to fall in perfect harmony with some of KZ’s earlier Planar releases like the KZ PR1 Hifi (review here) and KZ PR1 Pro. KZ switched up the faceplate a bit, but the quality remains. KZ decided to go with two colorways using a gunmetal or silver colored faceplate as well as a black color. Obviously, mine is the silver color. What we have is a solid build, no doubt about it. The PR2 carries the identical shape of most KZ iems and certainly all of their planar sets are almost identical in footprint.
The faceplate cover is die-cast using a metal alloy and perfectly fitted on the shell. Underneath that is a faux semi-open back mesh which gives the appearance of a semi-open design. Please note that this is most certainly not semi-open back. The body of the shell is made using a clear resin which combined with the alloy makes for a lightweight iem which is good enough for long listening sessions. Also, the PR2 is sold with or without a mic. I personally enjoy the mic-less version and have no way of knowing how well the mic actually works for phone calls and such. I believe the mic has working controls too which is nice. Honestly, there isn’t really anything special about the build except that it is done for the low cost of $40. It is solid, has a good feel to it and seems durable.
The design is very much reminiscent of other recent KZ Planar iems. I do like the open style look of this set with the mesh underneath. There is a certain confident swag that the PR2 imposes. Definitely masculine in appearance and looks pretty sweet in the ear. At the very least it is something to talk about with non-audio people out there. I wouldn’t call the look anything crazy unique but it’s a nice style. Something KZ has been doing very well of late.
There is so much hoopla which has surfaced within the past year about what is a real or semi-real planar. One thing that KZ can hang their hat on is the fact that their planar iems are in fact… Planar iems. They equipped the large full frequency 13.2 Planar Magnetic Driver with a double sided (7+7) array of N52 magnets. That is fourteen N52 Rubidium magnets in total. The Diaphragm itself is actually silver plated which is said to increase transient response as well as resolution and balance between the frequencies, among other notable attributes.
Have you tried any other KZ planar iem? If so, then you know how the PR2 will fit. For me it fits pretty good, nothing to note either way. I fiddle for half a second and I’m in business. I never have fallouts and I never get an ache in my ear or anything like that. They are pretty comfortable and (at least for me) they seal very well and isolate very well. I heard no complaints from friends or family that there is any sound leakage and noise from the outside environment is attenuated pretty well.
Okay, now we get to the meat of this review. Phew… I try to hurry through everything else because let’s be honest, this is what you are here for. You need to know what it takes to drive this lil baddie appropriately. Fear not my friends, I have done the legwork and painstakingly come up with an answer to all your queries. Okay painstaking may be a stretch. However, I did find out that the PR2 does need some good amping and it will take whatever you throw at it.
The PR2 is rated at 15+3 ohms and a low sensitivity of 94 db’s and so it isn’t some walk in the park to power this set of earphones. Using a mobile solution such as the Fiio UTWS5 was instantly thrown out the window. 50 mw@32 ohms is simply not enough.
Moving up to the IFi Go Blu was an instant upgrade on balanced and just enough to push the PR2 decently. In fact it is a pretty nice pairing if you happen to own the Go Blu. The CS43131 dac chip and warmer yet dynamic tonality worked well with the PR2 yet still the PR2 has not reached its best fidelity in my opinion. Even at 245 mw @32 ohms on balanced. Moving onto the Moondrop Dawn 4.4 which also has the CS43131 dac chip, I found it even easier to push the PR2 and there is pretty good synergy with the Dawn. However, they still have more to squeeze out of them (PR2).
More juice & synergy
The last stage of the power game for me ends at my daps. The iBasso DX240 as well as the Shanling M6 Ultra. Both daps push close to 1 watt of output. I used both on high gain and with those power numbers the PR2 is finally brought to a very lively and dynamic sound. It is with these two daps that I finally heard just how good this set of $40 earphones can be. By the way, I also found out that the PR2 isn’t very picky about source and synergizes well with all that I used them with.
The DX240 has a beast of a dac chip, the ES9038 Pro along with the Amp8 MK2 module. Boy do these two sound engrossing together. Also, the M6 Ultra which uses the AK4493SEQ dac chip, another beast of a chip which in my opinion brings out the best in the PR2. All different kinds of chips and source impedance and the PR2 still sounds fantastic.
Pint Sized Sound Impressions
Note: During the course of my testing, I used proper amping, high gain, balanced cable and about 100 hours of burn-in.
For a $40 Planar iem I was most certainly taken aback by its mature and balanced sound. Yes, the PR2 is a great sounding planar iem, no beating around the bush. Especially for an iem with this driver tech which hovers at such a low asking price. It’s obscene actually. However, the PR2 isn’t without hesitations. In fact, I could make a healthy argument that there are multiple better sets that you could get for the money depending on your source situation. There are good reasons and usage cases that make less sense to own the PR2. I will dig into that later, but I’d like to prelude the rest of this section with… This set sounds really nice and is basically a complete no brainer.
I’ll also re-preface that I did burn this set in for at least 100 hours. I most certainly heard changes in this set after the burn-in period and I would strongly advise that you keep from judging the PR2 until you have done so. Just take my advice, humor me please, burn-in or listen-in for at least 70 hours and if you have the patience give it some more.
The PR2 has a warmer tonality with just enough illumination up top to open up the sound and add some luster or some brightness. I hear a slight V-shape sound signature with nice energy when properly amped. The sound is reasonably airy and open with a nice sized stage.
The PR2 has a moderately thumpy bass with decent rumble which is actually very nice for a true planar magnetic. It’s a nice and quick planar bass. Extension is pretty good into the lowest of lows and the bass replays very well most any genre with a bass drop, bass guitar, kick drum etc. Not exactly DD bass, but a very good planar bass that comes close to that beloved DD bass.
The midrange is slightly forward, or better said, not really all too far recessed. Not the thickest male and female vocal, but precise, clean and vivid. Not so lush, but the vocals sound smooth enough and not too coarse.
The treble region is elevated yet not to a detriment. I hear a smoother style treble which still has a snap to it, or a punch. Extension is very well drawn out and I only hear very minimal “Planar” timbre.
If this is all you read, then just know that the tuning is very well done. HBB is quickly mastering this tuning thing and I can honestly say that I trust the dude completely anymore. If he can do with $40, what KZ couldn’t do with $80-100, then c’mon folks… dude has an ear for sound (that may have been a bit harsh, I’m sure KZ has some fantastic audio minds). Let’s break down each 3rd of the mix a little further…
The sub-bass of the PR2 can be described as well emphasized with a snappy punch to it and adequately deep haptic vibrational buzz and good extension down low. So, what is adequate? Adequate to me, in this sense, is a bass that can sufficiently feel the rumble, with enough density to add some of the droning tactility to the bass region which so many genres require. The PR2 certainly has a planar type bass. To be honest, planar bass has never been ideal for me, but it can definitely be satisfying. What the PR2 does have is a tightly perceived transient attack and decay.
Close to DD?
In the track “Heavy is the Ocean” by Bush (newest album) this song comes right out the gate with some deep droning and grizzly guitar riff which absolutely sets the stage. The PR2 is not the deepest and trust me this track can get pretty deep with a thrumming type of growl. I do get some of the “feels” of the bass on this track. For a planar I think it sounds great. Truthfully it almost has the timbre of a DD yet seemingly less emphasized. The only real difference is in the tightness of the presentation as the PR2 does have a more concise, concentrated leading edge like most planar magnetic iems. I hope that makes sense. Planars typically (not always) don’t have the atmospheric type bass with the same depth as a dynamic driver but the PR2 gets you close and sounds very nice.
We aren’t left in wanting on the PR2 though the mid-bass is much less emphasized. There is still a modest slam which has been rationed for HBB’s tuning purposes. Less emphasis means more clarity and openness in the midrange, particularly the low-mids, most of the time. I love me some good and satisfyingly robust bass my friends. While the PR2 is not at all at basshead levels there is definitely a quality to the mid-bass which I derive from the nicely layered, textured and tight sound which comes across snappy and with good macro-details. Take the track “Lost Cause” by Billie Eilish. The PR2 exhibits an authoritative and pretty hard-edged rumble that is very clean. It sounds really nice and rewarding to my senses.
Don’t get it twisted
I don’t want to get things twisted. I think these reviews can confuse some people or easily lead people astray. Please note that I do think there is plenty of low-end boom for hip-hop, metal, edm etc. In fact, depending on the track the PR2 can actually sound nicely weighted and accentuated. I think that the PR2 will faithfully playback what you feed it but it simply is more mature and won’t muddy up the waters with a gradual decline into the midrange.
Thankfully the mid-bass still has enough emphasis for stuff like the fundamental body of a bass guitar. In “Feelin’ the Miles” by The Wilder Blue, I do hear some pleasing grunt in the bass guitar. What I like best is the detailed minutia that can be picked up in the process and the organic timbre in this region. There is a tactile type of surface structure to the sound which is nice for a planar iem and even nicer for $40. I am impressed.
Male vocals come across more forward than they are recessed and have good energy. Note definition is well enough rendered as well. Timbre isn’t exactly spot on, but it also isn’t altogether unnatural either. Males from bass, to baritone, to tenors all have plenty of presence and a pretty good sense of musicality for the tuning style.
In “Cover Me Up” by Morgan Wallen, his raspy southern drawl is well recreated to my ears. A song I’ve heard a trillion times (a slight exaggeration) replays pretty nicely on the PR2. Perhaps his voice is a bit lean, if anything, but it is also very well carved out and partitioned off to have a good dynamic presence. There is an openness or airiness that is nice. Again, the only things I’d say which are drawbacks would be the timbre is a hint lean and does have a slight planar tinge to it.
Sense of clean space
The song “Salt Water” by Ed Sheeran is very well done on the PR2. There is a sense of clean space with his vocals sitting a touch forward (recording), yet also slightly dialed back as far as dynamics goes. This is not a con by the way. His voice is kept in check. In the more spirited points in this track Ed’s intonations of his voice can come across a bit sharp at the edges with worser tuned iems. Edgy if you will. The PR2 slightly smooths those over while the rest of the track has nice macro-dynamics. I find the PR2’s lower midrange to be nicely rhythmical & melodious as a whole on this song. Maybe a hair thin. I say that, yet he still comes across with good texture and substantive vitality.
Females like Sierra Ferrell in “Whispering Waltz” have a certain controlled and soft sheen to them. It’s nice. There is a levity in her voice. Not the most organic or earthy but very effective at showing the emotion of the track. I promise that not every iem can do this regardless of the price tag. In the same breath there are some which do it better. I certainly wouldn’t say the PR2 specializes in female vocals, but I can surely add them to the list of the benefits of this iem. Also, for a true planar, I find her voice and the instrumentation to be very musical. Which, by the way, is a huge compliment to the makers of the PR2.
The Ukulele in this track has great detail along with a nicely bodied sound. It sounds distinct and separated. Also, the acoustic guitar plucks ping then followed closely by natural sounding harmonics. There is a tactile energy to strings which I enjoy. The violin is almost haunting, melodic and buoyant with very nice verve, or spirit. They have a velvet-like tactile sound with nice depth encircling the instrument. This set is $40 friends… Just thought I’d remind you all, in case you forgot.
All things considered
The midrange is really nice in the PR2. Altogether there is good control in the whole of the midrange. I hear more smoothness than I do coarseness and no unevenness at all. It is a nicely articulated and cohesive sounding midrange. Perhaps dialed back a bit but still very musical. The midrange benefits from not having the veil or muddiness of the bass region but it also benefits from the rise in the treble and doing so without sounding harsh at all. I hear no sibilance or graininess, I hear no shout or odd moments of weird planar artifacts…It’s simply nice.
Now, of course, if you want to spend more you can get better, but I’d have a hard time telling anyone they can find better at this price. There are a handful of sets within its price point which can play ball with the PR2… but they are few and far in between and none of those sets are planar magnetic iems.
I find the treble region to have good extension yet not even close to the shrillness that we have seen in past KZ planar iems. This is a true upgrade in my book. Some of KZ’s other planars have had a large rise through the treble region and while I thought it was tolerable (with mods or EQ) I did think that they needed a reduction up top. It appears and sounds as though HBB may have corrected this on the PR2. Mostly the crazy intensity of the treble has been cut back on this set which is very welcome. What you are left with is a nicely smooth treble region that doesn’t engage my ears with anything shrieking, invasive or harsh. The secondary harmonics of cymbal strikes are actually not splashy and truthfully the treble as a whole has a nice timbre. Extension is great.
Listening to one of my go to tracks for treble activity is “Bishop School” by Yusef Lateef. It isn’t my favorite song in the world (by any stretch of the imagination) but it is great for rapid fire treble activity. This is a crazy style New Age Jazz track with instruments such as flute, bass, congas, drums, electric bass, electric guitar, percussion, piano, trumpet and strings etc. The best compliment I can give the PR2 is that it keeps up with this song and does so in a clean and pretty precise fashion. Separation and imaging in this track are very well displayed with a snappiness to every leading edge and a decent treble punch. Details arise quite easily as the treble is resolute, separated and balanced with the rest of the frequency while never too smooth to gloss over tiny micro details.
I don’t think I’d go so far as to say the PR2 is for treble Heads, but the treble has good energy which uplifts and adds a luster to the whole of the mix without bringing upon anything too offensive, to my ears and with my library anyways. In fact, I would certainly say that the treble is mostly “safe” compared to earlier KZ releases. Again, mostly a smooth affair without anything grainy, shrill, or shouty and without sibilance to distract my listening ears with my library. In all I’d say that HBB and KZ did a fantastic job creating an earphone which will entertain the vast majority of hobbyists.
The only treble complaints that I could see would come from very treble sensitive folks, or folks who enjoy a much lusher and warmer experience with toned down treble. Listening on the PR2 at higher volumes to tracks which seem to induce a more peaky sound; there is a chance for a bit of harshness, but in my opinion, those are rarer than they aren’t.
The stage size of the PR2 is one that I would call above average. I perceive the PR2 to have a nice width to the sound which can be easily heard in “Hook” by Blues Traveler. Macro-dynamics are in pretty good abundance and the sound stretches past my ears with this track. Not stadium sized, but also if that is something you are expecting out of an “in-ear-earphone” then you may want to look on Mars for that, because planet Earth doesn’t have it.
Height is about average, and I hear a good, layered depth for the price and driver tech. I am used to hearing planar iems with almost a “flat wall of sound” which normally doesn’t have the greatest depth, but the PR2 seems to buck the trend. The stage size, dimensions and realism is nice for the price, which coincidentally means it’s good for any price. Good is good.
Separation / Imaging
Like I stated earlier, separation is actually very well accomplished on the PR2. In each 3rd of the mix and everywhere between the 20’s I don’t really hear any masking or muddiness. Even on more chaotic songs the PR2 seems to delineate between instruments and voices nicely. I don’t think any of you will find fault with how well the separation is on this set. Imaging is the exact same story and walks hand-in-hand with how well the PR2 is able to partition off elements of a stage. You will hear decent depth and layering from front to back. Not mind-blowing, but for $40 you’d be hard pressed to find any iems which blow this one out of the water. Left to right everything has its place with vocals taking center stage most of the time and depending on the track of course.
Another thing I’ve already commented on briefly is the ability of the PR2 to bring the tiny minutiae of a song into the forefront of the imaginary stage. The PR2 has a nicely balanced sound, quick planar drivers and comes across resolute and focused, with “perceivably” tight transients, which is a good recipe for details. Whether it be the breath of an emotional singer, or well discerned and controlled harmonics, finger slides, or even the random commotion in your favorite live track, the PR2 can and will draw those things out.
I wouldn’t call the PR2 a “Detail King” but just by virtue of the driver type and tuning alone; I’d say it is up there with the best at the price point, no doubt about it. I’d also say that if you enjoy a nicely detailed sound yet also enjoy a good dynamic and fun signature then say less and look no further… The PR2 may just be what you are looking for.
**Note: Each comparison here is not a duel to the death. I don’t find that very helpful in subjective comparisons. I compare attributes between sets, simply to better acquaint the reader with how the iem I am reviewing sounds. However, during the process I do think you will gather which set is better for the price or style for you, at least that is what I’m trying to do. Each comparison is mostly done with iems that have similar driver types or are priced similarly. There has to be some relatable quality to qualify a reasonable comparison. I try to keep these comparisons pretty short and somewhat concise and so I use very general terms, nothing in-depth either and always my subjective thoughts over fairly long a/b sessions.**
KZ PR1 Hifi ($45-60)
The KZ PR1 Hifi is the first set I thought of to compare with the PR2. It too has a full range Planar Magnetic Driver and shares much the same shape and design style as the PR2. The Hifi was KZ’s answer to the much maligned earlier Planar iem the CCA PLA13. I reviewed the PR1 Hifi last year (KZ PR1 Hifi Review) and gave it pretty good marks (average) as it held its own in the budget iem world. However, it does have its faults. Still, at the time it was a good starter iem for anyone wanting to experience a “true planar” iem at the fraction of what most Planar iems were going for.
Between the two the PR1 has more of a bass emphasis. It hits harder and has a greater rise in the mid-bass area which adds a warmer hue to the whole of the mix. The PR1 comes across more V-shaped, but also it sounds a bit more congested and much more bloated and intrusive. The PR2 is much cleaner down low with just as good, if not better extension into the lowest of the lows. I would say the PR1 has better density in its bass but the PR2 has a more precise, textured, and layered sound, with better punch while highlighting macro-details much better. The PR2 has fantastic bass quality compared to the Hifi which has an otherwise immature forceful rise down low. It isn’t horrible but it certainly doesn’t compare to the lesser priced and newer PR2.
The PR1 is a lot warmer due to the overdrawn mid-bass push and spill-over into the midrange which (in my opinion) adversely affects male vocals and does add a slight veil over the region. The PR2 on the other hand drops that mid-bass down and adds emphasis to the sub-bass. This effectively frees up male vocals to sound much more neutral sounding, airy, detailed and clean in comparison. Females on the PR2 have more of a shimmer, or controlled sheen, and a musical nature with greater resolution. Really it seems that in all aspects the PR2 is an upgrade from the PR1 Hifi and the midrange perfectly shows this. Timbre is also much better as that was one area that I thought the PR1 needed some work. I don’t hear nearly as much of that metallic type of tinge to the note outlines on the PR2.
The treble is one area that I think KZ made the biggest difference. The treble of the PR1 Hifi was greatly emphasized. Extension into the air region was great, but there was a shrillness and shoutiness to my music which prompted me to modify the PR1 anyway that I could tame it. The PR2 is much better tuned as everything is brought back down to earth on this set. The PR1 gave a false sense of detail and perceived resolution with the forced rise up top, whereas the PR2 does so with a more natural timbre and lifelike replay while dialing back the treble.
Truthfully this one is a no brainer for me. Unless you adore a greatly boosted treble and would love a bit more slam in the bass. I think the PR2 is an upgrade across the board and was exactly what KZ needed to do to truly create a fantastic Planar iem at affordable prices.
Celeste Pandamon ($59)
Okay now this may be a bit of a stretch to compare the two. First off, the Pandamon is not exactly a Planar iem. There was much debate on the topic upon its release, and the release of its predecessor… the Gumiho. I reviewed the Pandamon last year (Celeste Pandamon review) and admittedly adore the sound. Of course, it also costs a little bit more as well.
I would say the Pandamon is a hint more neutral, but both sets have a very mature sound and, in my mind, can go toe-to-toe with each other sound wise. Maybe not a perfect comparison but they do share similar tech as the PR2 is a true Planar Magnetic iem and the Pandamon is actually a “Square Planar” iem. Still a Planar but with subtle differences which I will not explain here. One noticeable difference is that the Pandamon is much easier to drive than the PR2.
What exactly are those differences? Let’s start in the bass region. As far as which set offers more of an impact and raw bass density, I would say that both of these are close, but the PR2 actually has more emphasis in this regard. The Pandamon does have a snappy and punchy low-end with a speedy driver as it matches the PR2’s ability to sound textured and layered down low, but if straight bass density and impact is what you are after, and it is between these two iems you are choosing from… I would imagine the PR2 would fit that bill a touch better. I think the PR2 has a tighter bass for things like bass drops and more grunt for bass guitar as well as better rounded and fuller sounding kick-drums.
Both sets offer a well-placed midrange, not too forward, not too recessed. The Pandamon and PR2 are both pretty melodic as well, but I would say the PR2 actually has the better macro-dynamics and fullness with a more detailed midrange while both come across as clean and kempt. Male vocals come across a hint thinner on the Pandamon but this is not really an issue as timbre is fantastic. Really, I see neither of these sets head and shoulders above one another.
I do think the PR2 has the more effervescent and livelier upper midrange for female vocals. The Pandamon sounds smoother to me throughout the mids with less chance for shout. However, it also sounds a hint more dialed back dynamically. I suppose there is a give and take with both iems. The PR2 is a little better defined but also can be more intense to a degree. All that said, I think both iems sound great to me. Perhaps the PR2 has a bit more of a dynamically expressive sound where the Pandamon is a little more laid back in comparison, but my brain can easily adjust and begin to adore both interpretations of my music.
Most certainly the PR2 shines a bit more in this area as the extension is better up top as well as the detail retrieval. The PR2’s treble has a more vibrant punch to the smoother and safer Pandamon. This is really a question of preference between the two. Both sets offer a well composed treble region with a slightly different tuning. Neither sets sound shrill or sibilant and neither of these two offer a ton of shout or peirce up top. Though, of the two, the PR2 will not be good for the ultra treble sensitive, especially at higher volumes on piercing type tracks. The Pandamon is definitely the safer choice there.
Again, this is a question of preference. To be honest I find the Pandamon to be one of the best iems under $75, and for good reason. It is tuned wonderfully with that close to neutral sound which is very clean and smooth. The PR2 hangs right there with it and even overtakes it in a few key categories. Do you want a dynamically controlled, expressive, vibrant and detail-oriented set? Or do you prefer something punchy, pretty precise, balanced, smooth and with great organic timbre? Both are absolutely fantastic options, and both are priced extremely well. The PR2 is certainly built much better and looks more mature whereas the look of the Pandamon is pretty polarizing, but both sets offer a unique and low-cost Hi-Fi experience.
TangZu Zetian Wu ($149)
The Wu Zetian or Zetian Wu, is one of those sets that quite literally changed the game to a slight degree. Now, at the time of its release the OG Raptgo Hook-X came out (Review HERE) and already kind of “owned” the top spot as far as planar iems goes, for a great majority of folks anyways. However, the Zetian came out and was lauded by hobbyists for its great timbre, balanced sound and overall dynamic and fun replay. BTW, I am not including the Hook-X in comparisons because it just doesn’t make sense. The Zetian is much closer in tonality and timbre and is a logical comparison. TangZu created a fantastic set in the Zetian Wu which is still a good buy at around $150. Still, I said this is a logical comparison and the PR2 costs $40 soooo…I’m not saying anymore, let’s compare the two shall we.
The first thing I notice in the bass region when comparing these two sets is the emphasis sounds more pronounced on the Zetian. Both in the sub-bass rumble and haptic feel to the mid-bass slam. The graph will tell you otherwise… Liar. Possibly the PR2 has a bit quicker attack but the Zetian seems to have a hint more sub-bass rumble, and possibly a bit more slam, but that’s it. Both sets are solid down low while the PR2 is a bit snappier, but both have that slightly softened leading edge with nice density. Both have a nicely textured bass as well. Neither are bass head iems but both can represent most genres perfectly fine. The Zetian offers greater rise in the low end, giving a warmer hue to the sound and comes across a little bit less like a planar timbre-wise and closer to a dynamic driver.
The Zetian comes across a bit thicker in note weight in the lower mid region and more forward when listening to male vocals. The PR2 is slightly less smooth in the lower mids but not to any detriment and in fact it adds some nice definition to the PR2. I hesitate to call the PR2 “cleaner” as I don’t think that’s the case but perhaps the slightly cooler sound makes it perceivably more resolute. Females follow much of the same trajectory as they are further back to a slight degree, less note body but more shimmer. Vocals and instrumentation sound lusher in general on the Zetian but the PR2 sounds slightly more detailed and more open and separated to my ears.
Dynamically the Zetian has more of a spirited and compelling sound. It’s more forward and simply more intense to a small degree. This certainly doesn’t mean the PR2 is not this way but the PR2 is more controlled throughout and simply offers a different take.
The PR2 has better extension up top and is possibly more vibrant but the Zetian has the more musical treble region. Once again, it’s smoother and easier to digest over long periods. The PR2 sounds a bit better balanced across the mix yet with a nice rise in the treble which perceivably draws out details a bit easier than when listening with the Zetian. The differences are not huge but there is a slight bit more luminance on the PR2.
Soundstage sounds a bit wider on the PR2, more spread out and deeper yet slightly less tall than the Zetian. Not exactly better. The Zetian is a more intimate listen yet also more musical than the PR2. It’s fuller, more present sounding, macro-dynamics of the Zetian are a touch more expressive too. Again, the Zetian has a more dynamic and fun sound while the PR2 sounds a bit more controlled altogether and slightly dryer. The PR2 is just as resolute while sounding tighter and with better controlled transients. Again, details rise to the surface easier on the PR2 while the Zetian is smoother, warmer, more bodied and with slightly more lifelike and a more emotional sounding timbre throughout.
It can hang
Folks, I am impressed by the PR2, flat out. The fact that it not only hangs with the Zetian, but even bests it in a few categories is saying a lot for a set which costs so much less. The only other differences to note is that the PR2 is harder to drive and naturally has far worse accessories like the cable and it lacks a carrying case. We should expect this though. However, what counts is in the music and the PR2 absolutely bodes very well against one of the better Planar iems under $200.
**Note: There were a number of other planar iems that I was going to compare with the PR2 but simply ran out of gas fellas and ladies. The TRN Rosefinch came to mind but unforeseen circumstances destroyed any chance of that happening. Plus, it wasn’t going to be positive for the Rosefinch… at all. Proving that it’s definitely not easy to create and tune a ultra cheap true planar iem. I was going to compare the Letshuoer S12 Pro as well but I think the S12 Pro is simply a step up and not really a logical comparison, in some regards. Close, but at the same time quite a ways apart. I will gladly edit this review if any of the readers would like to read my thoughts about the two.
Is it worth the asking price?
I sound as though I’m on repeat reviewing these KZ iems of late. Friends, the KZ X-HBB PR2 is worth every penny. It’s pretty much irrefutable at this point. This is actually a silly question to even utter. What KZ and HBB managed to create and successfully put to market is a very low-priced planar iem that actually takes on other planar sets costing four times the amount. At the very least the PR2 has a seat at the table folks.
The PR2 is built very well, it’s comfortable enough (at least for me), and has a confident and sleek design. The PR2 is a detailed, technically proficient planar iem which is balanced across the mix and with good timbre for a planar… at any price. Transient attack/decay/sustain is snappy, prompt, measured and controlled which should be expected for a $150 planar iem, but for $40 it is a nice surprise. I don’t think I’ve mentioned enough about the timbre because this is one area that really turns me off to planar sets. There isn’t any of that metallic, electric sounding inflection and overtone that is a residual from the driver tech. I don’t get that in the PR2 as much as I have with sets that are more expensive, which is a testament to KZ and HBB’s ability and expertise.
It’s worth it!
So yes, the KZ X-HBB PR2 has quite easily managed to make it to the top of my personal “top five under $75” (for what it’s worth). Now, there are quite a few great sets in this price point and the PR2 has a lot of competition from different iems with different driver configurations. Despite that and considering all that the PR2 offers, I think it’s a shoo-in for most people’s “best-of” lists.
Yes, the PR2 is most certainly worth the $40 that KZ is asking for and I think it is the only iem that anyone should purchase if they are interested in purchasing a planar iem for the first time. Especially if you are tight on funds. Which happens to be most people in the world. In fact, I’d say with assurance and without question that all roads should go through the PR2 where first time planars owners are concerned. The only pause I would give anyone is if you don’t have a decently powerful source to drive this set.
Note: all ratings are based upon my subjective judgment. These ratings are garnered against either similarly priced sets or with similar driver implementations or styles. In the case of the XHBB PR2 ratings below, that would be $30-$50 iems in any configuration. Please remember that “ratings” don’t tell the whole story. This leaves out nuance and a number of other qualities which make an iem what it is. A “5” is exactly average and please take into consideration the “lot” of iems these ratings are gathered against. $30-$50 US is a small pool in the grand scheme of things and so seeing ratings above a “9” is understandable.
-Build Quality: 8.9
-Accessories: 8.0 (at this price I won’t calculate this score for this particular category)
There you have it folks, that is my review of the KZ X-HBB PR2. Most certainly, I do hope this helps at least someone with a purchasing decision. I want to again thank KZ and Tyvan Lam for providing the PR2 for a full review. I must add that I hope every reader checks out other thoughts on the PR2 as it will only help get a better understanding about this set and about the reviewers as well. We all have different likes and dislikes, we can have varying music libraries and favored genres, I’m sure we don’t all have the same audio gear and sources, and we haven’t all been down the same audio journey. We are all different and so hearing other perspectives is very important. Thank you for reading, it means a lot everyone. Take care and stay safe.