KZ Pr1 Hifi Review
One after the other Planar iems are trickling into the iem’verse. Every brand comes out with their own iteration of what a Planar driver iem should look like and sound like. Each Company taking their turn. Of course, KZ would join in on the fun.
A special thank you goes out to Tyvan Lam and KZ for providing the KZ Pr1 Hifi for a fair and honest evaluation. I say it all the time, in no way does this affect how I conduct a review and thankfully anyone who sends me anything knows that. It’s a bonus for the company and the reviewer. I get to do what I love and highlight and talk about audio gear and the Company gets some opinions and exposure of thier audio gear. However, the company is the side which takes all the risk and for that I say… “kudos”. Put your money where your mouth is and let the reviews fly. Good or bad or indifferent. This is how we get better after all.
KZ is a behemoth of a chifi audio brand known for making products which seem to defy the price tag. I have had quite a few from the brand in my time and rarely am I dissatisfied. This new line of planar driver iems actually has two brand new additions, like I said the KZ Pr1 Hifi and the other unit is the KZ Pr1 Balanced. Again, today I am reviewing the KZ Pr1 Hifi Planar iem… let’s check It out.
-Look (these look tough)
-Good sub-bass for a planar
-Easy enough to drive (Still likes more power)
-Planar timbre (metallic treble)
-Lacking accessories for the price point
-Recessed and dull midrange
-Timbre is a bit unnatural to me
Really not much to report. The Pr1 comes in another small KZ box. Accessories are bare bones and so I don’t anticipate much reporting on this subject. You get your ear tips, in this case the White Starlines from KZ (I’ll always like Starline tips BTW). Also, you will receive the normal white KZ cable which you get with even their ultra-budget iems. That’s about it. For $80…its sparse. I certainly do wish that we would see more for the $80 price tag. I suppose KZ put all their efforts and pricing into the earphones themselves as well as the tuning among other things which aren’t the accessories. It is what it is folks.
Build / Design / Fit
The Build is rugged enough. Maybe rugged is the wrong word. The build is solid enough. The Faceplates are made out of aluminum which feels nice in the hand. Glued to the face is a solid alloy shell. Everything is smooth and free of rough spots or irritating edges. Lines are clean and free of any unsightly marks, burrs, or fabrication defects. The nozzle has a lip to keep hold of the Starline ear tips (or whatever tip you choose). Ya the build is fantastic, I have no reason to believe anything different.
Inside those sturdy shells that I just described is a 13.2mm Planar Magnetic Driver within a dual cavity design. KZ refers to this as a “Nanoscale Diaphragm”. This newly developed Planar sports an ultra-thin silver-plated diaphragm with an N55 double-sided magnetic circuit array system. I can attest that I have not seen this driver out in the wild so… right on KZ! I guess we can officially confirm the Pr1 as the cheapest ‘actual’ planar driver on the market.
I love the style chosen for KZ’s first foray into the planar space. The design is fantastic to me, looking flat out dope in my opinion. KZ added that faux (open back) grill on the back and I love the pattern they chose. Small writing on the Faceplate says, “KZ acoustics” in one spot and another says “Planar iem”. I just like the style of this set. The Pr1 looks like a planar to me, and I can’t really begin to reflect why that is. I like holding two metal shells in my hand as I can feel the scraping and tapping of the metal clinking and clanking against each other. It’s simply a more premium feel which adds to the aesthetic overall. Very cool design KZ, not bad at all.
Ugh, KZ! The cable fellas?! What is up with the budget cable? I don’t like it. Flat out and hands down the cable needed an upgrade from me. I don’t think this is a sonic requirement as the old KZ cable does do the job however, this is just my subjective experience. Right away I swapped cables to the Tripowin Zonie Balanced ($19).
There are a couple reasons for the change. First, in my humble opinion this set likes a bit more power. It’s easy enough to drive but most certainly gets better with more juice. More on that later. Second, the white cable doesn’t do this set justice, it doesn’t go with it aesthetically and I had to switch to something to match that silver look.
Another reason which is a personal gripe; whenever I go to roll up the cable it simply blows up the second I set it down. It makes it difficult to photograph but more importantly it doesn’t fold over easily and lay nicely like a decent upgrade cable. I roll it up all taught and nice in my hand and I have cable spitting out everywhere once I lay it down and it is simply an annoyance. Let me say it again though, this is simply my personal experience and there really is nothing sonically wrong with the included cable. In fact, maybe I’m being a bit harsh against the included cable. My apologies.
I consider the Pr1 easy enough to drive to good volume, but I have found that more power equates to better sound ultimately. The Pr1 has a 16-ohm impedance which is nice but a sensitivity of only 96 dbs. Trust me, give it some more power if you have it on hand. If not, you’ll still be okay with this set. More power does slightly calm down some issues that I’ll describe later.
The Ibasso Dx240 on high gain seemed to help the Pr1 shine the best for me. Though I did like the Fiio Btr7 and IFi Go Blu just fine as well. Both gave enough power and synergy to make a nice listening session or two. I suppose a pretty powerful dongle dac will do just fine. I didn’t like the Fiio KA3 paired with this set to me and instead went with the Go Blu and the DX240 for the majority of my listening. The KA3 seemed to egg-on that metallic planar type of timbre more than my other sources.
The Pr1 is a slight V-shape I would say. I hear a warm of neutral sound in the lower half and a slightly brighter upper half. The low end actually has some bump to it. I hear a well enough extended lowest of lows while the mid-bass is slightly less pronounced. The bass does actually have some decent texture for a planar iem.
The Midrange is recessed and maybe not exactly as forward as I’d like but they are clear and very clean to my ears. I would like a hair more energy, but I’ll explain my thoughts on that later.
Treble is also clean and detailed, spritely and energetic. Extension is nice in this region as cymbals come through well on the Pr1. Timbre is a bit off here with some slight tiz, some would call that the left-over debris of “Planar Timbre”. Technically speaking this set is great though. Details shine through very well; the stage is nice, and the imaging is good.
Not a bad first attempt…
Honestly, I would say that the Pr1 is a good first attempt by KZ to bring along a budget Planar Driver iem. It has issues but those issues don’t condemn this set. Honestly every iem has some sort of an issue and this especially rings true for the budget sector. You will likely read many of those issues in this review but make no mistake, the Pr1 is a good set.
Anyone who wants to hear a Planar iem for the first time and they don’t have a ton of money to go to the higher pedigree planars… I’d check out the Pr1. The issues present are petty for what you get and truthfully this set may surprise you with how well it can perform once your brain adapts to it. Before the meat of the sound part of this review even thoroughly begins, I want to preface everything with; I really do think this is a good set for the price point.
Planar bass has come a very long way folks. There was a time when the low end of planar driver iems (at least those which I’ve heard) was so analytical and thin and even dry. Speed was a problem as pace and timing just didn’t reflect real life sounds. The presence of real deep growl and authority seemed to lack. The Pr1 corrects that to a slight degree as the low end here has depth and has some slam with actual texture. You can feel as well as hear the bass on the Pr1. Still, these don’t replicate a good Ole’ dynamic driver. This is most certainly planar bass but there is still an atmospheric presence which is something to applaud for the price KZ is asking.
The lowest area of the mix is extended nicely. I almost hear that dynamic driver type sub-bass. Almost. The sub-bass kind of steals the show in the bass region. I will say with complete confidence that the Pr1 surprised me with a low reaching reverberant tactile judder. Texture is evident and the Pr1 does so with a speedier attack and decay and decently rounded edge at sustain. Speaking of sustain, it is there but mostly the speed of a planar is evident, it is tighter and offers a nice ending to bass hits. Still, there is the missing organic and tactile sound of a dynamic in my opinion, however it is good for a planar which offers other strengths.
The mid-bass has some oomph and slam but not to the level of the sub-bass. The mid-bass could be lifted a bit and that would do well for the replay as a whole. It isn’t the type of bass which encroaches over midrange frequencies. This can be good and there can be drawbacks. The Pr1 does pretty good for a planar to give genres such as hip-hop just enough weight and presence to play well with them. This is not a bass-head iem at all, but it also doesn’t lack bass. I’d say that the Pr1 is just missing an adequate amount of force and concrete palpable slam in the mid-bass. Not quite there but satisfying, nonetheless.
One thing is for sure, I don’t hear that plastic, lifeless and anemic type low end on the KZ Pr1. I would like a bump or two with a bit more color to the mid bass, but that’s just me. Let’s put it this way, on “Survivor’s Guilt” by Saba I hear a deep enough haptic buzz during the bassline and Saba’s voice is very clean and clear. So, there are rewarding points to the tuning. We could go a lot deeper into how it effects all areas of the spectrum but… I go way too long as it is in my reviews.
Low-mids (Male Vocals)
Male vocals are important to me, and I always look for a certain warmth and heaviness along with s certain edginess to note delivery. I do hear that planar timbre to a degree. Male vocals on the Pr1 don’t quite get me to euphoria. This may be due in part to the mid-bass not pushing into the Mids as much, couple that with the recession in this area. Males, both baritone and tenor have a slight lack in vocal heft. They sound a bit dry and underwhelming and a bit non-resounding. There is also a lack of that visceral energy that a man’s voice naturally conveys.
I wouldn’t say this set replays this area bad but there is that thinness which a planar can exhibit. The Pr1 does have the speed of a planar, with the timbre of a planar, but no real warmth and fullness from the low end. The lack of weight is pretty evident without that low end push. Yet there are nice benefits. The Pr1 actually has nice clarity and technically is pretty darn good. The lower-mids could be just a bit more forward and I could use some warmth from the bass region a little bit. However, I am being very picky, in truth I am positive that many will enjoy this area of the KZ Pr1.
Larry Fleet has a song “Where I Find God“. Larry has this low but edgy and weighty inflection to his country voice. His voice cuts through the melody surrounding him and there should be an edgy crispness and fullness to his voice. Listening on the KZ Pr1, instead of full and weighty with a course edge, it comes across rather thin and edgy and withdrawn. Still nicely displayed but not quite there for me. The lower mids carry nice details and with nice resolution though and in totality they really aren’t that bad. I simply love my vocals. Still for a cheap planar you are getting that true planar speed and you are getting it for a low cost.
Upper-Mids (Female Vocals)
Females have good eloquence and good emotion for the most part. I hear pretty good energy in this area on the KZ Pr1. That said, there is a lack of shimmer and shine to female voices. I could use a bit more of a controlled sheen. However, the softness to a woman’s voice is not lost. There is still ample vitality for ballads as well. In the same breath, there is almost a faint dullness to the sound. Ella Henderson with her song “Everything I Didn’t Say” should be emotionally wrapped and full in sound while remaining softly contoured and subtle at the same time. Instead, there is almost a prevailing feeling of this area being held-back. To counter that, once again resolution is great, separation and placement are good. This set is almost there, but all in all, females still have good enough energy to carry most tracks.
Instruments have a nice cadence, perhaps not the most timbre perfect but they are clean. All the technical aspects of different Instruments are spot on as well. I suppose this is where the KZ Pr1 begins to stand out against the competition. This set takes whatever I throw at them, and they speed right along not skipping a beat. Strings, percussion etc. all benefit from the separation afforded by the planar driver within. More on that later.
The highest region of the frequency is certainly boosted yet doesn’t come across too bright to me. I hear that planar timbre the most in this region where it seems to be elevated. Instruments sound like they have some decent body to them. There’s nice extension to instruments like cymbals, flutes and the sax etc., all of which sound just fine…besides the planar inflection to them. Cymbals for instance carry a nice ‘chisk’ and aren’t drowned out or attenuated. For the money KZ is asking there is much worse that you could buy. The biggest drawback is that the boost in this region kind of accentuates the metallic tiz and without the warmth from the mid-bass to counter this elevation it comes across very shizzy and planaresque.
More on that planar timbre…
That Planar timbre that I’m referring to is a very slight metallic “TIZ” sound which follows notes. It is actually hard to explain but those who know…know. There is an emphasis at (what seems to be) the decay/sustain level of a note delivery which interjects an almost energized tiz to the overall timbre. It can go unnoticed after a while as it has with myself. After brain burn that is. I don’t think this is a real issue as it should be expected to a small degree. So, anyone purchasing a budget planar should be prepared for this phenomenon. Also, I think with more power it does help to dial that back. I did try burn-in to see if that would squelch it, but it did not. Truthfully it doesn’t bother me, and I still get lost in the music.
The Trebles saving grace
The benefit is the technical ability in the treble area, as well as the fact that there is nothing sibilant, peaky or sharp to the sound and also there is good extension of the highest region. I never heard anything grating and trust me I tried to find it. Perhaps the Pr1 takes me pretty close in a brighter track, but I have yet to throw these out of my ears or rush to turn the volume down.
Honestly besides that slight shizzy & tizzy metallic sound, the treble is not bad at all. Extension is adequate to good. Yes, it isn’t the most natural sounding treble but that kinda goes with the territory. The truth is, I can sit and enjoy the sound emanating from this set and not think at all about any issues when just casually listening to my favorite music. In the big picture this is a great entry into the planar world.
The soundstage is actually bigger than average. Width, height, depth all is spread out to me. Obviously, there isn’t some cavernous breadth of space (it is an iem after all), but the stage is large enough to notice. This gives ample room for other technicalities to play around.
Separation of instruments and voices is stellar. I hear almost no blending of sounds. All elements of a stage are nicely partitioned off and etched out. The swiftness of this driver is such that it almost creates space in the psycho-acoustic imagery within my music.
Placement of instruments and voices is also done very well. Not only is everything separated but everything is also in its own spot within the stage. I hear centered vocals (per the recording) which play in front of me. Instruments playing around me sound partitioned off and I can zero in and hear most pieces within the stage nicely. I found no issues with imaging at all actually. The KZ Pr1 seems to really create a controlled environment which is good for the price point. I don’t think the Pr1 punches above its price here, but it definitely equals some of the better iems within the price group of $50-$100. I think this is another area where the Pr1 Hifi excels.
I’ve mentioned this already and I will say it again, details are pretty easy to discern with the Pr1. I don’t find the tuning too much of a detriment to technicalities as the speed of the drivers and the ability of those drivers to illuminate small details is pretty darn good. I don’t think that this set is leagues above its price point with details either, but it easily takes on the better detail oriented iems under $100.
This set is for anyone who is curious about the planar world, and I think this is a very nice entry into that space. For all of the small nitpicks that I’ve done throughout this short review I have to say that I am overall pleased with the KZ Pr1. I like the sub-bass depth and rumble and the technical aspect of this set.
The KZ Pr1 does compete well against the competition under $100 in a number of different factors and all things considered the tuning is not bad to my ears. I certainly would never condemn a set which is reasonably tuned with planar tech… especially at this price ($80) in a market which hasn’t seen a planar iem so affordable. I think KZ did a great job truthfully. Let’s put it this way, nobody else is doing it at a lower cost. Of course, for $20 more you could spring for the 7hz Dioko at $99. However, if $80 is pushing your max limit in spending and a planar is what you are after… I suppose KZ has the market cornered at the moment for this price.
Yes, we could always find little issues, but in truth the Pr1 handles many genres, and I don’t mind keeping them in my ears for long periods of time. Technically the Pr1 seems to excel among other areas where they actually compete very favorably against the competition. I think that if KZ matures in their tuning of this driver tech, and shifts a few areas of the mix, there is no telling how great their (KZ) future planars will be. This seems to be the trend with KZ as a company as they build on past attempts to create products which actually defy price tags and cause much hype. I walk away from this review thinking this is a win for KZ no matter what the end result is for the KZ Pr1.
Thank you to anyone who read all the way through this review. I love to write my thoughts about a hobby which I truly enjoy and love. That said, please don’t stop your search at me. Take in other reviews and read or watch other perspectives from reviewers across the community. We simply aren’t all the same, we have different likes and dislikes, we have different gear and even different hearing abilities among a slew of other factors which could sway the thoughts of any reviewer. Don’t hang “only” on my word is all I’m saying.
Well, that is it. I had a great time reviewing this budget planar set. I’d say that KZ did a great job, and this is a worthy iem for anyone who is curious about the technology. Please take care and stay safe everyone.