It wasn’t long ago that any electronic product coming out of China was regarded as a rip off and low build quality junk. Since then the Western world has come around to the plethora of high end equipment coming from China but these long held perceptions are changing slowly against an entrenched reputation and it remains an uphill battle for Chinese companies to be recognized as true competitors to western major brands. One company fighting this good fight is LZ HiFi.
They don’t have an english website, instead choosing to be represented by Chinese Hi-Fi curators LinSoul Audio, but they do have a brand new pair of In Ear Monitors. The LZ-A7 In Ear Monitor are a fun unit now available to western markets. They are clearly gunning for the high end market with these very impressive and extremely modular IEMS that offer a lot to any listeners willing to take a chance on them.
What You Get
Even before you get a chance to load the LZ-A7 into your ear holes, LZ Hifi wants you to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. They run for $338 and come with plenty of accessories and goodies. The IEM’s sit in the box below a gear-lust inducing carrying case. The engraved green leather cylinder invoked feelings inside of me usually reserved for high end microphone cases and I was ecstatic from aesthetics alone before I disappointedly realized, these would definitely not fit in my pocket. I suppose it’s true that beauty comes with sacrifice. Inside the carrying case was the detachable cable, a MMCX eight core 6N OOC silver plated cable with a 3.5mm jack. If this high quality cable doesn’t fit your tastes, the LZ-A7 is compatible with all of your favorite after market cables.
Underneath the foam casing holding the earphones and their case is a small plastic box holding sixteen alternative ear tips. It doesn’t matter what shape or size your ears prefer, LZ HiFi wants you covered. In the same plastic box is a little metal tool meant for removing ear tips from the nozzles but I also found it quite handy for toggling some tiny switches mounted on the Earbud’s chassis.
Finally, four nozzle pairs (in addition to the pair already mounted on the earbuds) were the most interesting accessory. These are the main selling features of the LZ-A7. By switching these nozzles these IEMS can achieve a wide variety of sonic profiles that I will describe in more detail later in this review.
The LZ-A7 doesn’t so much feature a hybrid driver design but a veritable cocktail of different drivers. It features a grand total of seven drives to achieve a balanced and high quality sound. The low end is handled by a dynamic driver that utilizes a liquid crystal polymer diaphragm. Mids and highs are handled by two pairs of Knowles balanced armatures. Knowles is probably the most reputable manufacturer of balanced armature drivers so clearly LZ HiFi isn’t cutting that corner.
Finally, there are two piezoelectric ceramic drivers that are designed to project ultra high frequencies. More drivers don’t always equal a better sound. In fact, there’s some great IEMs on the market with only a single driver to their name. But in the case of the LZ-A7, it produces some impressive specs. The lows and highs are extended well past the audible range and provide the listener with a measured range of 5Hz to 40kHz. They boast a <1% distortion rate and are quite sensitive, running at thirteen or fifteen ohms depending on tuning settings.
Three hundred dollars isn’t bad for a high end IEM, but the LZ HiFi is trying to do the most for you and provide ten different earphones for the price of one. The LZ-A7 has two mechanisms with which to alter the tuning. The first one is a simple and straightforward switch that switches between two modes, Pop and Monitor. The labeling of the switch is slightly confusing, featuring an “on” and “1” next to each mode label, but just ignore these and flip to switch to toggle a mid range dip from 100 Hz to 2 kHz of -5 dB at its most extreme (500-700Hz).
Though IEM’s have found their way into the consumer market, they are designed as a reference tool for working musicians. This is LZ HiFi’s way to cater to both markets, allowing the user to choose a more balanced reference sound from the “Monitor” option or the hyped sound of the “Pop” setting. If you’re popping these in for a listening session you’ll probably opt to do much as I did and listen through the pop setting which lives up to its name. The Monitor setting did not sound as “good” but I could hear its value for playing in an arrangement.
If I was a drummer looking to lock in with a bass player and rhythm guitarist the pop setting has too much focus on the vocals and high end that wouldn’t be of much use to me. These two different settings each come with a different output impedance. While its only a two ohm difference, your volume settings won’t stay the same while switching between these.
The second tuning mechanism is a lot more hands on. The LZ-A7 features a removable nozzle that has its own unique acoustic properties. If these properties are not to your liking you have four other nozzle pairs to experiment with. Color coded for convenience, these nozzles get progressively brighter for the most part, starting with the red and moving through gold, black, blue, and silver.
For the average consumer, the choice in nozzle seems pretty clear. The brightest one creates a pretty ideal frequency response (especially in conjunction with the pop setting). But having worked as both a musician and mixing engineer on either side of the mixing desk, I adore the options the LZ-A7 provides. A working musician can save the mix engineer a lot of time and trouble by coming to the gig or session knowing their preferred nozzle and switch pairing. Switching between different sounds is a cumbersome process so I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone dreaming of switching sounds on the fly, but if you are willing to sit down and get to know each setting they are distinct enough to find one that works better for you.
Look and Feel
Despite the luxury vibe of their packaging, the LZ-A7’s are quite plain. They follow basic design principles of IEMs with an ergonomic bud shape. And despite their plain look, these are remarkably comfortable IEMs. Truth be told, if I’m in the studio, I will choose to wear a pair of cans over IEMs nearly every time. The LZ-A7 is one of the few that wouldn’t have me switching for a pair over ears. I spent an entire day at the MajorHiFi office with these in my ears. I was not great for a conversation that day but my ears sure did feel great.
Overall I found the LZ-A7’s to have a fantastic profile. Though they lean slightly towards a warmer sound, they sounded very crisp and balanced to me. They deliver a lot of detail, courtesy of those dedicated ultra high frequency drivers. You can clearly hear the air being pushed by cymbals and the subtle textures of string arrangements with these earphones. The detail coupled with the soundstage makes for a very realistic listening experience that puts you in the room with a performance. While listening to “Private Execution” by the Drones I really enjoyed the punctuations of the arrangement since I could really feel them coming from all directions as the groove of the song chugs along in the center. Even as these sparse elements began to thicken up into a continuous soundscape, the positioning of the band remained clear and nothing in the mix was lost.
Here’s a warning to all you bassheads out. These are not for you. These are In Ear Monitors, they are meant to provide an accurate reference for musicians playing in an ensemble. You can’t have a big boomy low end if you’re trying to hear every possible detail in the most revealing way possible. In this sense, the LZ-A7 does its job perfectly. Bass guitars have a full bodied sound while still retaining their mid range growl and while kick drums have their characteristic thud, you can hear the air and clicks of the beater. Low end instruments sound realistic rather than like a cartoon version of themselves.
Mids and Highs
To be honest, it’s difficult to describe what you’re going to get from the LZ-A7 above the bass range. It’s not that I’ve suffered a stroke and no longer have the language facilities to describe sounds that I hear. It’s just that with all the tuning options, one has a wide range of options for your mids and highs. At its extremes, the LZ-A7 is either a punchy, warm set of earphones that deliver songs in meat and potato format or a perfectly crisp soundscape that allows you to take in the details of every cymbal hit. Under no combination of tunings did I ever find a song that came off as harsh. Vocals can pop, or they can not. You may even find that certain nozzles work better when working with vocalists in a different range. These can’t do it all, but as long as you aren’t looking for a super bright listening experience, I’m sure they will do pretty much anything you want them to do.
Maybe it’s my obsessive affinity for “dialing in” a setting, but the LZ HiFi LZ-A7 is the funnest offering from the Chi-Fi wave I’ve had the pleasure to stick in my ear in a long time. Do you enjoy listening to the same song over and over again under slightly different conditions like I do? Then you probably want a pair of these just for the experience. I honestly wish I had a couple more days to really do some side by side comparisons. Do you hate making choices? Well then you should probably steer clear buddy, there’s some other great IEM’s in this price range that just give you sound you get and nothing more.
These are probably my ideal pair of IEMs for a working environment. I’d love to use them on the stage or in the studio. In the other ear, despite LZ HiFi clearly aiming to appeal to consumer listeners as well, I probably wouldn’t pop these in for a pleasurable listening experience while I was out and about. I appreciate a little hype in my headphones for that and the LZ-A7’s are no hype man. Overall, I really enjoyed these pair of earphones and I’m looking forward to trying my next pair from LZ HiFi.
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