Shozy Zero

Shozy Zero

I am a big fan of overachieving gear of any kind. What I mean by overachieving is the “they sound way too good for the price” factor. This is a highly subjective mindset because the worth of an item is not based primarily on its cost but rather its overall performance, aesthetics and compatibility with the end user. However, some items are just almost “too good to be true” for their price – such as the VE Monk and Monk Plus by Chinese company Venture Electronics which deliver astounding quality for $5, a well-documented fact in the portable audio community online at this point. However, the competitive nature of the audio industry has birthed many a company to try their hand at producing premium sound at a competitive cost.

One of those companies is Shozy, who are based in Hong Kong. A quick browse through their website shows that they have been focused on amplifiers and DACs till now, along with a DAP called the Alien – which is said to have incredible phone-out sound quality at a comparatively low price compared to others in the market. It achieves this, however, by not having a screen – merely a few buttons that are reminiscent of the iPod Shuffleexperience from the early 2000s. Shozy has exactly one earbud and one IEM and this is a review of the IEM.

Disclaimer:

I was provided with the Shozy Zero IEM after being approached by a representative from the company. I was told that I would be given a b-stock model, sent in an envelope with three sizes of tips and no packing or carrying case that the retail model will have.

I was given instructions to burn them in for 200 hours before being given an accurate sense of the sound. I found this to be an unusually long period of burn in time, but I carried out the deed due to an acute curiosity as to whether or not it would achieve anything. Thanks to Shozy for the review model.

Specifications (From Shozy’s Website):

  • Audiophile quality Litz structure cable with enhanced shielding.
  • Sensitivity (at 1khz) 94 dB.
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 18 kHz.
  • Input connector: 3.5mm / 1/8 inch gold-plated stereo TRS plug.

Initial Impressions:

As I pulled them from the small, padded envelope they arrived in, I was startled by just how small they were. I had scoured their site for photos of the product and I came away with the impression that they were bigger than they actually are. I chose the medium tips, feeling that they give the best seal, and plugged the IEM into my Samsung Galaxy S6. I went straight for some electropop, a genre with prevalence on my phone due to it being good music for commuting – for me anyway. My first two thoughts were that the warm sound signature felt pleasing to my ears and that the mids were not bad at all – to say the least. I listened for a while to gather impressions of the performance and found it to be quite good. They had a fun sound signature that didn’t sound V-shaped. The sub bass extended quite well and the mid bass made EDM and electropop sound punchy and fun. I was strongly reminded of my time with the ZMF Vibro Mk. I and for good reason, but more on that later.

After a few hours, I put them aside at a burn-in station in a corner of my room and forgot about them.

Build and Comfort:

Before I talk about the sound quality and any changes that may or may not have happened as the burn-in process continued, I should note the build quality of these IEMs. As you can see from the photos, it utilizes rosewood on the monitors, the splitter and the 3.5mm jack. I found the latter two to be an interesting design choice, but it does lead to the uniformity of the entire design. The rosewood is a nice dark grain, not quite unlike my acoustic guitars that gives the IEMs a premium look. A nice wood housing can make many high-end components simply gain aesthetical appeal, and I’m glad to say that Shozy did not skimp on that aspect because the rosewood is indeed real and the entire design choice using it does not come across as gimmicky.

As stated before, the monitors are incredibly small. Even with the medium tips, they simply disappear comfortably into my ears. I, personally, found this preferable to oversized monitors that I have seen before – with their plastic or metal casings. However, this also means that the Zero is not the most durable of earphones and thus should be treated with care and respect. Basically, don’t damage the wood folks.

As for the cable, I approve of the colour scheme matching the rest of the unit, but the rubberized and sandpapery traction felt overly synthetic and displeasing to the touch (irony considering the kosher nature of the monitors themselves). I also found it to be a bit thin and would have preferred a thicker and more durable cable for the price. Ultimately, however, the cable did not make any noise when moved and adjusted and was still far, far better than my Zero Audio Carbo Tenore and Zero Audio Carbo Basso cables. There is also no neck adjustment for the Shozy Zero, which is another detraction.

Comfort is excellent and I can’t find anything wrong with how long I can wear them. The only people who would have trouble wearing a Shozy Zero for several hours on end are those persons who dislike the feeling and experience of using IEMs in the first place. I especially preferred it to the Carbo Basso, which is extremely thick (with an extremely thin cable) and comparatively uncomfortable.

The left-right markers are in black…on top of black, which makes them a pain to distinguish in anything but the best lighting conditions. I fully understand Shozy not wanting to desecrate the rosewood with the letters “L” and “R,” but I feel that the lettering should have been given a matching reddish-brown tint to make it at least readable while maintaining the overall aesthetic. The Zero’s logo itself is chiseled into the wooden cable splitter, but could have been made a bit bigger and bolder in my opinion. I am in no way arguing for Beats level of brand-shouting, but a little more visibility of the logo would be nice.

The audio jack itself is straight, which works for my phone as the 3.5mm connection is on the bottom – but I can see it being an annoyance for those who have DAPs and phones with it on the top. Again, I can somewhat understand why a straight connector was chosen – so that Shozy could add more of the beautiful rosewood somewhere. The beauty does come with a cost however in this regard, if this sort of thing is a hindrance to you.

Sound:

The above comparison to the ZMF Vibro Mk. I made more sense to me the more I listened to the Shozy Zero. For those who do not know, the Vibrois a mids and bass centric pair of headphones that has rolled off highs.

The bass is not very tight by any means, but it is very filling and has good extension into the sub-bass area. The mid-bass is very clear and present and has a delicate balancing act with the mids as to not drown them out. I would actually consider the bass as treading the line between chaos and discipline carefully. Its strength at this is musical genre-dependent.

The mids were the biggest surprise to me as they sound really smooth. Vocals sound quite warm with a slightly forward tilt. The mid-bass and mids combine with well-recorded acoustic guitars to lend a quite authentic impact to the strumming and plucking. The biggest strength of the Zero’s tuning was its ability to give body to the vocals of a song with a large amount of instrument layering both in electronic and acoustic genres. Vocal harmonies were quite easily picked out as separation is robust and detailed. With the quality of bass that these IEMs have, I was surprised and grateful that the mids did not sound muddy or rolled off, as was the case with the Carbo Basso. I preferred the coloured and warm mids of the Zero to even my previous favourite IEMs, the Carbo Tenore, as they sounded lusher to my ears rather than incredibly neutral.

The treble is what reminded me the most of the ZMF Vibro Mk. I initially as it felt a noticeable degree rolled off. Unlike the sibilant V-shape of the Carbo Basso or the neutral presentation of the Carbo Tenore, the Zero halts the extension past a certain point to provide a warmer experience that is never sibilant. This did, initially, prove a little problematic with certain genres such as classic rock and orchestral music, but the highs definitely opened up by fifty hours of burn-in. Interestingly, I did not hear a difference past fifty hours, but continued to run them through my burn-in station regardless. I am confident that I now hear these IEMs at their fullest potential, and they sound good.

The treble is what denies these earphones from being classified as all-rounders to me, so if that is a consideration for the reader then the Carbo Tenore wins out. The listening experience is heavily dependent on the production quality of the audio played through the Zeros. At one point, you’ll hear a song where some instrumentation struggles to be heard, but at other times all will be right with what you hear. Hello by Adele is one such song that sounds great on these IEMs as her voice rings out clearly in the mix while the backing track retains a dramatic and cinematic sound due to the low-end being so well represented.

The soundstage is quite vast, comparable to the Carbo Tenore and far, far better than the Carbo Basso. Recordings with spread out instrumentation, as well as “3D” positional audio and ASMR will be well served by the Shozy Zero.

Driving:

I am comfortable in saying that these are very easily driven earphones to the point where I would recommend not using an amp at all. For the purposes of testing, I hooked it up to my Schiit Gungnir  and Cavalli Liquid Carbon, but found that it became way too warm. Switching the amp to the transparent Schiit Magni was a better match, but still unnecessary. It sounded better from my Samsung Galaxy S6 honestly. I don’t have a DAP at my disposal currently but once I do, I will update this section of the review.

Conclusion:

While writing this, I realize just how few “neutral” earphones and headphones I’ve actually had the chance to review. The Shozy Zero is another in the line of “fun” headphones that I’ve had that don’t try to, simply put, do it all. This makes a product like this harder to gauge so I just go by what I enjoy in music listening and apply it to my findings. Your mileage will doubtlessly vary, which makes it difficult to recommend based on written descriptions alone. That and the large amount of recommended burn-in time makes it so these are earphones I would highly recommend you finding some way to demo – unless you are into warm and bassy sound signatures by default.

For my purposes, these IEMs do well and I will be using these out in public because they are:

  • Easily driven and not picky about sources.
  • A good pairing with electropop and other high-energy genres of music that I primarily listen to in public.
  • They look good.
  • Comfortable and provide a great seal.
  • The bass and lower mid emphasis is good for commuting in noisy conditions. This is the opposite effect of the ATH M-50X that I used to have, that would become tinny and sibilant outdoors. This never changes in such a way and that is a big plus to me.
  • They combine aspects of the Carbo Tenore and Carbo Basso  – taking the strengths of the former and losing the deficiencies of the latter.

Do they sound like something in the several hundred dollar range? I can’t say because I have not heard IEMs of that pricing in recent years. Do they sound like they are worth more than $60? Yes. There is a refinement to the mids that is something to be appreciated. However, these do not fall into the range of critical listening. They are bassy, musically tuned and coloured IEMs and should be approached and appreciated as such

Song Impressions (lossless FLAC files in at least 16/44.1):

Abba - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

Does far better than the Carbo Basso at presenting the driving low-end of the beat without sacrificing the vocal impact. The bass guitar and bass synth-line are the clear focus while listening on these IEMs.

Aerosmith – Dream On (2012 Remaster)

Very warm with really good separation in the intro, with both guitars ringing clearly alongside the distant sounding string section. Steven Tyler’s vocals have a lot of body to them while the backing beat has a fair amount of discipline in its bassy yet refined presentation.

a-ha – Take On Me

A punchy piece of 80s synthpop being represented well, especially by the soundstage due to the swirling synth section.

Alan Parson’s Project – Sirius/Eye In The Sky (2005 SACD)

What I find most interesting about listening to these tracks on the Zero is just how detailed the guitar work can sound over a backing track that feels a bit too warm - especially the acoustic guitar in Eye in the Sky. While these recordings are incredibly produced, they don’t play to the Zero’s strengths.

ATB – Move On (Feat. JanSoon)

It doesn’t dive as deep with the sub-bass as the likes of a Fostex TH-X00 obviously, but still a decent presentation of electronic music.

Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start the Fire

A pleasurable and punchy listen, with the melodies spread out the vast soundstage. The vocal harmonies in the chorus ring out clearly.

Blink-182 – I Miss You

A nice representation of the acoustic guitar sound on both channels. The rolled-off treble tames Tom’s vocal quite a bit but in a manner that doesn’t detract from the song.

Childish Gambino – Heartbeat

A great match for the Zero. Donald Glover’s tortured rap and vocals ring out as the hectic backing track is compartmentalized while being well represented. The cinematic quality of the song is also well-served by the soundstage. The repeating piano melody sounds even more haunting than it would on a neutral pair of earphones.

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game

The gently-strummed guitars sound lifelike and well-separated. Isaak’s crooning vocal has even more body behind it thanks to the sound signature.

Clint Mansell – Lux Aeterna

This production plays to the Zero’s strengths again as it utilizes the soundstage and low-end on string section to add to the dramatic nature of the composition. The violins ring out clearly without sounding sibilant.

Coldplay – Clocks

A great match. Chris Martin’s vocal is encompassed by a warm and pleasing wall-of-sound as the uniform beat drives on. Vocal harmonies are well represented with the piano riff taking center-stage of the entire song clearly. 

Ellie Goulding – Lights

This is an example of a song that actually benefits from the Zero over a more neutral IEM. Goulding’s vocals in this track are quite thin in the upper-register, but the chorus is aided by these IEMs bringing forward her lower-note harmonization – leading to the overall sound feeling fuller.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – From the Beginning

The acoustic guitar has a lot more body to the sound than some other headphones I’ve listened to this track with. The bass guitar is louder than those other headphones too. The separation of instruments is impressively well-done. The vocal volume feels a little lowered however.

Eminem – Without Me

The snare has a bit of a thud to it, but the rest of the track sounds as it should. The driving bassline does not clash with Eminem’s rap and the organ motif rings out in the mix.

Fleetwood Mac – Dreams

The mids of the Zero do this song immense justice. The vocals sound lifelike and well separated (the chorus has four vocal lines harmonized) while the acoustic guitar sounds lifelike. The bassline does not drown out the delicate balance of the rest of the song.

Kanye West – Jesus Walks

The backing track sounds bombastic but Kanye’s vocals feel slightly lowered in the mix.

Kavinsky – Nightcall

A lot of sibilance in this track is tamed by the Zero without taking away from the impact of the snare or female vocals.

Lana Del Ray – Summertime Sadness

Vocals ring out clearly with plenty of body while the cinematic and dramatic backing track does not clash with them. Sounds as the song should. Very good synergy.

Led Zeppelin – Achilles’ Last Stand (2015 Deluxe Edition – HDTracks)

I was a bit apprehensive going into this song because it did so poorly on my TH-X00, but those fears were alleviated once it kicked in. The soundstage helps this song immensely, which is the major advantage this has over the Fostex, as the guitar tracks are far to the sides while the bass and drums take center-stage. Everything rang out cleanly and Plant’s vocal was unencumbered.

Linkin Park – Breaking the Habit

A slight clash here because the frantic and heavily digital sounding backing track fights with the vocals a bit. Still a good listen.

Lorde – Royals

This more laid-back track benefits from the sound signature and soundstage. The sub-bass rings out without entering the region of the heavily-harmonized vocals.

Machine Head – Davidian

The song retains the power it absolutely should have, with the guitars having a warm sound to them.

M83 – Midnight City

This song mixes shoegazing elements with electronica/house. Probably one of the best pairings of IEM and song that I’ve heard as the vocals feel beautifully ethereal but maintain the body and clarity on top of the wall-of-sound backing track that absolutely pulls no punches. The only time anything feels drowned out, it is the saxophone solo at the end.

Pendulum – Set Me on Fire

The drop’s lower-end has the impact, but the upper ranges have detail that gets drowned out by the pounding bass. Not the best match.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

Vast soundstage? Check.

Good vocal representation with the harmonies? Check.

So you just know the middle section is going to sound great, and it does. Interestingly, the tone of the distorted guitar in the last section benefits from the warmth too.

Queen – Another One Bites the Dust

Superb balance across all ranges. The vocals and guitars sound the most impressive, particularly Brian May’s clean-strummed lines.

Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name of (2012 20th Anniversary Edition Remaster)

Zack’s vocal sounds good but the backing track feels louder than normal. Interestingly, it doesn’t bleed into the vocal. Despite this, the attitude and power (especially in the final refrain) is present and accounted for.

Ramin Djawadi – Game of Thrones Theme Song

Overly warm, but very good representation of the now classic theme song. I feel this has more to do with the production than the Zero however.

Slipknot – Wait and Bleed

I wasn’t able to listen to Slipknot out in public before the Zero because my other IEMs didn’t do the hectic production justice without losing out on the impact. I’m glad to say that this has changed.

Cavalli Liquid Carbon

Cavalli Liquid Carbon

Massdrop x Fostex TH-X00 Mahogany

Massdrop x Fostex TH-X00 Mahogany