Zagg: Enter the Earphone!
More popularly known for their invisibleSHIELD line of screen protector, Zagg are now entering a new and vastly different market: inner earphones. A welcome entry, the Z-buds arrive in four attractive colours and a handful of innovation.
Z-Buds Packaging – Dragg
Alas, I tore open the package so quickly that I cannot put it back together for photographs but Zagg have made every effort to show off a product that they feel is special. The box is a pyramid of sorts with all the goodies stuffed deep inside the cardboard, behind razor-sharp plastic. You will need scissors and gloves to be sure that your hands are safe from jagged edges. In all honesty, for the price of 79$, I would have expected a safer packaging system but it is what is inside that counts is it not? Feel free to discuss this Zagg Z-buds review in our forums.
Marketing video from Zagg
Zagg’s Fit Kit – Swagg
Unlike the Monster Turbine which carries an MSRP of over 100$ more than the Z-buds, Zagg have opted to include not only silicon flanges but a nice pair of foamie-hybrids into the package. The foamies are heat-activated, meaning that they will softly shape into the contours of your ear, without bunching up against your ear canals. I have trouble with silicon flanges causing pain shortly after use, so Zagg’s addition of foamie-hybrids is ever so welcome.
The silicon flanges packaged consist of single and triple flange models in black and translucent. For silicon lovers, these are quite nice pieces but are harder than competing brands’ models and may not be as comfortable as for instance the Monster or Sony variety.
As with any earphone, the tips will create a different sound signature as they cause sound waves to rebound and echo differently – more on this later.
Zagg – Z-Budssss Driver and Cable Specifications
speaker diameter: 10mm
frequency response: 20hz to 20Khz
impedance: 32 Ohms
max input power: 10mW
cable length: 1.37 meters/54 inches
plug type: 3.5mm
sensitivity: 94dB +/- 3dB SPL/mW
What all that means is of little importance if you are not really into your audio. If so, then just bare skip over this bit. Zagg include a long cable that will never keep your chin low and your back crunched downward – I am very pleased with their choice of 137 cm – it is perfect.
If you do care about how easy the Z-buds are to drive and how much hiss they will exhibit, then the spec above will help you a good bit. 32 ohms is pretty standard for inner earphones as well as earbuds. Sometimes, the number is lower, sometimes higher but 32 ohms is an interesting number if you don’t own a current iPod. Since TMA is aimed at the iPhone and iPod Touch markets, I will only discuss how well they are driven from those models.
32 ohm is a hard to drive number. Most players will lose all bass definition when driving such a load. If you have a 1st generation iPod Touch, you will lose most of the definition but will still retain bass quantity. The sound you will hear is a thump or a boom. If your music does not rely on high-definition bass tones, then this may not bother you but if you like to hear the fabric of lower tones, you will be disappointed. The same goes for iPhone and iPhone 3G. Fortunately, the Touch 2G is much better when driving low ohm phones. You will get all the glorious bass quantity but with added clarity down to very close to 20 HZ, which is past the rumble and audible spectrum for most people.
As for soundstage, iPod users – you are in luck. The iPod remains to this day on top in terms of left-to-right separation even when under load – that is a good thing.
Lastly, with a sensitivity of 94db, the Z-buds do not hiss much at all unless you plug them into your Macbook Pro or other laptop. They are quiet from an iPod or iPhone headphone out which is great when you want to listen to the music and not the wind.
Z-Budssss Cable – Dragg
I mentioned that the Z-buds cable length is great – it is. However I have many issues with the rest of its construction. The cable is wrapped in a nylon sleeve that does one of its jobs very well: keeping the cables mostly tangle free. I cannot fault Zagg with choosing this design as it is eye-catching, feels durable and strengthens the cable inside. However, it is noisy.
Many cables exhibit noise when worn. Whenever a cable rubs clothing, fingers, wind or just moves during your commute, it will transmit that energy to your ears. The Z-buds cable is very loud – annoyingly so. I tried to wear it over my ears to reduce the touch-noise but because of the microphone module so close to the earphone, found it impractical and uncomfortable. The entire unit is also very heavy. When wearing the Z-buds with the cable draped in front of your body, you may find that the buds start to lose hold in your ears.
When worn behind the back, much of that problem is assuaged however toting a rucksack or laptop bag then creates problems with the cable. The Z-buds can also be worn in front on your chest but split behind your neck and tethered with one of the small tether-balls. There is no way I have found that is comfortable. Each either feels heavy, microphonic or creates problems for microphone use.
Microphone and Remote – Sragg?
Zagg’s addition of microphone, volume pot and push-to-play-and-pause control sections is a great choice. When someone needs to talk to you, you can simply push the button located on the microphone to pause your music without removing the earphones or headphone jack. It is great. If you don’t mind letting your music wander a bit during a conversation, you can alternately use the volume pot to fade your music to zero. Great addition.
The microphone works well, however needs to be situated just right in order to sound clear. As mentioned before this is not an easy task. The weight of the cable will probably convince you to try to use the Z-buds behind your back or neck. Take a moment to listen to the two files I recorded using the Z-buds and make up your mind as to the which situation the microphone is more suited to.
Sound Quality: The Right Fit means the Right Sound
Remember, if you cannot get a good fit, the sound will also not be good. Unfortunately for a bloke like me who prefers the foamie tips, the Z-buds sound is effected negatively. The Zagg earphones feature a very shallow sound nozzle flange so that any tip is only fastened on by about a millimetre and a half. What this means is that the extra silicon or foamie that sticks out from the nozzle may bunch up in the ear canal creating a narrow tube for sound to travel through. This can mean boomy bass, a sucked out treble and other artifacts.
Z-Budsssss Bass: Sragg?
Firstly, the Z-buds have loads of bass. Not Turbine quantity but they are not shy presenting their heavy bottom in public. For bass-heads, there is plenty of bass to love but it is not overblown. I think that many users will find the Z-buds to be much better than stock earphones. Other than that, there is not much to say. Bass is full, big and flared up but does not sound particularly good. For 79$, I am shocked that there is not more resolution. Not every listener cares for bass resolution however, so this is a personal observation.
Zagg Z-Budsssss Mids and Highs – Sragg?
Despite trying all sorts of different tips with the Z-buds, I cannot find out what is wrong. I miss sparkle in the treble which helps with a 3D image, with a sense of speed and space as well as cooling down the audio image. The Z-buds are dark phones where the mids and highs seem a bit lost in the sonic picture. However, they are by far better than the stock Apple Earbuds.
Zagg Z-Budsssss on the Go: Sragg?
On the move, the Zagg isolate well enough to let you enjoy your music at reasonable listening levels. You won’t need to blast your eardrums in order to enjoy Weird Al or your favourite Swedish wedding polka. It is all dependent on tips of course, but when you find your match your music will thank you.
The Z-buds do not isolate as well as the Monsters or other inner earphones I have tried for the simple reason that they have an open port on the end of the earphone. Looking at Zagg’s site, I am led to believe it is a microphone, however, if the hole is plugged, bass in the Z-buds will disappear, so likely it functions as a bass port.
The weight of the cable (unless you wear it behind your body) is tremendous which may make keeping the Z-buds in your ears a chore. Of course, everyone’s ears are different so my conclusions on fit and comfort may be different from yours.
My final analysis will be based on utility and performance for the price. Zagg have made astute observations as to what an on-the-go user will need to enjoy her music. The addition of a volume pot is welcome and the remote control and mic all work well – providing you wear the Z-buds in the most touch-noise prone method: in the front.
Sound is a mixed bag but again, much better than stock earbuds and for the most part, stock inner-ear phones. However, Zagg have just entered the earphone business and it shows. With a little more experience, the next iteration of Z-buds will I am sure, be a smash hit even for more picky audiophiles.
For my tastes, the Z-buds are too dark and a bit muddy, but not altogether poor. For their price, and when considering the features of the Z-buds, the sound is on par with some other do-it-all phones however as we will see tomorrow, is bested by lesser priced alternatives. Altogether, they are a giri-giri tap from TouchMyApps.