Test drive: Parrot Zik
For the past few days, I’ve been test driving the Parrot Zik. These high end bluetooth headphones are made made by Parrot, the french company most famous for it’s car kits and the AR Drone, and designed by the acclaimed french designer of just about everything: Philippe Starck.
Let me start of by saying that it is really hard to compare this headset to any other one out there, simply because it is so packed with new tech that no other product (to my knowledge) combines. Here’s a little rundown:
– Noise cancellation, EQ and “Concert Hall” feature that are all controlled from Parrot’s Audio Suite App.
– “Jawbone” sensor that directs focus to your speech when taking calls and automatically pauses whatever you’re listening to when you take the headphones of.
– NFC connectivity for easy pairing. I have read your mileage may vary on this since it doesn’t work with every NFC enabled device. Having an iPhone 4S, I really don’t have any use for this myself.
– Touchpad to control volume, track skipping and pausing by swiping on the right panel.
When it comes to audio quality, the Zik does not disappoint. However, these headphones have so much digital trickery that they are made to be used with EQ and “Concert Hall” settings in the Audio Suite App (available for iOS and Android). When using a flat EQ and no “Concert Hall” setting, you might be a bit underwhelmed. But once you starting playing with these settings and start to learn what settings fit what genre (which can differ greatly from one listener to another’s taste), the Zik provides a diverse and accurate listening experience. John Lee Hooker sounds great with the “Jazz Club” setting with a 90° speaker angle while The Who’s Baba O’Riley sounded like I was standing in an actual arena in the “Concert Hall” setting with a 60° listening angle. I prefer the “Punchy” EQ setting which raises high and low ranges while most mid tones remain unchanged. Other EQ’s are “Vocal”, “Club”, “Deep”, “Crystal” and “User” which you can fine tune to your personal preference. I should point out that the quality of your file is a very important factor. I had very different results between lossless or higher bit-rate AAC compared to some files on Spotify or “normal” quality MP3 files.
I don’t have loads of experience with noise cancelling headphones but the Zik isn’t far from my experience with the Bose QuietComfort line. There’s a total of 4 microphones both externally and inside the cups to take out any annoying continuous droning sounds like airplane engines, traffic, etc without completely cutting you of from the outside world. It just takes out enough to provide an accurate and even reproduction of whatever you’re listening to.
Zik comes with an easily removable battery by lifting a magnetic lid of the left cup. It provides up to 6 hours of battery life when using all the bells and whistles (Bluetooth, Noise Cancellation, EQ, Concert Hall) and up to 18 hours with Noise Cancellation turned off. You can also connect a 3,5mm jack to the right cup. This doesn’t change much in terms of audio quality but gives you a little more battery life. Downside to this is that all settings are controlled from your phone using the Audio Suite App. Also, music will mute (not pause, because the wired connection doesn’t support audio controls) whenever something happens on your phone. In wired mode, I recommend disconnecting bluetooth once you’ve set the headphone to the desired settings so the music doesn’t cut every time you unlock your phone. Taking off the headphones will also just mute sound while songs continue to play in iTunes or Spotify on your computer. The battery is charged using the provided micro USB cable that has a textile finish and the same orange accents as the headset, which is a nice detail.
Like I said before, the Zik comes jam packed with all sorts of cool sensors. I do have a few remarks: the “Jawbone” sensor doesn’t mean that this headphone does bone conduction. It’s really a sensor that looks for tiny vibrations emitted by your skin. As a result, just putting your finger on it triggers the music to start playing again. The auto-pause feature works flawlessly most of the time but I’ve also had a few instances where the Zik started playing again because my neck touched the sensor. The touch controls work fine but take a little adjusting. When I first tried changing the volume I caught myself skipping to the next track instead. Once you get the hang of where to touch for which function, though, it’s a really intuitive set of controls.
Design and final thoughts
These cans just feel solid. The synthetic leather and metal construction of the headband feels sturdy and comfortable. Some reviewers noticed a little discomfort on the top of their head but I personally (maybe because I have long hair) didn’t feel any of that. The memory foam pads are super comfortable and don’t give any discomfort, even on longer listening sessions. Adjusting the size of the headband requires a little force but as a result of that the headband feels very sturdy and the cups don’t “dangle” like on some other headphones.
Overall this is a great set of headphones that comes packed with some ingenious features even though they don’t always work as intended (triggering play with your neck, etc). Noise cancellation might not be the best out there, but is more than adequate. The Zik really shines when it comes to audio quality and adjusting it to your preference. For the full experience, you really need the app. So if you don’t have an iOS or Android device I don’t think these are the headphones for you. Although I do hope that at one point Parrot will release a desktop version of the Audio Suite App. I was able to borrow this set from one of my colleagues and will probably be buying my own pair in the very near future. At 349 euro, it’s a bit steep. But if you shop around a bit you might be able to pick it up a little cheaper. The flexibility in sound experience you can create using the app does make it worth the premium price for me.
– Flexibility in sound and overall sound quality
– High tech and innovative features
– High quality design and finish
– Form factor might not be everyone’s cup of tea
– No way of controlling the sound without an iOS or Android device
– Ridiculously cheap feeling travel bag (shame on you, Parrot!)