Yes, it is a woody IEM, however, the Zero tonality is warm to neutral with decent clarity and detail and sensibly it does avoid sounding syrupy or too soft which is often a budget woody IEM characteristic. Overall the Zeros have a gentle u-shaped signature with a full sounding bass response, a more neutral to slightly recessed midrange with a slight dip in the vocal presence. Lower treble is slightly more elevated but everything drops away pretty quickly after 7k with a twinkle around the 10k mark to prevent the treble from sounding too shelved down.
The Zero has a large soundstage, lacking in congestion, though depth was more impressive than width but this improves with more burn in time. This is a musical IEM with a weighted low end and a forgiving top end that should play well with modern rock and certain EDM genres giving plenty of fatigue-free hours of listening.
I can’t classify the Zero as being an out and out bass head IEM. Whilst it is comparatively forward and suitably weighted it isn’t totally overblown. As with most dynamic drivers, the bass sounds far more natural than equivalent budget BA drivers. It is a touch middling in pace and there is also a slightly longer decay such as you would expect from a dynamic driver in this price range. It does nevertheless possess decent control and never sounds overly boomy which is something that often drags down poorly designed woody IEM’s under $100.
Sub Bass extension is above average with a tiny bit of rumble as well as an elevated mid to upper bass from around 80-200hz providing additional impact and weight. Bass quantity is more prominent though in the upper bass which produces a little bloom detracting from an otherwise very fun sounding bass response.
Though not so prominent (u-shape) the mids do sound relatively balanced with a good level of detail and a hint of warmth on an otherwise natural sounding instrumental timbre. There is a touch of upper bass bleed into the lower midrange of the zero giving it a thicker sounding note, particularly on rhythm and bass guitar work.
Vocal presence is a bit darker sounding if not slightly recessed, particularly with lower register male vocals, though they do come to the fore a little bit more after copious amounts of burn in. Vocals, on the whole, are sibilant free with female vocals sounding smooth and clear in the upper registers.
That quick drop after 7k with a bit of sparkle around 10k means you don’t get a huge treble presence on the Zero and as such they do not really stand out as the Zero’s star performer. Having said that the treble response does not lack in detail and separation and there is a nice balance between attack and decay making it relatively natural sounding and easy on the ear.
Lower treble on the Zero has a nice bit of energy about it without sounding sharp or peaky. Percussion has a decent snap, accurate timbre, and positively refuses to throw out anything splashy or suffering in excessive sibilance. I am glad Shozy managed to avoid tuning the Zero treble performance to sound too rounded or overly smooth. Whilst it may not have a huge amount of upper treble chops it does offer enough clarity to keep everything sounding relatively coherent.
This is a 32 ohm 94dB IEM which means good amping will play a role as it is not the most efficient driver on the block. Portable amping is not wholly necessary though with the Zero though it can be driven just fine with good portable amps such as the E12a from FiiO and the RX from ALO. I think most though will find a good quality DAP will more than suffice. The good news is though it should stay a relatively hiss free experience with low noise floors on the majority of DAPs and portable amps.
Alien Gold Edition
Noise free experience as you would expect at 94db with a good dynamic range and a very natural to warm flowing signature. The Alien requires about four steps above the stock volume setting to hit its sweet spot.
The Gold teases out the midrange a little bit more than most with a superior vocal performance. It also takes advantage of the Zero’s decent staging qualities with better width than the AM5 on the FiiO X7 though slightly less depth and a little less emphasis on bass quantity.
Likewise, the N5 on high gain requires 10 to 15 steps above the stock 20 step setting which puts the Zero almost into portable headphone territory and only a few steps below the Oppo PM-3 and Hifiman HE400S in terms of power requirements. It certainly requires more power than cans such as the TMA-1 and TMA-2. Once again the N5 is a noise free experience with the Zero.
Tonally this was a good match with the Zero canceling out that sharp attack to a degree producing a clean but musical signature that the Cayin N5 is capable of producing. If only the vocal dip in the Zero was less noticeable this would be an excellent pairing. I love this combination for rock and bright recordings with just the right levels of weight and a far more tolerable treble signature than I have ever gotten out of this DAP with neutral headphones and earphones.
$50 DAP meets $50 IEM but does this make a $100 dream pairing? Absolutely. If you are on a budget this little fiscal friendly combo is potent, to say the least. It won’t magically change the signature of each but it’s clear, natural and very musical. Power sits at around 27-28 steps on the M3 and there isn’t a hint of hiss to be found anywhere.
You won’t get a huge amount of treble sparkle or the same level of clarity with the likes of the Alien or Opus#1 but neither will you get anything soft, syrupy or suffering from bass bloat. The balance is very favorable for on the go long listening sessions.
Another DAP that displays the wanton disregard for efficiency from the Zero pushing near 90 digital steps before getting to its sweet spot for listening. That’s in the same ballpark as the 92dB RHA T20 and a good 20 steps higher than the Oriveti Primacy.
Tonally I was less enamored with this pairing. The Opus#1 flat response took something away from the vibrancy and dynamics of the Zero making it sound a little compressed, and well… flat. Vocals, though recessed on the Zero, sounded even more remote than I would have liked and the impactful bass response of the Zero sounded a little too polite on the Opus#1. The best aspect of this pairing was the width and space of the soundstage being superior to the M3 and AM5 on the FiiO X7.
Power from the M5 was more than satisfactory running at 60 digital steps with the Shozy zero. The detail was excellent from this smooth sounding high-end DAP, a very resolving sound indeed. I certainly preferred this pairing to the flat sounding Opus#1 matchup by comparison and it conveyed much better lower treble detail than the M3 and the Alien Gold.
The M5 seemed an excellent and accurate timbre, with great instrumental separation particularly in the lower treble percussion performance. Check out Sa Dingdings “Girl in a Green Dress” for the way the M5 throws out an excellent and wide image of the percussion and Erhu interplay. Very impressive for a $50 IEM.
The only aspect of this pairing that didn’t gel with me was the tendency to overemphasize that upper bass bloom a bit more than the other DAPs with certain mixes. This has a habit of producing way too thick a note to music that had a heavy bass guitar signature (check out Graveyard “Hisingen Blues” as a good example of this) making it all a bit too muddy sounding.
This pairing ultimately depends on the module you are using with the X7 with the AM2 module striking the best balance between power and efficiency. The Zero can sound just fine by the way on the AM5 (60 steps on low gain) and personally I prefer its more dynamic presentation with the Zero over the AM2 but the cost is that short battery life which makes me feel the AM2’s excellent musicality is a more sensible option for pairing.
Edges the M5 for clarity and resolution with excellent dynamics and probably the best vocal performance alongside the Alien using the AM5, a little less in the way of dynamics on the AM2 but still very persuasive. These two are excellent combinations for hard rock and metal. The X7 pairing also does the best job out of all the DAPs for controlling that upper bass bloom and keeping the mid-range relatively free of bass bleed.
Thinksound Rain 2
Relatively easier to drive in comparison and also a woody IEM though slightly bigger the Rain 2 projects more of a V-shape signature than the Zero’s u-shape. Vocals are a bit more recessed and sound a bit harsher than the Zero’s smoother and slightly thicker sounding midrange. Treble on the Rain 2 is more forward and with a bit more sparkle than the Zero but again it doesn’t sound quite as natural. Bass decay on the Rain 2 is longer making it sound slower and more congested than the Zero’s quicker more natural bass response.
RockJaw Arcana V2
Another budget dynamic woody coming in at around $40 and slightly bigger than the Zero. The Arcana is a very bassy woody with plenty of slam, a slightly longer decay and a more forward vocal presence and better top end sparkle over the Zero. However, the lower midrange and treble is sucked out a lot more than the Zero so guitar work sounds a little thinner and less forward than I would like it to be. The Arcana really excels more for EDM than hard rock in that respect. Soundstage is a bit messy compared to the Zero. The elevated bass and vocal presence of the Arcana v2 pushes these two areas further forward to the detriment of imaging and instrumental separation.
This is a very competitive IEM both in terms of price and performance when pitched against the Zero. The A65 is a smooth performer also though slightly more neutral sounding than the Zero comparatively speaking. It doesn’t quite have the same level of sub-bass presence or general slam but it doesn’t suffer either from upper bass bloom offering a slightly cleaner lower midrange performance. Vocals are also a little cleaner on the A65 whereas the Zero offers a thicker midrange note. Treble performance is similar on both IEMs being slightly laid back with a slight lower treble emphasis. Soundstage is slightly more expansive on the Zero with better depth and width.
The Zero is a ‘crazy good’ $59 colored musical woody IEM, that I can assure you. I won’t jump on the hype train and tell you to dump your award winning multi-BA or hybrid customs just yet. I think you do have to have some perspective on what you are getting in relation to what else is out there around the price. Is it the best $50 IEM out there for musicality? I think it pretty much nails it or at least comes very close in my experience. Have I heard every single IEM out there at $50 to $100? No, I have not, but I have heard plenty in the last 5 years reviewing and this one I would rate in the top 3 easily.
Design wise it is right on the money. It is well built with some nice eye-catching Rosewood grain and a clean well machined CNC housing with some clever venting for the dynamic driver. Of course, we are left guessing beyond that what is inside but as I said my guess is a micro driver of some sort and 32 ohms. 94dB is not hugely efficient when some BA designs are hitting 118dB and dynamic designs regularly come in around 105-100dB, then again RHA’s T20 at 92dB is worse but it never really pans out as needing a nuclear plant to be driven.
It sounds good from a phone but honestly, they sound so much sweeter from a clean DAP with excellent dynamics. DAP’s like the Shanling M5 and FiiO X7 with the AM2 module are perfect. It does have some caveats namely that upper bass bloom and if you do not enjoy a thickish sounding warm to neutral signature best look more at the Fidue A65 which is a very fine competitor. If you are on a budget and want a good combo then grab the FiiO M3 DAP, also for $50. It sounds very good indeed with the Zero and for $100 for both combined this pairing is a perfect starter to enjoy this hobby.
Sensitivity(at 1Khz) :94db
Frequency response :20hz-18khz
Input connector :3.5mm/1/8 inch gold-plated stereo TRS plug