KZ-PR1 Hifi Review
You love to see it: planar drivers in earphones under $100. The KZ-PR1 from Knowledge Xenith is exactly that: an open-back earphone featuring a 13.2mm planar magnetic driver that is retailing for just $70. Is this truly the bargain it appears to be, or too good to really be true? Let’s take a dip into what the KZ-PR1 sounds like and see for ourselves.
What’s In The Box?
Well, not much.
-KZ-PR1 HiFi earphones
-OFC silver plated headphone cable with 3.5mm jack (detachable, 2 pin)
-3 pairs of silicone eartips
Look and Feel
While the packaging is certainly underwhelming, I can forgive it for how much I like the look of the buds themselves. Their shiny silver coloring is well complimented by the open grill on the back of the housing, and gives the impression that these are a bit more expensive than they actually are. The cable is a little too thin, but is insulated with a thin layer of durable plastic. This leaves visible the silver plating that help fends off rust forming on the copper wiring, and completes the shiny, metallic overall look.
Though I didn’t really have much discomfort when the KZ-PR1 was in my ears, the fit certainly could have been better. The buds aren’t exactly ear-shaped, resulting in the housing protruding from my ears rather than hugging them, with the border occasionally pressing against the outer rim of my ears. This also led to a lack of passive isolation, which I would have welcomed on a pair of already-very-open earphones.
Driver: 13.2mm Planar Magnetic
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 40 kHz
Impedance: 16 ohms
Though I overall liked the way the KZ-PR1 dealt with its pans, there was a funky character to the imaging that had its pros and cons. On the one hand, tracks with very hard pans showcased a very wide sound stage, which at its best offered a great deal of space and clarity to a mix. However, I found the imaging to be somewhat notchy and not always fluid. The KZ-PR1 could deal with the extremes, but at times struggled with more subtle stereo pans. Sometimes this resulted in tracks getting tossed roughly to the left or right rather than subtly asymmetrically balanced in both the left and the right. In short, left and right had a hard time connecting around my face, leaving mono parts to act as the glue for the divided stage.
If you’re familiar and seasoned with IEMs and earphones, let me make this fast for you: the KZ-PR1 is classically U-shaped in its overall balance. If you don’t know, no worries, I’ll explain below.
The beginning of the aforementioned “U” starts in the subs, which the KZ-PR1 blasted through the roof. At the lowest of lows, I could feel the buds themselves lightly rumbling in my ears. Heavy kick drum and bass layers found solid physical expression well into the mid-bass, but were heavily rolled off in time for the low mids. The attenuated mids profile allowed the lows to boom without muddying up the mix and made the overall balance distinctly powerful. I want to note that I was using the “HiFi” edition of the KZ-PR1, while the “Balanced” version apparently has an even bigger bass response. Honestly, I’m glad I used the HiFi, as its bass response was already walking the line of going overboard.
You might know the story already: the balance is plenty loud, but no thanks to the low or center mids, which recede back to let the subs and bass go full throttle. Interestingly, this didn’t result in thinned-out vocals, which is usually the case with such a balance. Rather, the mids expressed their scoop when tracks got noisy, leading to attenuated rhythm guitars, snares and toms during climaxes and crescendos. In this way, the KZ-PR1 wasn’t particularly accurate, but rather emphasized highs and lows so that energy was expressed as frequency layers that were painted with a wide stroke. While mid-range precision will be missed by some (including me), I can’t lie: such a balance does pretty well with setting up compelling walls of sound.
I’ll jump to it for the nerds who are wondering: yes, the KZ-PR1 delivers those extra crisp and thin highs that make planar drivers special. Though hi-hats and sibilants could at times come off a touch harsh, the vivid details present in vocal breath and reverb tails made it a pretty worthwhile trade. The boom bap beat that drives in Jai Paul’s “BTSU” had a particularly striking clickiness in the hand claps that land with the snare, landing deep inside my ear and waking up parts of my auditory nerve that are used to lying mostly dormant. This high-frequency expression coupled with the boom on the low end left me with the impression that the KZ-PR1 is particularly well suited for trap and drill, and will likely please pop listeners as well.
I may not be the biggest fan of the somewhat generic “U” shaped balance, but the KZ-PR1 does it without overly thinning vocals and delivers on its highs with a genuine planar character. Ultimately, a casual listener would be hard-pressed to find earphones or IEMs at a $70 price point that can deliver as powerfully and crisply as this unit from Knowledge Zenith. Even though this isn’t usually where my personal preferences in sound would lead me, I give serious props to the KZ-PR1 for the price-to-quality it has to offer. I’m absolutely keeping these in mind as an impressive and inexpensive gift/stocking stuffer.