Brief: Tangle-resistant IEMs with a built-in “zipper” in place of a conventional cable cinch
MSRP: $39.99 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $35 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 99 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ I-plug w
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down
Accessories (2/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes) and built-in “zipper” cable cinch
Build Quality (4/5) – The housings of the Zipbuds PRO are plastic – well-made, but nothing out of the ordinary. The earphones have ample strain relief and a nylon sheath on the cable below the y-split. The mic is well-positioned, too. The distinguishing characteristic, of course, is the zipper, which starts at the y-split and goes right up to the microphone, replacing the cable cinch. The teeth of the zipper are plastic while the slider is metal. It works well and I never got myself or my clothes caught in it, though I am not convinced of its superiority to a good cable cinch. The cable is terminated with a metal-jacketed I-plug
Isolation (3/5) – Good for this type of earphone
Microphonics (2.5/5) – The cloth-covered cable and plastic zipper teeth don’t do the Zipbuds any favors when it comes to cable noise. The earphones are meant to be worn cable-down, and in this configuration cable noise can be bothersome. Adjusting the zipper while wearing them creates additional noise
Comfort (4/5) – The Zipbuds are rather well-designed when it comes to comfort, with an angled-nozzle housing that’s smooth and rounded at the front. The driver chamber is rather large, and on the whole the fit is similar to a “half in-ear” earphone – snug in the outer ear, but comfortable
Sound (7.9/10) – The sound signature of the Zipbuds PRO is pretty much perfect considering the relatively low price and consumer-oriented nature of the earphones, pushing the bass and treble slightly ahead of the midrange for a punchy, clear, and exciting sound – a “v-shaped” frequency response.
There’s plenty of bass with a mild mid-bass hump, but the Zipbuds are surprisingly free of bloat. The moderate bass enhancement never left me wanting for impact and extension is surprisingly good at both ends. At the same time, the tone is not very warm and avoids the clarity penalty overly warm earphones in this price range tend to have (see, for instance, the Fidue A31s or HiFiMan RE300h).
Clarity and detail are pretty impressive and midrange recession is minor for a v-shaped earphone. The upper mids and treble are accented, with both carrying plenty of energy. As expected, this gives the Zipbuds PRO a tendency towards harshness and sibilance, especially at high volumes, but it is very mild and the gain in clarity and overall energy is worth the tradeoff. Good treble extension also results in a decently wide presentation and a rather open, airy, and dynamic sound compared to other similarly-priced and similarly-tuned earphones.
The Piston 2 from China-based Xiaomi took the audiophile world by storm with its warm, capable sound, becoming a popular budget choice very quickly. The Zipbuds PRO boasts comparable performance with a slightly more v-shaped sound signature.
While the Piston 2 is tonally warmer and has more of a deep bass focus, the Zipbuds have a touch more mid-bass instead. Bass control and overall clarity are generally similar between the two earphones, but the Zipbuds have a more v-shaped tuning with more presence in the upper midrange and treble. This makes for a brighter sound and also raises vocal intelligibility a bit compared to the Piston 2. On the whole, the Zipbuds are more sparkly and lively but have a greater tendency towards harshness and sibilance, especially at higher volumes. The Piston 2 sounds smoother and more refined in comparison, and also has a slightly more “open” presentation.
The T-Peos Popular and Zipbuds PRO make for an interesting matchup, being two rather different takes on a v-shaped sound tuning – one bassier, and the other brighter. The brighter T-Peos model is more balanced and neutral, with a shallower “v-shape” to its sound. It has less mid-bass, which makes its low end tighter and allows for more deep bass emphasis. The Zipbuds, on the other hand, sound bassier and more boomy. Their tuning has a more pronounced v-shape with more midrange recession. Surprisingly, despite having a thinner and brighter sound, the Popular isn’t clearer than the bassier Zipbuds. It does, however, have a slightly wider soundstage. In the end, it’s very hard to say which is better – at times I preferred the more balanced Popular, and at times the bassier and more dynamic Zipbuds.
The entry-level model in Brainwavz’ popular S-series, the S0 is a relatively well-balanced earphone compared to the bassier, more mid-recessed Zipbuds. Despite their more powerful bass and slightly more recessed mids, however, the Zipbuds sound clearer. The upper midrange is more forward, resulting in more intelligible vocals, and the sound is more dynamic and lively on the whole. The S0, on the other hand, is a little less clear and makes vocals sound more distant. It also has weaker bass and lacks some dynamics in comparison to the Zipbuds.
The Brainwavz S1 makes for a better sound signature match for the Zipbuds than does the S0. While the S0 is flatter/more balanced than the Zipbuds, the tuning of the S1 is the opposite, increasing the bass and recessing the mids slightly for an even more “v-shaped” sound signature. This makes the v-shape more audible – and at times more bothersome – than the milder coloration of the Zipbuds.
The bass of the S1 is deeper and marginally tighter than that of the Zipbuds. However, the Zipbuds have less recessed mids and a more neutral tone compared to the darker S1. The brighter treble of the Zipbuds is a little more harsh, but it also makes them a touch clearer and more open-sounding – and preferable to the S1 for me.
Value (8.5/10) – Microphonics aside, the Zipbids PRO is my favorite kind of earphone – one with unexpectedly strong audio performance that took me entirely by surprise (the previous such set being the Flux In-Ear from PC accessories manufacturer SteelSeries).
While the zipper cable cinch is a bit of a gimmick, the Zipbuds cover the basics very well with excellent sound quality and a comfortable angled-nozzle design. With a v-shaped sound signature emphasizing bass and treble and satisfying clarity, dynamics, and even soundstaging, the Zipbuds PRO is a winner in sound – and easily recommendable overall.
Pros: Comfortable angled-nozzle design; does resist tangling; nice mic; very good sound quality
Cons: Cable noise (microphonics)