Bluetooth headphones are really coming of age. No longer do they sound crap with rubbish range and clunky design. Parrot's brand new Ziks, a partnership with legendary French designer Philippe Starck, bundles more technology than you can shake a stick at into what it reckons are the best Bluetooth cans on the market. But are they really worth 350 smackers?
The Ziks are Bluetooth headphones that combine both passive and active noise cancelling; NFC for instant pairing; touch sensitive controls, and built-in headset functionality thanks to both jawbone conduction and multiple microphones to cut through the background noise while you're on a call.
Frankly, they're for people with lots of disposable income; those who hate wires, and for people who think that Bluetooth headphones have been utter rubbish in the past.
Philippe Starck may be legendary, but some of his designs have been a bit of an...how shall we say it..."acquired taste." The Ziks have thankfully benefitted from the partnership between Starck and Parrot, though. They're pretty minimalist and are meant to follow the shape of your head, which they pretty much do. But, there's no getting around the size of these things. Packing that much technology in, plus a decent sized battery makes them bulky, and damn heavy too.
When you first put the Ziks on, you'll be amazed by how much they neutralise the background noise. The passive and active noise-cancelling is top notch, on par with the best of the rest from Bose and Audio-Technica -- it's like a shroud of silence falling over you on a busy city street.
The Ziks sound pretty good too, better than most other noise-cancelling cans, and miles better than most dedicated Bluetooth headphones too. They’re punchy, with reasonably balanced highs and lows, plus pretty deep bass reproduction; considering you're streaming the music over Bluetooth, they're quite impressive. Having said that, they don't sound £350-good: compared to ordinary cans that demand such a hefty price tag you might find them a bit lacking. That doesn't mean they don't sound really great, just not quite 350-quid great.
What the Ziks are, though, is a fantastic combination of everything you could want from wireless headphones. The touch-sensitive controls on the right-hand ear cup are absolutely fantastic; truly responsive and intuitive. Swipe up and down to instantly adjust the volume; tap to pause, or swipe left or right to skip tracks. They'll even pause the music when you lift them off your head, using an accelerometer to detect the change of position -- put them back on and the music starts up again. Frankly, this is how all headphones with built-in controls should work.
They've also got good range and signal strength meaning it doesn't matter where you have your phone or music player; in your pocket, in a bag, the other side of the room -- it's all good. There's also the option to use a standard headphones cable, should your music source of choice not have Bluetooth. Why you'd buy such expensive Bluetooth headphones for non-wireless listening is beyond me though, but it's handy if the battery runs out and you must listen to music.
The battery life is also pretty good; you'll easily get a full day's listening out of them whether cabled or wireless. If you're just listening on your daily commute they'll easily last you a week. You can also listen to them while they're charging, which is done via standard microUSB, and if you're desperate you can turn off noise-cancelling and the DSP to extend the battery life.
Finally, it's got a smartphone app that lets you control almost all aspects of the Ziks, including monitoring battery life, which is good because there's no way to tell how much battery they've got before they just cut out. The app, available for both iOS and Android, lets you turn noise-cancelling on and off; adjust the DSP's soundscape, and tweak the built in EQ, should you want more bass or punch.
The combination of decent sound quality; super-responsive controls, and noise-cancelling without wires is just great -- they really are more than the sum of their parts.
It's the price, plain and simple. Yes, they're packed with technology, but because they've got Starck all over them, I presume you're paying more than you might. It's a shame they're not in the £200 range, really -- but give it time, and they're bound to decrease in price.
Using the standard 3.5mm headphones cable, when hooked up to certain sources like an amp or something with higher impedance than a mobile device, you get an annoying buzzing background sound. When you turn the noise-cancelling off, it stops, so it's obviously something to do with that system and the built-in amp. When you're hooked up to something like that you're probably in a quiet environment already, so it's not really that of a big deal.
- The Ziks are pretty heavy as far as cans go, not uncomfortably so, but you're definitely aware when you have them on.
- They're quite comfortable really, and can be worn for extended periods of time without pinching your ears or making you feel like your head is being squeezed. They will leave you with serious headphone hair, though.
- The noise-cancelling causes a thumping noise if you have a heavy step while out walking, which is probably the microphones picking up the vibrations and trying to compensate. Turning off noise-cancelling or stepping a bit more lightly cures it.
- Calling someone using the Ziks as a headset makes you sound like you're underwater, which is probably the bone conduction microphone doing its thing.
- The battery door is magnetically attached and makes a really satisfying snap into place.
- One tap NFC pairing is great, unless you've got an iPhone because it's not got NFC...yet.
There's no doubt that the Ziks are the best Bluetooth headphones you can buy right now. The combination of noise-cancelling, responsive touch controls and smartphone app settings are really, really great. But -- and yes, unfortunately there is a "but" -- they're £350. That's a lot of money for a pair of headphones, especially without the kind of premium-quality audio brand attached to them like Bose, Grado or Sennheiser. I'm not saying they're not on par with some of the competition's offerings, but it'll put some people off.
If you have £350 to burn and you want the best overall Bluetooth headphone experience currently available, then absolutely yes, do buy them. For the majority of people, £350 is just plain out of our price range, and that's a real shame.
- Bluetooth profiles: 2.1 Hands free, AVRCP
- Microphones: Four + bone conduction
- ANC: Up to 25db
- Sensitivity: 110db
- Frequency Response: 10Hz to 20,000Hz
- Battery life: 6 hours with everything on (18 hours with just ANC)
- Weight: 325 grams
- Price: £350
- Giz Rank: 4 stars