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Review: Padmate PaMu Z1 – Perfectly Acceptable Music Units

The understated grey and white colorway PaMu Z1.
The understated grey and white colorway PaMu Z1.

In the budget TWS segment, the value equation gets complicated.

Thank you to Bob and Padmate for providing the PaMu Z1 True Wireless (TWS) earbuds for review purposes.

General Usage 68.9
Audiophile Usage 55.1

Score Breakdown

77.9
66.3
50.0
What We Like
  • Decent bass response
  • Good build quality for the price
  • App has EQ, ANC, and customizable touch settings
  • Large touch surfaces easy to use
  • Comfortable
What We Don't Like
  • Some midrange distortion evident
  • Sound is a bit flat
  • App and documentation is poorly translated
  • App seemed to occasionally lose settings between sessions
  • Registration required to use the app

Where to Buy

The PaMu Z1 are available at:

Introduction

You may be aware of the Padmate company with their successful Indiegogo launch of the original PaMu earphones and their successful follow up models. Their newest releases are the PaMu Z1 TWS and the Z1 Lite (differing only in ANC and wireless charging features). This is a company with real-world experience in producing and marketing budget-priced and feature-rich audio products.

So it was with some surprise that the PaMu Z1 didn’t wow me right out of the box.

There is a certain lack of polish that I’ve come to expect from inexpensive audio products. In the Padmate PaMu Z1 this is seen mainly in the variety of audio prompt voices, and in the translation and localization of the app, website, and support documentation. Of course, none of this affects sound quality or performance, so you may not be bothered by such things.

It always seems like low hanging fruit to ensure that a product gives as good an impression as possible with the support material. To me, it’s important that the entire experience is cohesive and professional.

Seriously, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

I like my music accessories to match my cat feet.
I like my music accessories to match my cat feet.

So it’s from these circumstances that I’m starting my review of the PaMu Z1 TWS. It’s a double-edged sword. My expectations are somewhat lowered, but they’re going to have to try hard to stand out in the incredibly crowded sub-USD$100 TWS marketplace. Sure, it’s a huge market, but let’s see if PadMate can offer a compelling reason to choose the PaMu Z1 over the multitude of other choices out there.

Do the PaMu Z1 provide good value for your money?

The Pamu Z1 packaging is attractive and neat.
The Pamu Z1 packaging is attractive and neat.

Case

Battery

  • Battery Life: 24 hours
  • Connector: USB Type-C
  • Wireless Charging: Yes
The earbuds have LEDs to indicate charge level.
The earbuds have LEDs to indicate charge level.

The PaMu Z1 charging case is a fairly bulky affair due to its internal 500mAh lithium ion battery and internal wireless charging circuitry. It can recharge the earbuds fully three times, extending the overall battery life to approximately 24 hours.

I found a wired fast charge to complete in about 1.5 hours and a lower wattage or wireless charger will take about 1.5-2 hours to fully charge the case.

UX

  • Can be open easily with one hand: No
  • Pass the shake test: Yes
  • Light Indicators: Displays battery level and charging status
The unusual LED indicator on the side of the case.
The unusual LED indicator on the side of the case.

The case has an interesting clear rubber tag sticking out from the right side of the case, embossed with the “pamu” logo.

Note that there is inconsistent capitalization of the name between the product, website, and documentation, where it can be found as “pamu”, “Pamu”, and “PaMu”. I’m sticking to “PaMu” for the purposes of this review.

The rubber tag lights up with a single white LED intended to show battery life and status. Rather than employing a traditional color changing LED (red, yellow, green), the LED somewhat less intuitively relies on flashing to convey its state.

“Being Charging: The LED light shows white breathing light

Full Charged: Solid light on

Charging the Earbuds (Put either earbud in the charging case): The lights show current power availability, less than 30% battery life, the LED light flash quickly for 5s;Over 30% battery life, LED light shows solid white for 5s.” – PaMu Z1 Manual

Design

  • Shape of the case: Squarish
  • Material: Plastic
  • Build Quality: Average
If you really want to, you can change the stripe color on the case.
If you really want to, you can change the stripe color on the case.

The case is a white and grey all-plastic affair with an interchangeable colored ‘belt’ around the middle with the “pamu” logo boldly printed on it. Padmate makes a point to highlight that this belt is replaceable with a variety of color options and is intended as a personalization feature.

The exterior finish is a smooth matte and while it does resist fingerprinting, it’s a bit slippery. The lid is an average plastic design with magnetic closure and works fine to stay shut and keep the interior contents safe.

Portability

  • Weight: 54g (With earbuds inside, ±5g each side)
  • Volume: 6.5 x 4 x 2.7 = 70.2 cm cu (~4.28 in cu)
  • Portability: Good
The USB-c charging port and the somewhat appropriately named Spark (the cat).
The USB-c charging port and the somewhat appropriately named Spark (the cat).

The Pamu Z1 charging case weighs 42g empty (54g full) and measures approximately 6.5x4x2.7 cm. It’s rounded, so it will only sit flat on the large back (or front) surface. The USB-c charging port is centered on the bottom of the case.

Earbuds

Battery

  • Battery Life: 5-6 hours
  • Charge Time (15mins): Around 60 mins playback time (Calculated based on 1.5 hours needed for a full charge)
The PaMu Z1 have a different profile than the currently popular long-tailed polliwog-shaped TWS.
The PaMu Z1 have a different profile than the currently popular long-tailed polliwog-shaped TWS.

In my testing, I found the battery life to be between 5-6 hours depending on if ANC was enabled or not. As noted above, the case can provide an additional 3 full cycles to both earbuds, before charging the case is necessary.

In ear, while flush and comfortable, the fairly bulky PaMu Z1 earbuds remind me of what first generation bluetooth earbuds looked like. Rather than a thin tail protruding downwards, the outer surface is wide, flat, and points forward. Admittedly, this does provide an easy to navigate touch surface.

Something about this design makes me think of those (often self-important) early Bluetooth adopters of the early 2000s.

UX

  • Control Mechanism: Touch
  • Touch Accuracy: Average
  • Control Symmetry on both earbud: Yes
  • Mono Use: Yes for both sides

The touch controls are configurable within the companion app, but are limited to single or double taps. This combination yields only 4 possible active touch options. Want volume up and down, play/pause, ANC on/off, and previous/next track controls? You are going to have to use your phone for some of them.

The large touch surface is easy to find when in-ear, and there is a positive sounding soft click sound when a touch is registered. My advice is to not be in too much of a hurry, as there’s a bit of a lag between a touch and the change, so until I adapted, I inadvertently tapped several times thinking that I hadn’t initially done it correctly.

Design

  • Profile: Low
  • Material: Plastic
  • Comfort: Good
  • Fit: Good
The earbuds and case are a good match.
The earbuds and case are a good match.

The all plastic earbuds are a match to the case, both in the smooth matte finish and color scheme. You certainly won’t mistake them for Apple Airpods, but their overall construction seems quite decent. Smooth edged, nicely finished, and lightweight. They’re about all you can expect from a product at this price point.

Long term listening comfort proved to be very good with the shorter design of the PaMu Z1 staying firmly in place regardless of activity, without creating any hotspots or unwanted pressure.

Mic

  • Noise Cancellation: Average
  • Voice Pick-up: Average

The PaMu Z1 use dual microphones, hybrid (feedback + feedforward) active noise cancellation (ANC), and environmental noise cancellation (ENC) to reduce unwanted noise from calls and playback. In practice I found the ENC to be quite effective in reducing surrounding noise, but as is typical with this sort of signal processing, the ENC also deadens your voice on calls, making it sound a bit unnatural.

Mic demo

Sound

  • Driver: 10mm PEN+ titanium composite diaphragm
  • Sound Signature: Bass boosted
  • Sub-bass: Good
  • Bass: Good
  • Mids: Substandard
  • Treble: Average
  • Sound Detail: Average

Overall sound signature

PaMu Z1 with ANC enabled. Frequency response graph as measured on a IEC 603118-4 compliant occluded ear simulator (OES).
PaMu Z1 with ANC enabled. Frequency response graph as measured on a IEC 603118-4 compliant occluded ear simulator (OES).
PaMu Z1 with ANC disabled. Frequency response graph as measured on a IEC 603118-4 compliant occluded ear simulator (OES).
PaMu Z1 with ANC disabled. Frequency response graph as measured on a IEC 603118-4 compliant occluded ear simulator (OES).
The PaMu do sound and measure differently depending on if ANC is enabled or disabled. For my impressions I used ANC disabled and the Normal EQ setting.

The PaMu Z1 have a strong low end response and are surprisingly flat throughout the midrange and treble frequencies. The upper treble is severely rolled off after about 8kHz, although this may partially be due to the AAC codec used when paired with my iPhone.

Overall they are a decent, if not overly exciting sounding pair of IEMs, but are hampered by a small bit of midrange distortion that I heard mainly when using Spotify, but would sometimes become apparent even when listening to high bitrate lossless files. I noticed something off mainly when the music was fairly stripped down to simple vocals and a single instrument accompaniment. An audible distortion was evident where there should have been clarity and purity of tone.

So the PaMu Z1 will not be my choice for critical music listening, however they are more than adequate for an active lifestyle or at the gym to provide a background soundtrack to your life. More casual listeners may never discern anything is off.

Connectivity

  • Audio Codec: AAC and SBC
  • Bluetooth Version: Bluetooth 5.2
  • Bluetooth Chip: ?
  • Auto-connect when: Removed from case
  • Average drop-outs in an hour: None
  • Multi-point connection: No
Basic accessories are included.
Basic accessories are included.

The PaMu Z1 utilizes Bluetooth 5.2 and overall things worked like I expected. There were no unwanted dropouts and range seemed quite decent. Padmate doesn’t share much information regarding chipset or codec support, but the connection worked fine with my iPhone.

The pairing process was a bit odd, as initially both Pamu Z1 LE and Pamu Z1 appear as Bluetooth devices. The LE (Left Ear?) is secondary and in order to use the Z1, you must connect to the non-LE instance. Reconnects take about 5 seconds to complete and a voice prompt will notify you of the connection. It is necessary to connect to the Z1 in the app.

Waterproof

  • IP Rating: IPX4
The PaMu Z1 are another decent choice in the inexpensive TWS market.
The PaMu Z1 are another decent choice in the inexpensive TWS market.

The PaMu Z1 are IPX4 certified meaning they are suitable for most athletic endeavors but should not be submerged.

Software

  • EQ presets
  • Voice Assistant compatible
  • ANC adjustable
The app allows for customization.
The app allows for customization.
I have a major point of contention with the PaMu app. I hate having to provide an email address and password to gain access to the functionality of my device. It feels invasive and unnecessary to make the app not work unless you register.

The app provides decent options for changing your preferences including ANC modes, touch surface configuration, transparency, low latency (140ms) game mode, and six EQ presets. There is an EQ ‘Normal’ option but no EQ Off.

While the battery status of the earbuds are displayed with a graph, there is no indication of the case battery level.

I found that features and choices were sometimes reset when I reentered the app.

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