These remarkable Bluetooth headphones have no right to be this good and put much more expensive models on notice!
We live in a noisy world, and as much as we may adore our high-end headphones, most of them put the pursuit of fidelity above isolation from external sound. And so there’s been growing popularity of noise-isolating and canceling designs that let us focus on the music, even when the world outside is trying to distract us.
Whether you’re traveling, commuting, or at home with a loud family around you, active noise-canceling headphones are a godsend and go a step further than relying on the passive noise isolation that all closed-back headphones provide.
- Great sound quality at this price point
- Very comfortable for long listening sessions
- Battery life on par with flagships
- Wind and air pressure changes overwhelm ANC
- Mids could be more forward
- Buttons are small and fiddly
- The case could be a better fit for the headphones
This review focuses on a new set of wireless noise-canceling headphones from KZ Earphones that significantly undercut some of the more established brands with a compelling listening experience – not to mention a budget price tag! Let’s dive in and learn more.
About KZ Earphones
KZ, or ‘Knowledge Zenith,’ originated in China just over a decade ago. It’s best known as a budget IEM brand, and its product list underscores this. The founders are a former engineer at Audio Technica and a western-trained classical musician.
The KZ H10 arrived inside an attractive black presentation box with subtle purple etched imagery. Opening the magnetic flap reveals more branding, including the bold statement ‘Your HiFi expert’ and a light gray travel case containing the headphones. Top marks for first impressions, especially at this low price point.
The travel case is as small as this non-foldable design of headphones will allow, which is good news for travel, where space is often at a premium. The case slips easily into my backpack.
Getting the H10 into the case is a bit of a squeeze and more fiddly than I’d like, with some experimentation needed to find the best angle. It’s a small thing, but something that you’ll notice if using the case regularly.
The included carry case is welcome, but a tight fit for the headphones.
The headphones, an instruction booklet, a USB-A to C charging cable, and a double-ended male 3.5mm TRRS cable are inside the case. The 3.5mm cable is a welcome addition, providing an alternative to Bluetooth, which is particularly useful for home listening and airplane entertainment systems.
- Form: Over-ear headphones
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
- Impedance: 32Ω
- Sensitivity: 116±3dB/mW
- Driver: 40mm titanium-plated diaphragm dynamic
- Battery Capacity: 500mAh
- Battery Life: ~25 hours with ANC on, ~30 hours in passive mode
- Bluetooth: Version 5.0 (range >10m)
- Inputs: USB-C for charging and 3.5mm jack wired audio
- Built-in mic: Yes
- Weight: 282±10g
Design and Comfort
Getting to the headphones themselves, the H10 are a very attractive pair of over-ear headphones, and KZ should be commended on what they’ve achieved at this price point.
The earcups, housing a 40mm dynamic driver, are simple black plastic with no branding. This helps the design retain an elegant, simple look, although one I found susceptible to fingerprints if your hands are at all greasy or sweaty. A damp cloth easily wipes the marks away.
A sleek design that doesn’t shout ‘look at me!’.
The earpads are made from faux leather, and I find them very comfortable for long listening periods. They also fit easily over my relatively large ears, with sufficiently deep cups, which I appreciate, and I have no problem using them while wearing my glasses. I never find the H10 to get too hot either, another plus with this design.
The comfort continues on the headband, which is generously padded with the same material as the earpads. I noticed no pressure point on top of my head, something I cannot say about my own ANC headphones, which cost four times this price!
The headband feels strong and sturdy, with a covered metal band over the top. Polished metal pieces connect the band to the ear pads and telescope for a wide range of size adjustments. The earcups can be rotated by 90 degrees, which is useful for those on the move, though there is only a minimal vertical adjustment.
The clamping force and weight are perfect for me.
The only area where I would welcome design improvement is the small buttons mounted around the edge of the cups. There’s one button for power, also used for switching between active, passive, and ambient modes, and two for volume up/down. I’d prefer a more elongated design to make them easier to find and use when wearing the headphones.
KZ H10 Sound
Now we get to the fun part. Having put these super comfortable headphones on my head, how did they sound? First, I tested them for phone calls and found them a solid performer for both hearing and being heard – no issues there. On to the real challenge: the music!
The H10 can easily be used for home listening and on the go, so I tested them in both scenarios, taking them on a recent trip that included noisy light rail transit and a flight. For Bluetooth listening, I streamed from my Android phone, and for wired listening, I tested using my Sony DAP and Macbook.
I’ll start by talking about the sound signature, irrespective of which mode they’re in. Overall, I am very impressed, and I was bobbing my head to the music from the moment I started listening. KZ has created a gem here, especially for lovers of electronic music. The sound signature is warm and non-fatiguing.
The H10 handle the lower end confidently, with solid extension down to the sub-bass levels. There is also a good level of dynamics, with a punchiness in electronic dance music that I appreciated immediately. The upper bass is a little more boxy and dark but not to the point of being distracting.
Mids are more recessed on the H10. Not excessively so, but enough that these are harder to recommend for more critical listening. I compared them back to back with my Sony WH1000XM3 noise-canceling headphones and noticed a lot more detail than the H10 can resolve, especially on vocals, guitars, and piano.
The good news is that softer mids make for more relaxed long listening sessions, and many listeners enjoy a more v-shaped sound signature.
Returning to the H10 strengths, the top end is sweet, if a little soft. At times I felt there was a lack of sparkle, such as on the piano on Nils Frahm’s Fundamental Values, which could have had a little more clarity, but really I’m nitpicking here.
Easy to listen to and perfect for electronic music.
Active vs. passive noise canceling
It’s worth spending a moment to talk about noise canceling on these headphones since this is where budget models can struggle against the established, more expensive players in the market.
Sure enough, you won’t hear the best from the H10 with noise canceling turned on. The sound thins out, losing some of its dynamic quality, compared to listening in passive noise canceling mode. In the kind of environment where you’d want ANC, this mostly won’t be an issue since you’ll value isolation over enjoying the very best fidelity.
The ANC does a pretty solid job in the scenarios where this technology generally works best: where the noise you’re trying to reduce is constant, like an airplane engine. My Sony ANC headphones reduce this noise even further, but that’s at four times the price.
These do a perfectly adequate job for anyone who travels less frequently or on shorter-haul flights. It might be worth spending a little more if you regularly fly long-haul.
One flaw I did find with the active noise canceling is its handling of wind and air pressure changes, such as when a train enters a tunnel. Even moving my head to a particularly rhythmical track like Go Hawaii’s Local Forecast can overwhelm the ANC.
These problems only impacted the active noise canceling setting. My recommendation, especially when listening at home, is to favor passive noise canceling mode, where they deliver their best sound. Only turn on ANC when you need it or when you’re traveling or commuting, where you’ll barely notice these minor flaws.
The stated battery life for these headphones is 25 hours using ANC and 30 hours with passive noise canceling. This will vary in real-world use, but the battery performance seemed excellent in my testing. I have no issues depending on these for a long-haul flight, which I consider the ultimate test for this kind of headphone.
Where to Buy
It’s remarkable how far we’ve come on the audiophile journey. Hi-Fi has always been about diminishing returns as you spend more. Sure, you’ll get better fidelity and resolution when you spend more, but when you leave the house, what do you really need from your headphones?
My guess is that, like me, you want comfort, sufficient isolation from the noisy world outside, and the kind of sound quality that gets your head bobbing on your favorite tracks. Good audio reproduction is all about letting us get lost in our music, and the H10 easily tick that box for me.
This is an outstanding set of ANC headphones for the price. They look good, are comfortable, have flagship-level battery life, and sound great. What more do you need? I’d say if your budget is under USD$100, then the answer is nothing at all.