Saturday, 18 June 2016

Parrot Zik 3.0 Wireless Headphones

Parrot Zik 3.0 Wireless Headphones

Parrot launches some of the most desirable wireless cans yet

At the very moment I unpacked Parrot’s Zik 3.0 wireless headphones, there came the realisation that these were something special, and that’s even before I discovered how much they cost!

Everything about them is lovely. From the bone-like elegance of the metal support arms, to the sculpted ear cushions finished in leather. The review models even had a new ‘croco’ effect leather, if they weren’t sumptuous enough already.

They come in black, brown, emerald green or red, in leather-grain, overstitched or ‘croc’ effect leather, and the overstitching can be in black or ivory.

But I’m being distracted here, because the real purpose of these isn’t to impress those with a fetish for beautiful tech, but to deliver high-quality sound.

Technically these are 5.1 capable headphones with a sophisticated adaptive active noise control, designed to eliminate background sound, exactly like that made by the engines of a long haul jet.

Precisely how this works can be either automatic or configured from the associated Zik 3 smartphone (iOS or Android) application. That’s useful, because walking about a major city with these on could be very dangerous if you couldn’t send the noise cancellation into ‘street mode’ where you can hear traffic.

The software that controls them is rather impressive and not only allows you to mess with noise control, but also tweak the spatial effects and even build presets for listening to particular music genres or even artists.

The Apple version even works with the Watch, should you be crazy enough to have bought one of those.

One downside to wireless audio is that you normally don’t get the best audio experience on Bluetooth 3.0 due to the compression, bitrate and channel limitations of A2DP. Apple helps its corner with AAC over Bluetooth, but Parrot didn’t include AptX support, regrettably.

The other wireless caveat is battery life. However, these are the first wireless headphones that have a removable battery, and Parrot does provide reasonably priced spares.

Exactly how long they last is entirely dependent on how you use them and what features are active. The worst case scenario is Bluetooth connection with ANC activated and spatialisation effects on, and you get about six hours. If you disable Bluetooth and use line-in, that can be expanded by a further hour, boosting up to 18 hours if you use line-in and turn off spatial processing.

Obviously, using it on USB, there are no limits, as its being powered and simultaneously recharged. As wireless battery life goes this isn’t horrible, but others have achieved longer. These can also be charged with a Qi charger, for those who find physical connect so last decade.

Almost everything about these is very modern, including touch-sensitive controls with almost no visible buttons. Volume control is achieved by stroking the right can with a finger, and pausing requires just a single tap. There are even sensors on the ear cushions that sense when you remove them to automatically activate mute.

However, the volume control is highly sensitive, and it and other controls only seem to work when you use a Bluetooth and not USB connection.

As you might reasonably expect at this price, they sound very good, even when you’re using Bluetooth. However, the best result I experienced was while watching a DTS audio movie on my PC connected by USB.

If there’s a weakness in the audio spectrum, it’s that the drivers can’t produce enough low frequency bass for my liking, but being battery powered, I understand why.

The downside of using them on a PC is that there's no corresponding app for this platform, like the iOS and Android one, so you can’t make playback processing adjustments like you can on a phone.

These are very minor problems for the most part, and there's only one thing substantially wrong the Zik 3 to my mind, and that’s the high price. Given the superb build quality and excellent audio quality, it’s probably worth the cost, but that’s going to be far too much for the majority people.

They’re cheaper than the Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless, if that’s any consolation to you. I wish they were cheaper, because they’re made and designed to a level that all technology products should truly aspire to.

For those who’d like a similar feature set without the full price, Parrot still sells the previous Zik 2.0 design, and those can be found for about £170. Mark Pickavance

Heavy on the pocket, lovely on the ears.