They're wireless. They have touch-sensitive controls. And they look really, really sleek. They even come with an app. Those are just some of the things we love about the Parrot Zik by Starck, a $399 pair of headphones that screams state of the art. Read on to discover why the Ziks are a sound investment.
We can't get enough of Parrot's industrial chic design. You won't find any shiny plastics or flashing lights here, just good old-fashioned leather, metal and some tastefully used matte plastic. For example, the exterior of the ear cups are made of a matte black plastic, making them the Zik smudgeproof unless you have greasy fingers. The top of the headband is wrapped in supple black leather. Parrot's insignia is stamped matter-of-factly into the top of the band for a bold-yet-subtle accent.
The tips of the headband are capped in silver matte aluminum alloy metal, as is a teardrop-shaped depression at the bottom. A single retractable alloy metal bar extends from each side of the headband to adjust the fit. The bar delicately curves in two places, creating depth and accentuating the large black ear cups. A tiny "by Starck" logo sits on the right side of the headphones, reminding listeners that this is the work of designer Philippe Starck.
Chrome wraps around the bottom of the right cup, highlighting the power button, the headphone jack and microUSB port. The cups are lined with more black leather and stuffed with pillowy soft foam.
At 11.4 ounces, the 7.8 x 5.9 x 3.14-inch headphones are on the chunky side. However, the Ziks felt rather light as we wore them. The foam in the earcups created an immediate seal that was not only comfortable, but helped shut out outside noise.
The Ziks are seriously teched out. Our favorite feature by far is the touch panel surreptitiously hidden in the right ear cup. Swiping up on the cup increases the volume while a downward swipe lowers it. A swipe to the right skips ahead to the next track and a left swipe plays the previous track. We had to be more deliberate with our swipes than with a smartphone or tablet, but overall the feature worked well.
Bluetooth setup is pretty straightforward, taking between 3-4 seconds to pair the Ziks with our Samsung Galaxy S III. The process was just as speedy on the iPhone 5; after pairing, we heard a happy little chirp sound and we were good to go. We appreciate Parrot's focus on keeping things as simple as possible. By comparison, the SMS Audio Sync by 50 wireless headphones, which use Kleer technology to stream music, requires a dongle that must be plugged into a device's headphone jack. To be fair, though, Kleer lets up to four people listen to one source.
In addition to Bluetooth, the Parrot Ziks also feature a NFC chip in the left cup for instant Bluetooth pairing to mobile devices with both technologies. When we attempted to use this feature with the Sprint and Verizon versions of the Galaxy SIII, we got a new tag message, but no pairing. However, the Samsung Galaxy Victory paired with the headphones 1-2 seconds after we touched the device to the left cup.
A sensor in the right side detects when listeners are no longer wearing the headphones and pauses the track. During our testing, we found that the music stopped and started less than a second after removing and replacing the Ziks from our head.
Having all those cool features is nice, but it's all moot if the sound doesn't measure up. Thankfully, the Parrot Ziks sound as good as they look. Lil Jon's "Snap Yo Fingers" was appropriately crunktastic, delivering heavy bass and crisp synthesized highs without drowning out the producer's raspy drawl. On Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That," harmonies were smooth, and the bass guitar and keyboard were clean. What both tracks shared was loud, clear balanced audio served up by the Ziks' two 40mm neodymium drivers.
By comparison, the SMS Audio Sync by 50 are definitely designed with a bass-junkie in mind. Our ears were buffeted by deep bass on "Snap Yo Fingers," and the synthesized highs sounded scratchy and blown out. The Hall & Oates track had a nice balance of highs and mids, but the lows were more pronounced than we would have liked.
Audio Suite App
Users can tweak the Zik's audio settings to their liking using Parrot's Audio Suite App. Available for Android and iOS, the free app let us switch between six different equalizer settings (Pop, Vocal, Deep, Club, Punchy and Cristal). The setting for custom listening experience has four environments (Concert Hall, Living Room, Jazz Club and Silent Room), each offering different acoustics. We could even adjust the angle (in 30-degree increments between 30-180 degrees) at which the sound hit our ears. We discovered our audio sweet spot with Living Room Effect with the Crystal equalizer was 120 degrees. It made us feel like we were in our own Maxell commercial.
Active Noise Cancellation
Our listening experience was enhanced by the active noise cancellation technology. Relying on two pairs of microphones, Parrot claims the Ziks offer up to 98 percent noise reduction. As soon we hit the Ziks' power button, the world around us faded into the background. We could still hear voices, but it was faint. And this was before we actually played some music.
As soon as we cranked up the jams, it was like we were marching to the beat of our personal soundtrack. This feature really came in handy on the subway, as we blissfully drowned out an argument taking place on the platform. However, we wish Parrot included a physical button for enabling/disabling the feature, rather than forcing us to use the mobile app.
Audio on phone calls using the Parrot Ziks is a mere shadow of the rich, clear tones of the music listening experience. Despite the two directional microphones, the voice on the other line sounded floaty and hollow. We also heard echoing on a number of calls. Our caller reported that he could hear us, but said it sounded like we were talking with a pillow over our heads. The effect was even worse when active noise cancellation is engaged.
Bluetooth/ Battery Life
Similar to other Bluetooth devices on the market, the Ziks have approximately a 33-foot range. We were able to walk about 25 feet away before the sound cut out. With two walls between us and the source, though, the range dropped to about 12 feet.
Parrot estimates the Ziks' battery life at 6 hours with all the features enabled, which jumps to 12 hours if listeners only enable active noise cancelling. With everything turned on, the 800mAH Lithium ion battery lasted five hours and 10 minutes. When we switched everything off except noise cancelling, we managed a full 8 hours with 30 percent left on the battery.
Recharging the Ziks is as simple as plugging a microUSB cable into a computer or outlet. But in the off chance the battery dies before you reach your destination, Parrot made the wise decision to include a 3.5 mm headphone cable.
We don't like to throw around the term "sexy," but the $399 Parrot Zik by Starck headphones definitely fit the bill. The design is both demure and alluring, possessing the swagger of Lil Wayne with the effortless composure of George Clooney. The amount of tech features crammed into these cans is nothing short of impressive. Audio is crisp, clear and balanced, allowing you to enjoy multiple genres with stellar audio quality. The app is well-designed and easy to use and further enhances the great sound. While it's not great at phone calls, audio-centric techies should put the Ziks at the top of their list.