What it’s like to use a pair of $500 headphones

What’s the most money you’ve ever spent on a pair of headphones? Is it $200? Or closer to $100? Maybe you refuse to spend money on headphones and are using whatever came in your smartphone box.

Until recently I’ve been content to rely on a normal pair of ear buds for my listening habits. But after discovering the magic of noise cancelling headphones during a plane ride or subway trip, I’ve bought some $100+ headsets. Still, when I saw that Parrot is bold enough to sell its new Zik 3 headset for $400 USD – about $550 CAD – I had to know what I was missing out on.

In the end, I really enjoyed having these headphones. I couldn’t bring myself to spend $500 on them, but I know that a lot of people would.

Brian Jackson, editor at ITBusiness.ca, couldnt imagine spending $500 on a pair of headphones.
Brian Jackson, editor at ITBusiness.ca, couldn’t imagine spending $500 on a pair of headphones.

Noise cancelling superpowers

One of the flagship features on the Zik line of headphones is the noise cancelling technology. Much like other noise cancelling technology, the Zik 3’s microphones will pick up environmental audio and an onboard processor will cancel them out by generating opposing acoustic waves alongside your music. Parrot claims it can cancel out up to 30 decibels of exterior noise, but it also gets a little more granular than straight up noise cancellation. Parrot also has a “street mode” noise cancelling algorithm that actually adds in part of the surrounding noise. This is useful when you’re walking down a busy street and want awareness of what’s around you, or when you’re having a phone conversation and you want to hear the sound of your own voice (it’s very unnatural to try and talk to someone when you can’t hear yourself.)

In practice, I have to say the Zik 3’s noise cancellation is the best I’ve ever had on noise cancelling headphones. I’ve owned several different noise cancelling headphones and none of them really seem as complete in their sound isolation. Wearing the Zik 3 headset on a plane for example, I happily was able to drown out not only the steady whine of the jet engines, but also was totally unaware of a crying child just three rows up until I removed the headphones. During a day of construction at my office – taking place just two cubicles away from me – I only had to slap on the headphones and listen to the Nine Inch Nail’s four-volume instrumental album Ghosts to continue working as if it weren’t happening at all. Best of all, I could transition into a Skype call or phone call and talk without any adjustment of my headset – just tap the right touch panel and you’re ready to talk. You hear enough of your own voice that it feels perfectly natural.

In short, while wearing the Zik 3 headphones you are simultaneously in your own blissful sound bubble while still being just connected enough to the outside world to not get run over by a truck.

Style that only a jerk can appreciate

If you're looking to make a statement, these mocha-colored, crocodile-patterned headphones might do the trick.
If you’re looking to make a statement, these mocha-colored, crocodile-patterned headphones might do the trick.

If there’s one problem with the Zik 3 headphones, it’s the questionable style of this gigantic headset. Larger than any earphones I’ve ever had the nerve to place on my melon, you can’t deny these things look a bit conspicuous. Wearing them while taking the subway and walking the streets, I felt more than a few lingering glances at the ear-muff like headphones. (And I can at least report that these are good ear muff replacements, keeping my lobes quite warm even on a very cold February day in Toronto.)

Zik 3 is available in five different colours (described by me as black, white, red, green, and brown) and the textured fabric on the headphones comes in three different textures (described by Parrot as shiny croco, leather-grain, or overstitched). I reviewed a brown croco set, which I don’t really find attractive in any way.

It occurs to me that a person who spends $500 or more on headphones probably wants other to look at them, so it might be part of the appeal here. It’s the “jerk factor” of style, where you wear something that you know is sort of obnoxious, hoping to attract a bit of extra attention.

The materials on the headset feel very cushy and soft when you put them on. But after extended periods of wearing them, I felt my ear lobes were a bit sore from the pressure of the headphones pressing against them. Though I was able to alleviate this a bit by adjusting the size of the headphones.

I was surprised to see some comments on the blog post announcing the Zik 3 from unhappy Zik 2 owners. Apparently some had an issue with the foam embedded in the headphones emerging from behind the cover material after some wear and tear. This issue hasn’t occurred for me, but I’ve only been using them for a few weeks.

Features you’ll use all the time

The elegance offered by these headphones is the fact there’s just one solitary button. A touch panel that’s gesture controlled serves up the controls for the Zik 3. This is a very simple way to interact with your audio and it works very well.

Swipe up or down to adjust the volume. Swipe forward or back to switch your track. Tap to pause or play. It all works great and it’s intuitive to do this right away.

One snag I ran into with this feature is using the headphones with my MacBook. Tapping to pause or play was always tied to iTunes as the default audio player on my computer. So when I’m listening to Spotify and I go to pause my music, I actually trigger another iTunes track to start playing.

When you remove the headphones from your head, they will automatically pause your music. It’s a nice little bonus and great for those times you have a brief interruption that requires you to actually interact with another human being. Once that painful ordeal comes to a conclusion, just slide your headphones back over your ears and the music automatically resumes.

Features you’ll never use at all

The Zik 3 has the option to play sound via a USB port, which I guess you could use if your headphones ran out of power. I just never really found the chance to try this, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

The app that you can install on iPhone gives you some more customized controls over your sound. But you’re really fine to never touch this at all. There are even tuning settings that have been created by artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff that you can use, so you can listen to their music the way they intended.

A wireless charger is also available as an extra accessory, if just charging by USB isn’t premium enough for you. It needs to be purchased separately.

My two cents on $500 headphones

I’m going to miss these headphones when I send them back, but not so much that I’ll have to buy my own pair. If I did want to make a big investment in headphones, then I might consider some other high-quality options on the market that aren’t quite as expensive. Even buying the Parrot Zik 2, the previous generation of this device, would save you some money and deliver almost the same product.

If you spend many hours wearing headphones, take it from me that owning a great pair is worth the investment. Being better able to enjoy music, podcasts, live radio, and even phone calls and Skype chats is worth a lot. So the next time you see someone wearing a silly-looking pair of headphones, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it for yourself.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jacksonhttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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