How do you make a pair of headphones smart? Well, you give them their own app and Bluetooth, with the ability to adjust the intensity of noise cancelling, alter an onboard equaliser to tailor bass and treble to any song you might desire, or to download an artist setting to best suit their discography. Oh, and you make them sound excellent.
And that's exactly what has happened here. Parrot has tweaked, redesigned and redefined the already good original Zik into a very good pair of headphones.
What Is It?
- Headphone Type: Over-The-Ear
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Noise Cancelling: Yes
- Playback Controls: Yes
- Battery Life (claimed): 18 hours
- Charging: yes (microUSB 2.0)
The $499 Parrot Zik 2.0 is an over-the-ear, Bluetooth, noise cancelling headphone; it charges its removable and replaceable 830mAh lithium ion battery over the microUSB 2.0 port hidden in the base of the left earcup, where you'll also find a 3.5mm mini-jack analog audio cable for any situations in which you can't use Bluetooth.
The Zik 2.0 is wrapped almost entirely in beautifully soft leather; choose from black, white, mocha, blue, yellow or orange depending on your particular style. I tested the white Zik 2.0s, even though I think I'm a bit more of a fan of the black and orange. Where the leather stops, the metal starts -- the headband's four-point telescoping segments are a matte silver aluminium, as are the 90-degree swivelling earcup hinges. You can fold the Ziks entirely flat to slide them into a bag or (especially large) purse.
Parrot bundles a soft carry case with the Zik 2.0, although it's a little flimsy and you'll want to swap it for something more sturdy if you take these headphones travelling or commuting. It's a pity that the case is mediocre, because the microUSB and 1.3m-long 3.5mm cables bundled with the headphones are very well built and should last you a long time. Invest in a hard case to keep the Ziks looking top-notch.
The Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones were designed by Phillipe Starck, and there's a definite sense that these headphones have been engineered for form over function; beyond a single button on the rear of the right earcup there are no visible controls on the rest of the cans' body. No visible controls -- that's because the entire flat face of the right earcup is a touch-sensitive control surface, with different swipes achieving different things -- swipe upwards and downwards to raise and lower the volume, swipe forwards and backwards to skip tracks, and so on.
What's It Good At?
Headphones have to sound good, and given that everything else about the Zik 2.0 is on point I'm so that these headphones don't disappoint when it comes to listening to music and watching movies. Even with the app's equaliser set to its most flat, unbiased setting you still get a great amount of low-end punch and plenty of complementary high-end detail. But the Zik 2.0 is versatile, moreso than any Beats or Bose you might compare it to; if you want booming bass you've got it, if you want searingly sharp treble or a boosted warm mid-range that's easy to make happen as well.
These aren't especially flat and metred and measured headphones for critically listening to music -- though they were flattered by my FLAC copy of War Of The Worlds, they were just as happy with the normal quality Spotify streaming playlists I sent to them. Similarly, there's no effective difference between Bluetooth and the 3.5mm wired cable -- as long as the headphones have power, at least. When they don't, you can still listen to them using said cable (thank god). If you're on a long flight, this might just turn out to be a godsend. Until you do run out of power, though, you can switch on Flight Mode that disables Bluetooth and pumps up the noise cancelling to drown out aircraft engine droning.
I'm usually wary of the whole "buy a hardware device, get some software to make it work" aspect of modern technology -- you don't need an app to make your headphones work, let's be honest -- but if there's a right way to do it, then Parrot has done exactly that. The app is simple -- enable features like the equaliser or noise cancelling with a tap on the app's home screen, then swipe right to adjust each of them in a little more detail. The equaliser is useful, but for changing the way you listen to music the Concert Hall effect lets you choose from a range of modifiers (like a silent room, jazz club or hall) and then alter the angle from which the sound is blasted at you. For a synthetic effect, it's not bad at all.
The artist presets are the real unique feature of the Zik 2.0, and while they vary in the intensity and range of their adjustments -- Simian Mobile Disco don't believe in altering the equaliser all too much, while La Roux goes for a wider soundstage using the Concert Hall effect. They might not always be to your tastes, but for the most part they're enjoyable and you can tell yourself you're listening to your Spotify stream just as the artist intended.
The noise cancelling of the Zik 2.0 is out of this world. It's just as good as the Bose QuietComfort 25, but has the advantage for me of the headphones being more comfortable for long-term wear. Maybe it doesn't do as perfect a job at cancelling office noise as its chief competitor, but makes up for it with the in-app adjustability -- you can choose anything from the oh-my-god-have-I-gone-deaf Noise Cancelling Max to Street Mode Max, which basically acts as a giant pair of hearing aids and amplifies the ambient noise around you.
It's a really strange feeling to actually wear these headphones with Street Mode turned on, though. It feels like the sound around you isn't actually happening -- instead, it feels like the sound was created in a Hollywood foley studio, crisply engineered and delivered directly to your ears. It doesn't feel real; it has this simulated twang to it, despite the fact that you can see it happening right in front of you -- get ready for a bit of a trip-out. But it's cool.
What's It Not Good At?
On one of the earcups on my Zik 2.0 headphones here, the leather is the slightest bit loose on one of the corners. I wouldn't have seen it unless I didn't have the other (perfect) earcup to compare it to. It's not at all noticeable unless you're incredibly picky and have unreasonably high standards like me. But these are high-fashion headphones, and you're paying top dollar for the best in design and should be demanding of that best. What I'm saying is, you should buy these headphones, but take a good look at them when you buy them to make sure the build quality is up to scratch.
$499 is a lot of money to pay for a pair of headphones, and you'd hope that your investment means that Parrot supports the Zik 2.0 in the years to come. You can reasonably expect that new artist presets and large feature updates will become less common as time goes on, but these shouldn't be of huge concern. As long as the battery lasts and Parrot keeps the app in the Play Store and the App Store, the Zik 2.0 shouldn't present any long-term troubles.
Parrot offers voice calling through the Zik 2.0's integrated network of microphones, and for the most part it works very well. In recordings I made using the Zik 2.0, my voice came through loud and clear. On a few occasions, I didn't have that same experience when I was on a phone call, with the person on the other end complaining that I was speaking too quietly. Suffice to say that I'm quite a loud talker generally, so I'd say the issue lies somewhere within the software settings of the Zik 2.0.
There's one thing you have to know about the Parrot Zik 2.0, and it's that you can't use these headphones with dirty fingers. Bit of grease left over on your hands from servicing your car on the weekend? It's now on the headband from when you picked the Zik 2.0 up. Doritos dust from a snack while you're watching a movie on your phone? It's now on the right earcup. This is a complaint most specific to the white headphones, obviously, but it applies to a lesser extent with the other models as well. I have a couple of smudges marring the beautiful white Zik 2.0 from not being careful enough -- so this is my warning to you.
Should You Buy It?
Bluetooth, noise-cancelling, rechargeable, stylish -- look at the specs sheet and the $499 Parrot Zik 2.0 seems like the Holy Grail. Buy them, take them out of the box and try them on and you'll find that they're comfortable, too -- as long as the headband fits over your head, at least, which may prove an issue for those with big skulls. Listen to them playing some music or watching a movie, and you'll be triply happy.
The variable intensity noise-cancelling of the Parrot Zik 2.0s does an excellent job of reducing ambient noise in concert with excellent over-the-ear sealing courtesy of those super-plush leather earcups. And, as a free-added-steak-knives extra, those noise-cancelling microphones do a very good job of picking up your voice whenever you're on a call while still blocking out the outside world.
And they just sound good. The original Parrot Zik headphones were pretty musical for Bluetooth cans, but the Zik 2.0 is properly punchy and crisp and vibrant and all the other positive-sounding words we use to describe subjectively good audio. Having the ability to adjust that audio over an incredibly versatile range, too, makes for some seriously useful headphones that can handle just about anything from beat-driven electronic dance music to softer and more organic, acoustic tracks.
They're expensive; that's not at all surprising given the Parrot brand, the haute couture design and the stack of integrated features. (And having a removable battery means that you can switch it out once it's dead from too many recharge cycles, which is great.) The Zik 2.0 should last, and that's the important thing -- you'll be enjoying them for a long time to come. They're an investment that would perfectly suit a busy traveller or a music lover equally.