In-Ear Fidelity

The KZ Boycott Still Stands.

Context

So a few days back, DMS dropped a video. It was a big video with serious allegations, claiming that KZ was paying reviewers to review their products.

Naturally this blew up within our small community, with KZ (more specifically, a representative by the name of Tyvan Lam) rushing in with a long, rather poorly thought-out response. Pitchforks were raised and the heads of KZ were demanded, and I myself had announced a complete boycott of their products and a blacklist from all future reviews.

Then comes the follow-up that should’ve been KZ’s first response instead: they claimed that it was an errant distributor that made the offer to DMS. They stated that they did not officially sanction payment to reviewers for reviews of KZ products, and with DMS accepting the explanation the curtains finally close on the drama. Everyone holds hands, sings kumbaya, and we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Naturally, everyone expects that my boycott of KZ should end with this conclusion, but that will not be the case. Let me explain.

The History

Many would be aware that I’ve been personally embroiled in a KZ scandal myself. Hell, simply searching “KZ scandal” or “KZ drama” would have the CRN scandal shoved right into your faces, and is probably the biggest KZ-drama that most people would recognise.

(Completely overshadowing the ZS5 and DQ6S scandals despite being about the exact same problems, but I digress.)

That was a year and a half ago and I’ve long since moved past it, but I’d be lying if I said that it hadn’t affected my neutrality towards the brand at all. I’ve minimally reviewed any KZ/CCA/Joyodio products since then, and the ranks that I had given to old models also remained unchanged. Whatever new animosity I had towards KZ and their sub-brands was ultimately rendered moot considering that my last ranking list update was in November 2021, and the CRN drama only occurred in March 2022.

This, however, all changes with the upcoming ranking list overhaul, upon working on which I had realised: I’m only human.

I cannot remain neutral towards KZ anymore due to all the scandals they had caused over the years, and their own personal vendettas against me now finally leaking out into public consciousness. And if I cannot trust myself to be fair and unbiased when reviewing their products, it is only ethical that I simply… don’t.

The Collateral

Back to the original DMS-KZ conflict, one would assume it was simply that. DMS called out KZ and so naturally, KZ will hit back at DMS. But many of you have realised something odd in KZ’s first response to DMS:

“Additionally, speaking of payments, it’s widely known within the high-fidelity audio community that certain brands have long been keeping some famous influencers on their payroll. These influencers are simultaneously associated with many different brands or sub-brands, like the mother-child relationship, the brand owner feeds them. When these brands need them, they have these influencers endorse their products, all in the name of “objectivity,” but in the end, it often just turns into a business of “hype.” This incident is no different.

Take the influencer named Crin***, who is well-known in the industry. For their collaborations, a commission of 15% of the product’s retail price is a standard requirement. This 15% commission ultimately gets distributed among consumers, meaning consumers foot the bill. KZ, on the other hand, aims to offer lower prices, bringing more affordable and high-quality products to consumers. We believe in focusing on the essence of the product. That’s why we have consistently refused to engage in such 15% commission-based collaborations or any paid reviews.

These so-called “influencers” simply squander the money you provide, replicating the same model. After their association with our brand, they make slight adjustments, move on to other brands, change the name, and continue the hype. However, no brand has innovated and upgraded internal components as KZ has. We are dedicated to advancing the technology and expertise of the product itself.”

Just completely out of left field, KZ came out swinging at a completely unrelated target: me. To an outsider this seems random and unprovoked, but there is some rather interesting backstory to this. You see…

The (attempts at a) Collab Sequel

I’ll have to tiptoe my way around this very carefully because there had been… implications of legal action that could be taken against me.

After the CRN, I was very much done with KZ in terms of future collaborations. I didn’t hear from them again for months, so I had assumed that they were too. No harm no foul; I was up to my neck with other projects and wasn’t about to open Pandora’s Box again.

That was until March of this year, almost exactly one year after the CRN scandal, when KZ reached out once again. They wanted to collaborate and I was halfway willing to consider under a few very harsh terms that was basically a roundabout way of telling them to pound sand:

  • My branding was not to be on the box.
  • I had zero contractual obligation to promote the collaboration.

Of course, they weren’t happy with that and tried to renege. So naturally, I rejected them. 

And here is where the magic number comes in: KZ offered me a 15% cut, but only without those terms. I didn’t even bother throwing out a number, but they did. Out of their own accord.

And they still kept asking, up till July of this year. That was when I decided to push the limit, to see how far I could go to protect myself if this project were to actually happen. In order for me to even remotely consider an offer like this, I needed to have the following:

  • An additional lump-sum payment on top of a revenue split (because I don’t trust them)
  • My own agent in China to personally verify their sales reports (because I don’t trust them)
  • Still no contractual obligation to actually promote the product (unnegotiable)
  • The ability to pull the product out of the market at any point, for any reason
  • If a promotional video/article is to be done, the rights to say anything I want in the contents, even if (especially when) the content is damaging the KZ brand.

So naturally, they rejected me.

The Grudge

Today, the fact that you haven’t heard any rumours remotely close to a second KZ-Crinacle collab means that every single discussion stalemated around my (justifiably terrible) terms.

However, it’s clearer than ever that these series of events resulted in KZ harbouring a massive grudge against me, as a reviewer, as a collaborator, as a human being. They had recently released the [REDACTED] (not about to give them free publicity) which was… strangely similar to the collaboration project that they wanted to do with me.

The marketing, of course, was nearly entirely focused on the fact that it wasn’t a collaboration (who asked?) and unceremoniously attempting to drag my name through the mud in the process. Which, again, is fair game in the cutthroat industry that we’re in, but oh so hypocritical when you know of all the desperate begging they had done to have another collaboration with me in the first place.

(Side note: the MSRP of this product, in its exact driver configuration, was also coincidentally the same MSRP thrown around during our early discussions of a potential collaboration. Where’s our discount for forgoing “influencer commissions”?)

The Boycott

With all these behind-the-scenes information that I’m now finally sharing with you, I still think KZ is scum. They may have been absolved of the crimes of paying for reviews, but they’ve done so much over the years, done so much to me personally… that I cannot, in good faith, continue to review their products without bias clouding my judgement towards them and all their associated sub-brands.

The KZ boycott still stands.

27 thoughts on “The KZ Boycott Still Stands.”

    1. Whoa, that’s wild. I’m surprised a company with the size of KZ still can act like a spoiled 5 years old — what the hell is their PR even doing lol.

      Oh well, goodbye KZ, i won’t miss you i guess.

      1. Was acc about to pick up a pair of CCA CRA guess m picking up something else cuz this fucker is rude and ruthless and I like ppl like this. Stay toxic kid you’ll be famous one day

        1. Found the KZ fangirl trying to be passive aggressive because he can’t speak his mind freely even behind a screen. Grow a pair.

  1. goddamn.. that’s a lot. Completely agree with you here. Once or twice, okay, but more than that is just bullshit.

  2. KZ is acting like a 5 year old fr. I prefer that you just keep on your road and just tell them to “fuck off” (lmao), at this point they are just a bad joke.

  3. I still had intentions of getting the ZS10 Pro, as I loved the ZS10 back in the day. However, in respect to Crin’s work towards the community, I’ll no longer buy any KZ product.

  4. This really makes me having an issue for any reviewer who recomend kz. Dont get me wrong my first tip to the rabbit hole is kz zs3. Back in the days the more expensive offering from shuer, audio technica, sennheiser, just cant compete with kz. Since they didnt care about their entry lv iem. So the competition was low. But now industry has catched up. And kz still hasnt moved on. I just found it really strange whem some reviewer recomends wan er then at the same time also recomending d fi. And pr2 which has driver n power issue.still in good faith maybe just qc issue. Some times its feels like an echo chamber enjoying this hobby. But when i know kz pays some reviewer it just all make sense.

      1. Yes i have D-Fi too i only payed 6€ for it. You cant find any better that sounds so neutral and nice for this money.

  5. I never buy KZ products. I’ve tried 3 or 4 of KZ iem 4 years ago (forgot the series) all of it hurts my ears! I don’t understand why many people like it beside its cheap. SMH

  6. I know there’s gonna be bias due to everyone here being from your community, but I can’t imagine anybody defending KZ over this without just blindly following a brand because they like their products.

    Even if it weren’t for bias prevention, I can’t imagine any reasonable person blaming you for the boycott. Keep up the good work.

  7. Don’t understand why anyone ever gave KZ the time of day after the early days of driver count with some not even connected etc. Scummy scammy from the very start.

  8. Oh, my ZS10 PRO just broken, which are on the level still on the list so I can choose some slighly better (or much better but slightly more expensive) ones?

  9. Hello,
    I just wanted to thank you for being so ethical and so professionnal with your reviews / work.
    It was an interesting read :p

  10. Just a few days ago i came to know about the grudge and drama KZ caused with both their “propaganda”, lies and disconnected/non working drivers in their IEM’s (at least that’s what is the case in some of their more recent models).

    My journey into IEM’s is quiet long since i started using them in 2006.
    My fist pair was a Creative Labs EP630 with integrated braided necklace, where you could hang a small mp3-Player on. Pretty neat feature since i was riding my bike almost every day.
    Then they stopped producing these and i went on with similar ones (without necklace feature) from AKG and Sennheiser. Problem was they all suffered from cables being desintegrating after like two years of use.

    In february 2019, i finally had enough and wanted to go for IEM’s with replaceable cables. My pricepoint was around 25 to 30 Euros and so i went on researching a little about what is available on the market.
    People on /g/ recommended me the KZ ZS6 but said it is almost mandatory to use foam tips and a better cable since KZ’s cables are obviously shit and boy, they are !!!!

    All i can say is that after years of going with AKG and Sennheisers similar to the Creative Lab ones, it was a huge leap forward in soundstage and resolution and i was simply blown away. The CNC machined aluminium shell looks and fits well also. Ever since i bought them, i am satisfied with these IEM’s.

    Since i didn’t lurk on /g/ for years, i was pretty shocked reading about all the drama KZ caused in the community.

    I am now speculating on the Truthear Hexa since i have lost trust in KZ.

  11. Thanks for this, I guess I’m treating my KZ ZST Pro as my backup of Backups now and Switching to Moondrop for Budget IEMs…

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