The year is 1930 and a violinist by the name of Pritam had an epiphany. No, he did not just listen to a South Korean song and thought of copying it. Instead, he wanted to create a radio that would be able to reproduce the exact sound.
Creating a feel of an orchestra down to the last tee such that the radio produces a high fidelity output as compared to the original recording. Also, to listen to some South Korean music that he can plagiarise later.
In order to reproduce this high fidelity or Hi-Fi sound, he thought about experimenting with the casing of the speakers. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite able to achieve what he wanted to. Also, he was burned alive at a stake for plagiarising.
But with time, technology started advancing and with the advent of vinyl, cassette tapes and FM radio, the journey for people towards Hi-Fi audio started taking shape. Sennheiser, being Sennheiser, released the Orpheus HE90 in 1991 that was the world’s first Hi-Fi headphone system that even came with a dedicated tube-amplifier (more on that later).
But like all things that come out as good intent, people forgot the real reason for the pursuit of Hi-Fi and instead started focusing their undivided attention towards audio products that delivered huge amounts of mind-numbing bass. This was never the intent behind Hi-Fi. Hi-Fi audio products, be it headphones or speakers serve a single purpose – the reproduction should feel as close to the original recording as possible. Nothing more, nothing less. So, if the audio recording inside the studio is shitty, a Hi-Fi speaker shall reproduce that shit with pristine quality.
Quality comes at a price. The original Orpheus HE90 costs today (resale) for around 30,000 USD, that is, around 20 lakh rupees. Yes, that much for a freaking headphone. But today, Hi-Fi audio products come in a wide range of budget wherein you can buy a Hi-Fi headphone from 9000 INR to around 30 lakh INR.
But what if you really want to experience Hi-Fi audio but you don’t want to shell out that much cash (cause if you do, your parents are going to kick you out of the house), then we have you covered. After all, which man has ever died due to the shortage of one kidney?
Jokes apart, China has the answer to the costly Hi-Fi audio problem. Hence, the name – Chi-Fi.
From iPhones to plans for annexing Doklam, everything is made in China today. Lucky for us, two Chinese individuals who go by the name – Keith Yue (a former Audio Technica engineer) and Zen Li formed a company (using the initials of their names) called KZ or Knowledge Zenith.
The company specialises in making a host of low-cost Hi-Fi products that can go toe to toe with products from big brands. Basically, what Keith did was that he took all the knowledge and experience from his time at Audio Technica and used it to make equally or even better products in China at one-tenth of the price. How is that for an idea?
KZ headphones (having used them myself) are instantly distinguishable from other runs of the mill headphones. Although the make of the headphones and packaging seems a bit weird (cause the instruction in English are most probably written by a Chinese guy who has no idea about the language), KZ has got a reputation for making high-quality headphones that are built like a tank.
Here are the top five KZ headphones (in no particular order) that you can buy in order to experience Hi-Fi sound on a budget. Keep in mind, that each of these headphones are copies of some high-end headphone. Therefore, the model number is more like a placeholder than signifying an updated version of the headphones
1. KZ ATE
The most affordable of the lot, these headphones are not detachable but they are one of the best KZ headphones out there. Also, these are the copy of Audio-Technica ATH-IM50 IEM, so there is that.
2. KZ ZSR
These are a bit on the higher side but have a brilliant built quality and a good soundstage.
3. KZ ZS5
These are the most famous of the lot and you can just buy them without thinking twice.
4. KZ ZST
These might come off as a bit of bland headphone but the soundstage is clear and after proper burn-in, they do tend to mellow down.
5. KZ ZS6
These headphones are the costliest of the lot but offer brilliant sound reproduction. It can also be used as wireless-Bluetooth headphones.
The best way to buy these headphones is to buy them via gearbest.com. It might take around 4 weeks for them to ship but it is going to be worth the wait.
One thing to note is that Hi-Fi sound depends not just on a single product but the entire ecosystem of products that are interacting with it. Say you buy a Hi-Fi headphone but you use it on a cheap feature phone that has no sound card or amplifier; the sound then is not going to be Hi-Fi no matter what.
Something equally important is the digital copy of the song that you are playing. Sure, there might not be a noticeable difference between a super high bitrate MP3 file or a low bit rate lossless FLAC file, but it is still important that you only use such files for the possibility of Hi-Fi audio.