Feel and fit
Unless you’re buying a custom IEM, universal IEMs like the Zenith can be hit-or-miss, depending on the shape of your pinnae and ear canal. The Zenith, for me, takes the middle ground in terms of comfort, as in not uncomfortable but not glove-like like either. The tuning filters form the ‘nozzle’ and sit deeper in the ear than I’d like (being fairly wide as well), but not deep enough to really irritate, and any discomfort can be alleviated with the proper tip.
The shape of the housing is small enough to sit comfortably on my ears, although the protruding backplate screw means I can’t lie on my side with them, or wear beanies for that matter. They also look slightly awkward when worn, so expect to get puzzled looks and the occasional chuckle when walking around with Zeniths in your ears.
Since tips – like IEMs – are extremely user-specific, you’ll just have to experiment to find what works best for you. ‘Tip rolling’ with most IEMs is an absolute must, not only to get the best possible fit and seal, but also to change (or preserve) the sound, and the Zenith is no exception. Nothing changes the sound of an IEM more than the tips used, so keep that in mind when you’re reading my sound impressions.
As with most IEMs, I found the Dekoni Bulletz (my own, not included with the Zenith) to be the most comfortable tips with the best seal. My favourite tips, the JVC Spiral Dots, didn’t work as well with the Zenith as they do with other IEMs I’ve owned or tested, either in fit or sound, which is a shame really. The default tips that ship with the Zenith are decent enough, though not the same quality as the two I mentioned above.
Unlike most other IEMs, the R1 Zenith defies a simple description of its sound, but I’ll give it a try: big, bold and brash! Except big, bold and brash only applies to the Zenith with two, maybe three of the tuning filters. The other filters change the tuning completely, and in my opinion, change the very nature of the Zenith (and not always positively).
I don’t normally believe in burn-in for IEMs, but on bob’s recommendation I let the Zeniths warm up on some test tracks for a few days before giving them a serious listen. I tried different filter combinations, eventually choosing the black filter not only because it’s the default (and presumably the one Bob used to tune the Zenith), but because I think it brings out the positives of the Zenith’s sound. As such, all the impressions below are based on the black filter, which is described as having “maximum attack with powerful impactful bass, rich mids and controlled highs”.
The other four are more than mere variations on a theme; some make the Zenith sound like a totally different IEM. For example, the pink filter is supposed to drop the bass a touch without affecting mids or highs (although it does because of the balance shift); the blue filter is said to be “beautifully balanced across the range, natural and airy” (or, in my experience, quite dull and somewhat shrill); the orange filter rolls off the highs, and the less said about the copper filter the better.
As a source I used the 2.5mm balanced cable and a FiiO M11 DAP, which has power to spare to drive the harder-to-drive-than-usual Zenith, and a neutral but musical sound that works well with most IEMs. My songlist included, but wasn’t limited to:
- Crush by Meiko (Playing Favorites)
- Shark Fin Blues by Missy Higgins (Oz)
- Cathedrals by Heidi Talbot (In Love + Light)
- Hello Again by Neil Diamond (The Jazz Singer)
- The Waking Edge by Jethro Tull (Crest of a Knave)
- Viices by Made in Heights (Made in Heights)
- The Saltwater Room by Owl City (Ocean Eyes)
- Doin’ It right by Daft Punk (Random Access Memories)
- Winter 1 by Max Richter (Recomposed by Max Richter)
- Four Minutes by Roger Waters (Radio K.A.O.S)
- Bijou by Queen (Innuendo)
- The Story by Brandi Carlile (The Story)
- Love Bites by Def Leppard (Hysteria)
- Hey You by Pink Floyd (The Wall)