TFZ King Review – Articulate, Tactile, Agile

Introduction –

TFZ have built up quite a reputation with their affordable yet capable earphones, the 5S being a notable model that was instantly met with wide acclaim. Their new King seeks to compound on the successes of TFZ’s previous models, occupying the very popular $100 price tier. And when compared to competitors, the King brings one of the most innovative driver and housing designs augmented by terrific tuning that capitalises on the earphone’s technical abilities. Keep reading to see how the King stacks up to the competition and whether its aggressive, hyper-clear tones will suit your preferences.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Chi Kong Hui from Penonaudio very much for getting in contact and providing me with the King for the purpose of an honest review. All words are my own and despite receiving the earphone free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

About Me, Background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases – 

I generally prefer a u-shaped sound that is close to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound. I’m not particularly treble sensitive so I may be more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I will note if I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review and describe the sound changes.

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Accessories –

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I’m quite a fan of the King’s lighter coloured unboxing which is both refreshing and distinctive. Within the embossed metallic box lies the earphones and soft pouch within a plastic inlet.

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Underneath are the instruction and warranty papers along with the various ear tips and a shirt clip. The TFZ King comes pre-equipped with Dual flange tips though I found a better fit with the regular silicone tips. Unfortunately, no foam tips are included though the earphones are fully-sealed, providing great isolation regardless.

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The soft pouch is nice and supple with a slight amount of padding that will suffice for daily storage and protection. It isn’t as nice as a hard case or the pelican style cases that are becoming increasingly common though it does the job and is ever more pocketable. The King’s are also pretty hardy on their own so I never felt that the earphones were at risk of damage.

 

Design –

The King’s have an unorthodox negative profile fit that reminds me of universal adapted custom earphones. They well earn their asking price with an incredible density and solidity in the hand and a striking metallic blue colour scheme that is catching without being gaudy.

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The housings are primarily plastic though the outer faceplates are metal. They actually feel like stainless steel rather than aluminium and the earphones incredible weight contribute to that impression. The plastic portions are thick and feel denser than most acrylic earphones including much more expensive models from Westone and Shure. The plastic and metal components are both perfectly finished and are mated very well, creating a sleek design. The outer faces possess an almost pearlescent quality, changing colour as they reflect light from different angles. All of these little features contribute to an earphone that is both tactile and visually captivating.

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During wear, the earphones continue to impress with superb isolation, seal and comfort. Though they have very large housings, as large as the EN700 Bass but considerably wider, they achieve comfort through their very ergonomic forming. Those with smaller ears may experience comfort issues though I found the King’s to conform almost perfectly into the grooves of my ears, achieving faultless long-term comfort. That being said, I didn’t forget I was wearing them due to the weight of the housings and they do protrude quite a bit from the ear; you can’t sleep wearing them though wind noise when out and about is reasonable due to their smoother styling. The smaller Oriveti Basics do provide similar comfort and their vastly lighter, smaller housings make them the better choice for runners or those who like to sleep wearing earphones.

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The Kings have reasonably short nozzles though when equipped with the Dual flange ear tips, achieve a depth of fit similar to the longer nozzled Shure SE215’s. Of the Simgot EN700 Bass, Oriveti Basic and Magaosi K3 Pro, the King easily isolates and seals the best, they are almost at the level of the Shures, just with a shallower fit. Their fully-sealed housings produce vacuum like isolation when combined with foam ear tips, perfect for any kind of travel, though they do produce notable driver flex upon insertion. I did experience some stability issues due to those metal faceplates which place the earphone’s weight very laterally and, when combined with their shallower fit (with single flange tips) and lack of ear guides, the earphones to have a tendency to wiggle themselves loose with activity. That being said, I would consider the earphones to have a really solid fit overall and they were rock solid in general commute.

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Like the EN700 Bass, the King’s also lack a removable cable though TFZ has since released a variant with a removable cable (and at the same price!). The 4-core unit on the King also isn’t as nice as the 8-core unit on the Simgot earphones though both are far more manageable than the tacky unit equipped on the K3 Pro. The King’s cable is smooth and doesn’t catch on clothes, it also doesn’t pick up too much microphonic noise when walking. Unfortunately, the cable has quite a lot of memory though they are compliant enough to coil and store.

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The cable also terminates in a 45-degreeplug which works well from both an amp and from a portable source within the pocket. Of note, there is no offset on the plug so if you have a particularly tight phone case, the plug may not fit. The cable routes over the ear though they have no ear-guides at all. This wasn’t too much of an issue in my testing, I actually prefer this type of fit in many circumstances, though the springy nature of the cable did make it prone to flicking over the tops of my ears. The angled connectors do somewhat help to route the cable comfortably over the ear despite the absence of guides and twisting the cable helps to keep them in line.

 

Sound –

The Kings utilise a very unique driver setup that, dare I say, might be unprecedented at this price. They are technically a single dynamic driver earphone though they employ a technology similar to RHA’s high-end earphones with dual magnets and voice coils acting like two drivers in the space of one, quite innovative indeed. And in listening, the TFZ King’s proved to be the most technically impressive earphone I’ve heard around this price point; take note that a more revealing earphone may and probably does exist out there, I just haven’t heard it. In terms of resolution, end to end extension and outright detail retrieval, the King handily bests the Oriveti Basic, Simgot EN700 and Magaosi K3 Pro. And this technical ability really enhances every aspect of the earphones sound; whereas clarity is a tuning choice, resolution can only be achieved through meticulous housing design and driver choice. The K3 Pro best illustrates this concept, it is a clearer sounding earphone than the King though TFZ’s earphone is continually more detailed and nuanced. Of course, the King is not faultless and despite being objectively superior to a lot of earphones out there, their tuning will be polarising to some listeners. Read the breakdown to see whether the King will suit your personal tastes.

 

Burn-in –

The Kings achieved considerable change with the usual 150 hours of burn-in that I put most earphones through before review. Out of the box, I questioned a few of the reviews I had read online, I felt that the King’s were quite bass heavy rather than balanced. But post burn-in, the King’s sound more balanced and transparent, bass is more controlled and quantity is more in line with the midrange. Again, I can only subjectively comment on these changes but I have found the King to become the balanced earphone that others have described and I am pleased with the ultimate tonality these earphones produce.

 

Tonality –

The King is quite a balanced earphone, more so than the more V-shaped K3 Pro and L-shaped Basic though slightly less so than the Simgot EN700 Bass. It is nowhere near neutral, I don’t believe any of these models are really comparable to earphones like the Hifiman RE-400 as they inherently pursue different kinds of sounds. The King has a brighter tonal balance with treble having the most prominence by a slight margin. Mids and bass are in good balance though the upper midrange and treble can rarely overshadow the lower frequencies. They have a very forward sound that capitalizes on their resolving nature.

 

Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –

The King’s excel with soundstage similar to the EN700 Bass and K3 Pro. And amongst $100 earphones, the King holds a notable advantage in soundstage depth which is considerably better than that offered by the K3 Pro, EN700 Bass and Basic though width isn’t as obviously out of the head as these models. The King’s are quite well-rounded as a result though I would still call them slightly width biased. When listening to Eric Clapton’s “Old Love”, the King’s presented a delightful sense of forward projection that added an extra dimension of realism to the live recording that the other earphones were unable to achieve. Their advantage with resolution also aids layering and background effects are brought to the fore; they are definitely tuned for engagement and clarity over outright realism. The King’s have no issue with separation, they don’t have the bass bloat of the Simgot’s nor the busy treble of the K3 Pro’s though the super smooth Oriveti Basics still sound cleaner in their presentation. Imaging is also great due to their rounded soundstage and resolving nature though I would give a slight advantage to the Simgot EN700 Bass in overall accuracy. Ultimately, the King’s technical ability really enhances their sound throughout and their mostly tasteful tuning takes maximum advantage of that unique driver design.

 

Drivability –

The King’s have incredibly sensitive at 110dB combined with a low-impedance at 12ohms. As such, the earphones are exceptionally easy to drive in terms of volume, even my iPod Nano drives them to deafening volumes. Though despite being a dynamic driver, the King’s are actually very source sensitive, I especially noticed the biggest difference with their bass performance which varied quite noticeably between my devices. Switching from my HTC 10 to Oppo HA-2 yielded more sub-bass extension and impact in addition to an expanded soundstage. The King’s also pick up a huge amount of hiss from almost every source. This ruled out the Hidizs AP60 and even my Fiio X5 III and Oppo HA-2 produced an ever-present hiss audible even when music was playing; though my HTC 10, iPods and Fiio X7 all served the King’s perfectly. While they sound perfectly fine from an iPhone or high-end Android phone, the King’s benefit from a clean low-impedance source with a warmer tone like the Chord Mojo or Fiio X7 with AM2 module. All comments below will be with the X7 w/AM2.

 

Bass –

The King’s have a nice bass response that has great transparency, agility and articulation. Sub-bass extension is very good, they are just bested by the Oriveti Basics but hold a noticeable advantage over the K3 Pro’s and EN700 Bass. Deep and sub-bass hold the most focus with a slight emphasis while mid and upper bass are closer to neutral in quantity. Bass has great linearity with a very consistent tone to notes of various frequencies. Sub-bass is nice and tight and mid-bass is devoid of any bloat. And despite having similar tuning, the King’s more linear emphasis and neutral quantity gives it an advantage in texture over the Oriveti Basic, they are notably less muddy. That being said, I suspect a lot of listeners will prefer the more mid-bass focused responses offered by these other earphones and the added sub-bass slam of the Basic’s is often more engaging despite being less technically impressive. The bass performance of the King’s most impressed me when listening to Simply Red’s “Stars”, quite a fast track that easily overwhelms earphones costing many times more. The King’s handled this song with aplomb, their agility allowed them to keep pace with the song’s rapid bass lines while their resolution perceived minute details within the low-end that the K3 Pro’s and EN700 Bass both skipped over entirely.

 

Mids –

The King’s have a delightful midrange that combines traits of the clarity driven K3 Pro and the very natural EN700 Bass. The King is a brighter earphone though its transparency and resolution mean they don’t have to rely on clarity to bring details to the fore. As such, they are a noticeably more natural sounding earphone than the K3 Pro though they still don’t sound quite as organic as the EN700 Bass which benefits from increased body and smoothness throughout. The King’s have a slightly thinner midrange with well-judged clarity and excellent layering. Midrange presence is great, sitting ever so slightly in front of the bass and mostly in line with treble though some areas of treble hold greater emphasis. As such, vocals are rendered wonderfully and instruments such as piano and acoustic are reproduced with exceptional detail. They can sound a little over-forward on certain tracks, for instance, the very intimate mastering of modern K-pop can become a little intense. On the contrary, when listening to older western music and some Jazz where vocals tend to be more recessed, the King’s sound considerably more balanced. This was most notably highlighted when listening to Steve Conti’s “Call Me Call Me” where the King brought the slightly recessed vocals forward while retaining pleasing balance in the lows and highs. The King also avoided bringing instruments such as strings overly forward despite enhancing vocal presence and the orchestral backdrop sounded smooth and appropriately restrained. In addition, the King’s well-rounded stage and imaging provide nice directional cues and an atmospheric effect to classical and instrumental tracks without making vocals sound distant when listening to other genres. The King’s tread a delicate line of equilibrium though TFZ have very carefully considered their tuning to make sure things remain in balance.

 

Treble –

High notes are sparkly and crisp with great detailing and a nice sense of air that contributes to that expansive soundstage presentation. Extension is good though I feel like the Simgot EN700 Bass and K3 Pro do resolve the very highest details just slightly better, especially the Simgot. That being said, the King renders other treble notes with slightly more detail and micro-detail retrieval is especially impressive at this price point. Int terms of tuning, the King’s treble is slightly uneven with a typical middle treble boost. This grants the earphones with a sense of vividness and clarity that generally extracts details from tracks, making them quite an aggressive earphone. The Simgot’s, by contrast, aren’t as immediately engaging and detailed as the King but possess a more natural and realistic response with more accurate texturing to cymbals and strings. The King generally has more definition than both of these earphones though its more sculpted nature does give cymbals a bit more crunch. I still prefer the King to the peakier K3 Pro and would consider the King to be closer to the more natural EN700 Bass in terms of treble tone and character than the Magaosi. Listening to Steely Dan’s “Peg” and “Deacon Blues” and the King provided hyper clear cymbals with nice texturing and adequate body. But while cymbals never sounded thin or splashy, high-hats were somewhat tizzy compared to the EN700 Bass. That being said, each guitar strum was crisp and airy and the King’s instrument separation provided delineation of instruments that the K3 Pro and EN700 Bass both tended to mush together. While some have labelled the King as a fatiguing earphone, I personally didn’t find the high-frequencies to be overly forward. Rather, I would surmise that their very forward, aggressive nature could turn off some listeners and despite the King’s ergonomic comfort, their sound is geared more towards short-term excitement over long-term listenability.

 

Verdict –

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When reviewing a piece of audio equipment, I often like to consider the price I would pay for the sound quality and features on offer and whether it is higher, lower or the same as that recommended by the manufacturer. The K3 Pro, EN700 Bass and Basic are all fabulous earphones that pursue different sounds; they have no shortage of features nor do they lack technical ability. That being said, the King is the only earphone among those that I’ve heard that I would pay considerably more for; their resolution, detail retrieval and tuning all over-perform for TFZ’s very accessible asking price; in fact, they are a little cheaper than the aforementioned models. Combined with their solid housings, ergonomic fit and exceptional noise isolation, and the King’s make for an incredibly versatile earphone that is just as suitable for travel as home use. That’s not to say that the King is THE earphone to buy around $100 USD; while their sound quality is spectacular, I’m sure many will prefer the smaller housings and bassier tones of the Oriveti Basic or perhaps the more natural and organic Simgot EN700 Bass. Ultimately, audio is subjective and is heavily a matter of personal taste but I doubt many would be disappointed by the King.

Overall – 10/10, Smaller eared folk may struggle with their large housings though those who find a good fit will be rewarded with comfort and superb isolation. Sonically, their technical advantages over other similarly priced earphones are a double edged sword because the King’s aggressive, brighter nature is also its most polarising aspect. But if it’s clarity and detail you want, the King is a delightfully revealing and engaging earphone that thoroughly outperforms its asking price.

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