Parrot is one of those companies at the forefront of wireless technology, and in recent years we’ve seen some of their wireless products not only representing how easy such technology is to use, but also how stylish they look and well they perform. The recently released Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 is a great example of wireless connectivity with some high-end features (streaming and recording in 720p).
Today I’ll be looking at Parrot’s first foray into headphones, the Parrot Zik, designed by Starck. Of course, this is not their first step in the world of audio, as Parrot also released the famous Zikmu wireless speakers a few years back which were some of the best wireless (Bluetooth) speakers I’ve heard.
With such high pedigree, the Parrot Zik have a lot to live up to, so let’s take it from the start.
The Parrot Zik were designed by the world renowned Philippe Starck, who also happened to design the Zikmu speakers as well. I must say that at first glance the Parrot Zik looked a bit chunky simply because of how wide the earcups looked. However, on closer inspection they hardly extend out, and in fact, the over-the-ear design gave the cans a more “filling” look.
The headband itself is stitched leatherette with the Parrot logo embossed on top. The adjustable connectors extending out from the headband are a sterling silver metal alloy. The earcups themselves have a soft matt surface with multiple mic openings and cable connectors at the bottom, unseen by the eye, ending with the cushions.
Overall the Parrot Zik is a tastefully designed pair of headphones with some seriously high-end tech inside, so let’s have a look at that.
The Parrot Zik are not only noise cancelling headphones, but paired with your smartphone via Bluetooth, can also be used as wireless headset. Furthermore you can control music playback and telephone calls via touch controls built into the right earcup.
Now the Active Noise Cancelling within the Zik is achieved by a total of 4 microphones, one internal and another at the base of each earcup and that hunts for ambient sound and cancels out the surrounding noise.
When making or receiving phone calls, the Parrot Zik activates two directional mics to hear what you’re saying, further clarifying your voice for the listener thanks to the Jawbone sensor built into the cushion of the right earcup’s cushion.
As mentioned before, Parrot Zik aim to deliver a completely wireless experience, and as such the surface of the right earcup is touch sensitive. Simply swipe forward for the next track and backwards for the previous track. Swipe up for volume increase and down to decrease it. Tap once to pause a track, or to accept a phone call. Hold for just 2 seconds to reject a call. This is the kind of intuitive controls I’ve come to associate with Apple, and it’s nice to see that this level of simplicity is implemented in Parrot’s wireless headphones.
One last thing I’d like to touch upon is that by default, the Parrot Zik has noise cancelling activated, as well as implements the ‘Concert Hall Effect’ which uses proprietary Digital Sound Processing algorithms to simulate the effect, and to very good effect I might add. However, if you want more control over the audio settings, then simply download the Parrot Audio Suite app. Here you can control to turn on & off the Active Noise Cancellation, Concert Hall Effect and Equalizer. The latter two you can customize to perfect the auditory experience to your liking, where effects take effect in real-time.
Putting the Parrot Zik on the first thing I noticed were how incredibly comfortable they were. I’m not normally a fan of circumaural headphones because the area around my ears start aching after 10 to 15 minutes of use, but I only started feeling discomfort after 30 to 40 minutes of continuous use with the Parrot Zik.
Thanks to the chunky earcups outside noise is greatly reduced, but once I hooked up the Bluetooth connection to my iPhone 4, the Active Noise Cancellation immediately kicked in and I was drowned in pin drop silence, as if there was actual vacuum around me. This sensation was, of course, in my rather silent apartment.
When using it in a mall I could still hear outside noise, but the ACN system was so effective that ambient noise was greatly drowned out, and my music was all I paid attention to. My experience on the metro was similar, where people talking were barely more than a distant whisper, and the sound of the metro going on the rails was completely eliminated. The announcer’s soul piercing voice, however, was barely muffled and I could still hear him loudly. Admittedly I hadn’t pushed the volume all the way up so I had a very comfortable experience.
While the ‘Concert Hall’ effect is pretty impressive, I only seemed to enjoy it when I was away from noise, because in crowded places I wasn’t able to enjoy some of the subtle tone shifts in whichever track I was listening to. I preferred the ‘Silent Room’ effect for the most part as the experience felt much more personal and precise.
While making phone calls I could hear the other party very clearly, and they could hear me just as well. What I didn’t like, however, was that when the headphones were resting around my neck and I get a phone call, it takes a good 4 rings before the Parrot Zik came out of standby and a Bluetooth connection was remade with my iPhone 4. It gets very irritating after a while.
One last thing I’d like to mention is the battery life, which would last roughly a full day. This includes a 1 hour journey on the metro, the headphones being constantly in standby mode when I’m at work at occasionally listening to a couple of minutes of YouTube videos (on my PC connected via the supplied 3.5mm cable) as well as making & receiving calls for work. Before going to bed I’d have to charge the Parrot Zik or the next day I’d barely get 1 hour of battery life out of it. So the battery is decent at 800mAh, but it can be better.
The Parrot Zik is indeed one of the most impressive headphones I’ve used in a long while. Just the sound reproduction is very good, thanks to clear highs and mid, and deep bass reproduction as well. The Active Noise Cancelling system works wonders, and using it as a headset for making calls is very efficient and feels confident as well.
The available Parrot Audio Suite app is also very helpful, with a clean interface and simple controls. The touch panel on the headphones is also very effective and works flawlessly. My only complaint is that the iPhone app always shows the battery at 50% (regardless of charge level) and the only time you’ll get any indication the battery is low is when the power light goes from white to red and the battery dies out soon after that; nothing, that a firmware upgrade cannot fix in the future.
Ultimately the Parrot Zik is an elegant set of headphones which provides you with excellent audio, completely wireless operations and very simple controls. A few small niggles aside, the Parrot Zik is undoubtedly one of the best wireless headphones on the market.