Final Audio has long been recognized as a major innovator in the headphone industry, and they’ve recently taken that innovation into the highly popular wireless headphone market. The release of the ZE3000 and the UX3000 – which remains perhaps the best tuned wireless over-ear under $300 – demonstrated that they could create solid products which met both mainstream and audiophile standards. With ZE8000, it seems that Final is aiming to not just provide great value or bridge the gap between various corners of the market, but to deliver the best TWS IEMs on the market.
Build and Design
In a world of AirPods Pro and sleek TWS options that look just like IEMs without the wires, ZE8000 certainly stands out. Its design makes you ask, “how much of that am I supposed to fit into my ear?” While they’ll require a little bit to get comfortable the first time, most people will figure out the optimal angle quickly, and they do disappear pretty deeply into the ear, leaving them looking surprisingly sleek in the end.
The package includes the basics: charge case, cable, eartips, and manual. It’s important to note that only the included eartips are compatible with ZE8000. If you need replacements, you’ll need to get those from Final, as most IEM tips won’t be compatible. The quality of materials is probably about average for consumer products in this price range, but the feel and perception of quality is enhanced by the “Shibo” finish. Having originated in the D8000 series and later showing up on much of Final Audio’s wireless lineup, the Shibo look offers a definite upgrade over plain molded plastic and helps add a distinct character to the IEMs.
ZE8000 launched with an app, but Final has delisted the English version (Note: after this review was posted, the app seems to be available again). There were a handful of bugs in the original product, but it provided generally solid functionality. Without the app, you’ll need to manage ANC and Transparency through the touch controls on the IEMs. You can’t fully deactivate ANC, so your options are either regular ANC, or Transparency Mode. The Transparency works quite well, but I preferred ANC for getting the cleanest, clearest delivery of the music.
While we can leave the question of whether or not it’s the best TWS out there right now for later, I can honestly say that ZE8000 is the most balanced sounding TWS IEM I’ve ever heard. The bass, mids, and treble all exist in near perfect harmony, and the accompanying stereo image is brilliantly presented.
There’s a slight euphonic lift in the bass that provides depth and fullness to the sound, along with good impact and punch. The bass might be a bit controversial, as it is very fit dependent, and getting a perfect fit dialed in can be a challenge. If you’re 90% of the way there with the fit, the bass is nice, but just a little bit lean. With the correct eartip size, and the right orientation in your ear (it seems that there’s a range between straight up-and-down and pointing straight forward), the bass is absolutely incredible: deep, dynamic, powerful, and textured.
The mids aren’t just great for a TWS, they’re excellent for any IEM in this price range. There’s a fullness that’s typically left out of the equation in V and U-shaped tunings that are common in TWS sets, and it results in a highly natural, rich feeling, both in instruments and vocals. The midrange execution is possibly the biggest piece of ZE8000’s standout sound.
Treble is also excellent with the ZE8000 with strong upper range extension and air. Again, with an incomplete seal the treble can seem slightly bright, but it’s brought back into balance with a better fit. While there’s some difference between AAC and aptX (with aptX being preferred) ZE8000 is also surprisingly resolving for a TWS IEM.
If the midrange is ZE8000’s biggest standout characteristic, then the imaging is #2. ZE8000 provides a brilliant presentation of the stereo image, giving the listener clear positioning, and the sense of a large three-dimensional space. This is another point where the performance isn’t just strong “for a TWS” it’s strong compared to any $350 IEM.
Pineapple Thief’s “Give it Back - Rewired” starts soft, and quickly hits hard with a guitar and drum attack. ZE8000 delivers an exceptional feeling of resonance from the toms and the drum kit as a whole, and excellent separation between each instrument. The bass guitar is well-textured, while the vocals stand out ahead of the aggressive off-kilter beat. The decay on the cymbals feels natural – hanging in the air just long enough. ZE8000 delivers loads of detail in the guitars presenting them with a sort of restrained anger that occasionally bursts into a fuzzed-out rage.
Where “Give it Back” represents top-notch recording and production that gives ZE8000 the opportunity to retrieve loads of detail and imaging information from the recording, “The Force” by Lettuce, is a bit more laid back, offering a solid, but less meticulous sound. The big focus here is the balance between the grooves at the root and various solos from horns and synth. In the rhythm, ZE8000 gives you lively drums, deep bass, and just a little extra sizzle up top to punctuate it all. In the middle, the solo sections stand out, but remain cohesive and well-blended: the imaging delivers the sense of a solo cutting through from within the band rather than standing out from the band.
On Lizzo’s “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” ZE8000 gives a lively, playful sound to the organ at the start, but the vocals quickly take center stage. While the deep impact and groove from the bass sounds great, the presentation of the vocals is the real highlight. Lizzo’s main vocal is up front and personal, with a good three-dimensional sense of being spaced out from the band, while the backing vocals hit from all sides, giving the impression of singers spread out across the stage in front of a more tightly packed backing band.
Comparison: Noble FoKus Mystique
Noble FoKus Mystique has been one of the most popular audiophile IEMs, and we’ve gone so far as to say it’s “the best sounding TWS IEM we’ve heard.” Does this still hold true, or has ZE8000 taken the throne as the new TWS king?
In terms of the general tonality, Mystique has a tuning that strikes closer to a traditional Harman sound, with the bass and treble slightly more emphasized over the mids, while ZE8000 has a stronger midrange in general. ZE8000 also has a little more upper treble and extension. The sense of detail retrieval, texture, and resolution is similar, though I’d give ZE8000 a small edge here as it seems just a little bit more crisp and transparent.
While I’d give ZE8000 the edge in overall sound quality, some aspects of the tuning and performance come down to preference, and others are impacted by fit. Among those in the office who tried the ZE8000, we were split between it feeling like a perfect fit, and being able to get a good fit but with some effort. Mystique has an easier fit overall, and most find it more comfortable. In addition, ZE8000’s app is currently not officially supported in the US or available for download on the major app stores, so you’re unable to take advantage of features like EQ or select the specific mode you want to use with the transparency feature, while Noble Audio’s FoKus app provides some great features, and has seen great improvement from the most recent updates
Fit can be a really big deal, especially if you use them for exercise or outside of the home in general – as can the app features – and that small but important practicality factor gives FokuS Mystique the edge for many people. However, if your goal is simply near-perfect sound in an wireless earphone, then I think ZE8000 is the winner.
The Bottom Line
I had heard some concerns that Final Audio was losing some of their innovative edge as they moved more into the wireless headphone space, but ZE8000’s incredible performance demonstrates that they’ve taken that same innovative spirit from their over-ear headphones and applied it here. ZE8000 is a combination of tech and design that elevates TWS performance to the next level.