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Headphones

Parrot Zik 2.0: Top Bluetooth headphone slims down, adds features, better noise-cancelling (hands-on)

Parrot's second-generation Zik weighs significantly less, offers better sound quality and noise-cancelling, and is loaded with features that are customizable via new apps for Android and iOS devices (and Windows devices in the future).

Parrot released its original Zik wireless active noise-cancelling headphone two years ago, and the moment it did its engineers began working on the next version of it, Parrot reps told us.

Say hello to Zik 2.0, which will come in six different colors when it hits stores in November for $399 (no word yet on UK and Australian pricing, but we should be getting it soon). Again, Parrot worked with French designer Philippe Starck on the new model, and from the early look we got, it's seems to be a nice upgrade.

Parrot said the headphone has been redesigned from the ground up to address users' feedback, and the most immediate difference you'll notice is a weight loss. Thanks to a move from iron to aluminum and some other design alterations, the headphone is now about 17 percent lighter, going from 325 grams to 270 grams (including the battery).

That's a big deal, because the original model, despite offering excellent sound and good comfort, was a little too heavy. It now feels significantly lighter, and I also thought the headphone itself felt a little more comfortable (Parrot says the earcup is more spacious on the inside).

The finish on the headphone has also been changed from a soft-to-the touch plastic to a swanky, faux-leather finish. In all, the headphone looks sleeker and makes more of a fashion statement, particularly if you go with one of the brighter color options. That said, its design won't appeal to everyone.

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The new Parrot Zik 2 is about 20 percent lighter than the original..

Sarah Tew/CNET

High-tech headphone gets more high-tech

When it was released, Zik was one of the most high-tech headphones on the market and remains so. It has touch controls on the right earpiece and a companion app.

With Zik 2.0, Parrot has leveled up the internal tech with a higher-grade DAC (digital-to-analog converter), which it says creates cleaner sound, as well as better noise cancelling and a new app that allows you to customize the way you want your music to sound with advanced EQ settings, in addition to adjusting how much noise-cancelling you want. You'll also be able to download custom EQs from various artists so you can hear their music "the way they intended you to hear it." (Parrot started offering this feature with the original Zik this year.)

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You can completely customize the sound profile (EQ) of the headphone using the touchscreen on your smartphone or tablet.

David Carnoy/CNET

I played around with the noise-cancelling setting in the app. By simply sliding your finger up and down on your smartphone's screen (iOS and Android apps will be available at launch with a Windows app on the way), you can choose between several NC settings, including one that actually lets ambient noise into the headphone and one that's designed for airplane travel.

The headphone is equipped with eight microphones. There's a bone-conduction sensor in the right earpiece that's suppose to help pick up low frequencies of your voice better for phone calls, NFC tap-to-pair technology, and a sensor in the right earpiece that detects when the headphones aren't on your head and automatically pauses the music when you rest them on your neck.

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The level of noise-cancelling can also be adjusted from within the app.

David Carnoy/CNET

One of the things that hasn't improved is the battery life. It's still around 6 hours with both Bluetooth and noise-cancelling activated (it's Bluetooth 3.0, by the way). But on longer flights, you can listen to the headphone in wired mode (a cable is included) with the noise-cancelling activated and get up to 18 hours of battery life. If the battery dies, you can also continue using the headphone as a wired headphone, though it will sound a little stunted.

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Editor Josh Goldman happily modeling the heapdhones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some competition for the Beats Studio Wireless

The Beats Studio Wireless is probably the most popular premium Bluetooth headphone right now. It, too, has noise-cancelling, but it's fairly light. That headphone retails for $379 while this model costs $399.

I listened to the Zik 2.0 a little bit, but didn't get a chance to put it through any sort of serious testing. From the little I was able to test it, it sounded pretty natural for a Bluetooth headphone, which is one of the most important things we listen for.

We look forward to comparing it to the Beats Studio Wireless, which also sounds very good for a Bluetooth headphone. With the Zik 2.0 hitting Apple and Brookstone stores in November, we expect to get a review sample in late October and will post our full review after using it for a couple of weeks.

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