Parrot's Zik 3 Bluetooth headphone looks a lot like the Zik 2 but has been improved in some significant ways. This new model, which also features active noise cancellation and is probably the most high-tech, feature-packed headphone you can get, costs $400 (£300, AU$599).
The biggest changes on the outside are the new colors and textures, including "croco" and "overstitched" effects. Also, for those of you with big heads, the headband has been enlarged in an effort to improve comfort. And while this headphone isn't quite as comfortable as Bose's SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphone II, it's still a comfortable headphone, and at 9.5 ounces or 270g, it's lighter than the original Zik.
On the feature front, the touch-sensitive controls in the right earcup remain -- I like them, but some people don't -- as does the removable and replaceable battery that provides about 7 hours of battery life with both noise canceling and wireless turned on. While that's a small improvement on the Zik 2's battery life, it's still not great, but it does improve if you listen at more moderate volume levels or turn off noise canceling. It's also worth noting that you can buy a second battery as a backup.
The headphone now has a wireless charging option (it works), though you do have to buy a compatible Qi charging accessory to use it (Samsung's Galaxy and other Android smartphones phones charge wirelessly using the Qi standard so there are plenty of Qi charging pads out there).
Additional features include noise canceling that smartly adapts to your environment, and there's a new "hi-fi quality" wired USB listening mode for those who just don't think Bluetooth audio streaming cuts it.
That's not all. As with earlier Ziks, there's a bone-conduction sensor in the right earpiece that's supposed 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 (you can turn this feature off from within the app).
The headphone pairs with a companion app that allows you to tweak both the sound and the amount of noise cancellation and also check how much battery left you have left. The app is available for iOS and Android and carries over to certain smart watches (it's actually one of the more useful apps I've used on the Apple Watch). You can also download preset equalizer settings from a variety of artists.
I personally don't like playing around with all the digital processing modes, some of which can make things sound a little weird (you can toggle between "silent room," "living room" and "concert hall" effects). But thankfully you can turn everything off and just use the default EQ setting, which is fairly well balanced.
I had a few initial hiccups when updating to the latest firmware via the app and pairing and repairing the headphone. Occasionally, I encountered another small issue: the headphone would be paired over Bluetooth but it didn't show up in the app until I closed the app out and restarted it. In other words, it's not always smooth sailing with the Zik, but I felt the app has improved and become less buggy since the release of the Zik 2.
Once I got everything working properly I was impressed with the Zik 3's performance. It's one of the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones, with good detail and strong bass, and the noise canceling is effective. It also works very well as a headset for making calls, and what's nice is that you can adjust the noise-canceling setting for incoming calls to strike a balance between canceling out external noise and hearing your voice inside the headphones (the setting is called "street mode").
I compared the Zik 3 to a few competing models: The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless, B&O Play BeoPlay H8 and the Beats Studio Wireless, all of which feature wireless Bluetooth and active noise-canceling.
I played the same handful of tracks over each of the headphones using both a iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S6. The Sennheiser, which costs $500, has the best sound of the bunch. It's just a little richer, more detailed, and natural sounding. For instance on Daft Punk's "Doin' it Right," you could sense the stereo separation a little more and pick out each instrument. While the Zik went deep and sounded clean, it wasn't as dynamic as the Sennheiser and didn't have quite as much energy in the bass. Overall, the Zik 3's sound comes across as a little sweeter but also more processed.
The BeoPlay H8, an on-ear model, has similar voicing to the Zik 3, so it's hard to declare a winner there. The Beats Studio Wireless is a tad warmer, but it doesn't offer noise canceling that's as strong as with the Zik 3.
Of course, sound is subjective, and everybody hears things a little differently and has different tastes -- in both music and sound. Complicating matters further as the Zik 3's customization options that make it suitable for listening to a variety of music genres. As I said, I prefer a fixed sound profile, but I know others who love the fact that you can tweak the Zik 3's sound through the app and download equalization settings from various artists.
Parrot's made some small but noteworthy improvements to the Zik 3, and while it doesn't really look any different from the Zik 2, it's a better headphone and well worth considering if you're looking for a wireless Bluetooth headphone with noise canceling.
That said, it's also worth taking a hard look at the Zik 2, which has dropped in price to $250. At that price, it's easier to live with any small shortcomings the headphone might have.