At $400 a pair, the oddly named wireless Parrot Zik headphones by renowned international industrial design guru Philip Starck are nothing special in one sense and rather revolutionary in another.
The feature that makes the biggest immediate impression is the touch-sensitive panel covering the entire outer surface of the right ear cup. Like an iPad, you can control the headphones using touch gestures: swipe a finger up and down to adjust the volume, or swipe from side-to-side to go back and forth between songs. A tap pauses the music, another starts it back up again. A tap is also used to answer an incoming call or to hang up.
There’s also an accelerometer — slide the headphones off, and your music stops automatically. Lift them back onto your ears, and the music starts up again. This works about 95 percent of the time. In tests, the music sometimes didn’t pause when users slid the headphones down around the neck, though it always started up again when they put them back on.
Run these puppies via Bluetooth--an NFC chip in the left ear cup simplifies pairing, and when you tap an NFC-enabled (Near Field Communications) smartphone against the headset, you'll get an on-screen prompt to complete the hookup.
Two big microphones, one on the outside of each can, are used for noise-canceling. There are three other smaller mics on the undersides of the cups for talking on the phone, but they also aid in noise-canceling when you’re on a call. Finally, there’s a bone-conducting mic sewn into one of the ear pads. It lines up with your jaw, detecting vibrations so the headphones can interpret what’s your voice and what’s not, further aiding the noise-canceling.
But what about the sound?
For the money, what you get isn't extraordinary performance, though it's certainly on par with what you'd expect…or perhaps a bit less. The insides are fairly standard: a pair of 40-millimeter Neodymium drivers rated at 32 ohms. They’re plenty loud and punchy, but the Zik’s aren’t as lively or vibrant as many audiophile headphones — even pairs that cost hundreds less, like the B&W P5s ($300), or the trusty ATH-M50s ($140). Granted, the Ziks being wireless, noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones, they can’t be expected to deliver the goods as sharply and cleanly as their hard-wired siblings. But, the bass response became gummy at higher volumes, and the noise-canceling feature generated a discernible level of hiss for many testers.
These babies are also on the heavy side (12.4 ounces), but are comfortable to wear. Active noise-canceling requires a battery, and the Zik's have a replaceable 800mAh cell that recharges over microUSB. The battery lasts about eight hours between charges if you talk on the phone a lot, and over twenty hours if all you’re doing is listening to music. When the battery dies, you can connect the included cable and keep listening, though you won’t get any of the fancy touch or NC features.
Verdict: Pretty doggone cool. These phones feel like they came from the future. $400 is on the high side, but for the geek factor there's nothing quite like them out there.