Parrot puts a premium on design with the head-turning Zikmu, but do these monolithic speakers live up to their reputation, or are they just overpriced iPod docks for the vain iPhone user?
|The Zikmu is immediately striking out of the box - two identical monoliths standing roughly waist-high in a trombone-like, hovering shuttle. The colours range from Parrot's bright, signature red, deep black or shining white to the odder, bleached lime green. We took a look at the less impressive grey that doesn't quite catch the eye as much. Good news if you're looking for a less visually-obtrusive model, but the Zikmu is meant to be a centrepiece.|
And it's just that, taking a step ahead of the iPhone-docking competition in terms of boldness of design. And the 'centrepiece' idea is quite literal - they're designed to be seated closer to the middle of a room rather than backed up against a wall.
This comes from the NXT speaker walls hidden beneath both sides of the grill on each mini tower, projecting sound across a room in what Parrot calls '360 degree sound'. It achieves this goal well, but essentially what you're looking at is a stereo-output speaker system with integrated subwoofers. These slot neatly into the design as downward-firing subwoofers at the open-cone bottoms of the two units. The speakers sit up off the floor, giving the hovering illusion, to allow air intake for the subs while allowing the power plugs and inputs to slot in.
The speakers instantly connect together wirelessly when turned on, with each having their own power cable. The power cables are quite chunky, so setting up the seamless mid-room look isn't as seamless as the pictures spruik. One unit houses the left/right analogue RCA audio cable inputs and a touch-sensitive panel for power, volume, track selection and input options (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc). Would have liked to have seen an optical input for attaching straight into devices that don't play nice with analogue cables like a PlayStation 3, but you'd be fine if you have a receiver.
The other houses the connector for Apple devices, with a few additional housings for a limited number of specific iPhone/iPod models to sit in comfortably as an option. There's also a matching remote that comes in a little flimsy compared to the build of the actual speakers, though it doesn't require line-of-sight like a normal infra-red remote, so that's a definite plus.
So, most importantly, how do they sound? Turn over to find out.
The Zikmu offers impressive sound clarity that takes a step above the usual stereo system. With the right centre-point positioning in a room, detailed sound seeps effortlessly into the ears across the spectrum, capturing most of the tiny details of high-quality audio sources, though there is a lost element in the low-end.
100 watts of amplification push the sound over the threshold to loud volumes without distorting, easily flooding a room with sweet sounds. The 3-channel digital amplifier pushes high-end reproduction without sharp crackling, though the higher you go, the more muddled in treble the sound goes because of the lacking bass.
The subwoofers add to the clean sound, but don't add much warmth to the mid-range as levels pick up. It would benefit from a separate subwoofer to make up for this lacking low-end, but unfortunately this isn't a 2.1 system. It's a top performer for vocals, but more dynamic orchestral music and explosive scenes in movies lack punch.
What better way to test out tweeters than with a bit of tweeting? Listening to the track Televators by The Mars Volta, the far-off tweets of tropical birds and midnight creatures creep into the sound sphere with distinct distance, growing audibly closer as the levels rise. The strings come in clean but prominent, overlapped by a resonant voice that grows deeper as the harmony kicks in. Here, the Zikmu speakers shine.
Similar sound quality was experienced from a Blu-ray movie source, with the distinct distance between bird tweets in an outdoor setting shooting out across the room the speakers sat in. It was impressively dynamic seeing as it doesn't handle real surround like a 5.1 system, though once again, was let down later in the scene as cars rushed into the picture, followed by crashes and explosions that came out overly crunchy and without the low-end grunt they warranted.
So do we classify the Zikmu as an iPhone dock, wireless streamer, simple home theatre set up? Over the page, we check out what it is that separates these speakers from the competition.
Connectivity ranges from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi streaming to physical connections from analogue cables or direct to an iPod or iPhone. There's no 3.5mm jack for other mp3 players, but the Bluetooth does well to connect most other devices on the market (especially since smartphones double as many peoples' music players). The signal runs over Bluetooth 2.1 rather than 3.0, but pushes out sound with high clarity within a large room's range.
Wi-Fi lets users stream audio over their home network from a computer through a free, downloadable piece of software that also acts as an equaliser. Here users can set the left and right channel for the speakers (eliminating otherwise what is a lot of guess work in position the two speakers) and set the equaliser to tune up the speakers to preference. It also lets users make the most of the speakers with their higher quality tracks rather than relying on low bitrate MP3s or diminutive iPod-compressed files.
You're paying a premium for design here, with Parrot jacking up the price for a premium product by a premium designer. It's a visual statement for the unconventional living room, but at the same time its robust connectivity range sits it in a prominent place between plug-and-play stereo TV speakers and high-class iPhone docks. It's a confused beast with a high asking price, suited to the design-conscious who values simplicity rather than the fastidious audiophile.