Before you can truly judge a thing, it’s crucial to understand what that thing is supposed to be. Even the prettiest of purebred Percherons comes up short when judged by the standards of a surefooted mule. Try to eat broth with a fork, and… well, don’t blame the utensil when you make a mess of your shirt.
I made a similar mistake when I first set up Zikmu’s beautiful Parrot by Starck wireless iPod/network speakers. No, I didn’t try to eat soup with them; that would just be silly. But after pulling the Zikmusfrom their gorgeous packing/carrying case, stripping them of their protective fabric covers, and setting them up, I found myself rather disappointed.
Not with the setup itself, mind you: that’s ridiculously easy. Plug each speaker into a power main, plop an iPod or iPhone atop the dock built into one of the speakers, and sound immediately begins pouring out. No other setup is necessary unless you also want to connect the Zikmus to a Bluetooth-equipped smart phone or a computer via WiFi.
No, it was the sound itself that disappointed.
Despite the fact that the Zikmus come with their own remote — a lovely little Apple-esque RF wand with volume controls, play and skip functions, and source select — there’s no way to navigate the music from a docked iPod without physically interacting the iPod itself, so I eased back in my recliner to listen to what was queued up on my player already: Ingrid Michaelson’s “San Francisco.” And although my ears were met with a fairly well balanced sound, tonally speaking, the acoustic guitars sounded… off. A little bland, with the midrange-y quack of a piezo-electric pickup. Michaelson’s vocals also exhibited a bit of nasality.
That isn’t to say that the Zikmus sound terrible. In fact, if the speakers sold for something more like five- or six-hundred dollars a pair, I might be inclined to say that they sound fantastic. But for $1600, I expect a little more. And yes, a good bit of the budget for these speakers almost certainly went into the breathtaking bell-shaped design by Philippe Starck, but still: $1600 speakers should sound like $1600 speakers, no matter how they look.
Owing perhaps to their technical design — front- and rear-mounted NXT panels designed to radiate sound in 360 degrees, rather than straight ahead, as with more traditional drivers — the Zikmus also fail to create a truly satisfying stereo image. The soundstage is diffuse, indistinct, hollow, which did render rather moot my early concerns about not knowing which speaker was supposed to be the left channel and which the right, but perched in front of the speakers, fiddling with positioning, moving them nearer and further apart, I found myself frustrated with my inability to find a sweet spot or build a satisfying soundstage. (Although, I have to admit, they do sound neat with really phasey stuff like Jimi Hendrix’s “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).”)
It wasn’t until I stood and started to leave the room that I realized I had been approaching the Zikmu speakers all wrong. Because no matter where you move in the room, the image — for what it is — remains pretty much exactly the same. Forget about such notions as off-axis response. Forget about soundstages. Forget about timbral imperfections. The Zikmu Parrot by Starck isn’t the sort of speaker you’ll want to sit cross-legged in front of, soaking up your tunes and exploring the nuances of your favorite audiophile recordings; it’s the ultimate cocktail party speaker: a delightful, minimalist little work of art to be plugged in at the corners of the room, or along the walls — or wherever, really — and designed to literally fill a room with pleasant sound.
Because for all its shortcomings from a picky, hi-fi point of view, the Zikmu Parrot by Starck really does generate a very pleasant aural experience. Its bass is sufficiently rich, thanks to a pair of robust down-firing woofers, without being boomy or distracting when you’re standing around in a crowd, eating finger foods, talking about hedge funds or politics or which of your acquaintances got caught philandering with his or her secretary. And as the night moves on and the cocktails work their magic, and should a bit of revelry break out, the Zikmus are more than up to the task of handling some serious volume.
And if you pair the Zikmus with your iPhone, iPhone Touch, or other Bluetooth-equipped player (a process that takes all of five seconds), it’s incredibly easy to use the player itself as a remote, changing tracks on the fly, navigating your tunes as you normally would. But given the nature of the speakers, and what they do best, it’s probably safe to assume that most of the time you spend with the Zikmu Parrot by Starck speakers, you’ll be loading up a playlist and letting it run.
Given their idiot-proof setup, their undeniably sexy design, their glitch-free performance, and their ability to positively fill a room with music without being overbearing, I can easily see someone dropping $1600 on a pair and being absolutely thrilled with them. Just don’t expect them to be something they’re not.
- Total power output: 100W RMS, 50W per channel
- 3-channel (Class D) digital amplifier
- Frequency range: 50 Hz – 20 kHz
- Compatible audio formats: MP3, LPCM
- Settings: volume, R/L balance, equalizer with presets
- RF remote control
- RCA line-in input for all audio analog sources
- Cabinet custom molded design using ABS and PMMA resins with acoustically transparent cloth grilles over the membrane sections
- Power supply: 70W (per speaker)
- Wi-Fi b/g with SES/WPS
- Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR
- Profiles supported:
- A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile)
- AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control profile)
- Maximum range: 50 feet, 15 metres
- Updates via Bluetooth
- Height: 29.2 in., 750 mm
- Dimensions: bottom: 12.5 x 11.3 in., 320 x 290 mm
- Dimensions: top: 5 x 1.4 in.,130 x 35 mm
Available in your choice of five colors: Sorbet Lime, Arctic White, Pearl Grey, Classic Black, or Dragon Red
Zikmu Parrot by Starck