Kicker ZKick ZK500 Review

kicker zkick main Kicker ZKick ZK500 Review

Kicker and I go way back to my early days as a car audio enthusiast. Even before I had my license, as a 15 year old I started packing Kicker subwoofers in my trunk paired with various amp and crossovers. Yes, I will admit, I was one of those obnoxious kids with more subwoofers than wheels- the one who rattled your window sills from a mile away. It turned into quite the hobby/obsession even entering a few local car audio competitions and even winning a few first places.

Being no stranger to car audio and Kicker products my interest was piqued when they introduced the ZKick. So I have had my eye on the ZKick dock for quite some time only having had a chance to preview it in the stores. It may be helpful to demo a dock like this in the store for features and build quality, but it can be hard to get a sense of sound quality and output in a big box store with kids screaming and Guitar Hero being played in the background. I finally got a chance to pick one of these units up and have been using it daily for the last two months.

  • ZKick ZK500 Specs
  • Size (HxWxD): 8.5 x 19.2 x 8.4 in.
  • Weight: 9.2 lbs.
  • Tweeter Sizes: 3/4”
  • Woofer Sizes: 5”
  • Passive Radiator Square Subwoofer: 6”
  • MSRP: $250 (Amazon $180)
  • Included: Speaker Dock, 3 dock inserts, AUX cable for other players, remote, AC adapter.
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Video Demo

I made a quick video showing use of the ZKick on the Zune HD. Due to the change in the touch interface some of the remote buttons do not work- mainly the directional navigation buttons. Check out the video for the 411.


The Dock

The unit itself is very robust and heavy made primarily out of a hard black plastic. The four front facing woofers and tweeters are protected with a non-removable metal mesh grill. Hidden behind this grill is the sensor for the remote control. The top center sports the display along with a push button rotary dial for volume and menu control.

Moving on to the back you have the AC adapter input and AUX input so that you can use other MP3 players or audio devices though the 3.5mm input jack. On the other side there are outputs for audio and video. It will only output your content at standard definition but it’s also really nice to connect to your TV and browse your media from across the room with your remote. This also works well for party situations. Above the passive radiator on the back is an indentation to be used as a handle for easy carry. This is very nice to have making it easy to tote around the house.

One of the great things about this dock is it is very portable all in one in terms of moving it around the house, but I found having the a bulky AC adapter to be a bit of a pain for quick transports around your home. Even in a more stationary setup it can be difficult to hide the adapter behind a couch or shelf. I would have loved to have the power unit integrated into the dock, even it did and more weight and bulk.

Controls Remote

The media navigation is all handled though the Zune. So without using the remote you can do this on the Zune’s controls while sitting in the dock. The minimalistic display and push button rotary control will allow you to adjust the volume, treble, bass, and select the AUX input.

The remote control will allow you to navigate though your media just like you would on the Zune’s pad and buttons. Additionally you will find volume buttons, on/off/mute, skip forward/back, and pause/play. The remote works as well as any remote does, but the design and button layout hinders usability. Buttons should have been places more towards the top of the remote making it easier to hold and operate. But my biggest concern is the layout of directional buttons- it should better mimic the layout on the Zune. For instance the directional buttons should be in the shape of a plus sign with a center button not a “T”. The confusing part about the “T” layout is that it’s upside down compared to what most of us are used to on a keyboard layout. Even after 2 months or daily use I still find myself pressing the wrong buttons on the remote. I finally gave up and programmed my Harmony remote to handle the ZKick.

Performance

To put it simply, Kicker managed to fit their top class speakers and amps into a speaker dock without sacrificing performance and output. It truly is a robust car audio product crammed into a shelf system. Just like the car audio products these speakers are able to be driven hard and loud without distortion, something most shelf systems can’t do. In most of my reviews I’m used to stating output as something that can fill a room or small apartment, the ZKick on the other hand can fill a backyard comfortably.

Though this did present some concerns for me sine the bass was so hard and heavy and really loud volumes it would rattle the Zune back and forth in the dock. While it was cool to watch it was likely stressing the dock connection on the Zune. This is only a problem if you really crank it to too-loud-for-indoors volumes. There is a rubber pad to keep it from hopping out of the dock, but there still was still a substantial amount of movement. A quick and easy fix that I use in this situation was a ball of sticky tack on the back to keep it in place.

Loud output is definitely its forte, however, it still preforms very well at all volumes with clarity thou out the spectrum, so it will work well on your desk. One thing to keep in mind that channel separation is nearly non-existent since the speakers are so close together. You still can sit and listen at your desk, but if you are overly picky with your audio you might miss that sound stage. The ZKick is really designed to fill a room with sound and it does a great job at that.

Conclusion

Kicker’s car audio tech leaked into a consumer shelf system worked out very well. I might have a few minor complaints about the remote and external power supply, but overall I’m very happy with it. The ZKick has earned a permanent spot in my daily arsenal of gadgets. If you are looking for a Zune dock, this is the one to buy.

The ZKick originally arrived with a price tag of $350 but is currently seeing some deep discounts since it’s over a year old and kicker may be making room for new products with the release of the Zune HD. But I would still encourage you to pick one up if you are a bargain hunter since it will work for the Zune HD. Amazon lists it for about half the original price at $180 which is a steal. It really hurts to think I paid $100 for the iHome clock radio dock when comparing the quality of products.

For more discussion on Zune accessories, check out the Zune accessory forum.

8 Comments

Cory on August 27, 2009 4:08 PM

Would you pick this over monitors from KRK or mackie? I’m currently torn between them. I like the docking capabilities, but I plan to buy a dock to hook up the monitors anyway. The price is much better, but the monitors would work better as multi purpose speakers. any suggestions.C

Grahm on August 28, 2009 7:17 AM

@coreyThe KRKs do sound better- But they are really meant to be listened to while sitting in front of. They are very directional- thats just the nature of studio monitors. More importantly, the KRKs are big heavy and bulky, so they are far from portable. Check the dimensions on them before you buy, they are a lot bigger than you would think. So if you dont plan on moving your speakers and only plan on listening in one room and you can deal with their big size the dock and the KRKs with a dock are the way to go.I get a lot more use out of the ZKick because i can move it around the house and i tend to use them a bit more because of their off axis performance- the sound carries though out the house better. Also i dont just use a Zune on the ZKick. I often plug my Sansa Clip (or even another dock) and xbox media center to the AUX and that works well.

spm on August 28, 2009 11:20 AM

i’m sure it sounds nice. unfortunately i think they are as ugly as can be. to bad the zune doesn’t have a lot of quality speakers about (i use the discontinued lansing).

Hotpl4te on August 28, 2009 11:41 AM

Will this work with a creative zen vision M?

Cory on August 28, 2009 12:54 PM

Thanks Grahm, You’ve talked me into the kicker. I’ll probably hook the aux to my PC, much better sound than my crappy dell speakers.

Steve on August 28, 2009 3:50 PM

I have the (gasp!) iPod version of these. They sound great, and are absolutely the BEST backyard/pool/BBQ dock speakers I have ever heard, 10x over. Sure they are ugly, but honestly with they way they sound and the volume it can play at, I don’t care. I am not one of those guys with 10 subwoofers in my trunk, but I like my music with good presence (especially outside), and this speaker delivers in spades for the price. For indoors or say desk use, the sound is still as good or better than comparably priced speaker docks IMO, but what really sets this product apart is bass and volume.It gets perhaps a little ‘boxy’ at really loud volumes (i.e. close to max volume), but that’s just physics and they have done a stellar job with a relatively small box (compared to separates.)When I first set them up, I was having this weird glitch where I would hear a burst of tones and the songs would skip. Turns out I had my iPhone set to ‘shake to shuffle’, and the bass on the speakers was triggering the shuffle! (easily remedied of course.)

J. on September 3, 2009 10:22 AM

I was on the fence about picking up one of these docks, Microsoft zune store is selling for $114, with tax and shipping it came to $140 total.

Stephen on December 8, 2010 5:06 AM

Has any one used this dock with the new Alarm Clock app? I want to get a dock with an alarm clock and was considering the zk150 but I just got the alarm clock app and the price difference on amazon is like 25 bucks between the 150 and 500 models. I’d much rather have a the 500 if the alarm app works with it.

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