DMS Exposes KZ’s Alleged Paid Review: A Controversy Recap

The DMS video. (From:
The DMS video. (From:

Influential YouTube reviewer DMS accuses KZ of offering to pay for a review.

Douglas Stephens (DMS) is a popular YouTube headphone audio reviewer currently working with In a recent (Aug 13, 2023) video entitled “They’re trying to PAY reviewers (KZ Krilla[sic]),” he calls out the Knowledge Zenith (KZ) company for approaching him with a financial incentive to review their latest ultra-budget IEM, the Krila.

The Krila cost approximately USD$17 from the official store. The Krila advertising boasted that they are “the best IEM under USD1000 bucks!” and included an AI-generated rap song about this claim in social media posts.
Krila rap advertisement. (From:
Krila rap advertisement. (From:


The DMS Video

“Claiming to have the best IEM under a thousand dollars but offering to pay reviewers a thousand dollars to cover it.”

“I think paid reviews are pretty scummy, and not only that, it’s kind of against YouTube’s terms of service. And after telling them to go shove it where the sun doesn’t shine and putting them on blasts on Twitter for trying to pay reviewers to do reviews…”

“KZ decided not only to push the moral envelope but to straight up tear it open. It really just pisses me off, so here is my message to KZ: do better.” – DMS

The concern is, of course, that ‘paid for’ reviews inherently can’t be trusted. Is the reviewer simply a shill for the company, and the review is little more than an advertisement in disguise? This is a common concern raised in online forums.

“I think it’s ridiculous the companies think they can get away with doing it… this is why tech YouTube has so many trust issues. This is why people don’t trust a lot of reviewers…” – DMS
The KZ Krila. (From:
The KZ Krila. (From:

The Krila Controversy

Part of the reason that these issues tend to gain momentum and spiral is the unapologetic tone that KZ representatives take on social media. Rather than accepting and professionally addressing the concerns, the official KZ response is often adversarial, further fueling the fire.

In response to the DMS video, the KZ Official Store on Facebook posted a long response entitled “WHO IS LYING.” They deny ever paying for any review videos and accuse DMS of defamation.

KZ stated their official social media email is [email protected] and asked for evidence proving that DMS received the offer from this official source.

Fair enough. But it didn’t stop there.

“At the same time, it’s truly regrettable that he’s resorted to such behavior.” – KZ

In the post, KZ goes on to call out other ‘famous influencers’ as being on the payroll of IEM brands. “Take the influencer named Crin***… for their collaborations, a commission of 15% of the product’s retail price is a standard requirement… These so-called ‘influencers’ simply squander the money you provide.”

It would be refreshing to see KZ take the higher ground and simply speak towards their merits rather than retaliating and engaging with seemingly knee-jerk inflammatory responses.

“Moving forward, we want to prove to you from a technical graph just how absurd these claims from internet influencers are.” – KZ
“To claim this is the best IEM under $1000 is not only silly, it’s outright laughable. It’s not even the best thing under $50… They must have known they missed the mark and when they did, they turned to trying to pay reviewers to make this thing look better than it actually is.” – DMS
KZ's marketing made bold claims about the Krila. (From:
KZ’s marketing made bold claims about the Krila. (From:
“It’s unfair to compare Krila with outdated lower-end products – such a comparison lacks objectivity.” – KZ
“People should not buy the Krila, and realistically they shouldn’t buy KZ either… Companies, if you are trying to pay reviewers for reviews, you’re gonna get what’s coming to you.” – DMS

In the comments under KZ’s post, when questioned, they responded with “for hater, they don’t care what’s the truth, they just share the post, enjoy drama, and spread the hatred everywhere, and call for boycott the brand.”

Is it enough that there is no official proof that the request to DMS came directly from KZ? Would a court of law convict KZ? How about the court of popular opinion?

TRUTHEAR Joins the Fight

TRUTHEAR, another Chinese-based IEM manufacturer and a direct competitor to KZ, weighed in as well after KZ criticized the TRUTHEAR x Crinacle Zero in their response.

“Slandering others to cover up your misdeeds, don’t you feel like a performing clown? It only makes others look down upon you even more.” – TRUTHEAR
”TRUTHEAR We know who is your manufacturer to produce your IEM, we even know how much it cost, honestly, the driver be used to zero really poor quality, single cavity &single magnet. If you want to improve it, we can help it. That’s welcomed. – KZ Official Store
TRUTHEAR was unhappy with KZ calling out one of their products. (From:
TRUTHEAR was unhappy with KZ calling out one of their products. (From:

KZ and Controversy

KZ is no stranger to controversy. We covered the ‘fake multi-driver IEM scandal’ in depth just last year. And since then, it has begun to feel like it’s just one KZ drama after another.

This is not the first time that KZ has tangled with influential headphone reviewers on Youtube. After partnering with Crinacle (Corin Ako) to produce the KZ x Crinacle CRN, Delta Fyre, known for his IEM teardowns, questioned if the EST driver in the CRN was functional on Reddit and Facebook.

This subsequently led Crinacle to boycott KZ publicly, going so far as removing KZ IEMs from his lists and refusing future reviews.

Crinacle's Twitter response to KZ. (From:
Crinacle’s Twitter response to KZ. (From:

Another influential YouTube reviewer, Hawaii Bad Boy (HBB) of Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews (BGGAR), also collaborated with KZ to produce the DQ6S. HBB released a video addressing the concerns after unsuccessfully waiting for KZ to make an official response.

“That I didn’t discover that these are not actually doing anything, I’ll say sorry for, but I didn’t imagine I’m going to have to check each driver independently and individually…

This set should be taken down and not for sale. End of story… this is false advertising is what this is… fraud… to say that something is one thing and to actually be knowingly delivering another thing… and I’m a part of that.” – HBB

More recently, it was discovered that there were batch differences on another HBB collaboration KZ PR2, with some early units sent to reviewers having a mesh cover over the driver and later models sold to consumers missing the cover – significantly impacting the sound.

Crinacle is not a fan of KZ. (From:
Crinacle is not a fan of KZ. (From:
In July 2022, HBB called out Tyvan Lam in a Twitter post. “This guy is insane. We will pay you to destroy our rivals claim to the cheapest planar.”
HBB calls out Tyvan Lam of KZ. (From:
HBB calls out Tyvan Lam of KZ. (From:

Can Reviewers Be Trusted?

In my experience, I haven’t run into it, but others I work with have. In discussing this issue, one of my fellow Headphonesty reviewers informed me that they declined when offered $100 for a written review in the past.

Headphonesty makes money via advertising and not from the manufacturer or provider of the headphone products we review. We pride ourselves on honesty (it’s in our name, after all) and report all the good and bad we run into.

We have no interest in being anything but truthful and helpful to our readers.

The fact is, this goes for all the reviewers I’ve had the chance to interact with. We reviewers got into this because we love the music and associated gear – not for a misguided attempt to get rich. I relate to DMS’ outrage and his concerns in the video. We all should.

Some companies do provide their products for review, but the understanding must always be that the reviewer is free from influence. That being said, the accusation of asking for a paid review is a serious one that crosses the line between independent reviewers and the companies interested in selling their products.

Admittedly, this line is sometimes blurry. Is it ok if a reviewer keeps a product after a review? Does this influence the review? Is the line crossed when the reviewer is paid directly by the manufacturer? What about if the review isn’t positive? How about reviews with affiliate links? Are collaborations ok?

These are all issues we need to decide for ourselves. Reviewers and review sites must make enough money to survive. Companies need to advertise and sell products. Knowing who you can trust for honest, independent recommendations is essential.

Note that we recently reviewed the KZ AS24, and Eric really liked it, and in the past, we’ve been less enamored with other KZ releases. Regardless, no influence from KZ was involved.
KZ claims the Krila is The best IEM under USD1000 bucks! (From:
KZ claims the Krila is “The best IEM under USD1000 bucks!” (From:

The Cost of Bad Press

Is KZ a scrappy underdog company that is being unfairly maligned by influencers and reviewers? Or are they unapologetically trying to get away with anything they can to help drive sales?

At least one popular Facebook IEM group has accused KZ of using bots to influence group members.

The truth is, we don’t know for sure.

You’ll see lots of speculation and will likely reach for the popcorn when you see that KZ has engaged in the post war. Looking in from the outside, the drama can be seen as a fun diversion. From inside the review segment of the industry, it’s frustrating to see things like this happen.

Is there really no such thing as bad press? If people are talking about the brand, does it ultimately help drive sales despite negative buzz? I guess we will find out as the next chapter in this developing drama unfolds.


August 17, 2023

Tyvan Lam, a KZ representative involved in the above posts and replies, posted an update on Facebook outlining his concerns with Crinacle, including a screenshot of their conversation when negotiating a collaboration.

Tyvan also contacted me directly to express these concerns.

Tyvan Lam addresses concerns. (From:
Tyvan Lam addresses concerns. (From:

August 16, 2023

DMS released an update video, stating that he’s been in contact with KZ, and they have assured him that he was contacted by a third-party distributor rather than directly by the company. They confirmed to him that they do not support paid reviews and that internal communication has occurred so this does not happen again in the future.

KZ released an official statement detailing their position on the issue.


  1. DMS can shove it himself. He’s promoting his collab with Nothing over Buds2 like it’s the best thing since sliced bread when all other reviewers say it’s crap. How is it different from what happened with KZ?

  2. Everyone knows the Harman research. Like as if someone in the industry needs to be introduced to that. That’s a ‘nothing’ answer a real cop out. Respect-gone. BTW I have some seriously decent KZ headphones. Sometimes they are good, sometimes not. Always should be burned in 50hrs before review.

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