- Well executed warm tuning from top to bottom, including treble extension
- Might be too bassy/warm for some.
Disclaimer: This unit was bought with my own money on Linsoul. No incentives of any kind were given and the review you are about to read are my own thoughts and opinions.
Table of Contents
Driver Setup: 1DD
Purchase link and info: Linsoul
Included in the box:
- QKZ HBB
- QDC 2-pin cable with a 3.5mm termination
- 6 Pair of silicone tips
Comfort, fit and isolation: Great comfort and fit, isolation is average.
Source used: Topping L70, Xduuo Link2 Bal, Sony ZX300 (Mr. Walkman Firmware)
Tips used: BGVP W01
Measured volume level: 77db @ 440 hz
Test playlist with some of the songs used: Tidal
Introduction and Accessories
By now, neither QKZ or HBB need an introduction, as both are very well established trademarks in this hobby, teaming up to heist the end-of-the-year-sprint towards the gold medal of probably the most competitive bracket of the year (aside from planars, of course): the sub-20$ segment that proves my faith on that good tuning should be free.
Now, before I can share my conclusions about it and without further rambling, I’ll leave here just some quick notes about the accessories and physical aspects of the QKZ. Starting from the latter, the build quality feels sturdy and well finished given its price tag, shaped in the form of a semi-custom fit, helping me achieve a great fit and comfort throughout long sessions and never tiring. If anything I’d note here would only be the isolation that is average to above average, given its vent placed in the bottom of the faceplate.
As for the accessories, that’s a totally different story. The offered tips are just decent and the cable is actually terrible. A lack of carrying pouch or something of the sorts would be amazing but again, I can see how much every corner has to be trimmed down to achieve such low prices and still apply every penny into the sound related stuff, so no complaints from me personally, as I switched the cable right away.
Now, into the candy store, shall we?
The QKZ HBB falls into the tuner’s preferred signature: a warm balanced curve with a late self-correction bass-shelf and some well extended treble, without much elevation.
Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and going by “the first things first” moto, comes the sub-bass. The close to 10 db raise in the lower tail brought nothing but joy during the replay of tracks like “Why So Serious?” or “Limit To Your Love”, helping with physicality required.
Given the sub-bass region has nothing for me to point on, I will rather spend my words talking about the mid-bass and its transition into the lower mids, as I have a feeling it will be the most divisive aspect of this set. With that in mind, there’s two aspects I would like to note:
- The bass in on the looser side, à la Blon Bl-03 or Sony N3;
- The elevation and the late self-correction will turn the replay warmer than your average neutral or harman sets.
And… I like it. Ok scratch that. I love it. But let’s dissect that, shall we?
By calling it looser (or uncontrolled like some people like to call it but I refrain from that as it has a negative connotation rather just a tuning a preference), it means that there is more bounce it it, as opposed to overly tight drivers – like the foster dynamic drivers always come to the table. This effect won’t feel as good for genres like prog metal, where the tightness helps with the clarity on busier parts and smearing is the enemy, but shines on genres like Hip-Hop, R’n’B, classical rock, some EDM, etc etc.
You can easily see the pattern here: the trend follows the tuner’s library. When replaying Kendrick Lamar’s Collard Greens or Backseat Freestyle, the QKZ HBB comes alive in the mid-bass. Its bouncy nature helps with the sense of fullness to the track, allied with the sense of impact and the rest of the tuning, that we will come to in a second.
Speaking of the tuning, the second note referred to mid-bass’ elevation and late correction. On an objective note, this means there’s warm coloration to the replay, flushing out the sense of heavy note weight, opposed to the (once again) an harman tuning. A great example for this would the be the jazzy-soul-warmer track I’ve Got a Sousamaphone, by Riot Jazz Brass Band, that turns into a full jam session and I can’t guarantee you that not even critical listening will be done sitting down with on your lazy boy, but rather up and doing those crazy dance moves like none’s watching.
All of this shouldn’t come really as news, as anyone that has followed HBB or knows his tastes will know that this works well with his library, and this late correction has been used before on another collaboration of his (Olina and DQ6s from the top of my head). On a replay level, this translates on emphasized instruments like kick-drums and bass guitars.
This effect can be really perceived during Pomplamoose’s Daft PTX Mashup (2:43m – 2:49m), that once the bassist starts the (really nasty) bass slap, it takes a step more forward that it’s usually considered neutral versus the main vocalists’ voice. But hell yeah if it sounds good, and so does her voice, which segways us into the next section.
The mid-range has been briefly referenced above in the lower regions, alluding to its warmth, but let’s dive briefly into it. The pinna region is only elevated by around 5 or 6 dbs, not overcompensating the bass shelf, which would turn it into a V-shaped tuning. It rather adapts the warmth but keeps the mid-range just north of neutral on its positioning, hence the balanced warm tag.
When listening to pianos such as Hania Rani’s Glass or Yann Tiersen’s Comptine D’un Autre Ete – L’apres-midi, despite the warmer note weight, all the information is kept, turning the replay more “musical”, as it’s usually referred as. The separation and layering are just enough to not feel like a creamy potato mash and given that, there’s not much I can complain about it given the price range.
Where the QKZ HBB really starts to shine for my library in the frequency is regarding the vocals.
Firstly, the lack of overdone pinna compensation translates into a pretty much untouched timbre accuracy to the vocals, while the ever-so-slight bump around 4.5k helps retrieving back some of the bite and detail to the warm replay, which I can only see as welcome, without ever feeling shouty or sibilant, as more elevation in this or a subjacent zone would have done. From Adele’s replay of Oh My God to the more warm and rounded interpretation of Tainted Love by Karen Souza, there’s nothing but pure joy to write home-about. Lacking some bite and having a hair more huskyness than I’d prefer comes the male vocals on In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company, interpreted by The Death South, which is a sin I’ll allow since I’d rather take this over any recessed or thin male vocals.
The treble region is rather subdue, but just the right amount. I have to say it was the biggest surprise of the set for me and one of the main reasons I really like it. It does a slope down after the pinna gain area, but never falls off or dips too much after that, plateauing across the range, culminating in a very pleasant and rather rare extension among the more budget segments. Live replays like The Fearless Flyers’ album, Live at Madison Square Garden, turns into a joy and never claustrophobic or lacking harmonic extension. The cymbal strikes during The Sleepwalker in that album are just a pure bliss of decay and never fatiguing hits.
Good tuning is free and at the end of the day, we are talking about the ultra budget segment, and just like anything in this world, nothing is perfect. Given the price range, it’s safe to assume this would fall down into the more subjective part: the technicalities.
I would be hard pressed to call this new generation of IEMs bad in the technical bits, but it still is what it is, and won’t touch well established IEMs, costing five times as much, like the tuner’s own Olina, but the QKZ HBB is not dull on its own turf. The imaging chops are actually not that claustrophobic, as seen on other more expensive offerings – yes, I’m looking at you Performer 5 – and the resolving power is actually above average given its tuning and competition. Where it falls short is in the sense of macrodynamics (Polyphia – Playing God) but, again, looking at its tag, the QKZ HBB gets a free pass all day long.
- 7hz Salnotes Zero
The Zero tuning follows closely the harman tuning, which means that it’s on the brighter side, polar opposite of the QKZ HBB that is warm. Contrasting with a more pillowy bass, the latter displays a more impactful lower region, while the Zero has more clarity across the spectrum, coming out as better separated in the mid-range. Due to a big elevation in the pinna gain, Zero’s female vocals are way more prominent, borderline shouty on some tracks, while the QKZ displays a more relaxed approach in exchange for detail, until the upper regions where it shines over the former.
Taking a look at the technicalities, they are very close, but Zero has a slight advantage due to the brighter tuning, but overall I would not call one more technical than the other.
- TANGZU Wan’er SG
This comparison is closer in tuning than the previous one, with the Wan’er coming out as more tonally balanced given the earlier and more prominent pinna region, while cutting the bass shelf by around 2 dbs. Again, the clarity goes up but when we isolate the treble itself, the Wan’er isn’t brighter but rather darker, especially past 6k during sine sweeps.
On bass heavy tracks, the Wan’er does feel more neutral and less warm, thanks to the cleaner cut of the bass-shelf and tighter nature, while the QKZ HBB’s bass is more prominent but also more tactile.
The mid-range (especially pianos and male vocals) does sound cleaner and more correct on the Wan’er, while I find the timbre accuracy of the female vocals better preserved in the QKZ HBB.
Technicalities are again close, but this time I feel I have to give the advantage to the QKZ, especially on the resolving power and imaging accuracy, while the Wan’er has more stage depth.
The year of 2022 closes out with a budget bang, with the QKZ most likely taking the spot as my favorite $20 IEM of the year, taking the podium together with the 7hz Zero and the Tangzu Wan’er SG, elevating the price to performance ratio of this segment.
But personal preferences and hair splitting aside, it’s probably a good time to reflect on how good an IEM can sound for so little price nowadays. It’s incredible how much the budget scene has evolved in just a year, and I can’t wait to see what the next one brings us.
Congratulations to QKZ for making a stylish comeback and to HBB for releasing yet another banger. Touché.
Thanks for reading!
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