Current testing methodology is v1.2
By now, I’ve already reviewed several ear IEMs from the popular budget Chi-fi company, QKZ Audio.
Even at a price point of under $10, this brand has managed to release IEMs with a decent build and sound quality. Some QKZ sets can even compete with slightly more expensive sets.
Sadly, I can’t say the same for the QKZ AK2 and this review will tell you why.
Decent build quality with a disappointing sound.
The QKZ AK2 is a single dynamic driver IEM from the brand QKZ.
It’s more on the side of an experimental tuning that manages to perform inconsistently with playbacks. With all the options available I wouldn’t recommend the AK2 even at its price range.
The bass is underwhelming at best, the midrange is scooped and boosted at the pinna gain, and the treble pierces you on songs where transients are frequent. And this isn’t due to these IEMs being underpowered because amplification doesn’t change a lot of these performances.
I’d steer clear of the QKZ AK2 unless you want a benchmark test of what chaos means sonically speaking.
- Driver: 8mm Single Dynamic Driver
- Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
- Impedance: 32Ω
- Sensitivity: 106db/mw
What’s in the Box?
- QKZ AK2 earphones
- 2 x stock tips
- Cable clip
- Silicon ear hooks
Stuff I like
- Male vocal texture
- Sound separation
Stuff I like less
- Scooped lower midrange
- Wonky tonality
- Weak bass performance
Like most QKZ sets, the AK2 comes in the brand’s standard packaging.
Out of the box, the IEMs come with basic accessories such as extra silicone ear tips and a cable clip, which is what you’d expect from something less than $5 (at least from AliExpress).
The first testing was a literal nightmare.
I did the regular source swapping starting with a phone, then a DAP, then a dongle plus a laptop, and there seemed to be no benefit to doing it. Although as I listened closely, the non-existent mid-bass became audible on my laptop when they were nowhere to be found on the two previous sources.
The bass, midrange, and treble regions were all extremely flawed and up to the point of non-reconciliation.
I hated the QKZ AK2 and after more testing, I’ve listed a few findings, but none so extraordinary that it flips the whole situation around.
The QKZ AK2 IEMs are pretty compact. They come in this weird geometry-inspired shape with literally enough material just to house the drivers, and I have no problems with that.
The shape is also non-intrusive and I found it to be unique.
It’s still made of plastic, but the compact size makes it feel more solid. This delineates from other QKZ IEMs that have big and hollow shells.
The cable is roughly the same as that of other QKZ sets but it has a nice rigid cable guard at the base of the shells.
Overall, the build quality is okay.
Fit and Comfort
The QKZ AK2 is fairly comfortable despite its funky shape. They’re very light to wear and the included silicone tips gave me a nice seal.
A nice seal always means good isolation, which lets you focus more on your music.
I’ve found that they gave me no irritation even on long listening sessions and oddly enough, they don’t protrude towards my ears despite having a lot of points.
However, I’ve found on many occasions that the lobe part of my ear feels a bit sore after using these IEMs but that just might be because of how my ears are shaped. Everyone’s ears are different, so the fit will mostly depend on your ear size and shape.
There’s a minimal bass boost. The mids are fairly flat sounding and there’s a slight boost in the upper treble.
Now on paper, this works up to be a quite competent sound but to be honest, it’s far from the way the AK2 performs.
The bass on sources like phones or DAPs is non-existent. The sub-bass is comparable to hum and possesses no kind of texture and the mid-bass is invisible – nowhere to be found.
So let’s give the QKZ AK2 a break and assess it on the source it does better on, which is a laptop with a DAC dongle.
With the laptop, there’s no discernible change in the sub-bass except for a small improvement in texture. The mid-bass, on the other hand, was now audible. In terms of performance, it went from a zero to a four. It now possessed a good amount of slam.
Overall, the weak sub-bass will leave bass heads disappointed but with the general function of just providing engagement, the mid-bass will prove to be sufficient.
The midrange on the QKZ AK2 is quite complex to describe.
They’ve experimented quite a lot with it and what I could immediately hear was a recessed lower midrange.
A certain fullness to the vocals sounded missing. And while this is happening, a very unnatural boost in the upper treble has made some vocal parts piercing to listen to. I had to lower the volume low when this happened because it gave me mini headaches.
Tonally, I don’t approve of the AK2’s midrange. It sounds imbalanced and unnatural. It manages to do some male vocals justice by giving them a very meaty replay but generally, it’s seldom.
The treble has got to be the biggest deal breaker of the QKZ AK2.
The higher notes and transients always have sibilance and they do so every time they drop. So every time snares or claps hit, a very piercing sound is guaranteed to make you wince.
For treble-sensitive people like me, the only solution is to lower the volume, which directly affects the midrange audibility. Essentially, you can’t enjoy anything.
This isn’t set in stone though as the behavior of the treble may change depending on how it interprets a certain mix. A good mix will always do itself justice.
For example, on some tracks where drum hits are enhanced by the sound engineer, naturally, the AK2 is going to replay that with its inherent tuning, making it more emphasized.
Here are some tracks that exhibit rare occasions where the QKZ AK2 sounds good.
- Ticktock by Joji (R&B) – This track showed a surprising level of prowess by replaying male vocals. Joji’s voice has a lot of texture and heft and it sounded better when layered with his backing track. This is a vocal-centric track and normally, it’s replayed better with bass presence. But at this point, I’m glad there’s at least this song that sounded decent on the QKZ AK2.
- Skyline by Khalid (Pop) – I’m starting to notice a small pattern with how this set interacts with certain male vocals. Singers that have a deeper register sounded fuller and more fleshed out on the QKZ AK2 and don’t suffer from the unnatural upper midrange boost.
- Stranger by LAUV (Pop) – This is another vocal-centric song that originally did well with more bass presence. In this song, there isn’t much warping on the vocals. The QKZ AK2 manages to pull off its upper midrange boost on some songs and this song is an example of that. The vocals sounded crystal clear and sharp.
- Nothing to You by ZUHAIR (R&B/Soul) – This is another song by a singer with a deep register. By luck, the higher notes remain to be as natural and as good as the lower notes. The overall cohesion on this track was good and showed no sign of sibilance. The transients decided not to be hurtful this time, coincidentally the only transient this track had was side slaps on the snare, which is generally a light sound.
- Beside You by Keshi (R&B) – The vocal layering was done well on this track. The transients remained to be on the safe side and didn’t become sibilant. I made sure to maintain a volume of about 18%. Higher notes sounded fairly natural and didn’t indicate any trace of the wonky tonality the QKZ AK2 midrange has. The electronic instruments sounded mellow and almost bouncy on this track. There was a fair amount of things happening at once and yet the AK2 was somehow able to pull the track through. I felt like it was Keshi doing the heavy lifting rather than the AK2. I’m pretty sure a good mix jives well with even a funky tuning.
Overall, it felt like the QKZ AK2 was an honest effort of the brand to make a neutral and pleasing sound signature that had just the right amount of bass, a clear midrange with forward vocals, and a sweet treble with snappy transients.
I’m pretty sure that was the initial plan but dissecting it from the bass to the treble, I’d have to say that they did try.
The part where the AK2 fails the most is musical cohesiveness.
The main goal of all the frequency ranges is to work together to render a song a modest and enjoyable listening experience. These IEMs tried to singularly cut and boost frequencies from each of the frequency ranges resulting in various repercussions.
The bass lacks presence and texture both in its sub-bass and mid-bass. The lower midrange sounds scooped and sounded unnaturally squished up. The treble is sibilant and inflames the midrange, making the whole listening experience unbearable.
It’s also unusable for EDM as the transient hits are too harsh.
Overall, you can see the areas where the QKZ AK2 could improve. To be honest, I wouldn’t steer you in its direction as there are other fantastic options that come in the same price range with better overall tuning and musical cohesiveness.
Gavin is a college student who has a lot going on. From collecting IEMs and modding mechanical keyboards, to different hobbies like digital drawing, music mastering and cooking. It is safe to say he is a complete multi-faceted geek (and he's kinda cool too)
This post was last updated on 2023-09-28 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.