As the base model, the QKZ AK6 is a great set for under $5.
After it was released, the brand launched several more IEMs in the AK6 line with each set having unique features that set them apart. But are any of these releases better than the base model?
We’ll find out in this series of IEM shoot-outs, and the first up is the QKZ AK6-X.
QKZ AK6 vs. QKZ AK6-X: Sound Signature
The QKZ AK6 is tuned to have a V-shaped signature which means that both ends of the frequency range are boosted.
The emphasis on both ends will make the midrange sound a little pulled back but not to a level that it’ll sound scooped or missing.
The general tuning of the AK6 is warm sounding due to the quantity of the bass that’s coloring the midrange.
A V-shaped tuning, like the one on the AK6, is considered to be fun as the bass and mid-bass deliver a deep and punchy dynamic while injecting warm overtones to the midrange.
This helps in making the tuning sound more musical as well as coming across more full-bodied and organic.
The QKZ AK6-X is also tuned to have a V-shaped signature like the original AK6. Since it belongs under the AK6 family line, it’s going to stick to the general AK6 signature, which is a warm V-shape tuning.
The midrange on the AK6-X is also recessed, but again, it retains a good presence that it doesn’t sound scooped or absent in the frequencies.
There’s also a good amount of sub-bass but it differs from the AK6 with the quantity and quality of rendering.
The overall tuning has good musicality and naturalness following the same DNA that the original AK6 has.
QKZ AK6 vs. QKZ AK6-X: Sound Quality
The sound quality of the QKZ AK6 is very likable. To an audio beginner or casual listener, they’ll simply hear a very warm-tuned IEM with good bass.
While this is definitely true, there are a lot of factors that make up the entire sound performance of the AK6 and we’ll carefully inspect these factors to see how it makes the AK6 stand out from the other sets.
Let’s begin with the bass response.
The bass response of the AK6 is comprised of its sub-bass and mid-bass frequencies. I’ve found the sub-bass to be boosted by quite an amount, which makes for easily fun listening but can be quite fatiguing if you’re sensitive to low frequencies.
The sub-bass has good depth but it lacks a little finesse and the decay is rather sluggish. The mid-bass has a good kick and relatively good speed but can sometimes be overwhelming with its delivery.
The midrange retains a good amount of presence despite the emphasis on the bass but is generally going to sound a little more distant or pulled back. The vocal clarity is still good, and the lyrics are very audible but they get harder to distinguish as tracks progress in complexity.
Stripped versions of songs are easily dissected while the edges of notes become a little bit molded together in rock songs.
The upper midrange sounds a little reigned in but it still has a decent amount of energy to keep the midrange from being dull. The good thing is that there’s no sibilance on the upper mids and that’s always a good thing.
The treble has good extension and resolving ability but it generally sounds grainier. The instrumental attack and decay have decent clarity but sound faint in their delivery.
The transients are rendered crisp with their tonality bordering on bright but not peaky. The timbre on the transients is not the most natural but comes across with good shimmer and dynamism.
Putting on the AK6-X right after the AK6 might fool you in a blind test.
After all, their DNA is similar but if you listen closely enough, you’ll be able to pick up on the small differences. These differences may be small but they’re very significant and they affect the listening experience in big ways.
Starting with the bass, the QKZ AK6-X has more or less of the AK6’s bass quantity in the sub-bass but it relatively has more control to it. The rumble sounds as if it’s siphoned out and made orderly like flayed paintbrush bristles combed with water.
There’s more texture and definition on the AK6-X’s sub bass making listening less fatiguing and more fleshed out to the listener.
The mid-bass is also very similar to the AK6 but is less aggressive in its kick. I find the AK6-X’s mid-bass to be more controlled in its attack, which makes for a very dynamic experience that’s less overwhelming to the senses.
The midrange is more or less the same as the AK6. It’s hard to pinpoint any difference and you’ll need to engage in some critical listening to find the boundaries in which they’re different. But it won’t matter because you won’t enjoy the music if you’re always trying to dissect it.
In any case, the upper midrange on the AK6-X sounds more elevated compared to the AK6’s, introducing a lot of energy and forwardness to the notes.
The treble is noticeably smoother which means it sounds more refined and easier to listen to. Like the AK6, it doesn’t cross sibilant territory but remains splashy and energetic.
The timbral aspects remain unchanged in their transients but improve with more dynamism in their attack and decay. The detail retrieval on the AK6-X is about the same as the AK6 but it does better in handling macro details.
QKZ AK6 vs. QKZ AK6-X: Caveats
The Achilles’ heel of both sets lies in their technicalities.
The soundstage remains to be rather intimate than open, presenting width, depth, and height quite poorly.
The imaging is below average and does a minuscule job in instrument placement and separation.
The transient response for both sets is average and remains somewhat distinct through a somewhat artificial sharpening.
However, this segment is expected as both IEMs belong to a very low price point.
Overall, both sets have more or less the same DNA. They both have the same signature and tuning but differ slightly in how they handle nuances in expressing bands of the frequency range.
I find the QKZ AK6 to be more relaxed overall with good bass quantity and a relatively decent treble response that’s mildly gritty.
On the other hand, the QKZ AK6-X comes off a little bit more energetic, with a more controlled bass response with better performance and a smoother treble with a better transient response.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you which set is better.
It’s like deciding which chili to get, they aren’t too far apart but one is milder and the other is slightly spicier. You still know the differences but you know how much of a degree the difference is.
A man of many interests, Querho is passionate about discovering new things that stimulate the mind. When he is not writing about the things he is passionate about, Querho can be found making music at his home studio.