Current testing methodology is v1.2
The QKZ AK9 is another budget pair of earphones from the Chi-Fi brand QKZ.
I saw that it only costs a little over $3 on AliExpress so naturally, I got curious and decided to buy it. Let’s see how it does in this in-depth review.
Versatile earphones with a good treble and upper midrange.
The AK9 is another excellent offering from QKZ that does a more Harman-ish tuning with a slight bass boost.
It’s far from becoming the next big thing but considering the sea of products to consider in entering the hobby, the AK9 caters to a demographic that veers away from the V-shaped monotony.
It’s a little bit rough around the edges, especially on its lower midrange but it manages to pull off a recognizable attempt at a Harman tuning.
There’s a slight loss of clarity in the lower mids, while the upper midrange and treble hold the general signature together, presenting energetic replay and shimmer.
I’m not so crazy about it but if I were stuck on an island, with this as my only IEM, I wouldn’t mind. Given the price, the looks, and the sonics, I don’t think the AK9 is a bad deal at all.
- Driver: 10mm Single Dynamic Driver
- Frequency response: 15Hz-29KHz
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Sensitivity: 106db/mw
What’s in the Box?
- QKZ AK9 earphones
- 3 x pair of ear tips
- User guide
Stuff I like
- Lean bass response
- Harman-ish signature
- Upper midrange energy
- Bare internals aesthetic
- Good value for money
Stuff I like less
- Mid-bass bleed
- Fuzzy lower midrange
- Dynamic range
Out of the box, the QKZ AK9 isn’t just another QKZ earphone that’s made from an all-plastic solid color shell. Instead, it belonged at the cool kids’ table.
Its aesthetic, featuring an exposed circuit board through the smoke housing, is a design that’s sure to grab the attention of tech heads. Although I’m usually not fond of this design type, I still like it a lot.
The cable is non-detachable and its accessories are basic – just a few extra pairs of ear tips, which is what you can expect for $3.
At first listen, the sound was very apparent present with faults but even then, I found it enjoyable.
The build on the QKZ AK9 is okay and considering its very low price tag, there had to be somewhere QKZ could cut some corners.
Like many QKZ earphones, the AK9 retains that predominantly plastic body and the same cable.
The cable is very rigid and can be quite cumbersome to wind up for storing. It could’ve been a quick fix but since it’s non-detachable, cable swapping will come to no avail.
Overall, the AK9 is light but you won’t get the sense that it’s ultra-dirt cheap, even though it actually is.
Fit and Comfort
Generally, you’d want the fit to be as non-intrusive and as invisible as it can be, and with the QKZ AK9, you get that to a degree.
It doesn’t have any weird fins sticking out nor does it have any cable fatigue at the joints of the pre-formed ear hooks. It’s relatively comfortable but swapping out the tips improves the comfort and fit.
It’s light to carry, pocket around, and wear on the ears so I’d say the choice for a plastic body isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be.
The QKZ AK9 has a signature that’s somewhat similar to the Harman tuning but with a bass boost.
I’d say that the mid-bass is more prominent than the sub-bass frequencies as they tend to come across shy at times.
The midrange sounds are recessed in the soundscape. It takes in a lot of the warmth from the low end but with a considerable amount of muddiness from the mid-bass, which affects note clarity.
The upper midrange up to the treble frequencies is energetic and splashy while devoid of any ear-piercing experiences.
The latter two frequencies are what sounds the most refined in the frequency range, coming across brilliantly with a good sense of air and space.
Overall, the AK9 has a relatively good balance with its lean bass and beautiful high-end but it loses out points on what people almost always want, which is a transparent and clear-sounding midrange.
The bass of the QKZ AK9 was underwhelming at first. This was due to the apparent sub-bass roll-off but I quickly attributed that to my desensitized association of good bass with big sub-basis.
I love a sub-bass that reaches great depth, but I can also appreciate a sub-bass that provides accurate texture and information, which is what the AK9’s sub-bass does more.
The sub-bass shows itself in the form of a deep sine wave that gives an audible groove to the music – it isn’t absent but it hides for most of the time instead of clobbering you at every turn.
When it does play whack-a-mole with you and rear its head out, the sound is a very authoritative deep rumble that’s well-controlled and extremely textured.
To this degree, the mid-bass emphasizes the response and has fairly good dynamics to its attack and decay. Its attack is moderate and doesn’t blast your chest with an overwhelming thump, which I find pleasant.
It does lack a little bit in its timbral performance but overall, still a pretty competent rendering of the kick drum.
The midrange of the QKZ AK9 isn’t super recessed but the sub-bass hill and the upper midrange rise put it a little far back on the soundscape.
It still has a generally good presence hindered by the definition of its notes, which suffer from the mid-bass bleed. It’s not an utterly dirtied sound but I do find myself searching for that transparent sound.
On calm J-Pop songs like Deep Coma by Haruno, the recessed lower midrange makes for a very relaxing listen while their higher register notes still come through sweetly.
Those who prefer a V-shaped tuning won’t really mind the slight recession as they’ll be used to bleed up to a degree. However, those that prefer a more transparent and neutral sound, with clearer note edges, will be disappointed with the AK9.
The upper midrange does give a lot of engagement to the midrange without coming off as overly bright or piercing, which balances the scales a little.
Overall, if you’re not too picky about the entirety of the midrange, the upper midrange does make up for the lethargic low mids.
The treble on the QKZ AK9 has a good extension, which results in relatively good detail retrieval. It also gives percussions like high hats, cymbals, and bells good sparkle.
High vocal registers reach a good shimmer but to my ears, they lack a little more brilliance.
The treble is sparkly with good smoothness. I have no qualms about treble that has strategic peaks but it tends to leave more texture than needed, giving songs a course edge to them.
The soundstage of the QKZ AK9 has decent width and good depth for the price. The width extends just past the ears while the depth is comparable to a fairly sized school theatre.
The sound separation is unexpectedly good with its layering, giving instruments just enough room to not be unintelligible from one another’s threshold.
The transient response is also decent, giving percussions a good amount of distinctness from other sonics.
The dynamic range is rather limited, and I’m forced to either use high volume or opt for high gain, which sucks because I’m already using a fairly powerful source. Using the AK9 from a phone would be quite underwhelming, I reckon.
All in all, these technicalities aren’t bad for the price and I’m quite happy there’s some attention given to the technical aspects given that earphones in this price range often stumble when it comes to their technical ability.
The QKZ AK9 tends to butt heads with some AK6 earphones as they’re all pretty competent for their price. However, the AK9 defects slightly with its signature, which isn’t the common V-shaped crowd-pleaser.
The bass is flexible and can go deep when the song emphasizes it. And while I do find the lower mids to be tamer than what I prefer, the upper midrange and treble make up for it with their energy and pleasant shimmer.
The dynamic range on the AK9 is very limited so you’ll be better off using some sort of DAC dongle than just the de facto phone setup. You’ll also be needing to raise the volume a little bit as the sonics sound fainter on moderate to lower volume levels.
The genre flexibility of the AK9 is somewhat specific but it might just be my library. I find that it does well with classical music, rock, J-Pop, and EDM.
While you’re most likely to find synergy with everything else, the lower midrange recession is going to limit the genres that have vocals as the focus, so live performances and mainstream pop will most likely not perform as naturally and as well.
All in all, the QKZ AK9 passes my test which involves “making it disappear on my ears as I sit in a café.”, which is a good sign that it isn’t garbage after all.
In the end, I think it is a good entry-level earphone for the price, and while I don’t fall head-over-heels for it, there’s a market demographic that will.
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 2023-09-27 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.