The Ultra Cheap IEM Thread



I can bring over two budget DAPs if you want to look at a couple of the new models out of China. The Hidizs AP80 and Xudoo X3-II. I like the AP80 more for usability and looks standpoint. The EarStudio ES100 is still my recommended choice though.


First five minutes with the KZ ZS7 …

Much better balanced, tonally, than any other KZ IEM I’ve heard. Treble is far better controlled, more restrained, and quite a bit smoother than the other KZ models I’ve piddled around with.

On the downside, getting a seal on these results in an enormous amount of crackling and popping, presumably from the dynamic driver being compressed. As does ANY movement of them in/out of the ear once they’re in place. It’s obnoxious, unsettling and absolutely un-ignorable.

This could be a fault with this pair … especially as it is far more prominent on the left than the right unit. After 10-30 seconds of play the left side will “pop”, stop crackling and then sound normal … prior to which it is quieter and highly subdued on one side.

I’ll order another pair to test. But if this is how they are normally, they’re a non-starter for me as even moving my jaw can cause this popping/crackling - even without the IEMs being connected to anything.

Edit: I’m pretty sure the left driver is just flat out faulty. The right hand unit does not exhibit this crackling/popping no matter what I do with the pressure/seal. Not that it seems to be affecting the overall sound, which is quite good, but I can’t listen to these with this crackling/popping occurring just from normal wear (never heard anything like it before).


The treble is MUCH smoother (and more restrained) than any of the other KZ IEMs I’ve tried.

But see above for other issues.


I appreciate that!

That said, I am pretty much over DAPs that feature “written in China” software. Every single one I’ve tried has the (usually excellent) hardware seriously let down with shoddy, no … actually, shitty, software/firmware, even from well known brands.

And, at this point, if it says “Hiby” in relation to the software that is, for me, more of a warning than a feature.


Thanks. Will order a pair and let you know if I have the same issue.


Yea the AP80 is Hiby based. The XuDoo isnt but I dont really like it’s interface too much. I prefer the Pioneer XDP-300R (and Onkyo DP-S1) over both of these by far.

Great to hear about the ZS7 in terms of sound. Hopefully you can get a replacement for the driver issue though. I haven’t gotten it yet, though I think there was a plan to get me a review set in soon, though havent seen tracking ID for it.

Would you say its more of neutral signature than the ZSN then?


Much more neutral, perhaps even bass-tilted.

But definitely not as bright as the ZSN.

The replacement is already taken care of (Amazon order), should have a new set tomorrow.

My issues with the software on various DAPs is less about how the interface works and more about consistency, performance and stability. Even among the better known names in this realm, some of them are still fundamentally broken/have incomplete features even two years in.

I am super-wary about anything running Android, due to the tendency to get stuck with the forced ASRC of the platform. Some brands do the work to get around this, but not all do it properly. And I don’t want to have to deal with UAPP as I hate the UX and am not impressed with its stability (may well be much better since I last used it, but I have no intention of going down that path again).

Sony get this right. A&K get this right. The rest … not seen one without major issues so far …


Yes, I agree. I have experience modding and developing on Android so it does help unlock some of the weird restrictions Android has with the pioneer. Don’t recommend users go this route without knowing the risks and having prior experience as many changes are irreversible


You could try Neutron too, that’s what I mostly use these days. It’s a bit of a power-user kind of UI, but it gets the job done. That said, I personally don’t mind UAPP and find it better than any purpose built DAP interfaces I’ve used (other than the old iPod interface).


I have had 115 orders from AE and all items arrived. There were a few minor issues but all these were resolved smoothly. Once you have established a relationship with a seller, they are typically pretty good.

My only issue was Canada Post holding items in Richmond for 150 days, then shipping them to Mississauga, and from there to Calgary.


Received the Pioneer CH3 single DD today @ $24 CAD. Was recommended as a cheap reference over at sbaf. A former pair had failed badly…see FR graph.


Speaking of getting banned…which I am from most over at Head-Fi. I received a pair of the V2 for review from the manufacturer without asking for them. First, I will give these away to charity after my review to avoid a conflict of interest - but the manufacturer expects a purchase link. Is this allowed here?

In the future, I will always ask for a return envelope accompanying review units.

Today, I was attempting my first post here: my comment needs to be approved by the moderator. Is that standard here? Over on Head-Fi it is a punitive measure.

Thanks, Jürgen from Calgary


Provided the link does not contain an affiliate code/reference, then I don’t think we have a specific provision against it. Many, maybe most, of the reviews here include a link to the source of the item in question … which often goes to the manufacturer’s site.

Depending on what the item is, the forum post editor may create links to a referenced product on Amazon - and when it does so those should be left as-is and not replaced.

All new posters (which is not necessarily people who have only just created their accounts) require their first few posts be approved by a moderator. It’s not a punitive measure, just a preemptive anti-spam/nonsense measure.


Whatever charity receives those will be in luck! The V2 is my current favourite with a beautifully balanced smooth sound. I wouldn’t give them away! Meanwhile the CCA C10 IEM is on its way. Impressions soon.


A very quick listen to the KZ ZS7 using my favorite Spinfit tips agreed with @Torq’s impressions. Much better sorted treble, lots of bass. If I listen at really low volumes, the bass is about right, and thankfully clarity seems reasonably well preserved elsewhere. I also noticed the crackling on inserting both sides, but once in and sealed I didn’t notice it again until taking them out.

Here are some very quick and dirty measurements on my MiniDSP E.A.R.S. (diffuse field IEM compensation).

Measurements confirm that bass is very prominent, treble does seem more even than what I would see from my QT2 or the old KZ ZST, channel matching is not great (especially in the bass) and there’s probably a crossover at around 100 Hz which introduces an interesting wiggle in the frequency response. The crossover is visible in the excess group delay too.

That said, other than the crossover, the excess group delay looks very good okay compared to what I remember of my QT2 or Etymotic HF5., even at the extremes where things usually go off the rails a bit.

Gonna try a 20 Hz filter of -7 dB with Q 0.1 and see how I like that :slight_smile:

EDIT - Measurements were taken using the stock medium tips. Also, I realized that the group delay graph is zoomed to a stupid scale, which makes excess group delay look smaller than it actually is. Doesn’t actually look any better than the QT2.



That’s interesting … as only my left-side unit is still exhibiting this crackling now - but does so with so much sensitivity that it is unusable. We’ll see what happens with the pair showing up today - if it is just on insertion/removal I can live with it.

Could be that they both do it and it’s just the difference in the seal between my left and right ears that is making one crackle and the other not, as more than once I’ve had to use different size tips for each ear. I should go play with that in advance of getting the replacement …


I figured I’d listen to these while waiting for my car at the mechanic’s, but they’ve actually got a playlist going with Weather Report, Prince and other goodness so it’ll have to wait!

Meanwhile, here are frequency response (diffuse field compensated) and group delay for the QT2. You can see a tiny wiggle at what I surmise is a crossover point around 900 Hz, but it’s clearly much better sorted than the ZS7’s crossover.


@Torq Is it possibly driver flex?

@pwjazz - so it’s still got a V-shape signature? Treble doesnt look as painful as previous ZS6 from memory in that chart.


Yeah, the signature is v-shaped but only slightly so, and bass is definitely more accentuated than the treble, so it’s kind of a lopsided V ;). The treble is far from painful or sibilant. The mids are a tiny bit thin–I don’t notice it on most music, but it’s apparent when listening to choral music like Herreweghe’s recording of Bach’s Saint Matthew’s Passion where the instrumentals overshadow the choir a bit. It does create a nice sense of space but I don’t think it’s “accurate”.

The playlist at the mechanic’s went downhill so I’m listening to my standard test songs with these right now. I ended up only taking the bass down about 3 dB instead of the 7 dB I initially guess from the measurements. Other than the mild bass elevation, these sound pretty natural to me, with no glaring over or under emphasis in any particular areas. Cymbals on the QT2 sound horribly bright while at the same time vocals, trumpet and guitar lack some presence. No such problems on the ZS7.

The other thing that I think I’m hearing is better imaging. My past chifi IEMs like the ZST and QT2 manage to both sound overly bright while also lacking some air, making them sound somewhat dead. This is particularly noticeable on orchestral strings, which on the QT2 sound a bit strained. If I boost the lower treble it adds some life but starts to sound fake. Listening to something like Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay”, I can hear the room a bit better with the ZS7 and don’t feel the need to boost the lower treble to add life.

A recent favorite imaging test track of mine is A Thousand Beautiful Things by Annie Lennox. It includes a bunch of vocal layering and panning and the ZS7 handles it pretty well.

I like using percussion to check tonal balance since drums cover a wide range of the spectrum. If something is off, at some point there’ll be a kind of drum that doesn’t sound right. Snares might sound tizzy, bass drums hollow or so on. I haven’t listened to the ZS7 enough to declare them perfect in this area, but so far I haven’t heard anything that made me take notice as sounding wrong.

Regarding the bass - it’s elevated, but as I hoped for from a hybrid, it’s pretty articulate. Mingus’ bass solo at the beginning of Haitian Fight Song sounds great, punchy and textured.

So far, with a slight bass decrease, I’m liking these quite a bit. Even without the bass decrease they’re eminently listenable, I just need to turn down the volume a bit.


Here’s my KZ AS06 graphs for comparison.