QKZ X-HBB Review
Here we go with another Hawaiian Bad Boy collaboration. Today I am reviewing the QKZ X-HBB which sort of took me by surprise upon seeing news of this set in the wild. I purchased the XHBB off of Amazon US for around $20. I have to say, right out of the gate, that I’m a fan of HBB (YouTube channel “Bad Guy Good Audio”). Always have been. I’m a direct type of person and seem to gravitate to anyone similar.
I won’t go into a whole spiel, but I have been a fan of nearly all HBB collab iems. Minus the DQ6S which I still have yet to have in my ears for longer than 5 minutes (they weren’t mine), as well as his most expensive sets. I just don’t have the cash for those at the moment. Oh well. I Adore the Olina, like the Mele a lot and absolutely enjoy the Kai (review will be coming soon).
I think it is a cool thing to see a collaboration with one of the lower budget brands in chifi and one of the bigger names in the hobby. This is good on many fronts, but the best part is that we “the consumer” actually reap some rewards of such partnerships. With this recent string of collaborative efforts of late, I think there has been an evident spike in quality within the budget sector in general. Competition and standards grow, and eventually better gear hits the market. That is how it seems anyhow.
This was fun…
Anyways, I had a good time reviewing this set. It was kind of a surprise to a small extent just how nicely the tuning was done. Maybe I should’ve expected something worthy of HBB’s name. I won’t make that mistake in the future. If they can do this with a $20 iem then c’mon… High expectations people. There are a growing number of well-tuned and relatively great sounding ultra-budget iems in the market right now, but for me there are a select few which I truly enjoy. Just to get it out of the way now… in my opinion… the XHBB is one of those select budget beasts which seem to really excell.
-These look flat out dope!
-Dynamic, fun and fatigue free sound
-Vocals are nice
-Treble is well extended and airy w/o anything shrill
-Tuning in general
-Almost holographic Soundstage for a budget iem
-At this price, I don’t think any cons are noteworthy
-Won’t satisfy neutral and technicality lovers
-Maybe accessories (of course this set is $20, might as well scratch this)
-Bass can be a bit boomy or too much for some people (not really a con)
-Not for Treble-Heads (is this really a con?)
-Again, at this price, I don’t think any cons are noteworthy
The packaging for the XHBB is about what one would expect. It is pretty sparse as all that’s included is the earphones, the ear tips and the cable. The cable is perfectly fine and functional but I did swap it out for a balanced cable for balanced sources. The included eartips are actually of decent quality but I did also swap those out for KBear 07 tips.
The included cable is simply a SPC, Silver Plated Copper cable. I do not know how many cores are involved with the Construction. I simply haven’t seen much in the way of information. The cable actually is almost a replica of KZ cables. Like I said I did swap cables back and forth depending on the source being used. I used a balanced cable quite a bit as well for my balanced sources. I don’t think it is a necessity to cable swap but I understand perfectly why you would.
Build / Design / Fit
The build is actually much better than I would have expected. Truthfully this set is built solid! It appears that it was constructed from two pieces (Faceplate & Shell) glued together. QKZ also added what appears to be an aluminum ring around the Faceplate which is a nice touch. The nozzle is sturdy and golden in color with a nice lip for holding tips as well as some scored marks around the lip. The grill is also not some flimsy cheap mesh grill but is solid & all metal which adds a bit of a premium flare.
The build is very well put together and without any glue spots or rough surfaces or slight misalignments. This set seems to be built pretty well and actually looks pricier than it is.
The XHBB has a 10mm Dynamic Driver which is a Titanium-coated Diaphragm. It is also said to have a high-intensity magnetic circuit.
10mm Titanium-Coated Diaphragm
With times of experiments, QKZ acoustic engineers eliminated ordinary diaphragms and eventually selected the unique 10mm Titanium-Coated Diaphragm to deliver a detailed, accurate sound that is different from any other product in the market.
Optimized Magnetic Circuit, Double Power
Enhanced high-intensity magnetic circuit greatly improves bass performance. With HBB’s special tuning, the earphone reproduces crystal clear sounds with enough bass for people who want to crank it out a bit, yet still be able to hear every instrument and vocal details of what is playing through their headphones. It is a good choice for R&B, DJ, stage performance, metal…QKZ Promotional
These look flat out tough! They are striking in appearance! All black except for some dope looking accent colors and trim. The faceplates are the jewel of this set with HBB’s cool looking logo in the center and lightning graphics imposed around the logo. The XHBB screams “Dude” through and through! An alloy ring edges the Faceplate creating a perfect contrast of color. Then you couple that with the golden looking nozzle, and you got yourself feeling you should’ve paid more. Really the Design coupled with the actual build is second to none right now at the price. Off the top of my head anyways, I’m sure there are some I’m not recalling. That last thought is obviously debatable.
The fit for me is like “Peas & Carrots”, or like a “Hand in a Glove”. This (Fitment) is obviously a subjective thing and really… I have zero idea why I waste digital ink on explaining it, but the XHBB fit me very well.
I have zero issues driving this set. Even from an iPad 2018 I hear decent dynamics. The Zooaux Dongle Dac paired well with Xhbb which tells me similar small dongles will work perfectly fine. I also really enjoyed this set attached to the Fiio Utws5. What a nice pairing for a Bluetooth tws type option. The AK dac within seems to reach a nice synergy with this budget gem.
Moving to the IFi Go Blu and the Fiio KA3 with a 4.4 balanced cable was equally great. Both seem to really bring out better separation and increased perceived soundstage with the additional power. Finally, as always, I spend the most time with my Ibasso Dx240 with Amp8 MK2 Installed (Ibasso DX248 MK2). The DX240 paired with this little budget wonder sounds absolutely great. I can honestly say there are incremental upgrades in fidelity and overall dynamics with power and improved devices with better internals. This should surprise nobody. But hey, if all you have is a small dongle dac, trust me… you’re good, the XHBB will sound nice with it.
The XHBB has a warmer tonal character yet with good extension and dynamic expression both ways for an ultra-budget iem. This is a V-shaped iem with a definite emphasis in the bass region. I hear a semi-smooth replay with a non-fatiguing sound yet still with some defined edges to notes and an energetic warmth which sounds decently compelling.
The bass hits with authority and has some good texture. I wouldn’t call it a bass-head level low-end. The Mids aren’t pushed too far back either, what a pleasant surprise. Vocals sound convincing and weighty for males. Females sound emotional and spirited. Treble has some spritely energy but not even close to fatiguing.
The X-HBB is a steal…
The XHBB isn’t tuned to precisely emphasize the minutiae within a track and if you are going to purchase this set for its technical capabilities then I’d say you could find better in this regard. For what they are though, details aren’t absent. I’ll get more into that later. All in all, though, this set absolutely rocks! Tuned with a certain easy-going vivaciousness! The XHBB is slightly soft at note edges, yet as a whole they are well enough defined, just not the crispest. For a well-tuned iem under $25, this is an absolute steal in my most honest opinion.
Right away I check the bass when going through a review process. I immediately noticed the tighter boom of this bass region. Especially on “Billie Jean“, the remake of Michael Jackson’s famous hit by Weezer. There is a decisive, forward and commanding thud from the soloed-out kick-drum. Bass hits aren’t the crispiest or most clean lined, but they are as clean as they are aggressive. By the way, this set can be aggressive. In the same breath, the low end isn’t too overdone, and the bass doesn’t infringe on the midrange in an intrusive way, more so in a helpful way. No muddiness, no veil and also nothing pillowy or hollow.
Sub & Mid Bass
The sub-bass has that extended and deep haptic vibration which is sonorous and juddering. Take any Billie Eilish track, trust me… we agree. The mid-bass can detonate when called upon but doesn’t appear to be at a “Bass Boi” level. I feel it just misses that mark. I realize I’m using descriptions which sound like bass-head terms but the rest of the tuning balances everything out just enough to miss that moniker. It simply growls deep and with good authority. The mid-bass is just as authoritative. It hits hard and does so without trying it seems.
The bass is tight for its size and bolsters the overall tuning like an anchor. Texture is clearly evident while resolution is closer to average. I’d say that relative to the amount of visceral slam, boom and growl is a tidy and pretty clean bass for $20. Attack is rigid and full of a semi-solid leading edge as the decay/sustain bleeds a note down with a nice atmospheric trail-off. It isn’t the speediest of low ends but also, I wouldn’t want it to be. Another thing, it isn’t slow at all.
There is a ton of texture to bass guitars and the overall bass in general. I think it strikes a nice clean, melodic, authoritative and textured balance. “Feelin the Miles” by The Wilder Blue shows off that guttural bass guitar like a budget champ. Or “Heavy is the Ocean” by Bush on their brand-new album. People just trust me that XHBB absolutely kills it. There is nice depth to the bass while chaos is playing around the bassline. Pretty darn good.
Mids in general
The Midrange to me has a certain velvet touch to it. Rich and syrupy. Lush is the word we normally reach for, and I don’t think I could find a better word in the English language. I need a word describing something full sounding yet smooth and not even close to dry. Um, how about lush? Lush it is. Because of this lushness I don’t get that super resolute or detail-oriented playback. Honestly, I don’t care. The XHBB sounds so melodic in the Mids. Yes, there are ridiculously picky drawbacks which I will quickly outline but all in all, great job with this moist and full sounding, smooth replay which comes across rather…lush. You won’t find shout here, you won’t hear sibilance either, you won’t throw these iems off your head from the piercing ringing in your ears. It’s easy, not completely recessed and it doesn’t offer fatigue.
Lower midrange (Male Vocals)
The low-mids come through with a nice warmth and decent weight to vocals. I wouldn’t call this the most natural of male vocals, but I wouldn’t say they are completely unnatural. Possibly a hair too much mid bass emphasis in this region for some. However, this mid-bass push helps in other areas which make it an easy trade-off. Males are forward and focused enough, even in the midst of the slight recession. Truthfully, I like the way males sound. Marcus King in “Blood On The Tracks” renders his raspy yet smooth voice very well on the XHBB. Definition could be a hint better in the face of the melody surrounding Marcus, but the musicality and warmth is there with enough solid presence to carry the track well.
Upper-Midrange (Female Vocals)
Females are more forward and energetic without offering fatigue in the upper-mids. They come across sveltely defined and steal the midrange show. I think they come across more naturally than males to me. By the way, ‘natural’ is a ridiculous subjective term we use. I’d love for someone to try to describe what “natural” is. Anyways, sorry, “Hold the Girl” by Rina Sawayama showcases her vocal abilities in an almost ballad style. I would like a bit more of a controlled sheen as there is the ever so slightest lack of shimmer here. Very slight.
This is me being ridiculously picky over a $20 iem. Truthfully most other female lead vocals sound resolute and forward enough, emotional enough and are done so with a good body to the sound. To sum up vocals, both male and female sound very nice for the price, which also means they sound really nice at any price… nice is nice.
The treble has a nice downward sounding slope which actually has some nice extension. The treble region simply does its job. In my opinion it does the treble region well. No, it isn’t expanded to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. No, it isn’t the most heightened or accentuated. Also no, the treble doesn’t contrast tiny minute details with the surrounding melody like a detail forward budget king. Definitely no, treble-heads probably won’t treasure this set. The treble doesn’t expand the stage or brighten the mix or add any sparkles or shine. The treble on the XHBB casually just… does its job. Vibrant enough to add some clarity and boost the overall sound while maintaining that leisurely smoothness. The treble to some will be the downside to this set, but for long listening sessions, trust me… it is an upside to the XHBB.
Not too much
The XHBB treble is a non-fatiguing, but still a fairly energetic treble which walks that fine line not to disrupt the overall warmish, easy-going replay. The upper 3rd maintains an exuberant and bodied sound. Perhaps if I was picky, I’d ask for a bit more air up top, but in totality I love the choice and the direction of the tuning. Very nice for long periods and even short sessions. I’m not missing anything and in truth there is still plenty of vibrancy when it is called upon. Let’s put it this way, the XHBB is not a dark sounding set at all. It’s energetic enough to almost balance the tonal equilibrium and doesn’t force any emblazed or embellished brilliance like some budget sets. Well, even many non-budget sets push the envelope and end up going a bit too far.
Furthermore, about the Treble…
Cymbals have a nice “chisk” to them and trail off with enough volume while not sounding weird to me. Piano and sax sound “natural” to me. Honestly, I don’t have a ton to say about the treble region. I think it is very nicely done considering the asking price and the library of music this set was catering to. Again, there is still a smoother and less crisp, less separated and less defined leading edge to instruments though I hear good enough clarity to easily satisfy me.
So, details are not going to pop up with some crazy distinctness, but seriously folks… what are you actually trying to hear? What details do your ears need that this set can’t give you? If you need to hear the scrape of a napkin 10 rows back in your favorite live song… please trust me… you aren’t enjoying the music. Also, the XHBB prob isn’t for you.
To add to that last point. The XHBB represents, to me, a musical and emotionally pulling sound which would all be lost with some ultra-transparent and detail focused tuning. Yes, there are sets that can give you both, but guess what… they don’t cost $20. This set does cost $20, and for $20 I like the final result of the treble area. Not much is lost here.
The soundstage has a good size to it. These are iems so… I’m not looking for a coliseum. Depending on the track and source; the XHBB have above average width for the price point with decent height and have some depth to them. I don’t hear a simple 2D plane and wall of sound. Also, my biggest concern about stage size… is it appropriate to the music I am listening to? Without question the answer is yes.
Separation isn’t the Xhbb’s finest attribute. Granted it isn’t bad either. Providing the track being played isn’t too hectic, separation isn’t bad at all. Now, if I’m playing “I’m Not Okay” by My Chemical Romance at high volumes or “Under the Gun” by The Black Keys then no you won’t hear crazy good separation. Forgive me for the song choices by the way, the best I could do off the top of my head that I used for testing. Anyways, even with those tracks my ‘written notes’ say that separation wasn’t horrible but a slight bit blended at the more congested chorus parts for those particular songs.
Imaging is pretty good. Nothing jumped out at me as a problem. Most of my music isn’t so chaotic that the XHBB can’t keep up and position well. I can pretty easily locate everything within my music putting the X-HBB above average to me. I’ve heard sets that are horrible in this area and the XHBB isn’t one of them. I’d say nothing is out of place or blended, which is all that we should be asking of this price tag and tuning. There is good enough clarity to distinguish decently etched out elements of a stage.
Details are again, not mind blowing. For the tuning, details are fine, but the XHBB is not a detail king. I am glad for this as I don’t want to lose the emotional pull to my music. Most of the details which are illuminated on the XHBB fall into the macro area to my ears. This is simply not XHBB’s strong suit. Of course, anyone who has followed the tuning and library and style of HBB himself should know what genres and types of music he is tuning to. Still, details aren’t absent, they aren’t awash in a blended cocktail of sound. Resolution & clarity; while not class leading, it is good enough to fulfill the appropriate demands of most music and pull-out surface details for a melodic playback. That’s about the gist of it.
*Note: My comparisons are not competitions. I use comparisons as a tool to help somewhat explain the audio gear which I am reviewing. Unless the discrepancy between the two is obvious to everyone.
7hz Salnotes Zero ($19)
Talk about an overachiever… the 7hz Salnotes Zero is quite a nice budget sector iem. I purchased this set with hopes to review but my schedule was just too crazy. Maybe someday soon. To some this is the set which draws new standards, while to others it is a dull hype train. I’ve heard both. I guess anyone who can appreciate a very mature and balanced sound will appreciate this fantastic little gem. Truly the Zero has brought many to answer the question, “Why am I spending so much on iems?”. In many ways it out classes it’s price point fairly easily as I am giving the XHBB some stiff and unforgiving competition. Not that this is a contest.
The Zero is a single Dynamic Driver set with a 10mm Metal Composite Diaphragm. I believe it comes in at around $20, at least in the States. It has a very stylish minimalistic design with a somewhat unique shape which is very well built.
As far as differences go between the Zero and the XHBB, there are quite a few. Honestly these two don’t graph altogether too differently past the midrange. When actually listening to them both, the differences are easily highlighted. The difference is in the bass section, lower mids and in the stuff which doesn’t graph. In fact, these two are almost at opposite ends of listening styles and sound signatures to me.
The Zero is much quicker down low with much less bass quantity and a speedier response. Some refer to the Zero as “Bass Light”. I suppose there is some subjective truth to that but really the Zero have a very dialed-in and quality low-end. The XHBB hits with a lot more authority and represents a much more dynamic and emotive listen. The XHBB has better texture to my ears and simply sounds full while remaining in decent control.
The Zero sounds airy in the midrange where it is also cleaner and more technical in nature. The XHBB counters that clean playback with musicality and an emotional aspect which is hard to beat at the price. There is a slight bit more emphasis in the upper-mids to lower-treble on the Zero and coupled with the attenuated lower bass region the Zero has a better chance at fatigue. The XHBB is smoother and easier going.
The treble region on both of these sets is very well done. The Zero sounded brighter with better outward extension to the XHBB’s warmer and more ardent and impassioned replay. Obviously, in regard to technicalities the Zero pulled ahead across the board. The Zero is drier and more analytical, yet still retains a certain musicality. The XHBB has a more of a full sound, weightier in all regions with a more accurate timbre in my opinion.
Which one to choose?
Personally, I do enjoy the QKZ X-HBB a bit more. It simply is closer to my target and what I prefer when listening to music. However, I can’t say that it isn’t extremely close considering all that the Zero does well. The difference for me lies in the fuller and more dynamically expressive sound of the XHBB, with its more robust and deeper low end and the way vocals come across more saturated in the “feels” department. This is in no way a rebuke of the Zero and I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding. I thoroughly enjoy that set. It is a budget Marvel in my opinion, and I do believe that it will be some time before we see another which is so well executed.
CCA Lyra ($19)
Oh, the Lyra! My schedule never permitted me to review it unfortunately either. That’s okay there are a million reviews already, I don’t think the world needs my take.
The Lyra comes hot off the heels of many KZ/CCA single Dynamic killers! The cool part… the Lyra out-performs them all in my opinion. Of course, this is easily debatable. The Lyra has a 10mm Dual Magnetic, Single Dynamic Driver. It is the culmination of KZ/CCA slowly dialing the tuning in to where they truly are creating fantastic iems for the price. The Lyra looks pretty darn cool and is built decently for the Low cost.
As far as differences go with the XHBB, I believe this all comes down to small differences. These two are pretty close when all is said and done. The Lyra has a bit more of an open sound with a sliver more emphasis in the upper mids/lower treble. Note weight on the XHBB edges the Lyra in my opinion. Though definition and clarity are a hair better on the Lyra with a bit more of a snappy attack. The low-end of the XHBB has more impact and is simply more full sounding, deeper and the slightest bit more aggressive.
I think treble extension is slightly in favor of the XHBB while the Lyra has a hint more emphasis, especially in the low-treble. The soundstage actually has more depth and more of a holographic sensation on the X-HBB with a slightly more fun and dynamic sound. Still, I’d say the Lyra has a wider stage. The overall timbre and tonality of the Lyra has an airier quality to it with better spacing and a touch more resolute overall.
A Tough Call…
This one is the tougher call to make for me. I honestly feel these two are tops in my absolute favorites in the ultra-budget sector. Ultra-budget in my mind is less than $25 by the way. I could also add the EDX Ultra to this list as well, but I don’t have them on hand to compare. Truthfully these two are more alike than they are different. Any area where one sort-of outperforms the other is by the smallest of margins. Also, ‘outperform’ is subjective and only my opinion, and probably a bad choice of words. More like subtle differences. Honestly, if you already have the Lyra, it may be pointless to hit the “Buy Now” button from your favorite dealer on the XHBB & vice-versa. For me, right now… I may be a prisoner of the moment, but I simply enjoy the XHBB more than the others.
Folks I never would have thought we would start seeing budget iems which perform so very well. The audio world has been turned on its head with iems so spectacular as the 7hz Zero or the QKZ X-HBB or the Lyra. No these won’t best very good $200 iems. Sorry they aren’t that good. In the same breath these will best “some” much pricier iems, and I typed that without cracking a smile.
I thoroughly enjoy the set under review here. The XHBB is no doubt a great performer with a quality sound that I can easily listen to for long periods and not get tired of. At times I downplayed my feelings over this ‘Budget Baddy’ as I try not to hype anything but… let the “hype-train” roll people. This set absolutely will not be for everyone. This I promise. It is not the most technically inclined as the XHBB cannot stand next to some others in that regard. Some of you already know if this is for you or not just by understanding the HBB’s library and past tuning efforts. It should come as no surprise however that he (HBB) once again absolutely NAILED his tuning style and co-created one heckuva iem. Bravo.
Well, there you have it. Another fun review where I get to do what I enjoy and put my little ‘reviewer hat’ on. It’s therapeutic Fellas and Ladies. With that said, please don’t take only my word for it, don’t do that. Read and listen to, or watch, other reviewers and take in other perspectives. I understand that not many of the people within the community have a ton of money burning a hole in their pocket. For most, your purchases have to matter. I hope to help at least a little bit. I will give my honest take on whatever I review, and this review was no different than any other. I’ve always been a fan of HBB but still I would not let that affect my description of what I hear and think.
Thank you to anyone who took the time to read this review. I hope it helps. Please take good care and stay safe.