I’m continuing my exploration of budget-fi earphones. I was warned not to go down this rabbit hole but here we are. Previously I looked at the Blon BL-03 and whilst it’s not the giant killer the hype machine made it out to be, it’s a really enjoyable earphone and pretty good value for sub $30. I also looked at the QKZ VK1, the TRN v90 and the KZ ZSN Pro, all of which I found lacking even for their low sub $30 and sometimes as low as $10 prices. Today I’m looking at the QKZ VK4 which is a single dynamic driver earphone that costs as little as £10/$13. I’m really not expecting much for this price, the reigning champion of budget-fi for me is still the Blon BL-03 but hang on, wait a minute…. This $13 IEM can’t be any good surely? We got a lot to talk about so let’s get into it.
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Before we get too deep into this I want you to remember one thing throughout the rest of this review. “$13”. Just remember that figure. “$13”.
The QKZ VK4 uses a single dynamic driver which is said to have a carbon nanotube graphene diaphragm. That’s pretty impressive for $13. They also have an impedance of 16 Ohms and a sensitivity of 105dB.
The body is made of a lightweight resin in a style reminiscent of the KZ ZST. The version I have here is described as a “dazzling” blue-purple colourway. There is also a second colourway described as “Dazzling black” which is a faux carbon fibre look and doesn’t really look anything like carbon fibre. “$13” though.
The earpieces themselves weigh a superlight 4g per ear without tips and are a rather basic or generic KZ style shape.
They come supplied with the standard silicone tips in small medium and large sizes. Although these ones look rather familiar, they look like the exact same ones that were supplied with the TRN v90. I don’t get on with silicone tips so I picked up a set of QKZ foam tips to go with these. They are nothing fancy, just generic foam tips.
The stock cable is the usual budget-fi affair, thin with stiff ear hooks. As always with budget-fi, it’s not particularly special and most people would want to upgrade this, just like the cable on the Blon BL-03. The connector used here is a 2-pin with 0.75mm pins so replacements will be super easy to find. $13 though.
QKZ seem to be pretty confident about the VK4 as they claim a 20Hz to 40kHz frequency response with Hi-Res audio certification and for some reason they have DSD Hifi-Dynamic printed on the side. That doesn’t make sense to me, it’s obviously a marketing thing. Well, QKZ are definitely hyping up the hi-res capability of these earphones. They talk the talk but do they walk the walk? Well, let’s get into the sound section.
And I will start this section with a disclaimer:
Budget-fi earphones are often known for unit variance and this might be true of the VK4 but I can only report my experience with this one specific pair. Also as I do not get on with silicone tips, I struggle to get a good seal in my ears, I did the bulk of my listening with foam tips but I will comment as well on my experience with silicone.
All listening was done using lossless sources from my PC through an O2/SDAC or over bluetooth using the Fiio BTR3. This is to simulate listening using a solid desktop source as well as mobile usage.
I’m going to be making comparisons with the Blon BL-03 as my reigning budget-fi champion. As well as the Tin T4 which is my current chi-fi benchmark IEM. Both of which were used with foam tips.
I’m going to start with a spoiler this time. Because I want to cut to the chase. These sound way better than any $13 IEM has any right to sound. Hype!
When I started listening to these I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I still cannot. Maybe I’ve gone crazy. How could a $13 IEM sound this good?
Enough with the hype.
Starting out with the bass, they seem to have a decent amount of extension but don’t sound particularly boosted. They are definitely less boosted than the Blon BL-03 but think Tin T4 and you’re about there. Although perhaps they have a little more extension than the T4, which might make them sound more bassy on certain genres. This does seem to give the low end a little more weight in bass-heavy genres. There’s also a surprising amount of slam capability giving some great energy to EDM for example. I really appreciated the good slam to the kick on Polaris by Deadmau5, the whole track sounds exciting and lively. Same could be said for Deep Jungle Walk by Astrix, which actually got me thinking maybe the bass is slightly bigger on the VK4 on the whole. But it’s not like the Tin T4 is slacking here, we are talking a subtle difference. Not like the huge difference between the Tin T4 and the Blon BL-03. The level of bass on the Blon for this track is huge. Overall the low end sounds a slight touch warmer on the VK4 than the Tin T4 but this is only noticeable on certain tracks and back to back listening and there appears to be no loss of quality of this bass, it’s incredibly articulate, no muddiness, no bloating. Honestly, I’m struggling to find anything to complain about, and I’m trying really hard to find something to criticise.
In terms of midrange, again, think Tin T4. Just like the T4 there is a little more energy up the top end of the mids but never to the point that it becomes shouty, at least not for my ears. Male vocals are good but female vocals are perhaps the forte and a little more forwards but never to my ears shouty.
I listened to a sine sweep and the Tin T4 has its upper-mid (or low treble depending on where you consider mids end and treble starts) peak at 5Khz and the QKZ VK4 has it’s mid-peak somewhere between 4 – 4.5kHz but neither seems more elevated than the other.
Although I don’t have any measurements to go off so I have to rely on my own ears here so this is obviously more subjective than a graph.
They definitely have a bit more upper mid/low treble energy than the Blon BL-03 which is really quite restrained here. This gives the Blon an overall much darker presentation than both the VK4 and Tin T4. Those who prefer a more laid back sound would be better suited to the Blon. With that said the VK4 just like the Tin T4 are not shouty to my ears. I know that the T4 can be a bit shouty for some people, especially using silicone tips. However, for my ears, just like the T4 they are probably in the upper range of acceptability in terms of upper mid energy but instead of shouty they come across as energetic and lively.
Treble is smooth and somewhat restrained without a hint of edginess or roughness. I also didn’t notice much treble extension past 10kHz, they seem to roll off a fair bit after this. So for those that like to hear those air frequencies, they might not have what you need. However just like on the Tin T4 that’s probably tip dependant and sure enough, with silicone tips, I did find a little more ‘air’ in the treble.
In terms of overall sound signature, I’d say the QKZ VK4 have a somewhat neutral tilt, Harman neutral at least, with a slightly bright edge to them. Which is Just how I would describe the Tin T4. Similarly to the T4 I think the VK4 has a slightly brighter edge using silicone than with foam tips. Some might consider these more v-shaped than the Tin T4 but I don’t think it’s due to an elevated bass but more the greater sub-bass extension and so I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. Again without measurements, it’s difficult to be totally sure. I mean despite the similar levels of energy in the upper mids the VK4 do sound a touch warmer in the low end so they might have more energy throughout the bass range. But we aren’t talking massive differences in the overall sound signatures, it’s certainly subtle. I have been going back and forth with the VK4 and the Tin T4 and frankly, I’ve been blown away by the VK4. QKZ by accident or by design has absolutely nailed the tuning of this IEM.
Whatever genre I threw at these, rock, metal, EDM, hip-hop, classic rock, jazz, the VK4 conducted themselves wonderfully.
Both soundstage and imaging is also pretty good with the VK4. In terms of staging yeah sure it’s not the widest or the most open but IEMs rarely are but I’d say its better than on both the Tin T4 and the Blon BL-03. Certainly, they don’t sound at all claustrophobic. This was quite obvious for gaming, playing Division 2, for example, gave me a good sense of space which was big enough that it didn’t detract from the experience of an open-world game. And in terms of imaging, I find them to be rather excellent, in competitive shooters like Rainbow Six I was finding it really easy to hone in on the positional queues. Does anyone really game with IEMs? I don’t know, but unlike the TRN v90 I reviewed a few weeks back, I think you could actually get away with gaming on the VK4 and have a good experience whilst doing so.
Ok so enough with the hype, I mean I could just leave it at that. A $13 IEM with a similar tuning to the great Tin T4. Just go out and get them now. Honestly why look at anything else in the budget-fi space?
But I’m not here to hype things up, so let’s get nitpicky. Except I can’t find anything to complain about. Ok let me try:
The QKZ VK4 itself does feel like a cheap plasticky thing and they only come in two colourways both of which are a little gaudy. The Cable is lacklustre but that’s to be expected. And in terms of sound, what is there to complain about? The tuning is spot on.
If I was to get super nitpicky with a magnifying glass. I could maybe say that in terms of technical performance, maybe they do start to show their weakness for more demanding tracks with a lot of detail. The VK4 could sound like it is struggling to keep pace and you start to notice some lack of definition. I mean it’s not really a surprise to say the T4 is more detailed and I am being super nitpicky. Lack of detail is probably the main complaint with the BL-03. But with the VK4 I’m having to actually go look for issues just to find any. Honestly for day to day use, it’s a non-issue, show me another IEM in this price range that’s more detailed.
For the price their technical performance of the VK4 greatly exceeds expectation. For the vast majority of people listening to modern genres, looking for a cheap IEM due to budgetary constraints or needing a cheap second pair for commuting this is probably all the IEM they will ever need. The level of detail on offer here for $13 is astounding. These are the best earphones I have heard for sub $30 so far. Sorry Blon BL-03 but you have been toppled.
Do they make the Tin T4 obsolete? Of course not. Compared to the Tin T4, the VK4 is similarly tuned with a slightly bright leaning Harman neutral signature. They only start to suffer when things get a little more technical. In The T4 you are getting similar tuning, a much more technically capable driver, more detail, a much nicer machined aluminium casing, better cable and leather storage box.
Let’s not hype them up to extreme levels. There’s no denying that if I had paid $100 for these I would have been disappointed putting them next to the Tin T4. But for £13? I am frankly blown away.
Compared to the Blon BL-03 the VK4 are more energetic and lively, more detailed, with less muddiness and bloating in the bass. The Blon is warmer but the low end lacks definition and tends to become muddy.
The Blon BL-03 is a fun sounding earphone with a relaxed casual sound signature and I find them quite enjoyable and can see why people love them so much. They also have a much nicer casing, look and feel. But they aren’t the best in terms of technicalities, their more casual tuning isn’t for everyone and their fit is weird, to say the least. For those looking for a more capable and more neutral leaning tuning, the QKZ VK4 truly nails it in this price point.
I really don’t want to hype these up, they are a $13 earphone, cheap plastic build, poor cable, suffers when things get technical, let’s not forget that and start saying these are giant killers and get all out of hand about it. Tame that hype a little bit. But for a sub $30 IEM, I don’t know that there is anything else in this category that can touch the QKZ VK4. Maybe the Tin T2 which is now down to the $30 price range these days. Also, my journey into chi-fi and budget-fi is far from over. But for now, a $13 IEM with excellent tuning and decent detail? Yep, the QKZ VK4 are the IEM to beat.