Cons: A little harsh Treble on some songs
The HEXA is only $50 more
Mediocre ear tips – but they work
Up for review today are the 7Hz Salnotes Zero (Zero) IEM with a 10mm dynamic driver costing a massive $22.99 from Amazon. I picked these up as part of an under $30 shootout with the Moondrop Chu (Chu), KZ x HBB DQ6S (DQ6S), and the TRUTHEAR HOLA (Hola). So, I will be posting individual reviews of each one and then an overall winner between all 4 separately. I will also probably compare them to the TRUTHEAR HEXA (HEXA), Thieaudio Monarch Mk2 (Monarch), and Vision Ears VE8 (VE8) I have on my desk so that you can decide whether you should spend $20, $80, $1,000, or $2,000. Spoiler alert: the 7Hz Salnotes sounds good enough, I’m not sure that you need to spend more unless you have the budget and want that extra 10-20%.
Built Quality / Comfort
These are $23. Anyone expecting Campfire Audio’s level of build quality will be disappointed. However, the hard plastic shells in white and the stainless steel metal faceplates both look and feel really nice. They should last for a while if taken care of – and if you just throw them in a gym bag and they get beat up…oh well. The IEMs are pretty lightweight and small in size (they should have no issues with most ears). The cable is microphonic, which is not surprising, but of overall decent quality for this price range – the ear hooks work great, no complaints there. Of course, there’s only a 3.5mm jack included, which shouldn’t be an issue for the usage case of these (from your phone dong most likely). Also, the ear tips are decent quality, though the DQ6S has nicer ear tips and the HEXA comes with MUCH nicer ear tips/cable, etc. That’s a lot of where you’ll see the price increase between all of these – the accessories.
I’m using the included Red Tips that came installed and they seem to work just fine. I have also tried these with a 4.4mm balanced cable and can report excellent results as well. For the actual IEM shootout, I will be using the Kinera Leyding modular cable with 4.4mm balanced to ensure no variations in the cables between the IEMs. For the individual reviews, I will be using the included cable/tips so that whoever buys these will know what to expect.
Sound / Source / Comparisons:
I’m going to start including Squiglink Freq comparisons (a really cool tool if you haven’t used it: https://squig.link/index.html). I called the HEXA the Mini-Monarch, but if that’s the case, then the Zero is the Mini-Hexa. Look at the chart below – they’re almost identical until they hit the upper mids and treble. All have that peak at 8k and the dip at 10 to avoid sharpness in the high notes. All 3 sound really good and really all you have to do is pick how fancy/how much you want to spend/how great you want the sound to be and you’ll end up with a good IEM (not the bassiest quantity, but good quality bass – Check out the DQ6S for BASS). I am powering these off my Shanling M3 Ultra (36/100 volume) since it easily powers them, even on 3.5mm, and has a great sound – no need for the Burson.
I don’t like breaking down headphones by each frequency since every song has bass, mids, and highs. So, I will start with bass-heavy songs, and break down each song by how all the pieces are presented. You can find my Tidal test tracks playlist in my signature if you want to compare them to your headphones. The first song I will be using to test is a bass-heavy song – David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue).” I’m using this song because some of the other songs I tested these with sounded a bit hollow and flat in the bass, but “I’m Good” does a great job as a recording of presenting all of the frequencies. The intro drums come in with some good kick, a little quieter than I would like, and definitely less than the DQ6S. These don’t have a ton of bass, but it’s good quality, especially at this price, and the sub-bass comes in really strong with the synths at 0:38. The synths are clear and sound competent, but don’t have the quality that the Monarch has in the mids (unsurprisingly). The bass once again comes in pretty hard at 1:24 with a good sub-bass rumble. If anything, the mids are lacking presence and can get overwhelmed by the other pieces. There is no real instrument separation or soundstage to speak of, the music feels like it’s in your, not in a particularly claustrophobic way. The hi-hats at 3:13 sound clean and not jarring or sharp. The HEXA has cleaner mids, more sub-bass, and better/more forward vocals.
Moving on to a mids-heavy song, we have Thousand Foot Krutch’s “I See Red.” The guitars come in clean with the vocals – no issues there, just a clean presentation as expected. The drums have a decent kick and don’t seem bloated or overwhelming. The high-hats at 1:00 come in clearly, but they feel a little out of place – I’m not used to hearing them so far in the foreground – they should be more background noise, and less prominent than they are here. The vocals in the chorus sound really clean again, guitar distortion is a bit muddy, but the individual notes at 2:35 come in really cleanly with only a little unwanted reverberation. The HEXA comes across with a better soundstage, better vocals, more forward mids, cleaner guitar notes, more apparent bass guitar notes, and less drum volume – but better quality drums. The HEXA is the better IEM on this song also, but at 4x the price.
For the highs test, I’m using Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” since it can really illustrate sibilant “S” sounds in the 4-10k range. The Zero doesn’t not excel at this test with almost every “S” heard with strong sibilance/sharpness. It has the highest frequency in that range across the board and it shows in songs like this. Once again, the HEXA is the better IEM at 4x the price with far less sibilance throughout the song, clearer/more forward vocals, a more spacious soundstage, a little tighter bass, etc. Just to give the Zero another shot, I put on Michele McLaughlin’s “Across the Burren.” The Zero get a bit sharp in some of the notes, but overall avoids the sibilance that some IEMs/headphones can have on this song – a huge win – though the HEXA and Monarch avoid this as well.
So, it’s not a fair fight between the HEXA and the Zero – kind of like you know the Monarch Mk2 was going to be better than the HEXA for 12x as much. Well, how does it compare to the DQ6S then? You’ll have to wait for the shootout for a full comparison, but the DQ6S was WAY more/better bass, though it can get a little bloated and overwhelming – the Zero has MUCH better highs and similar mids with more forward vocals. The DQ6S are also easier to drive but have a cheaper feeling cable (silver coated though). For more comparisons with the Chu and HOLA, you’ll have to wait for the full shootout.
If you only have $23 to spend on earbuds, you could do a LOT worse than these. If you are a basshead, get the DQ6S – no doubt. If you like a more neutral presentation with slightly boosted bass and can live with the slightly sibilant highs, get the Zero. BUT, if you can stretch your budget to $80, get the HEXA – it’s better in every way than the Zero. The Zero really makes a case for cheap IEMS – if all you need are a ~$20 set of IEMs to use and abuse, or if that’s all you can afford (I was a poor college student once living off Spicy Beef Ramen – I get it), you really don’t need to spend much more than these to have a good experience with music. So, unless the Chu or the HOLA beats these when they come in (I’ll update if they do), grab the Zero – a very impressive IEM for the price.
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