Vietnam! At long last, I have the time to write the Under $30 shootout comparison! I went on Amazon, sorted IEMs by the best reviews, and picked the top 4 under $30 for a shootout review – for you, the reader. In the Right corner, we have the KZ x HBB DQ6S (DQ6S) in clearish-gray and silver weighing in at $29 (https://amzn.to/3XYjXcn.) In the left corner, we have the 7Hz Salnotes Zero (Zero) in white and silver weighing in at $23 without a mic and $25 with a mic and inline controls (https://amzn.to/3X0ltcs.) Then in…the other corner…we have the Moondrop Chu (Chu) in black with some sort of painted leaf design weighing in at $20 (https://amzn.to/3Rr1JOa.) And Lastly…in a more different corner…we have the TRUTHEAR HOLA (HOLA) (or HALO – whatever) in black with some sort of white fractal star design weighing in at $19 (https://amzn.to/3Yg2Ylw.) I have reviewed each of these separately and you can find those reviews at wolfhawkaudioreviews.com or on Head-fi.org under the Head Gear section. But, at long last, how do they compare to each other!?
I’ve already covered this under the specific reviews for each one of these, but the $19 TRUTHEAR HOLA is the clear winner of this round! Not only does it include a case, better packaging, more ear tips, and a decent detachable cable, BUT…oh, wait, no that’s it. The DQ6S has the best quality ear tips and the Chu takes 2nd place with the HOLA in 3rd (though it has the nicest presentation and selection) – the Zero has the worst ear tips, though they still work fine and come in fun colors! The HOLA has the best feeling cable with a nice 2-strand braid (it feels better than some high-end cables), In 2nd place is the Zero with a nice bronze-colored cable that has a good feel; in 3rd place is the DQ6S, which allegedly has a silver plated copper cable, but it’s tangly with no braid and feels cheap; last place goes to the Chu which has one of the worst cables ever, doesn’t have ear hooks, and it is not detachable like the other three are (2-pin connectors.) The Hola takes 1st on packaging (despite the weird bunny waifu…fufu..wufu), you can tell they actually tried; the Chu takes 2nd place (once again despite the weird waifu art) because at least they tried; 3rd place is a tie between the DQ6S and Zero because they have THE SAME packaging, which is just a crappy plain white box with the IEMs and ear tips in a baggy inside (booo – they’re the most expensive in the test.) Lastly, as the only company to include a case, the HOLA takes 1st while every other loser in this test takes last for case (quick reminder that the HOLA is the CHEAPEST.)
And now for the sound, which of course depends on what you look for in IEMs, but I will be breaking down each headphone on 3 songs at equal volume using my modular Kinnera Leyding cable with the 4.4mm balanced connection to remove any cable inconsistencies (except for the Chu with its stupid non-removable cable.) You can get a Leyding cable here if you want one: https://amzn.to/3HSRlM0. I will be using the stock ear tips for all of these since switching out Spinfit W1 tips between all four of these would drive me insane (and let’s be honest, if you’re buying any of these IEMs, spending almost as much on a set of $20 ear tips is probably not on your list of things to do.) I will also be using my Shanling M3U with Tidal HiFi through the balanced connection (except for the Chu again.) The Zero will be at volume level 33/100; the DQ6s will be at 26/100; the HOLA will be at 32/100; and lastly the Chu with unbalanced 3.5mm will be at 40/100. Check out the squig.link below with frequencies from HBB:
The first bass-test song is David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue)” which tests sub-bass and mid-bass extremely well while also allowing for soundstage and mids/high-mids/low-highs testing. I’ll be starting with the DQ6S since I know from my review of them that they’ll likely win the bass test. The intro bass drums kick like a mule and there is some unwanted extra reverb/rattle (I had to turn these down to 24/100, that’s how loud the bass is.) The sub-bass has that breath-stopping quality and the soundstage sounds large with the mid-synths coming in clearly. Instrument separation doesn’t really exist – it’s a pretty flat-sounding instrument stage. The vocals sound a bit recessed and the sub-bass/mid-bass can overwhelm the rest of the frequencies a little bit. The high frequencies get pushed to be back and covered by the lows and mids also. Still, this song sounds good enough on these that it’s easy to forget they’re $29 – as expected, these are the bassheads under $30 IEM of choice.
Up next is the Zero which has cleaner bass with none of the rattle the DQ6S had. Mids are significantly more forward with the mid-synths taking the front of the stage. The sub-bass is good, but nowhere near what the DQ6S portrayed. The highs are far more apparent and the vocals come through cleanly. This is a better representation of how this song is supposed to be portrayed and the Zero takes 2nd place for BASS (I like the overall song better on these.)
Up next is the HOLA and the bass drums are far more muted sounding than either of the previous IEMs. The sub-bass is there with some decent rumble, but it feels further away and less intense. The mids are more forward than the DQ6S, and about the same as the Zero, but they sound sharper than the Zero – which has better sound in the mids on this song. The HOLA sounds thinner and across the board on this song. The HOLA isn’t better than either of the previous two IEMs on this song, but it is still the cheapest IEM here and it does decent considering the price and included accessories. The HOLA takes 3rd place.
After plugging in the Chu and cranking the volume, you can hear bass drums and hi-hats, but they’re not particularly pronounced. The mid-synths come in well with lots of forward presence – the sub-bass is almost non-existent, it’s there, but barely. The mids overwhelm everything else on this song. The sound is sharp and tinny and the highs are elevated, which sounds…fine, but still metallic. The Chu falls into 4th place – but hey, they’re great if you have tiny ears (probably.)
Up next is the mids test song – each of the IEMs in this test score almost identically on the mids frequencies, so it’ll be interesting to see which one comes out on top. I chose Demon Hunter’s “I Am A Stone” to test mids because of the excellent vocals and strings – it’s about as mid as you can get, though there are some lower and higher notes as well.
The Zero portrays this song really well. The vocals come in clearly and aren’t overwhelmed by the bass strings. The soundstage is medium-sized and it feels like you’re there listening to them playing the song. The high notes are portrayed really well (much better than the price of these suggests it should.) There is no sharpness and the violins come in clearly, though not as full-bodied as something like the Mezzo will do. There is a reason I think of these as the mini-Monarchs.
The DQ6s actually does a good job with this song – it really emphasizes the low-end unsurprisingly. The bass-strings come in much stronger than they do on the Zero, which can be good, but it can also overwhelm the other mid-strings and vocals. There are no issues with the highs on the DQ6s, and overall, these take 2nd place with a different (bassier) interpretation of the song.
On to the HEXA, we’re sort of figuring out where these 4 are falling at this point. The HEXA really just comes across as a less capable Zero. It’s not bad, but the Zero just has more body and is a more full experience. It also has a better soundstage and instrument separation (barely, these are all pretty mediocre on that front.) The HOLA does have more sub-bass than the zero once more, but nowhere near the DQ6S, so the bass-strings don’t overwhelm like they can with the DQ6S. That said, the DQ6S still has better mids, soundstage, and lows. This performance is good enough to get the HOLA 3rd place in mids.
The Chu sounds decent compared to the HOLA, but there’s almost no bass/sub-bass. The Chu has a very flat soundstage. It’s not terrible, and it still sounds better than my car’s sound system, but that’s not saying a lot. So yeah, once again, the Chu falls flat (Ha. Haha.) 4th place again!
Alright, I’m getting bored, and you’re getting bored, we have a pretty good idea of where these IEMs stand now. So, I’m going to throw them at my last test, Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” where it’s anyone’s game with this song since the sibilant “S” sounds can happen to any headphone – expensive or cheap (looking at you MEST.)
Starting with the Zero, the intro horns come in clearly, but we kick off with some sharp notes. Oof, that’s not great. It’s a bit like nails on a chalkboard. Luckily for the Zero, the vocals, soundstage, tonality, etc. are all really good because the sibilance is rough – like I need to turn this off now rough. This performance ears the Zero 4th place.
The DQS also has really good horns in the intro and some great lower end that the Zero didn’t have. There is definite sharpness on just about every single “S” in the song – it’s rough also. The vocals are also more recessed and flatter sounding than on the Zero – less body. This performance is good enough to earn the DQ6S 3rd place.
The HOLA has a decent intro horn representation, though it’s just flatter still than the previous two. On the plus side, there is little to no sibilance – I could listen to this song all the way through without cringing. All of the previous weaknesses of the HOLA are still here, but they remain the most neutral of the 4. The HOLA’s performance ears it 1st place in the highs test!
The Chu opens really well with the horns, even the lower ones somehow. The vocals sound really far away, like singing down a hallway. There is some sibilance here as well and the instruments sound fine, but hollow compared to the better sound of the other IEMs. The Chu earns 2nd Place in the high/sibilance test.
This is one of those “it depends” conclusions. Just like everything in the audio world, everyone has their own preferences. Personally, I rank these IEMs as 1) Zero 2) DQ6S 3) HOLA 4) Chu. But guess what, if you LOVE bass, then the DQ6S is the one for you. If you want a really cheap IEM with a great accessory package and good balance, no sibilance, and more sub/bass than the Zero, grab the HOLA. There’s honestly no reason to get the Chu unless you have tiny ears (or your kid does – in fact, if you want to get your kid IEMs, these might be perfect.) And lastly, if you want a good soundstage, sound quality that matches or exceeds IEMs that cost 10x or more LESS bass, and some great quality shells with cool colors and an inline mic option, grab the Zero – it’s my #1 from this test.