KZ ZEX Pro & CCA CRA Review - Atypically Good



Hey everyone, this is Precog after a three month hiatus from my last review on AD. This time I'll be looking at KZ's latest wares, namely the ZEX Pro and CCA CRA. The ZEX Pro is the one that all eyes are likely on. It was tuned by IEM reviewer Crinacle and it is essentially the same IEM as the KZ CRN (minus Crin's branding). I won't be covering the accessories or physical designs here. Suffice it to say one does not buy KZ for these reasons (at least I would hope not), so expect the bare minimum. 

These units were provided for review courtesy of KZ. Thank you! As always what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability. 

Kicking things off with the ZEX Pro, the ZEX Pro is tuned very differently from what I generally associate with KZ's usual tuning. Speaking of which: KZ's usual tuning is, ah, difficult to pin down. Mostly because I get the impression that they're just throwing tunings at the wall and seeing what sticks. And because nothing I've heard from them so far has stuck. The ZEX Pro, though...the ZEX Pro is actually tuned pretty competently. 


The bass response is the ZEX Pro's first distinction. Most of KZ's tunings emphasize more "dirty" responses clouded with mid-bass bloat. The ZEX Pro still has a not-so-subtle bass boost; however, the degree with which it slopes off is more of a controlled 45. It lends some more warmth, but interestingly, I find the ZEX Pro's dynamic driver to come across more subtle, almost dampened, so I wouldn't call the ZEX Pro a particularly bass-y IEM. This was probably the right choice of tuning. 

Of course, the ZEX Pro's tuning still has its issues, one of which I might consider a dealbreaker for some listeners. The plateau to the upper-midrange from 3-5kHz pushes female vocals forward and exacerbates issues with sibilance. Combined with the ZEX Pro's characteristically "gritty" decay that plagues most BA IEMs, vocalists come across as fairly gravely and hoarse to my ears. Moving onwards, the treble response of the ZEX Pro is OK at least. I do hear some minor timbre issues - likely baked into a peak at 8kHz (devoid of the coupler resonance) - but outside of this, it's a mostly smooth treble response. Yeah, it's sort of dark and dampened (again), but between KZ's "house" treble tuning and the ZEX Pro's, I'd take the ZEX Pro's any day. 

You'll hate me for saying this, but tuning still isn't everything.  The ZEX Pro's technicalities, then, are really just your usual KZ affair. Average imaging, average resolution, poor coherency, the works. As I alluded to earlier, it also just sounds plain dampened. Whatever components KZ uses in their IEMs are not good, and good tuning can only get you so far. A valiant effort, though, and the tuning is enough to mostly sell me on the ZEX Pro. 

Moving to the CCA CRA, as much as I've just bashed the ZEX Pro's technical performance and the quality of KZ's components, here's a shocker: I have no such qualms with the CRA. The CRA has excellent resolution for $15, none of the ZEX Pro's timbre issues, and a level of dynamic "punch" that belies how flat most of KZ's other IEMs sound. Yes, at half the price, I would attest that the CRA is noticeably more technical than the ZEX Pro. 

And I'm not done shilling this IEM yet. Perhaps one of the most impressive qualities about the CRA would be its treble extension. It has ample SPL even at 15kHz, a point at which most all IEMs I've heard for this price point have all started rolling-off, or almost rolled-off entirely. That's genuinely impressive; KZ has my nod of respect for whatever they did to achieve this. 


I do need to disclaim that the CRA won't be for everyone. It's tuned decently, but perhaps not quite to the level of the ZEX Pro. In terms of bass, it's basically the ZEX Pro's bass shelf on steroids. The CRA has a similar tilt to the upper-midrange that pushes into 5kHz more, which lends to a slightly "glassy" quality to female vocalists wherein it sounds like they're using too much head-voice. Finally, the CRA is brighter than some listeners might be accustomed to, due equal parts to its impressive extension and a not-insignificant peak around 11kHz. It can be fatiguing. But for listeners after a fun, high-clarity sound signature...I can totally see this working. 

The Bottom Line

I'm absolutely guilty of looking down on KZ's IEMs in the past, and yes, I had a small chortle when KZ asked me if I'd like to review their latest IEMs. But I'm glad I gave them a shot. The ZEX Pro and CRA are legitimately good steps in the right direction; my only hope is that KZ can stay in this direction. The ZEX Pro is a solid offering - even if it's not groundbreaking - that should appeal to listeners who want a taste of more balanced tuning. The CCA CRA, on the other hand, is a little more unbalanced, but has a level of technical prowess that belies its price point. Both come recommended from me with an emphasis on the CCA CRA. 






Comments

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    1. No, it's nowhere near the Timeless. If you were only looking at tuning, an argument could be made, it is tuned very well, but everything else it's not remotely close. But it's also $35, while the Timeless is $220, they are in completely different price brackets.

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