KZ CRN (ZEX PRO) Review: One of the only well balanced KZ

Pros
-Well balanced cohesive tonality
-Natural timbre for a KZ
– Doesn’t sound like a typical KZ (more mature)
-Voice presence
-Dynamics that have weight
– Non-aggressive sound easy to like
-Wide soundstage
-High sound value

Cons
-Average technicals skills
-Bass lack flexibility, control and proper definition
-The highs lack hooks, resonances, sparkles and air
-Poor instrumental separation

TONE: 8.4/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8/10
BUILD: 8.5/10
SOUND BENEFIT: 8.5/10

Well, let’s start this review by pointing out that I’m far, very far from being a fan of both KZ and the golden-eared pseudo-polemicist Crinnacle persona. But I’m curious and when I see a sound response graph that looks quite promising, I have to test these IEMs. As well, when it come to audio i’m unbiased and would never smear a product because it’s created or tuned by somebody i’m not afound off.

The fact that these KZ ZEX PRO CRNs had a very positive reception does not influence me in any way, let’s say that this phenomenon of disproportionate euphoria is quite common with low budget iem, and rarely valid because in the end it is the tone that is appreciated. And this tone, making it beautifully cohesive is not easy for tribrid type iem, especially in low prices where the compromise is mainly in terms of technicality, but also often sound timbres and durability of the product.

The CRN are DD-BA-EST tribrid that sell for an absurdly low 30$. Did they sound like a joke? Let see in this review.

SOUND IMPRESSIONS

So how is this TONE?

Well balanced, organic, natural, warm overall. We are almost in neutral territory (not flat), almost because the balance is curved in a U with a deep bass boost. Crin is a fanatic of the Harman curve and here he draws inspiration from it again and again. Already the Harman invasion is obvious in Moondrop and Tanchjim, I still fear that the Chifi will jump right into this tonal standard. Still, for KZ, it’s an amazing sound paradigm shift, first their IEMs usually sound sharp and aggressive, often in a sharp sawtooth W signature with overboosted bass and highs.
Here with the CRN, we are in a warm, softed, comfortable tonal balance and this is the first time that I use the term “natural” to describe a KZ signature. For a tribrid including an exotic est transducter, the CRN are very cohesive as a whole even if critical hearing can find some slight timbre difference, especially in highs vs low and mids region.

But, while above average in it’s bracket, the technicalities leave something to be desired and reflect their price range to some extend. The resolution is OK in its macrodefinition, but less so in its micro definition which lack proper edge. The dynamics are not very nuanced and realistic in amplitude difference and therefore can seem muffled on impact, also lacking natural resonance and cleanliness between notes. The control of the attack, without being disastrous, is not very agile and fast. Still, due to multiple drivers used, layering is well articulated in it’s presence differantiation.

The BASS has a heavy hit, a meaty slam focused on deep bass weight, it’s quite slow and a bit slobbery with abstract definition. Physicality is put forward and benefits from pop, R&B, soul, Rap music styles that do not use acoustic drums. Yeah, the kick drum seems a bit out of the way, lacks texture and room to resonate naturally, the toms sound digital too. The basslines will swallow the kick drum at times, the extension isn’t linear, again, it’s a fluffy impact that commands attention. It sounds a bit like a car subwoofer, only warmer and more organic. Oomph. Not recommended for rock, metal, fast jazz, but it passes for the classic. Still, for a KZ the bass quality is above average and not boomy, it extend lower too tough the rumble is a bit dry.

The MIDS are very good, surprisingly natural in their tone for a KZ. Soft with a forward presence, not super chunky but not too thin either. Piano, violin and especially vocals sound realistic while being softened in defining contours. So, no invasive sibilance for a KZ! There is something to celebrate! I really appreciate the female vocals, they are round and fuller than the male ones, there is warmth and the presence is wide open and therefore very enveloping. Even if the bass slips a little on the lower midrange, it’s done in a romantic way, it embraces instead of veiling the front, in fact, it’s the bottom that it affects, it lacks darkness, air and cleanliness. In any case, mediums of this quality for $25 is a big plus even if it’s not super sophisticated in terms of overall resolution when there are a lot of instruments and speed.

The TREBLE is well calibrated with the rest of spectrum, there is a little boost in the 8khz region which helps to extract some detail and also a bit of abrasiveness for the acoustic guitar attack. It’s nothing extraordinary, and not very revealing of micro-details, nor richness of textures. It’s not airy or shiny highs and it lacks post-impact resonance. We easily forget these highs to focus on the bass and midrange. But are we listening to a KZ intras? It doesn’t bite! It’s docile! Far from being brutal or grainy (overly saturated with texture)…oh, but yes, this lack of precision, clear definition, space in separation…it’s really KZ here. In short, tamed highs in sharpness, smoothed with a filter to hide its imperfections and risks of sibilance, which as I said are not invasive but not creamy for all that. It have a little extra mid treble boost that permit to add snap to percussions and specific micro-details. Hum, but the low end of the treble spectrum is subdued, the grip of the upper mids attack lacks incision for more energetic instruments like the electric guitar and viola, the harpsichord also sounds too flat and dry. Still, attack speed can be fast and snappy enough with percussion and their no splashyness or important harshness to be found.

TIMBRE is hit or miss depending of instrument, but in general, it’s smooth, a bit dry, thin but transparent and realist enough though a hint fuzzy.


SPATIALITY is all in wideness, and sorely lacking in depth. It’s a wall of sound curved around the head, there’s worse in this price. The instrumental separation is more problematic, it’s messy and homogeneous, good luck getting a good idea of the positioning of the instruments…with ultra simplistic music it’s ok, for everything else it breaks and can become chaotically indefinite. Simply put, we have good amout of sounds layers and layering is good, but instruments aren’t crisply sculpted enough to have proper positioning.

Side notes: While amping isn’t needed for those and cable just have minimal impact too, eartips have great impact on the sound and should be explore out of the included models. This can greatly open the sound, improving spatiality and imaging as well as bass separation and articulation. Wide bore ear tips is suggested. But every ears being different, it’s you that will find the right one by testing different models.

CONSTRUCTION:

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Very potable for the price. Thick but basic plastic shell, with an organic shape that slides well in the ear. Metal plate on the back, quite aesthetic….but we hope that will not take off on the first day of humid heat. AND the cable….arg. We always complain about the cables chifi why? I mean, it doesn’t include basic $300 IEMs like the Final B2s. But looks don’t mean anything. Looking closely at the silver plated cable, it appears to have very few wires in its single gauge. In short, it’s crap and negatively affects the rendering by drying out the timbre and attenuating the impact and presence of the bass, which opens up the sound a little artificially.

COMPARISONS

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VS KZ ZS10 PRO

Wow effect or sound shock is up to you, but the ZS10PRO are really more muscular, energetic and analytical, especially in the lows and highs. The mediums being further back than the CRIN. The basses are bouffier and runnier, the sub basses are less fleshy and defined and hollow less deep. The cohesion of the tone is less natural, the sound timbre drier and grainier, the highs more shrill and unbalanced. The CRINs are clearly more refined, less artificial in their rendering, rounder and fuller in the mids, offering vocals without sibilance unlike the ZS10PRO. On the other hand, the sound imagery is more vivid and revealing with the ZS10PRO, apart from the bass which is less well separated. There is more sound information with the PROs but it saturates the soundstage, sometimes overwhelming the mids, and the energy concentrating in the high sound spectrum sometimes reaches the limit of sustainability. In the end, even if the CRIN do not put forward their technicalities in a brutal way like the ZS10PRO, their softer and balanced tone is highly more coherent, organic and musical than the PRO.

VS TANCHJIM TANYA

Now, the tone follows a Harman target type balance very similar to the CRIN, but without a boost in the sub bass, so less L shape in the final rendering. The sound timbre is richer in texture nuances, more natural and less organic. The basses descend less deeply, but have a more defined and assertive strike, less soft than the CRIN. The mediums are clearer and put forward with the CRIN, the presence of the vocals is wider and more transparent. The Tanya are more V shaped, less neutral and more fleshy overall. The falling of notes has more weight, for example for the piano. Note that the Tanya are much more difficult to amplify correctly, which can affect the rendering of their dynamics. This is not the case for CRINs which are easy to feed. As for the highs, the Tanya are better balanced, flatter, rounder in their rendering and less colored, the CRIN having a boost allowing to extract the details, especially the percussions, this boost is not overrated but remains noticeable and sometimes affects the instrumental harmony, which remains more natural with the Tanya. In the end, the CRIN seems to offer a higher sound benefit than the Tanya due to a nice balance between technicality and tonality, the Tanya certainly having a more pleasant, full and natural sound timbre, but a more clumsy and dark rendering.

CONCLUSION

The KZxCRN represents an exception in the KZ line in terms of tuning refinement, but remains average in terms of what appeals to their technicalities, which are lacking in refinement unlike it’s tonality. Still, their balanced sound without aggressiveness in the treble is candy for the ears. It’s soft, mature and sweet as you wish, with a particular talent for beautifully extracting female and male vocals. For a Hybrid earphones, the cohesion of the transducers is almost perfect, which is a tour de force in itself.

Easy to love, but less easy to forget as a KZ product, the CRNs have a very accessible sound for lovers of pop music focused on bass and vocals of all genres, for fast or scholarly music, it will be necessary to climb in the price brackets to benefit from more talented technical skills.

If your out of money and wonder how a cheaper Seeaudio Yume might sound, this is your chance to try the first Harman tuned KZ earphones, and to be fully honnest, it worth it since I consider these IEM as the best KZ offering yet.

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