Low price, big sound

Thursday, 25 February 2021 9:21 am

The Chinese continue to shake up the in-ear market with another budget offering that punches way above its weight.

E-drummers around the world have splashed out on KZ in-ears, especially the ZS10-PRO which we reviewed a while back.

Now, attention is turning to KZ’s stablemate, CCA, which has added a 12-driver solution at a similar pricepoint to the 10-driver ZS10.

What’s in the box?

Where the US and European brands go big on packaging with flashy boxes and stylish carry cases, CCA (like KZ) packs its in-ears in a simple cardboard box. The box contains two in-ear units, a cable and four spare silicon tips.

So, like its cousin, there’s no carry case, no cleaning tool, no ¼” adapter. In short, there are no frills with the CCA C12.

The design is very similar to the KZ cousin, and the twisted pair cable and silicon tips are also identical to the KZs.

In action

If the packaging is basic, the instructions are even less detailed. There’s no indication of left or right on the shells and no instructions on which way round the wires are attached. Luckily, my KZ experience made it easy to connect the cables, but as the connector could possibly be clipped in in two different directions, it’s not clear if you have chosen the correct polarity. (There is more information on the website and there are almost illegible L and R stamps on the cable junctions.)

The C12 is on the larger side, actually a tad larger than the ZS10, but the gentler curve of the shell makes it easier to insert and more comfortable to wear.

The next potential issue for many users is the silicon tips. They are very basic and while the three sizes mean it’s almost certain that you’ll get a decent and comfortable fit, you’re not guaranteed optimal isolation.

This is one of the big differences between these budget offerings and the likes of Shure, which provide a wide choice of tips with even their base models.

Furthermore, the larger shaft of the CCA means that most of the aftermarket tips won’t work, but luckily, the growing popularity of the Chinese in-ears is encouraging tip makers to offer compatible fits, and I used the triple flange tips I’d sourced on Amazon for the KZs – and they worked well.

I’ve seen a lot of chatter about the need to upgrade the cable to something more robust, but I have not been able to fault the KZ cable after almost a year of use, so I don’t see any need to switch out the CCA cables either.

Sounds like …

When I tested the 30 Ohm ZS10-PROm, the first thing that struck me was the volume. Well, rated 24 Ohm, the C12 has even more grunt and I had to dial my reference module back to around 8 o’clock, when most in-ears run at 12.

Overall, listening to the preset drum demo tracks, the sound was full, detailed and well-balanced at ‘normal’ EQ settings.

The bass was thumping and enveloping, the toms were full bodied, the crack of snares was almost jarring and the cymbals tingled.

There had been some criticism of the lack of mid-range in the ZS10s (I’m not among the critics) and one would expect the extra driver in each of the C12s to help fill that out. I really couldn’t tell the two apart on drum demos, but did sense a bit more body to the mids when listening to a full music mix.

The in-ears seem weighted towards the bass end, which suits e-drummers well. But the low-end performance is not at the expense of the upper ranges, and treble was strong without being harsh or too bright.

So, like the ZS10, the overall sound was impressive – and certainly on par with ‘big name’ in-ears costing hundreds of dollars more.

Bottom line

I spent some time testing the C12s with a range of modules and a variety of kit sounds, from thumping, resonant stadium rock to tight reggae and ringy jazz patches – and all felt natural and accurate.

When fitted with my preferred tips, the in-ears were comfortable and did a good job of isolating the stick noises – even with low-volume metal cymbals.

The build quality looks good and if it’s anything like the ZS10, which no doubt rolls off the same production line, you shouldn’t need any warranty support in the first year – or beyond.

If packaging and branding are not important to you and you don’t mind forking out an extra $10 for more comfortable tips, you can’t go wrong with this $39 purchase which is readily available on Amazon, eBay and AliExpress.

Specifications

Drivers: 5 balanced armature + 1 dynamic

Impedance: 24 Ohm

Sensitivity: 111 dB/mW

Frequency Response: 7 Hz–40 kHz

Cable:1.25m

Plug Type: 3.5 mm TRS unbalanced

Accessories: three sets of silicon tips

Street price: $39