KZ x Crinacle CRN, ZEX Pro: A new twist on KZ tuning.
Pros: Nice change in “normal” KZ tuning
Solid build as usual
Somewhat natural sounding
Cons: NO CASE
Timbre seems off
Treble is not natural
Tuning could be construed as boring
Not all that exciting
KZ x Crinacle CRN, ZEX Pro ($36-$49): A new twist on KZ tuning.
Jeff from KZ approached me about reviewing the ZEX Pro for them. I will also be receiving a couple of other models as part of an agreement as well. In the time it took to send the model and receive it, he contacted me to let me know the model came about in conjunction with reviewer Crinacle, hence the name change. He assured me both models are tuned the same and are identical.
Even though this is a review sample, it is understood that the model may be asked back for at any time, but until then is mine to keep, but not sell. All measurements below are listed on the website and all links below were provided to me by Jeff. I thank both him and KZ for the opportunity to review the ZEX Pro.
Model：KZ X Crinacle CRN (ZEX Pro)
Cable：Silver-plated double flat cable
In The Box:
KZ x Crinacle ZEX Pro
Silver-plated flat cable
No Case (STILL!!!)
Shanling M6 Pro
Cayin N6ii E01
Eagles-Hotel Cali Live 1999
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots Christmas
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
In typical understated KZ fashion, the box is small and straightforward. Removing the clear cover, you find the unit, cable and tips. This has become KZ’s de rigor for unboxing. Simple, straightforward and easy. And still…no case.
Running a 30095 balanced armature, 10mm dynamic driver and a 6.8mm electret magnetostatic unit, the ZEX Pro is a true tribrid. Running the trio drivers in order to make a more balanced sound, instead of the typical high-end oriented KZ “house sound” is no small feat, and to do so, Crinacle was brought in to tune the critter. Marketed as “what used to be the realm of high end,” the KZ markets itself as an all-arounder, for a smooth balanced sound. This might sound suspiciously like a certain curve, and you would be “mostly” correct. More on that later. Suffice to say that the KZ does offer a balanced smooth signature, which does indeed depart from recent KZ models.
In typical KZ fashion (there it is again…) the build is quite good, and fit is of high quality as well. Using medical grade resin for the shell, there is an aviation grade Zinc faceplate bound expertly to the shell. The only downside to the shape is the overly larger knob, which does hinder fit after longer sessions. I find that the knob is bothersome to say the least. I might ask KZ to stop marketing this as “after using several thousand ear models in order to maximize comfort,” as I seem not to be the only one who has fit issues. This is of course not limited to KZ shells. Plus, KZ continues to use the less than industry standard of 0.75mm 2-pin connectors for the cable, so forget about switching with the more normal sized 0.78mm. So be it, since this is an affordable unit.
The cable is of four flat-braided silver-plated strands, which split into two at the Y-splitter. It lays nicely, and does not tangle, but the over ear guide reminds me of the old spectacles, which Anthropologists would wear when examining something. The guides, which seem to wrap all the way around. Too long for my tastes. I have never had an issue with KZ builds or cables, and do not here, only the fit is a bit off to me for my averaged sized ears.
KZ is known for “energetic” high end sounds. Some might call them a tad too bright for the tuning. Charged with making a more neutral (and more mainstream) sound is tough when your bread and butter lies with that energetic sound, which many do like. Of all the numerous KZ’s I have heard, the ZEX Pro is the most neutral and least offending of all. It does come across as nearly neutral, with adequate bass and mids, which come across as fairly clean, but not all that inspiring. Mind you this is not bad, just not as energetic as we are used to from KZ. Treble notes reach fairly high but seem to be hindered like a dog on a leash. They want to go further, faster, but the owner holds them back lest they get so far ahead the owner might have to break a sweat to catch up. Again, this is not bad, just different. Overall, the soundstage is adequately wide and high, but a bit shallow in depth for me. Crinacle was charged with making the ZEX Pro more mainstream, without offending, and I do think he has succeeded. But at what cost?
As mentioned above, the overall tonality is not bad, just not all that exciting. I can admit that when I pony up for a KZ listen, I expect it to be a bit hot for my tastes with polite bass. Here though, that bass comes across as a solid foundational aspect of the tuning. A nice change, but it is not overwhelming. As such, it does not bleed into the mids like some KZ have in the past. Allowing those mids to come across on their (mostly) own, they are solid, but again uninspiring. Tommy Emmanuel’s live Guitar Boogie is quite a good song with which to judge mids and acoustic treatment. I get a bit of resonating here (yes, it is a live song), that comes across as hindering the overall pleasure of the song, but not too offensively. Each strum is heard in concert with the others where on similar IEM’s they might be held separately allowing the user to gauge when each string is struck. Call it going for the overall sound, instead of individual treatment.
Up top, there is no denying this is a toned-down version of the traditional KZ “house sound” in the treble note. I find myself actually questioning whether this really is a KZ due to that taming of the shrew. Please take that as you may, for I am not the best judge of sound up top except for harshness. And the ZEX Pro is not harsh. Not in the least.
Soundstage as mentioned is fairly wide and tall, but a bit lacking in depth to me. There is nothing extraordinary here, but nothing offending either. Thus, instrumentation, layering & separation all follow suit without being extraordinary. On Jesse Cook’s really cool rendition of Number 5, bass does come across as strong, and there is good placement, but layering is only average. Mind you, this does not bother me for the song is so, so good. But the cymbal hits sound artificial here, lending an air of computer-generated sound to the acoustic mix. Not the best, not the worst, just there.
Natalie Merchant’s sublime vocals on The Peppery Man are to die for as is the song, but I am left with a want, a desire for more here as her voice normally cuts to my soul. On the Crin, it falls short, but again is not offensive. Take that as you may, but to me female vocals sound a bit thin in comparison to others at this price. Again, not bad but not inspiring like it should be.
I will admit that this was surprise appearance at my door, while waiting others from Jeff & KZ. I do not mind, for a gift such as this is still welcomed into my abode for the listen and review. Some may think, “well…it’s FREE, you should be grateful regardless!” And of course, I am, but the surprise of getting an unexpected guest in the house still makes a smile across my face.
And in using the KZ x Crin ZEX Pro, I can put a smile across my face for it is not really as bad as I make it out to be above. It is a most definite departure from the “normal” KZ tuning, which caught me by surprise to say the least. But it lacks inspiration as well. It does all mostly well, but not inspiring. This would definitely be called the “jack of all trades.” But Jack has no speciality either. Learned in much, but expert in none, this Jack lacks the inspiration of the other KZ models, which do come across as bright or overly heightened bass levels. But that is the point to many of them. You either liked them or you didn’t. I do not fault those who like the sort of tuning from other KZ models, and those KZ models can pretty much be singled out for the “driver war” and other such innovations, which all companies jumped onto. That alone shows the might of a company, which can transform a whole industry by inserting 1-2 models into our consciousness. That was KZ’s motis operandi and with this model they went so far to the left, that one hopes the vehicle of development has full-on 4wd. That isn’t a bad thing, for they again seek to develop a path on which we did not know we needed to take. But with the Crin-tuned ZEX Pro, it fears that off-road lest it get its feet wet or dirty and is perfectly happy toeing the line of inoffensive mediocrity. A mainstream IEM, when there was a real chance to develop a truly different IEM. Mind you, at this price, many, many will gobble it up for the name alone. And if that was one of the goals, then one cannot fault either too much.
I thank Jeff and KZ for the KZ x Crin ZEX Pro sample. It does take a certain amount of faith to stray from their tried and true path. I applaud that effort and do look forward to what comes down the line from KZ.