Behind the Scenes: KZ x crinacle CRN (ZEX Pro)

Table of Contents

Introduction

Who said good sound needed to be expensive?

Nobody thought it could happen. Nobody thought it would be made reality. A steadfast meme in the community, never taken seriously every time it was brought up.

And yet, here we are.

Now the final price barrier has been blown wide open: sub-$50. A product built in collaboration with one of the most famous budget IEM manufacturers proving that you don’t need to pay for tuning. One of the very rare few IEMs in its price bracket wherein one could truly describe as “balanced”.

Chifi enthusiasts, eat your heart out.

Like all the other previous Behind the Scenes posts on my collaborations, I’ll have to remind all readers that this article is not a review. More an informative #Ad, if you will.

MSRP: $37

Driver configuration: Magnetostatic + BA + DD hybrid

FAQ

Q: What exactly is the CRN?

A: To simplify, the CRN (or as it was initially called, the ZEX Pro) is an attempt to bring my style of tuning to an even bigger audience by pushing prices down as low as possible. 

Q: Does the ZEX Pro have the same tuning as the CRN?

A: Yes, internally the ZEX Pro is exactly the same as the CRN. The CRN rebrand is simply making it official.

Q: What’s the difference between the CRN and the ZEX Pro?

A: The CRN comes with the IEF logo printed at the top of the IEM shell, along with more collaboration-specific packaging. Per above, there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) any difference in sound.

Q: Where can I try a demo unit?

A: There are no exclusivity contracts for the CRN, so demo units should be available at your local KZ distributors/retailers if they choose to carry it.

Q: What would be your ranking of the CRN?

A: Like with the Dawn, Dusk, and Eclipse (and all other future collabs), I will not be publicly reviewing or ranking the CRN due to conflict-of-interest.

Q: Is the CRN KZ’s best IEM?

A: See answer above.

Q: Why wasn’t the ZEX Pro sold as the CRN from the start?

A: Well, uh…

The Social Experiment

One elephant in the room: the ZEX Pro is tuned radically different compared to KZ’s usual IEMs.

The average KZ fan would typically expect the standard KZ tuning with a new release, that is to say the usual deep V-shaped response that emphasises basslines and percussions. Whereas the kind of balanced, somewhat U-shaped tuning of the ZEX Pro is essentially a massive shakeup in terms of sound signature, and so the risk of the existing fanbase rejecting it would be considerably high.

Effectively, the ZEX Pro would be the proving ground for two big things:

  1. KZ doesn’t need the big V-shaped signature for their products to be received well
  2. Whether or not the ZEX Pro can stand on the merits of my tuning alone, without the “clout” of my name.

And so the ZEX Pro was released, then disguised as the average standalone KZ product, with review units sent out as well to basically test the waters of a largely unexplored market. And how was the reaction?

Beyond expectations.

Early testers immediately caught on to the new tuning, and comments like “I can’t believe this is KZ” were fairly common. And once measurers like Paul Wasabi, Super* Review, and Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews started to publish their graphs, that’s when the hype train really took off.

And so with the “market test” being largely a success, there really wasn’t any point hiding anymore. Beyond the few-thousand ZEX Pros now already in the hands of happy owners, no more will be manufactured anymore in favour of the newer CRN rebrands.

Shouldn’t be too confusing, though. CRN is ZEX Pro, and ZEX Pro is CRN. Easy peasy.

The ZEXy Comparison

I’m sure that given the CRN’s original name, the evitable question surrounding its similarities (or lack thereof) with the ZEX would eventually crop up. So let’s just get that out of the way.

Simply put: the CRN is completely different. To the point where if you like one, the chances of you liking the other would be slim to none.

To an existing ZEX fan, the biggest difference would probably be in the overall bass/lower-mid response. Those who are used to the ZEX’s tonality would likely be thrown off by the CRN’s more neutral midrange, perhaps describing it as too “thin” or “sterile”.

Which admittedly, wouldn’t be too far from the truth given the ZEX as a reference point. The ZEX is far thicker sounding in comparison to the CRN, and far less coloured as well. Don’t think anyone would argue against that.

(Of course on the flipside, if you’re someone who’s used to my style of tuning (or IEF Neutral), the ZEX would then probably sound closer to my impressions of them.)

Then again, the ZEX and CRN are both pretty big deviations from KZ’s usual deep-V house sound so you wouldn’t be getting your standard KZ tuning either way.

And yes, speaking of tuning…

The Tuning

The CRN. Not to toot my own horn, but you’d have to admit that’s a beauty of a tune.

With how low the retail price is, the CRN is an exercise in specialisation. That is to say, a pure 100% focus in tuning above all else, and an attempt to being the price bracket leader in that regard. As I’ve mentioned in the past: you don’t have to pay for tuning. And I guess now it’s time for me to prove it.

Here we take a look at my own proprietary “IEF Neutral Target” (for IEMs):

Note that this is my neutral target, but most would know my thoughts on neutrality: it’s boring. At any case, according to my own experiences it takes quite a bit more bass boost in an IEM relative to headphones and speakers to get the same perceived bass response, so obviously the CRN will get some extra oomph in the low-end, much like all my previous collaborations.

And when it comes to bass, you all know I preach the word of “sub”. Concentrate the bass power from 150-200Hz down, and ensure that it will never ever bleed into the mids. The placement of the bass shelf is a fine balance in itself; too high and you get muddiness and warm colouration, but too low and you lose the sense of weight behind the bass.

Roughly 6dB emphasis is the sweet spot for the bass to be “safe” for most listeners I feel, as was the philosophy in tuning the Dusk. A bass emphasis that is fun, controlled, yet does not break the illusion of balance, and would ideally suit the tastes of more people than not. Neither for bassheads nor those craving a flat sound, but rather the people-pleaser middle ground.

But that’s just the bass, what about the rest of the spectrum?

The IEF Neutral Target is a lot more conservative in the pinna gain region (1-6kHz) compared to traditional Diffuse Field or even Harman. Just enough upper midrange for clarity, but not to the point of invoking shoutiness and glare like the aforementioned targets.

Again, the purpose behind the CRN’s tuning is to have things sound balanced with a small bass tilt, and so avoiding the typical pitfalls of the standard V-shaped tunings that plague cheaper sets.

One could say that the CRN is the taster for a more balanced tuning that is common in more expensive sets but rare to come by in budget IEMs. By all means, use it as a litmus test to see if you’re one who’d enjoy such a signature. If you don’t, you’ve successfully narrowed down your criteria anyways. And if you do

you know where else to look.

Support me on Patreon to get access to tentative ranks, the exclusive “Clubhouse” Discord server and/or access to the Premium Graph Comparison Tool! With current efforts to measure more headphones, those in the exclusive Patreon Discord server get to see those measurements first before anybody else.

My usual thanks to all my current supporters and shoutouts to my big money boys:

“McMadface”
Denis
Alexander
Jonathan
Eamon
Jerry
Stuart
Timmy
Mike
GY Audio
Weng Yuin
“hk57”
Z F
Zachary
Hamza
Jeff
Johannes
“Preaching Hanar”

43 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: KZ x crinacle CRN (ZEX Pro)”

  1. I am once again asking you, for all people living in the EU, is it possible to sell on hifigo? It’s afaik the only Asian audio shop that ships to the EU with VAT&duties prepaid (or bypassed, I don’t care). Amazon.de is nice but it’s +60%

        1. No, customs and tax are now included, since the summer when the new EU law went into effect.
          Its amazing now, much faster shipping times, and customs processing times plus no hassle with customs.
          Just buy in on Aliexpress, they will take care of customs fees and tax automatically.

        2. I think if you choose “Aliexpress shipping” then the customs and duties are taken care of. At least from my experience.

    1. Probably an artifact of the microphone and not actually present (or at least present to such a degree) when listening to the iems. If you look at other graphs on here you’ll see similar peaks

    2. That’s not a measuring artefact is a normal resonance which will occur with any ear but at different position depending on your ear canal lengths, usually for most it will be more like 6.6khz. Major part will be spread between 6-7khz, 8khz does not represent the sound in real life except for maybe 2% of population.

  2. CCA CRA seem to be the competition for these. I wonder how the zex pro will handle dynamics with its tribrid design as opposed to the CRA which only uses a single dynamic. (but supposedly has better treble OOTB) Getting both because I like relaxed treble and the molded fit looks super comfy.

    1. I wouldn’t consider those competition considering that it’s a totally different driver configuration, price point, and that CCA is a brand of KZ.

  3. Daily driving this thing right now.
    Its so far awesome, with great soundstage, great mids, good bass, but rather unfortunate treble.

    Its a great set if you either you eq the treble or switch to thick copper cable and final-e tips to deal with that cymbals.

    1. That being said, THANK YOU for steering KZ to the “right” direction.
      Seeing the direction of CCA CRA makes me hopeful on future KZ/CCA product if they adhere to your input.

    2. That 8k peak kills this iem. I in fact gave it a good review at first thinking the 8k peak wont be too noticeable. After listening to music for a few days it is just pain to listen to treble. God. Why 😭 just why the peak.

      1. That peak is a coupler standing wave resonance. Explained in Crin testing methodology.

        If you bother to assemble testing rig yourself, you’ll see that this resonance is there too and it moves depending on insertion depth. Crin chose 8k as a reference point to make measurements more consistent.

      2. The treble tamed down quite a fair bit after a short, but pretty aggressive burn-in. I did 24-hour burn with white noise at moderate volume. I can feel some improvements in coherence. The 8k peak is likely coupler resonance in the measurement rig. It is a bit bright for sure, but nothing like SSR.

      3. I agree, the 8K peak kills it for me. There are too many songs in my library where the 8k spike is just too aggressive and sibilant. Would like to see how the next replacement sounds like. I really do like what I hear from the electrect driver on the mids.

  4. Is the KZ x CRN IEM a limited edition ZEX Pro or will it stay in production until it’s eventual discontinuation?

    1. It’s the opposite. It’s right there in the article.

      “Beyond the few-thousand ZEX Pros now already in the hands of happy owners, no more will be manufactured anymore in favour of the newer CRN rebrands.”

      The ZEX Pros have already been “discontinued” in favor of the CRN rebranding, so there’ll be more of the newer ones in comparison to the regular ZEX Pros.

  5. I saw (on other platform) that you recommended to take the 8k peak down using EQ. Why didn’t this done when you are tuning the IEM if you knew this was a problem?

  6. I was quite skeptic at first. But hey, it was Christmas, what is Christmas without receiving(buying) presents for yourself.

    Firstly the fit has been bad for me with kz and their sister brand stuff post zs10 pro, the “wing” added just makes all of their stuff painful to wear. So I am glad this one fits okay.
    The provided cable is not the braided kind, I am pretty glad with how they felt.

    Build aside, the sound. While the graph looks like there is a massive dip post 8k, I did not hear any lost details from cymbals and such. So that is mostly a measuring artifact I hope. But then, I think I am hearing more “bite” to the cymbals and less sustain. So the graph might not be totally off.

    I prefer this kind of presentation of treble because it cleans up some of the sustained hissing in most j-pop with excessively busy high instrumentals, but I can see that YMMV since not everyone is a self professed weeb like me. But nothing is really disturbing to me when I listen to MJ or Jay Chou so…

  7. Hello,.. how did you manage to open the shell? I want to swap the connector to MMCX would like to hear some info so i don’t damage them..

  8. These are amazing for competitive FPS (primarily playing Valorant). I have really small ears, so they hurt after awhile, definitely makes me want to find something with a similar sound, but different fit.

  9. Hello,I am a Chinese.I translated it into English with my translation software.Why is this headset (KZ x crinacle CRN (ZEX Pro))not on the list.I want to know its rating.In addition, there is the new CRA of CCA. I also want to see its rating.And simgo em2, which is popular in China. I also want to see the rating

  10. Cheap KZ in-ears never disappoint. I really like their V-shaped tuning even if it isn’t optimal/neutral.

    What rating would you give these overall? I’d like to figure out how they compare to other KZ models in an objective way.

  11. Found them at a local store in Bucharest.
    Tbh the tuning is not to my liking but the biggest problem for me is that peak at 8k which is present in both variants.

    These are my first KZ in-ear so I can’t compare with the normal tuning. What can I say is that instrument clarity and separation are excellent. On the other hand, in some parts I find them flat, dull.

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