The CRN-KZ Situation

Table of Contents

So I’m sure a lot of you have heard about “the situation”, and if not this article will explain everything. But this will also be my final say on this matter.

But before going into all that, I feel like I need to establish some context as to my contribution to the CRN’s development and eventual marketing.

The CRN Tuning Process

I think there are a few misconceptions behind what exactly my contributions are as a “tuner” for my collaboration IEMs. Some expect me to take over the entire engineering process, which is unrealistic given that an “outsider” like me would not be familiar with the unique internal processes each manufacturer may have.

The more accurate description would be that I’m serving a more consultative and advisory role rather than an engineering one.

That is to say, I’m not the one breaking into the shell and physically adjusting crossover values or swapping drivers. Rather, I provide direction to existing engineering teams using frequency response data and trust their judgement on what solutions work for each of my requests and what don’t.

Now this is not necessarily out of choice; the process would definitely be far more hands on if I were present in-person at the R&D lab. Alas, travel is restricted (for obvious reasons) and I myself cannot do any component swaps without the manufacturer’s actual parts list on hand. And so with such remote cooperations, delegating engineering tasks to the experts actually on-site would be the most optimal strategy.

(If it helps you visualise the process better, this isn’t much different from your standard product R&D in any company. The engineering team take cues from the design team, except this time I’ve taken over the design team in terms of tuning direction.)

From an “ELI5” perspective, the process does seem simple. “Just tell the manufacturer to hit <insert target here>”. But that really only scratches the surface especially in the situations where working with companies is remote.

The process effectively starts not with prototyping, but rather achieving parity (or at least, a good guesstimation) between measurement rigs at the manufacturer side and on my end. This is to minimise shipments between our two ends and ensure smoother communications when discussing tuning.

The biggest hurdle with KZ is that they had been using IEC60318-1 from the very beginning, whereas most of the industry (including my own database) take data with IEC60318-4 (“711”). Of course even coming to be aware of this discrepancy isn’t automatic; there was some back-and-forth and arguments on why our measurements don’t match up at all in the initial stages of discussion before the realisation finally set in.

Pretty useless data if you don't already read 318-1.

After some time trying to convince the KZ engineers to start using the 711 coupler can we finally start the process of– no, not tuning yet; simply ascertaining the differences between our 711 couplers. Also additional issues such as software and smooth differences, scaling and whatnot, and all these take up far more time in the R&D process that most people would imagine.

KZ’s (left) and my (right) measurements of the ZSN Pro X.

And with variations as wide as these, a lot of guesstimation and experience is required to extrapolate comparisons between the two systems.

Still not a perfect comparison; we attempted to measure the same IEM on our different rigs (KZ sending one IEM they’ve measured to me and us comparing the data) but there’s not much more that we can do on this front and at the end it is good enough. Enough for us to exchange feedback through measurements, at the very least.

And only at this point can we finally begin the prototyping and tuning process. KZ did send over a few prototypes of varying setups; a modified DQ6 and ZEX just to name a couple. At some point in order to save on having to ship too many IEMs over, we just had to play “by graph” in a lot of instances. The philosophy for the CRN was simply:

Hit the desired frequency response first, then iron out non-FR kinks in the sequel.

Eventually after a bunch of misses and rejections on what exactly can be changed on some prototypes, some of them laughably imbalanced, we finally came across one with good potential.

Would you have picked this?

With some slight modifications with reference to the measurements on KZ’s side (again, a ton of extrapolation), the above eventually was reworked to what we know now as the ZEX Pro (the pre-CRN). At this point we’ve exchanged a few failed prototypes already so the data between us was getting more and more comparable.

The prototype was sent over, I measured to confirm the frequency response, I greenlit the project, production went underway, and the rest is history.

The final FR which adheres to "IEF Neutral" almost perfectly in the mids, the ultimate goal for this collaboration.

On my end, the marketing was simply to tout the CRN as one of the cheaper ways to enjoy “my tuning”, an IEF-Neutral IEM with sub-focused bass and decidedly a radical departure from every other IEM that KZ had ever made. I made a video, punched out an article, and that was more-or-less my end of the bargain fulfilled.

(Marketing-wise, this is similar to all my other collabs.)

But now the community has discovered a problem.

The Problem

Realistically, you’re only listening to the dynamic driver.

To touch on that a little more, every single driver is properly connected to the circuit and does play sound:

Response from the magnetostat and BA, DD disconnected

The problem here is that they are so dampened relative to the dynamic driver that they are insignificant to the overall frequency response of the IEM.

Special thanks to Jeffrey Fries for the analysis.

Upon my request, KZ has also provided their own analysis of the crossovers on the CRN, which confirms that the magnetostat and BA are playing but at insignificant volumes relative to the dynamic driver:

It pains me to say that due to my limited involvement in the engineering side of the CRN’s R&D as well as not having the foresight to break apart a CRN and check its crossovers, I was not aware of this issue until it came to light.

The VK4 Debacle

Upon the reveal of these facts, I’ve observed an increase in accusations that the ZEX Pro/CRN was simply a reskin of the original VK4 given that the magnetostatic and BA drivers are duds.

I think one statement clears the whole thing up right away:

QKZ is not affiliated with KZ.
KZ themselves have branded QKZ as unauthorised copycats.

The CRN utilises a driver from Earbridge that consists of a magnetostatic tweeter stacked onto full-range DD.

This driver is basically an all-in-one solution and the components are largely inseparable.

The original QKZ VK4 on the other hand uses a single dynamic driver only.

I will not deny tuning similarities; after all I held the OG VK4 to very high regard and it hit my IEF Neutral target almost perfectly, so it would only make sense that another IEM tuned to “IEF Neutral” would also measure similarly.

However, it would be impossible that the CRN is using the same dynamic driver as the OG VK4 given that QKZ and KZ are wholly separate entities more-or-less at war with one another; and more importantly, the CRN using a AIO driver setup that comes with the magnetostatic tweeter attached to the DD by default.

The CRN is not related to the VK4 in any way other than tuning. Plain and simple.

The Bigger Picture

This isn’t a problem exclusive to the CRN; rather this is a KZ-wide problem that the CRN (and thus myself) got caught up in.

Jeffrey Fries and Delta Fyre have tested the crossovers of multiple KZ IEMs between them (NRA, ZEX, ZEX Pro/CRN, CA16 Pro, CA24, ZES, DQ6, DQ6S) and it seems more or less confirmed that these KZ IEMs don’t make full use of their driver selection. The issue varies from having poorly thought-out crossovers to drivers being completely blocked by glue.

All-in-all it seems like this is just driving up the costs and subsequent prices of KZ IEMs at no tangible benefit (from a frequency response standpoint at the very least), and may be a rather convenient explanation as to why groups of KZ IEMs seem to measure (and sound) largely the same despite having different stated driver counts.

Speaking of driver count…

Culpability

First, I’ll have to make one thing very, very clear.

Drivers were never part of my marketing of the CRN. While there was of course acknowledgement of it being a tribrid (still factual even when some drivers are inaudible), I promoted the CRN almost entirely on the merits of its tuning and price point.

Here is my promotional video for the CRN that has ZERO mention of the drivers used, and my Behind the Scenes post where my only mention of the drivers was as a spec listing.

Repeating again: I promoted the CRN almost entirely on the merits of its tuning and price point, and not its drivers. 

But still, I know I’m not totally blameless.

I acknowledge that my branding and endorsement can almost be seen as a “mark of excellence” for many, and issues like these only serve to disappoint the ones who have put faith in my work. It was my responsibility to ensure that issues like this should not happen especially with my name riding on it, and on this front I have failed.

Yes, in hindsight I should have checked the frequency response breakdown of each driver on my own or asked KZ to provide their data. I placed too much trust in the process and assumed the best, and so my negligence has resulted in my involvement in this matter.

And so to all who had purchased a CRN for the purpose of wanting a “tribrid”, I deeply apologise for my contribution to this half-truth and will take this hard lesson to heart, in the event of any future collaborative endeavours of a similar vein.

Response

Effectively immediately I will be distancing myself from the CRN/ZEX Pro and stopping all discussion of future cooperation with KZ until further notice. I have taken down their links on my website and removed any recent mention of them on my social media (Discord banners, promo pictures etc.). The promotional video and article will have to remain up to prove the points that I had made in the section above. 

I’d like to do more but here’s where I remind people that I am not KZ and I’m effectively powerless in terms of enacting hard changes. To put it in perspective, I do not even have the right to pull the CRN out of the market, nevermind process refunds.

A quick side-note: I do not get paid per CRN sold. KZ paid up a single sum for consultative services and the right to use my name on the CRN, and that’s where my monetary gains start and end for the CRN.

I hope I’ve addressed most of your concerns related to this situation and have clarified my culpability in the matter. I can only speak for matters related to the CRN at this point in time. All that’s left to do is to wait for a statement from KZ themselves for everything else.

53 thoughts on “The CRN-KZ Situation”

  1. I bought CRN only because of your tuning made available at affordable price for me. I didn’t even check which drivers it have and everything. I still love the tuning, the base gives me nirvana for split second. And I look forward to buy Eclipse.

    1. Honestly – Ignore the haters. People will always hate and the haters usually haven’t even bought the item – they just pretend they did.

      I own a pair of GOOD KZs because of you. I’m happy with the purchase (and tbh, its pretty interesting that the dynamic driver can do so much).

  2. Well done move on. It’s just a cheap budget iem. The keyboard warriors who didn’t go crazy apeshit over their small dicks went crazy over spoilt GI Joe toys. That’s that.

    1. That’s not the point, just because its a cheap iem doesn’t mean companies should not improve or deceive people.. If people don’t criticize, companies will just get away with it and be lazy

    2. The CRN would probably cost $15 for us if it weren’t for the 2 useless drivers so it would absolutely change the price point and therefore the value it provides. $15 would be an automatic buy for me back when i was shopping because the Arias werent that far from the CRNs price.

      And yes, the “tribrid” marketing did tempt me back then when i didnt know much about iems.

    1. EXACTLY. I didn’t even know what’s in it until the seller explained it like oh this model is selling hot among our kz lineup because it has bla bla bla.

  3. The best-tuned earphone under 50?
    Yea, I’d still buy it even if those other acoustic units aren’t contributing.

  4. I always bought KZ because of the crazy audio quality to the price point ratio. I did like saying “hey, this one has 3 speakers in it!”, but that was always a “huh, cool” rather than a selling point (though i had thought about buying one of their 6 BA/side units for the hell of it, which would have been a purchase based on the speaker count)

    I still think KZ offers incredible value to price ratio, but this is clearly deceptive advertising.

    Thank you for your honesty, Crin, and i look forward to trying the KZ CRN shortly, not because of the number or lack of speakers, but because of the quality of the soiund, and trying your tuning.

    cheers

  5. Thanks Crin, this was incredibly transparent and I do not think you are culpable to the degree that some have expressed.

    Best of luck

  6. I got into KZ only because what was said about the quality of it’s sound when compared to it’s price point (yes, I watched those Dankpods videos). I started with the KSN Pro, and am now currently using the KS10 Pro as a main driver, and am content with it. I have already ordered the CRN via Aliexpress to hear what your type of tuning was like, since I wanted my first $100+ IEM purchase to be the Midnight.

    Not a single one of these KZ purchases were made because of how many drivers were in there.

    This is not to say that the recent discoveries made about how these drivers are being used isn’t important, and shouldn’t be brought to attention of consumers, and I do feel that KZ need to explain themselves to the public, as well as re-evaluate their engineering process. However, I do have a problem with the way this information was spread in the beginning. From the cries of “fake drivers (even though they do actually work, they are just poorly implemented. This is more from incompetence, rather than malice.), to attacking reviewers and collaborators, it’s clear that much of the motivation behind these discoveries was about bringing people and companies down, and not educating customers on potential problems with the goods they’ve bought. Just look at the accusations about the VK4. If it wasn’t for Jeffrey Fries, people would still think that the drivers are fake… and there are many people and memes that still claim this even now. I start to lose respect when people are “exposing things” for the sake of clout and playing “gotcha”, especially when it becomes clear that they have an ax to grind.

    Anyway, thanks for explaining everything behind the scenes from your side of things. To be honest, I thought your involvement went pretty much the way you stated: you simply advised them on how you wanted the IEMs to be tuned, and had no say in how they were constructed. To suggest that you did, and that you should share some blame in the poor use of the BA drivers, is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

    1. Well said. I own a pair of CRN and I’m happy with the purchase…that the company’s advertisement is deceptive? That doesn’t make them sound worse… and marketing is 99% of the times ethically dubious anyways.
      Of course, I also despise cheap tricks like that, and that’ll surely factor in any future KZ consideration
      But, if I were to be totally sincere, I find the (imho) emotional overreaction of those that buyed the IEMs for the tribid wank factor instead of the actual sound to be pretty hilarious.

  7. Thanks for the clear and honest response to this situation. The CRN IS tuned well, and that’s a tribute to your input. KZ’s reprehensible actions are going to cost them a lot of goodwill, and rightfully so. I will certainly not buy or recommend their products until they take responsibility for this mistake and correct it, company-wide.

    Meanwhile, I know that your recommendations line up with my own preferences, based the CRN as well as reviews of other IEMs I’ve purchased, and I’ll wait to see what’s next in this saga.

  8. The CRN is the single best KZ ever. Fit, finish, frequency response and fidelity.

    I’m sure you could find other IEMs on the market, by more illustrious manufacturers, which a driver in one of their IEMs makes little to no difference.

    Crin, you have done so well to date! Looking forward to future colabs!

  9. I kinda thought that this is how it was supposed to be, with dynamic driver doing 95% of the work and other drivers picking up slack…

    1. Yeah… except the other drivers in this case are producing “sound” quieter than the noise floor.

      1. erm… what… if you even bother to look into the facebook post, the BA/Mstat graph DOES looks like it’s producing considerable amount of sound.

  10. i bought the CRN to hear your tuning on the cheap, not for how many drivers there were. i don’t even really like iems… i like crin.

  11. The real question is how does the CRN have such plasticky timbre if it’s a single DD? Makes sense for its level of resolution, but I swear it sounds like a bad BA/EST implementation

    1. Because the dynamic driver is I believe plastic coated. Besides that it could just be down the tuning (which is funny because we are talking about Crin doing the tuning). There is that spike at 5k seem to bother people. Could be caused by that.

      1. The overwhelming majority of headphone and earphone drivers cones are made entirely of plastic. Yes even the good ones. The material used is not indicative of any kind of treble issue.

  12. let the hater be the hater. your contributions to the community is undeniable. especially the free fr chart.

  13. Well duh, the point of multi-drivers IEMs is to hit specific FR otherwise imposible using single speaker.
    When tuning an IEM, you have two choice to do it, the first being acoustic dampening; these thing works by filtering specific frequency based on its resistance (denoted by ohm). But it can only do so much and most engineer only use one per tube.
    And that’s bring us to second choice, that is electrically adjusting the gains of each speaker unit and thus, making one louder and the other quieter. think of it like this: Driver A is lacking 30 db in some of its sub bass region, but you think the the rest is already good enough, then you just add Driver B to boost that specific frequency, electrically dampening it to not overpowering (to make it quieter than) Driver A, but then you notice after adding Driver B, the highs become too harsh and thus you use acoustic dampening to supress the highs of Driver B, and there you have it: a double driver IEM tuning process.
    Most people really underestimate the process of tuning IEMs to specific FR target, making remark such as ‘This driver is underused!’, ‘That BA sounds lower than the noise floor and is therefore useless!’, but people forget that most drivers, except bone conduction works by blasting moving air to your eardrum, giving it pressure (hence, sound pressure level). Even the sounds you can’t hears count, why do you think reviewer talks about airiness, and subsonic lows, when they can’t hear it? yeah, they felt the pressure in their ears.

    1. Oh yeah, many tribrids use Sonion’s EST65DA01 but if you look at its datasheet, it’s peaky as heck. Then how could they smooth the shit out of it? go figure.

  14. There, drama explained, hope you learned your lesson Crin. 😛
    What I find truly sad is the fact KZ as usual won’t say a thing regarding this PR mess.
    Your collab was pretty much what I expected from an advisor.

    While I understand why some are upset with you, but it doesn’t change the fact the IEM still sounds great. Anyway, glad you are distancing yourself from this PR mess.

    1. I do NOT understand why anybody could be “upset” with Crin, it reeks of childishness and pettyness, imo. Of cancel culture, of people that enjoy to ride the white mane of moral superiority… and that would kill to have 1/10th of Crin’s work ethic IRL

      If anything, you can feel disapointed with KZ, and maybe mock a bit Crin, tongue in cheek and with no real malice, about his naivety in the evil marketing ways, and that just if you feel trolly that day… not an iota more. Sheees…the cringe of the witch-hunters, ugh…

  15. The thing about Crinacle’s lauded collabs is the frequency curves are just not that consistent from brand to brand. My biggest complaint with this latest collab is the terrible drop off after 10 KHz that makes cymbals and vocal “air” lifeless and off. That combined with the Beyerdynamic 8 KHz peak of death makes for an interesting hodgepodge. It is peaky like a DT 880, combined with the bass of a DT 990, and finished off with the treble roll off of a Sennheiser in the topmost register. True, it also has a great midrange in between but there are already other KZ that do this too without flaws quite as extreme which Crinacle doesn’t admit. It is just another tuning that has its own flaws that negate the “one giant killer to rule them all” FOTM hype train fever that Crinacle’s rabid fan base caught and took, hook, line and sinker. The ZEX Pro is alright but KZ’s ZAX actually follows the response of his higher priced collabs better (with no upper treble roll off and no Beyer-like 8 KHz peak, for one!) and also happens to track closely to the frequency response of S tier Elysian Annihilator, which needs no introduction.

    1. that 8khz is due to coupler resonance chief and the insertion depth determines where that peak is going to be since that would change where the 1/4 wavelength resonance is going to be. crinacle deiberately inserts all iems with different cm of depth to make all of them have their coupler resonance at 8khz. basically all measured iems in the database have that peak.

  16. Hey Crin – chin up. As you expand your business and collaborations, some are bound to do worse than another.

    Good job on IEF and the youtube channel – I had the CRN for a couple of weeks and passed it along to a mate and we were both impressed with the performance of $30 iems

  17. are you going to make a video about it?
    i doubt the thousands of people who bought it based on your video are going to read this article.

  18. I literally bough it yesterday online before I discovered this issue,lmao. But I didn’t know it was a tribit in the first place anyway. I actually wanted it for the tuning. It hasn’t arrived yet, I guess Ill see when it arrives.

  19. Ironically, I learned more about the tuning process from this post than the behind the scenes series.

  20. Consider having in place a clause, within your future consulting services agreement (template), along the following lines:

    [Each party shall not initiate or participate in any action or conduct tending to injure, bring into disrepute, ridicule, damage or destroy the goodwill of the other party, or the other party’s affiliates, or their respective businesses.]

    Example is a mutual clause. Naturally, one-sided in your favor is to also be considered.

    Just my two cents. No warranty for accuracy/fitness of the above.

    1. It still would not help much on a tricky situation like KZs as I doubt Crin would be able to put up a legal fight against a multimillion $ company when they have delivered the tuning he advised for, they did achieve the tuning that he could accept for a device of the price.

      It’s not like the CRN is not delivering the sound it promises, the problem is how they advertise it as a tribrid which implies that for an audio device you will be listening to result of different technology transducers.

      There’s also a lot of unforeseen things with that wording in a contract, what if Crin is accused of something bad in his private life, say a chic who feels sour because he dumped her decides to accuse him of having not taken no for an answer one night when he wanted a cookie (this happens a quite a bit), suddenly KZ would be accused of collaborating with a rapist by the woke crowd. Look at what happened to J Depp (people to wait for facts before passing judgement). KZ could suddenly sue for damages to their V-sound reputation 😂.

      It’s a double edged sword unfortunately.

  21. If you want a cheap Asian earphone that sounds good, buy a Sony MH1C. Solder a new wire to the case and all is good.

  22. I got them 2 days ago and honestly they’re okay, the high end makes it hard to listen to for a long time without EQ This product is solely for someone buying it for the tuning and crinacles name. I’m an engineer and these are my first IEM’s but I’ll say they’re bout’ 7/10

  23. Thanks, Uncle.
    Appreciate you, the situation and your attitude toward transparency. Still enjoy these CRN IEM’s I bought based on the sound and value of your tuning.

    We all learned something about this hobby we enjoy. You remain a trusted and valued resource.

  24. A bit unfortunate that you were caught out with lack of transparency on KZ’s process. You’ll definitely do your due diligence in future before you provide consultancy or your moniker for branding.

  25. Thank you for taking the time to clarify the situation. Most wouldn’t have taken the time or energy to explain what really happened. You have earned more respect takikng responsibility where you felt you needed too. Anyone that wants to question your ethics on the matter can go look in the mirror and question themselves. Keep up the good work and please don’t stop with affordable collabs so peeps like myself can get in on the action $36 zexpro was worth every penny inmho regardless of the driver bullshit so again keep it up and don’t let others get you down you too responsibility and that’s all you can do that and move on which I know you will so “don’t die” and…..”FUCK OFF” stay up brother and thanks for all you’ve brought to the iem scene.

  26. your explanation & mea culpa honor you

    not surprising, remove the faceplate of a 1DD iem and you barely hear the difference

  27. I really don’t understand what’s wrong with people these days. What does one expect for IEMs that retail for 35 GBP?

    I spent as much again on a Tripowin cable because the supplied wire with the KZ x Crinacle CRN is absolute garbage. I didn’t go to bed crying, because this is what I expect with 35 GBP IEMs

    End of the day they sound alright. The midrange is more refined than I expected, and there is no particular harshness to the treble if you stay within sensible volume levels. My biggest surprise with these is the soundstage which is certainly excellent for IEMs

    They are fine for the commute and I’d say they probably stand up to IEMs costing 3 times the price, and certainly better than a horrible feeling, rubbery Sennheiser that has a ghastly microphonic cable that you can’t replace, and earpieces that are always falling out.

    You get what you pay for, and these are good value for money. No more. No less. Please stop expecting miracles for your pocket money.

  28. I’m late to this topic, but just wanted to say that mistakes happen. It’s not learning from the mistakes that’s inexcusable. You clearly learned a lot from this experience and your future work and collaborations will be better for it. Glad the community got a decent IEM for a compelling price.

  29. Hi Crin,

    Lawyer and newbie audiophile here, just wanted to say that it was really big of you to make this post and that you should really re-think your licensing terms for use of your brand.

  30. Funny, I didn’t even know it was tribit. I just wanted it for my collection and to taste Crinacle’s tuning. Listening to RHCP – Dark Necessities as I write this to test them out. They are quite nice so far. I’m happy with my purchase. For the price, this is an awesome sound.

    Things will never be perfect, If you are happy with it, no problem.

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