CCA CKX: a $70 surprise...
Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Neighborhood! It’s Your Friendly Neighborhood Reviewer with InToit Reviews! Lately CCA has been killing it, and spoiler alert, the CKX is no exception, and might be their best one yet. That is, if you’re looking for a specific presentation, so let’s get InToit!
The CCA CKX, is a hybrid IEM consisting of 6 balanced armatures and 1 dynamic driver. Basically, you’re paying about $10 dollars a driver in this case, as these are retailing for $69.99 at the moment. For the money, these are a steal, both in terms of build and in terms of sound. But we’ll get into the sound later.
The shell here is metal, and extremely solid. For their size, these are decently weighty, but they’re not really heavy from my point of view. The shape the of the shell is very small and really ergonomic. The face-plate is about the size of a tear-drop-shape guitar pic. They sit and fit within my ear canal without issue, and don’t feel like they even come close to touching my pinna. The nozzle maybe slightly above average, but the angle isn’t too steep and there is a nice lip to hold onto your tips.
The supplied tips are clear Starlines, and I actually stuck with these tips for the review, as I did not find them to darken things up too much as they tend to do on other sets. Uniquely, with these I took large Starlines. Normally, mediums fit best, but this time, I had to go up a size to get the right seal. I’m not sure if it was just the nozzle of this particular set, or if the tips here run on the smaller side for some reason. The filter here is a metal punch-plate, and I know some won’t really like this idea, but it will most likely do a good job of keeping bits out of the IEM themselves.
Connection at the top of the IEM is a c-pin/QDC style connection; which is the same as the ZSX, the C10 Pro X, and a number of other IEMs that I have recently reviewed. So, it seems that this connection type is becoming more common, and more universal; especially among KZ, CAA, and Tin HiFi. The version I was sent by Linsoul came with a microphone, and the cable itself felt soft enough soft enough, but it did smell somewhat. It seems to be of the same variety as other, newer, clear KZ cables, and terminates in an angled 3.5mm connector, but I have not really noticed the smell of other cables that I have received of this variety, so I’m not sure what that is about, but it is at least something to be aware of.
Because of the smell, in my testing, I mostly used a Tripowin C8 2.5mm balanced cable.
And the sound… These sound great! Especially considering their value. Though the presentation is admittedly somewhat unexpected. What I mean, is these are very intimate sounding. They have limited soundstage width, average depth, but above average height to their stage. Sonics sound large, in their overall presentation and mic’d up close. This includes vocals; which are more forward in their nature compared to the rest of the mix. Their intimate presentation of the CCA CKX reminds me most of HD600 series from Sennheiser, but, in this case, sounds mostly occur between your ears, and is limited to inside your head. Another way to say this, is that there is limited to no expansive quality to the sound signature, but this is probably the weakest characteristic of this set, and some people may actually prefer this kind of presentation.
Separation of sonics also isn’t something to write home about, and, at times, tracks do come across as somewhat cramped or relatively claustrophobic; especially on busier tunes. But other components of imaging were generally excellent. Things layer well, instrument distinction is mostly well-defined, instruments are placed accurately, and things generally tracked well; even if they do so within a confined space.
Timbre in the CKX is surprisingly well done, and also very Sennheiser 600 series like. Its slightly warm, and there’s almost no balanced armature tonality going on here. The presentation is relatively natural, and consistent with depicted instrumentation. There is some very mild grittiness to some aspects of the treble, but this mostly comes across as airiness or ordinary, natural harshness for the listener. For example, the top-end of symbols do crash a bit, but I generally found that this to add detailing, and was never really unpleasant to listen too. In general, the treble is well controlled by the included KZ Starline Tips, but can edge towards aggression if one switches to alternative tips. For this reason, I mostly preferred the included clear, Starline Tips here, but found the treble extension to be well implemented, mildly airy, and contribute to the detailed orientation and revealing nature of this set.
In fact, I will draw one’s attention to the fact that clarity and resolution are great for this price of this earphone. In fact, I’ve heard sets twice this price, which aren’t as resolving as the CKX is. Detailing is well above average, and peripheral details are just as clear as the rest. Yet, the CKX’s balanced armatures were somewhat sensitive to higher output impedances, so I did observe background hiss and interference on higher output devices. But, given that this set has a large number of balanced armatures, I mostly expected this outcome, as B.A.s tend to be fairly sensitive in this respect. On the Gold Note DS-10, I had to use an IEMatch in Ultra mode to get the darkest background, and I rarely have to push the switch beyond the High position. Aside from its sensitivity to hiss, I did not find it to be source dependent otherwise.
Of particular note, the bass has good articulation and detail to it as well. It really digs deep at times, and it reminds me of a theater system on occasion when the bass flutter of a song lingers in a satisfying, yet natural way. So, while decay in general was sufficient, bass decay was most excellent.
A certain other reviewer, who shall not be named, loves to talk about kick drums during his reviews of bloated mid-bass champions, but here, with the CCA CKX, kick drums sound much more natural, and, although emphasized, are generally never overcooked. This is because much of the CKX’s bass authority is derived from the sub-bass and low-bass regions instead of relying on mid-bass forwardness.
The CKX is bass elevated, and with some intensity to it at times, but this, for the most part, only occurs when it is called for on specific tracks or from particular genres. As there is tremendous impact at times, this would be a good set for people who enjoy Hip-Hop Music, Pop, Rap, Rock, and, or EDM, and also value an authoritative low-end push. Macrodynamics were stellar, and microdynamics sufficiently above average for this price. So, the bass is pretty punchy when called for in bass-centric music, but the bass here can stay out of the way on other songs, and, in this case, it merely adds body rather than bloat to the track.
The mid-range generally is presented in a clear and forward fashion, but nor overly so. The lower mid-range is somewhat less forward in comparison to the middle and upper mid-range frequencies, but to my ear this is somewhat a mid-centric set; which is a surprise for a CCA, but a most welcome one to my ears.
In this price-range, the biggest competition here might be the Tin HiFi T4 and the Moondrop Starfield. Compared to the T4, the T4 has better separation and a wider sound-stage, but the CKX has more low-end presence, and better detail retrieval overall. Compared to the Moondrop Starfield, there is less treble glare, additional air, and a tighter, less bloomy, more articulate, low-end presentation. The Starfield and CKX share some staging characteristics, in that they are both limited in this regard, but the CKX is better in just about every other way.
So, in the end, the CKX is an intimate IEM that reminds of me an HD600 series headphone in number of ways, including its soundstage, tonality, clarity, and vocal and mid forward nature; but also, with some additional, welcomed air. Like a 58X or a 660s it lacks some separation, but has a more accurate and impactful bass; like the newer 560s from Sennheiser, yet even more extended and improved. Within the price-range, these are excellent, and surprising that they come from a company like CCA, which is a sub-brand of KZ. I suspect that these will be extremely popular due to both their sound, their size, their build, and their comfort.
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