CCZ Melody & CCA CRA: best budget IEMs under $20?
Updated: May 24, 2022
Hey all, today we’re taking a look at two sub $20 dollar IEMs: one from CCA, the CCA CRA, and the other from CCZ, the CCZ Melody. For those bargain hunters out there, are either of these worth it? Let’s get InToit!
In terms of their build each comes in a plastic shell. The CCA is a bit sleeker, and the CCZ a bit more dense. Both fit comfortably in the ear, but I did have to move up a size in ear tips for the CCZ to fit me properly and stay nested in my ear. The CCZ also has the dreaded comfort wing that I hated on the Plume and, to a lesser extent, on the Coffee Bean. But in the case of the Melody, the wing seems to be even less pronounced, so it actually didn’t really aggravate me that much with this one. Still, I’d rather do without it if this could be abandoned in future offerings from CCZ.
Inside the shells, their driver configurations are a bit different. The CRA is a 10mm, single dynamic with an ultra-thin diaphragm, while the Melody is a hybrid IEM consisting of one balanced armature and a dynamic. The clear design of the faceplate of the Melody’s leaves its wiring unobstructed from view, and this gives these a bit of a unique look. Tip wise, both come with each company’s standard silicone varieties, with the tips provided with the CCA being of the clear variation, and those provided with the CCZ being comprised of the standard black. Regarding their individual connectors at the initiation points on the IEMs themselves, the CCA uses a c-pin connector, while the CCZ uses a box-style, 2-pin- each remaining consistent with what their brands have been doing as of late.
The stock cable that comes with the Melody is akin to your everyday KZ cable, while the cable that comes with the CCA is a bit more sophisticated. It claims to be a silver-plated copper, but is a copper color underneath its straight, unwoven, plastic sheath. Both cables terminate in right-angled 3.5 mm jacks, and in the case of my review samples, neither came with a microphone, although it appears that you can order versions with in-line microphones for each.
In terms of their sound, let me preface things by saying that I really like what each company has done here, at least for the price. Are these, giant killers? Not really, no, but they are fine examples of what budget can do, and in the case of the CCZ it at least keeps up with prior comparable offerings such as the KBEAR KS1 and the CCZ Coffee Bean, which I’ll be comparing it to throughout this review.
This is because, in the case of the CCZ Melody, it offers a very surprisingly similar sound to that of the KS1 and the Coffee Bean with only some slight tuning adjustments. So, if I don’t talk about some particular aspect of the sound you’re interested in here, check out those prior reviews for additional guidance. I’ll place a link to each one of those reviews in the description below.
But regarding the Melody specifically in comparison to the Coffee Bean and KS1, it probably has the best extension capacities out of the bunch- in both its bass and treble frequencies. With that said, there is a decided sub-bass emphasis with the Melody, which results in somewhat softer in character to its bass response, and as such the low-end in the Melody is somewhat less dynamic, as it lacks the mid-bass punch of the KS1 and Coffee Bean. Still, the Melody may actually offer the biggest bass of the three. So those after a bigger, ticker, denser, sub-bass focused low-end presentation may actually prefer the Melody if given a choice amongst the three. Having said that, there isn’t a ton of bass detailing here either, and the listener gets more secondary exposure to the bass itself. Imagine how low-end can bleed throughout a car audio system when there are two to three 15’s in the trunk. So, needless to say, there is some sub-bass bleed from the separate dynamic driver here, but it actually bleeds less, and is less domineering than one might expect, as its sub-bas emphasis also provides fullness and richness to the overall auditory picture as well. As a result, I had no problem listening to the Melody for lengthy listening sessions as it did not produce any real fatigue from its low-end, despite its bass being rather large.
The mid-range and treble of the Melody seem to utilize this IEM’s BA driver, and, as a result, it paints a much clearer and more detailed picture than its low-end. In fact, this is where the Melody may actually surpass the KS1 and Coffee Bean that I liked so much, in that its BA offers a greater sense of detail and clarity than is offered from those IEMs which only utilize single dynamic drivers. Unfortunately, depending upon source and track, its timbre can come across a bit brighter than would be ideal, and the Melody is bright than both the KS1 and Coffee Bean. So, with the great extension, detail, and clarity of the Melody, also comes at somewhat of a cost. Having said that, I never found the mid-range or the treble of the Melody to be overly harsh, intense, or abrasive, despite its slightly bright tonality. In comparing the timbre of the KS1, Coffee Bean, and the Melody, I would say that the Melody is the brightest, the KS1 is in the middle, and the Coffee Bean is the warmest of the three, although none are aggressively, overly bright in my opinion.
Further, the staging of the Melody is somewhat more intimate than it is in the KS1 or Coffee Bean. Still, the Melody has decent depth to its stage, and all three IEMs image well from a technical perspective, with beyond average separation and image distinctiveness for the price point. Where the Melody suffers in comparison to its brethren is in terms of its cohesiveness, as its separate drivers do sound fundamentally different to a certain extent, and this does impact cohesion, in the end.
Compared to the Melody, the sound of the CRA is tad less resolving, but for single dynamic that is less than $20 bucks, I’m really not complaining. Sound-staging is similarly intimate in terms of its presentation, as most sounds occur be between one’s ears. But unlike the Melody, the CRA tends to struggle somewhat more when it comes to image distinctiveness and separation of sonics, but this is also only really apparent on busier tracks. When the soundscape is not overly complex, the CRA tends to perform just fine. Nevertheless, variable, track-dependent diffuseness in the CRA’s low-end, may contribute to this blurring of sound on occasion, as sonics tend to blur the more the low-end is engaged on this set. And there is some looseness in general to the low-end presentation of the CRA, which is unique to the presentation overall, which is relatively tight and well controlled otherwise.
Vocals are significantly pushed forward for both male and female vocalists, but never in an aggressive or harsh manner. The midrange takes a decided step back behind the vocals in most situations, but sonics were still clear and present enough under most circumstances. Suggesting somewhat of a u-shaped presentation rather than v-shaped one. In any case, I can see this being a budget offering, which vocal lovers will likely gravitate to.
The treble and upper mids of the CRA also has some mild forwardness to it as well, but I didn’t ever find it to be too peaky in any particular spot, and I really enjoyed the extension of the treble here overall. These sound like they extend rather evenly out into the later treble- possessing enough air for enjoyment without ever venturing into the land of artificiality.
Another area where the CRA shines is with its peripheral detailing and clarity in the periphery. Peripherals were consistently vibrant, and pushed somewhat forward like its vocals, giving the music an additional sense of energy during playback. Timbre is also not a problem for the CCA CRA, as instrumentation generally appears accurately reproduced in terms of tonality, transients, and texture.
So, for $15 to the CCA CRA has very few flaws despite its tiny price. It doesn’t have the biggest stage in the world, and its low-end presentation can become somewhat diffuse at times- leading to confusion in the sound profile on occasion; but it is still a well-tuned, mostly tight, and well controlled single-dynamic otherwise. In fact, I’d venture so far as to say that it is one of the best IEM under $15 dollars right now (behind only the KS1, which is coming out with a new clear variant soon by the way). With that said, please understand that the CRA does also struggle with sonic separation and distinctiveness on occasion, especially on busier tracks, but vocal nuts are sure to flock to this one still. In summation, it’s a solid technical performer as a single dynamic from CCA at a bargain-basement price.
The CCZ Melody is also another solid performer coming out from CCZ at just a few bucks more. It seems to target those that wish for more extension out their KS1 or CCZ Coffee Bean, even if it comes at the cost of some cohesion to the overall sonic picture. But for $20 dollars I’d focus more on what IEMs do well, and if it could possibly do it for you, rather than nitpicking or tearing either down for their flaws; even if that’s what I have to do somewhat here as a reviewer for the purposes of a review.