KZ ZEX PRO: balanced sound from Crinacle?
Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Neighborhood. Today we’re looking at yet another IEM tuned by Crinacle: the KZ ZEX PRO. But what do I think of this tuning? Let’s get InToit!
But of course, we’re going to start with the build. It’s a molded, resin shell with a metal face plate and nozzle. I received the black colorway, but there is an option for clear resin shell with a rose gold faceplate as well. The actual mold of the shell is somewhat unique looking, with a lot of contours to it and a pretty large wing for security. Traditionally, I don’t like large wings such as this, as they don’t fit well within the cavity of my ears, but surprisingly I had little to no difficulty with the ZEX Pro. And furthermore, I actually found it to fit rather comfortably in my ears, even for longer listening sessions. I generally like KZ Starline tips, and a set of the clear variety are included in the box. I’m sure the use of this tip helped at least somewhat with the comfort here.
The connection initiating at the shell is c-pin, and the included cable terminates in a right-angled 3.5 mm jack. The cable it itself seems to be trying to emulate something like the Moondrop’s S.S.R. or S.S.P. cables. Like those cable, it’s a straight plastic wrapped, silver-plated cable, with an affixed y-split. And even though I expected to have issues with this cable when in play, such as potential kinks, I was actually pleasantly surprised to have almost zero issues with it, in the end, even after some significant use. Having said that, I did enjoy the sound of the ZEX PRO the most with an alternative, Tripowin C8, balanced cable instead, as I found the performance of the ZEX PRO to be slightly dulled by its stock cable.
But what is most exciting about the ZEX PRO is its unique diver configuration, especially at its typical, meager costs of at or under $40. You see, the driver configuration of the ZEX PRO consists of internally is that of 2 dynamic drivers, a single balanced armature, and a magnetostatic. And if you’ve seen me review other IEMs with magnetostatic drivers in the past, then you’d know that these aren’t true electrostatic drivers, even though they often get marketed as such. Still, this type of driver is relatively new and they aren’t used often in IEMs every day, especially at this price-point.
So, Crinacle tuned these, and in his YouTube video where he admits to this, he reports that he thinks that these are balanced, and this is the characteristic that separates the ZEX PRO from other IEMs in the $35 dollar price bracket. And while, I’m not going to disagree with Crinacle here per say, I’m not going to agree with him here either, as there are a number of observable auditory outcomes with the ZEX PRO that support this assertion, while there are also a number that would argue against it. So, let’s talk about how these are balanced and then discussed how describing these as balanced goes a bit “too far.”
First off, despite its use of multiple drivers the ZEX PRO does sound surprisingly coherent from a global perspective. And with specific regard to the frequency response, nothing is really pushed too far forward here either, but there is some additional energy that is auditorily observable on particular tracks somewhere around six-and-half-K; but we’ll get into that when we get to the talking about the treble. You see, it is really mostly, only the mid-range here that depicts a sense of balance; however, I will also note that this balance does extend well past the upper mid-range; into the presence region. Furthermore, I’d characterize the mid-range response of the ZEX PRO as pleasant, clear, and articulate- with enough energy to sustain one’s attention. So, so far, so good in terms of Crinacle’s assertation that the KZ ZEX PRO is balanced.
But then we take a closer examination at the bass response. When we look at the bass specifically, we notice that the ZEX PRO definitely has a bias towards the sub-bass here, with its sub-bass being elevated a fair amount above the rest of the low-end. Unfortunately, this is not only observable on the graph, but it also comes across rather audibly to the ear. What this means is that the bass does not sound full enough or rich in texture enough for me to call it a balanced low end. Put simply, the bass of the ZEX PRO often comes across as rather one note-ish in its sound; hollow, or ghost-like in in its presentation. Instead of being balanced in the low-end, the bass here is rather weak, and lacking in both dynamics or any real authority. We’re talking less than open backed headphones levels of bass. So, while I may understand what Crinacle was going for here, I think both he and KZ, unfortunately, missed the mark of a balanced bass response.
The treble response of the ZEX PRO is also not a balanced one. As I mentioned previously, there is some auditory energy beginning around six-and-a-half-K- peaking at 8K and then falling off substantially at 9K. Peaks around 8K can often be due to measurement error, but unfortunately, in this case, it’s definitely audible and somewhat harsh. Then, there’s the issue of the giant chasm from 9K-15K, which drops almost 20 Hz below the mid-range response at one point. Given this gulf in the frequency response, the treble comes across rather flat-lacking air and sophistication. Candidly, its extension is simply far too limited for me or anyone to call it balanced. If the upper treble extended out closer to 10K or so before falling off as drastically as it does, I might be more forgiving here, but unfortunately it does not, and as a result of this, balanced it is not.
So, what is the ZEX PRO if not balanced? Well, I’d describe the ZEX PRO as a slightly mid-forward, bass-light IEM, with some harshness here or there, and a significant amount of treble roll off- lacking in air, sophistication, and dynamics. Is it a bad IEM? No, but other than its driver configuration, it is actually rather unexciting. And still, balanced and unexciting (at least to someone who knows better) aren’t necessarily the same things. Crinacle wants to hype the KZ ZEX PRO as the most balanced IEM in the price-range, but I’d recommend that my viewers take a look at some other similarly priced IEMs, which I have also recommended in the past, before taking a chance on the ZEX PRO here. As I’d consider the Jade Audio EA3, Jade Audio EA1 and even the Moondrop S.S.R. as more engaging and better examples of balanced sound than this thing.
But thanks to KZ for sending in the ZEX PRO for an honest review. If you’re looking for a somewhat balanced KZ IEM specifically, consider trying to catch the ZSX when it’s on sale, as I’ve seen them on sale often, and for as low as $32 dollars USD. I’ll place links in the descriptions for my reviews of the EA3, EA1, S.S.R. and the ZSX all for you to check out in combination with this review. There will also be links in the description for how to support the channel through Twitter, Discord, Instagram, Patreon, or www.intoitreviews.com. Also, make sure to subscribe here if you haven’t done so already, leave a like and a comment, and as always, I appreciate you all… and with that, I’m out… for now!
*Thanks to KZ for sending me the ZEX PRO (CRN) for review:
InToit Reviews YouTube: ttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDhV3KByLSY2roqZ2aQ0XKg
InToit Reviews Twitter: https://twitter.com/IntoitReviews
InToit Reviews Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/intoitreviews/
Join the InToit Reviews Discord Server: https://discord.gg/tePQKfT
Become a Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/intoitreviews