Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Neighborhood. It’s Your Friendly Neighborhood Reviewer with InToit Reviews. Today we’re taking a look at two earphones, the CCA C10 Pro and the KZ ZAX, which share many similarities, yet ultimately, in the end, are very different. The moral of the story is that slight adjustments can make all the difference.
So, let’s get InToit!
Disclaimer: Per usual, Linsoul has provided the products to me, but they have not tried to influence my review otherwise, and all views, comments, and opinions are my own.
KZ ZAX: https://www.linsoul.com/collections/all/products/kz-zax
CCA C10 Pro: https://www.linsoul.com/products/cca-c10-pro
So, let’s begin by discussing what these two IEMs have in common. CCA is a sub-brand of KZ, so these two earphones share a manufacturer. They’re also both hybrid IEMs consisting of a variety of balanced armatures and dynamic low-end driver. The ZAX tops out a 7 BAs and 1 DD, while the C10 Pro consists of 4 balanced armatures and 1 DD. More specifically, the low-end in each earphone is handled by a 10mm dual-magnetic, large, dynamic driver.
Other aspects of build quality are also very similar. The shells are composed of a plastic cavities and metal, alloy faceplates. The ZAX metal faceplate is comprised of Zinc Alloy, while the C10 Pro’s faceplate is composed of Aluminum. Both IEMs wear comfortably in my ear, but the ZAX’s corners are more rounded, and much, less sharp compared to the C10 Pro’s angular, somewhat pointy, edges. While the boundaries of neither earphone touch my ears, the sharp edges of the CCA may be uncomfortable for those who have more unique shaped ears whose outer ear may encroach more upon the metal faceplate.
Both earphones also sport KZ’s new, clear-style cables; which are softer to the touch and a general joy to use after years of terrible KZ cables. Each IEM initiates in a QDC connection, has an in-line microphone, and terminates in a right-angled unbalanced connection. However; the ZAX’s y-split and termination take a very traditional KZ shape, while the CCA’s cable’s y-split is more unique, and it ends in a conventionally rounded, right-angled termination instead. One thing to note, about this variance in termination, is that the CCA cable may fit more universally into 3.5 mm socket on phone or tablet cases, as I have had some fit issues with the shallow, angular termination of KZ cables in the past.
With regard to their global frequency responses, again, both earphones appear somewhat similar- at least on paper. In fact, after initial sound impressions, I could barely tell these two apart! However, after short, critical, listening sessions with each, it became very apparent that each set has its strengths and its weaknesses, and they, most likely, will appeal to different audiophiles.
(ZAX FR pictured on top; C10 Pro FR pictured on bottom)
Although slightly more detailed, the ZAX is also the more subdued of the pair. It is limited with regard to transients and decay. It is dark in the traditional sense, meaning that it lacks treble extension. Top-end intensity, brilliance, and sparkle is also simply lacking, which is surprising, as, given its moniker, as the “ZAX.” I expected the ZAX to be somewhat of a follow-up to the ZSX, which is a fairly intense experience- to say the least! Instead, the ZAX is somewhat lifeless in comparison. However; like the ZSX, the stage of the ZAX is pretty average, at best, and fairly restricted in its presentation for the most part. But unlike the ZSX, I find layering, distinctiveness, and separation inadequate for an earphone in this price-range. The ZAX is somewhat claustrophobic, lacking in air, cohesiveness, dimensionality, and generally cluttered on busier tracks.
The tone of the ZAX is mildly warm, but also on the drier and duller side of things. Timbre is subtly artificial, and largely, overly smoothed-over. Its bass is somewhat sloppy, and bleeds into the lower mid-range as it swells. Yet somehow, I still found the bass to be missing a certain amount of presence, even when it was acoustically elevated on a number of tracks. I’m not saying that the bass level lacks representation, the bass is simply just “lifeless,” I guess. And, when I think about it, it brings to mind the image of a flopping fish, out of the water, on a muddy river bank.
Additionally, the character of the mids are somewhat recessed, particularly in the lower mid-range, and they often lack sufficient energy to engage their listener. Of particular note, the lower mids simply drops out too much for me on these for me to derive any kind of enjoyment from listening to the ZAX.
I tried experimenting with tips for the ZAX, and while SpinFit CP100s were my preference, for this set, they far from save it. The included KZ Starline tips are a nice inclusion in the package here, as the are some of KZ’s nicer tips, but I ultimately found that they further darkened the sound, limited the treble, and contributed to the already lifeless, bloated bass.
In contrast, although it measures similarly, the CCA C10 Pro appears to be precisely elevated in its frequency response in just all-the-right places. While this set also suffers somewhat from limited, lower mid-range presence as well with certain music, I found it acoustically more tolerable to my ear than in the ZAX. In comparison, the upper mid-range is sufficiently forward, and peripheral details are excellent. Imaging capabilities are beyond average for the price-point- both with regard to imaging placement and instrument distinctiveness. Layer is also above average. I particularly enjoyed the C10 Pro’s layered presentation on Hailee Steinfeld’s “Hell Nos and Headphones.” The soundstage has a lot of depth to it, and even more width. Especially with regard to its peripherals.
Vocals isolate fairly well, and provider a good center image that is decently large in comparison the rest of the mix. They are neither too far forward, nor to far recessed- for both female and male vocalists.
The CCA C10 Pro might not be class leading with regard to details and resolution, and there is some mild treble glare, but they were right up there with the best of them, especially amongst KZ’s that I have tested to date. They are more detailed, and have greater resolution compared to the KZ ZS10 Pro, but are less detailed than a ZSX. Having said that, the CCA C10 Pro is less fatiguing, compared to the ZSX, has a more expansive soundstage, and is generally more pleasing in its presentation; which is more pleasant to listen to across a wider variety of music.
Unlike the ZAX, which appears disparate and somewhat unbalanced to my ears, cohesion is a strength for the CCA C10 Pro. Overall timbre is warm, but there is also pretty decent treble extension here. The treble presentation on the CCA C10 Pro possesses as a certain amount of air to it, which adds to its uniqueness in this price-range and enhances its enjoyability. Transients and decay are also excellent for the price-range. The CCA C10 Pro seems to delicately whisper in your ears on certain tracks. Nevertheless, I should note that the treble was a bit thin with stock tips, but this was easily rectified by switching to either KZ Starline or Final Type E Tips; the later of which I preferred best for this set.
The bass has a good amount of warmth to it, without ever really being overdone. Most of the time, the bass level is appropriate in its presentation, but it also can have surprising amount of extension to it, when it needs it, as its dig relatively deep at times as well. Yet, there is more mid-bass emphasis here than sub-bass, which is generally not my preference, but because of this, dynamics are punchy, impactful, and resolve relatively quickly.
In summary, the CCA C10 Pro is a great all-around earphone with good extension at both ends. It is smooth, bassy when it needs to be, and is restrained and tightens up when additional low-end is unwarranted. Its strengths lie it its open, airy, and articulate character. In contrast, the ZAX lacks treble extension and cohesion, is stuffy, and it blooms in an unpleasing manner. To my ear the more expensive KZ ZAX at $60 dollars is boring and lifeless, while the less expensive CCA C10 Pro at $41 is engaging and expressive. While I’m sure there is more going on here, I am left astounded, exclaiming in amazement; “What a difference slight bumps in the frequency response can make!”- at least in this case.
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