KZ CRN (ZEX Pro) Review
INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMER:
The KZ CRN, first introduced as the KZ ZEX Pro, is a hybrid in-ear monitor (IEM) using a 10mm dynamic driver, a 30095-pattern balanced armature, and an electrostatic driver in each housing. The CRN is a collaboration between KZ and the preeminent IEM reviewer Crinacle. The CRN was provided to me by KZ in exchange for my evaluation. The CRN is available on Amazon for $39.
Crinacle is one of my foremost influences as a reviewer and I owe him a tremendous debt for helping to get started with taking frequency response measurements. Despite these factors, I will endeavor to be as objective in my evaluation of the CRN as possible.
I have used the KZ CRN with the following sources:
- Qudelix 5K
- Audirect Beam 3 Pro
- Ikko ITM01
I have tested these headphones with local FLAC and Spotify Premium. Visit my last.fm page to get an idea of what I listen to:
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:
Note: My review sample was sent out prior to KZ’s collaboration with Crinacle being revealed and is still branded as the ZEX Pro.
The KZ CRN comes in a small rectangular white box with a white slipcover. The slipcover pictures the CRN on the front and provides KZ’s contact information and technical specifications for the CRN on the back. Inside the box are the IEMs, a detachable .75mm 2-pin cable, 3 pairs of silicone eartips (S, M, L), and a user manual. The CRN does not come with a carry bag or case.
BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN:
The KZ CRN has dark translucent acrylic housings with satin black metal faceplates. The quality of the finish of the faceplates is cheap looking. The housings have a pseudo-custom fit. The faceplate has a small vertical mesh slit on the bottom corner but covering this vent does not appear to impact the sound of the IEM. There do not appear to be any vents on the body. The metal nozzles have small lips for securing eartips.
The included 2-pin cable is typical of a KZ-type IEM, which is to say it is tangle-prone and infuriating to use. The cable included with the CRN is perhaps the most tangle-prone non-braided cable I have ever encountered. The cable uses QDC-style extruded connectors. “L” and “R” indicators are faintly embossed on the 2-pin connectors, but the connectors must be held up to a light source to see which connector goes to which channel. The cable has chunky rubber hardware at the Y-split and 3.5 mm jack with substantial strain relief above the 3.5mm jack. The cable has pre-formed earguides without memory wire. There is no chin adjustment slider.
COMFORT, FIT, AND ISOLATION:
The KZ CRN is intended to be worn cable up. The CRN is very comfortable to wear for extended periods. I did not experience driver flex with the CRN. Isolation is above average.
Measurements of the KZ CRN can be found on my expanding squig.link database:
The KZ CRN has a U-shaped sound signature. It has a sizable sub-bass shelf, a neutral midrange, and an elevated lower treble region which rolls off sharply in the mid-treble.
The CRN’s bass response is about as resolving as I would expect for an IEM of this price, with average speed and articulation. Sub-bass extension is excellent, but bass texture is moderate at best. There is ample note weight, but slam is lacking for my tastes. Because the bass elevation is contained to the sub-bass region, there is no mid-bass bleed into the midrange.
The CRN’s midrange tuning is very good overall, with a tasteful amount of ear gain in the pinna region and a moderate elevation in the presence region which is more of a mound than a mountain. Female vocals sound much more energetic and vibrant. Male vocal intelligibility is passable, but female vocals are much more cogent. Midrange clarity is good, but male vocals lack warmth and have limited body.
The CRN’s overall timbre is very thin and dry sounding overall, particularly for the hard rock and metal music that I predominately listen to. The substantial elevation in the lower treble being followed immediately followed by a precipitous roll-off is at least partially to blame for this. There is too much sparkle and not enough air. Treble transients are quite grainy as well. Crinacle has provided the following PEQ settings to partially remedy the issue:
8000Hz -5dB 5.0Q, Peak filter
12000Hz +10dB 4.0Q, Peak filter
These adjustments help with the above issues but do not alleviate them completely.
The CRN’s detail retrieval, soundstage size, and instrument separation are merely adequate for the price point. Imaging is surprisingly good, however.
COMPARISON WITH WITH THE TANCHJIM TANYA:
The Tanchjim Tanya is a single dynamic driver IEMs with a bullet form factor. It opts for a more mid-bass-focused bass tuning than the CRN and a sharper ear gain region centered closer to 3 kHz. It comes in well under the CRN’s price point. The Tanya has superior bass articulation and texture compared to the CRN. I also feel the Tanya has better overall detail retrieval. The Tanya presents male vocals with more warmth and greater intelligibility than the CRN. However, male vocals can come across as either scooped or shouty on the Tanya depending on the density of the accompanying midrange instrumentation. With metal tracks, distorted electric rhythm guitars are muffled in comparison to harsh male vocals and the overall midrange clarity takes a hit. With genres with more sparse instrumentation behind vocals or which typically place vocals more prominently in the mix, male vocals can come off as shouty. While the Tanya’s upper treble extension is also quite limited, it has much more natural timbre than the CRN. Soundstage and instrument separation are comparable between the two, but the CRN takes the win with respect to imaging.
The KZ CRN is very easy to drive. I did not notice any hiss during my listening on any source device.
The KZ CRN is a dramatic step forward for KZ, but the treble balance, timbre issues, and average technical performance keep the CRN from being an unqualified recommendation from me. These issues can be remedied with PEQ, but if you have access to PEQ the need for such a strong starting point in terms of base tuning is much less, and you might do better to pick something more technically proficient instead.
The KZ CRN can be purchased below:
KZ’s official Discord server can be joined here: https://discord.gg/WnNJEKfurZ