Hello, here we are, yet again with another KZ/CCA iem. The set I’m reviewing today ushers in a kind of “resurgence” from the sister company to KZ… CCA. And the set I am referring to is none other than the “CCA Duo”.
The Duo is actually a Dual-Dynamic Driver set that sparked some Interest in the community as the budget arena is always a hot item. Let alone a Dual-DD offering. However, this set is not an “ultra-budget” set like we’ve seen recently. Costing roughly $29 depending on where you choose to purchase the Duo, (if you decide to purchase the Duo) and it fights for relevance against quite a few iems ranging from $25 to $35. I would even say that the Duo fights for relevancy against some sets from the same company (KZ/CCA) but… I’ll let you decide and hash that out though. For now, I’ll stick with trying to figure out this latest creation from the famous iem maker and try to answer if it’s worth the price, how it stacks up against other Dual-DD sets and in general… does the Duo sound good or not?
I have reviewed many KZ/CCA iems and I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen even one… flat-out dud. All of them are good in their own right and for their respective tunings and respective price points. Each set usually offers a very good price to performance and each set is usually one of the better built sets in their relative price points.
KZ has really upped their game over the past couple years and so long as you aren’t a KZ “hater” then you’d likely be able to agree that the tuning has gotten much better. Lately we’ve seen some real nice sets like the KZ Krila (Krila Review), KZ D-Fi (D-Fi Review), KZ ZVX (ZVX Review), the illustrious collab with HBB in the KZ PR2 (PR2 Review), to the more expensive KZ AS24 (AS24 Review). Each has made an impact, and each is a good set in their own right. There are about ten other sets over the course of the past couple years that have been nice as well and can be found at Mobileaudiophile.com if curious.
At any rate, I was happy to receive this set from KZ/CCA and I want to thank Tyvan Lam and KZ for providing the Duo for an honest and fair impression of what I hear. It will always be my motivation to explain my exact thoughts and nothing more and I do hope it helps those who chose to read this review. So, without further ado… The CCA Duo…
-Price per the performance
-Bass has quality over quantity
-Forward vocals from mid-centric tuning
-Snappy treble which stays mostly non-offensive
-Very detailed sound
-Imaging & Separation
-Responds well to EQ (Few db’s in the low-end works wonders)
-Same KZ cable
-Bass lean and without authoritative slam
-Thin note weight in the midrange
-May be too bright for some
Gear used for testing
Packaging & Accessories
This section is always very short in a KZ/CCA review. There’s not a whole lot to report as the small box is very plain, just a picture of the Duo on the box and some specs on the back. Inside the box you’ll find the tips and the cable and that’s about it. Nothing crazy. Of course, I don’t think anyone should expect anything more either.
Another very short section as the cable provided is the same KZ cable that has been involved with every iem that I’ve gotten for about two years now from KZ. Same 3.5 single ended, QDC style 2-Pin white/opaque SPC cable. Not complaining though as I do believe that KZ puts more effort and money into the creation of the earphones themselves rather than accessories. So as I do, I swapped out the cable right away for the TRN Modular cable which came with the TRN Rosefinch. Please note that there is nothing wrong about the included cable as far as sound quality is concerned and if upgrading your cable simply isn’t an option then you’ll be fine using the KZ cable.
Included in the packaging is one of my favorite types of tips which really come in handy for a multitude of different earphones and those are the KZ Starline tips. KZ added three pairs in total (S, M, L) as well as one pair of medium sized foam tips. One thing I enjoy about Starline tips is their rigidity and ability to seal in my ears. However, I don’t think that the Starlines match the Duo… At all. For one, the Starlines tend to increase the upper frequencies as well as the upper midrange a bit on the Duo even more than I’d like as the Duo is already a brighter sounding set. Starlines also help with sets that have a narrower stage and this does help but I simply needed something different. I actually went with my tried-and-true KBear 07 tips which added more texture and punch to the low end and increased the stage a bit with a nice vocal presence. Still, please KZ, keep including Starlines, I can never have enough of them.
Build / Design / Internals / Fit / Drivability
In terms of build quality, the Duo is certainly in the upper echelon of iems in its price range. CCA used 3D printing from their own & manufacturing facility & warehouses. The Shells are made of a 3D printed resin material. They don’t feel like any cheap plastic but more like a durable and more hard resin. The resin used is clear so peering in through the Shells it is easy to get a look at the drivers themselves. Also, easy to see is that CCA went with sound tubes to better delineate the frequencies as I can see them running to the nozzles from the drivers. The faceplates are made of a metal alloy with a gun-metal appearance. All in all, the build quality is very nice for a $40 iem. Not the best but very nice and solid and durable feeling in hand. Another thing is that the Duo are really featherlight in the ears which is a huge benefit for long listening sessions. The Duo was created to sit at roughly a 45-degree angle on the ear which I’m assuming will snuggly fit in most ears.
The Duo is a very simple looking iem, nothing flashy, or too trendy, not steam punk, and not outright youthful, like many sets in the budget space. Even by KZ standards the Duo is more mature looking. The faceplates themselves have a very slick and sleek aesthetic but also a utilitarian vibe. The Duo has a classier pattern which consists of one simple wavy line and the name “CCA Duo” imposed on them. Not flashy, they’re classy!
Anyways, the design is pretty cool. For one I dig the Alloy faceplate and I also dig the Amber colored transparent resin shell cavity which shows off a good look at the drivers. Friends, I honestly think this is one of the more attractive iems that KZ/CCA have made. It’s simple, nothing extravagant or chic, nothing buji and nothing only meant for teenagers. Instead, I feel the Duo look like a slick and aerodynamic professional looking iem that can be worn anywhere without any strange looks. I think it’s a job well done. My opinion.
Inside of the Duo CCA chose to go with two 7mm Dynamic Drivers and each owning a dual magnet array as well as dual cavities per each driver which are said to have a very high magnetic flux compared to similarly priced iems. Of course, this is not all that rare, but it is cool to see KZ/CCA following some of the latest Dual-DD trends and coming up with a set of their own to try to compete. We have seen other sets go with two Dynamic Drivers in the recent past and so it will be interesting to compare. However, I think I would’ve liked to see the Woofer around 10mm, just for more air movement and surface area. Not to say that 7mm can’t sound fully expressive and dynamic because they certainly can. Truthfully, for a 7mm Driver, CCA did a nice job.
As far as fit goes I had to definitely find the right eartips. With the included tips I did have to fiddle around a bit for a good seal. Using the KBear 07 large sized tips helped much more in my ears. I will say that once a seal is established the fit is amazing. The Duo is a set that I can very easily wear for hours at a time and never even think about it. I do think the 45-degree angle helps to sit more. Perfectly for my ear anatomy. I have zero idea how these will fit you so take this with a grain of salt. Now, I found isolation to be better than average. For whatever reason I get better attenuation of outside noises using the Duo than many other sets. Also, sound leakage is not a problem.
The CCA Duo is rated at 18-ohms and a sensitivity of 106-db’s so it really isn’t super difficult to drive. I think a smartphone can probably do the trick, but I also think that it won’t maximize the potential of the Duo either. I don’t feel that the Duo is as sensitive as others in the price point and around the same supposed sensitivity. Not that they are difficult either, but I found I had to turn the volume up a bit more than something like the Truthear Zero for instance.
However, even using something like the Fiio UTWS5 I had plenty of headroom and dynamics and the warmer sound of the UTWS5 really did well to offset the Duo. Bumping up to the IFi Go Blu (CS43131 dac chip) I found the slight warmth and note weight of the Go Blu played well with the tonality of the Duo which is pretty bright. These two made synergy together. The Moondrop Dawn 4.4 (CS43131 dac chip) is a powerful little Dongle Dac, and I found that the Duo certainly responded with the additional power by improving staging, separation as well as additional bass density. The Hidizs S9 Pro (ES9038 Q2M dac chip) was much the same as the Dawn and both are very powerful Dongle Dacs. I do think the Dawn was a bit more expressive and cleaner with the Duo, but I really enjoy both units.
Moving up to the iBasso DX240 (ES9038 Pro dac chip) and using the iBasso Amp8 MK2 I found that the sound didn’t show as much improvement. The DX240 is more analytical and slightly closer to neutral which emphasized the Duo’s timbre to come across slightly less natural to me. However, using the Shanling M6 Ultra (AK4493SEQ dac chip) I had a complete opposite experience as the M6 Ultra is more velvet in its tonality, it’s more resolving and thickens up the Duo’s midrange and treble while adding a bit more bass extension and slam. I’d say that source pairing is pretty important with the Duo as it’s tuning & coloration tilted to one side of the scale and you should consider a source which counteracts the natural sound of the Duo. Still, as far as power is concerned; all you need is a decent Dongle Dac.
The first thing I thought when putting the CCA Duo into my ears was… “Wow this sound is very clean”, which was quickly followed by “Wow these are also pretty bright!”. I was not immediately impressed. I have to be honest. The Duo took me a minute to adjust. The same thing occurred with the Truthear Zero (in other ways), and also, no I am not simply drawing this distinction due to the same driver configuration.
Anyways, I didn’t like them very much upon first listen. The sound was different. However, over the course of about 10 songs my opinion magically morphed into reserved delight. Just like the Zero. I slowly “got it”. The sound is so very uplifted, intense in a way. The sound is bright and detailed for a Dual-DD iem. I hear a set that isn’t quite neutral but actually teeters on being neutral/bright. Brightish if you will. However, somehow, I don’t find them fatiguing or too much. So, to answer my own question if they were missing something or if they had too much of something I would say to myself… “Nope the Duo are simply different”.
Burn-in / Listen-in
I gave the Duo around 70 hours of burn in, and I do think it helps quite a bit. There were some timbre issues at first that gifted my listening ears with almost a metallic timbre. A buzz at note ends or a tizzy type of note outline that seemed more prominent as I turned the volume up. After burn-in I didn’t get this anymore. So, just do yourself a favor and give ’em some burn-in or listen-in or just refrain from judging them too harshly until they’ve had at least 50 hours of play time. Dynamic Drivers generally need more play time depending on the material of Drivers and I certainly think the Duo is under that umbrella.
How does it sound?
Back to the sound. After burn-in, eartip changes, cable swap and some good ‘ole fashioned “brain burn” I have to say… This is a nice set my friends. I hear something closer to a U-shaped or W-shaped sound that has a huge amount of lean dynamism. Note weight is not heavy but somehow there is still a very nice presence and structure to the sound with an energetic foundation. If you are coming from a warmer and lusher iem than the Duo may shock your senses to a degree.
The sound is very clean and highly resolute for a $29 set. The bass is slightly lean for some, I’m sure. The Duo is sub-bass focused, punchy and very tight. Despite that, the Duo is most certainly not for bass Bois. The bass is lean and could use some EQ down low… if you need more of course. The midrange is forward, fast and articulate with a penchant for female vocals. The mids are definitely the shining star of the Duo, in my humble opinion. The treble has nice emphasis that is non-offensive and has some treble punch and brilliance to it without coming across tizzy, splashy or metallic. The sound is mostly detail oriented with a nice openness. The stage is above average with good macro dynamics. If this is as far as you read, just know, the CCA Duo gives a very nice presentation of my music and will serve as a nice compliment to some warmer and more bass heavy iems in the price point.
Like I’ve already clearly stated the bass is not the most fun & boosted of all three frequency divisions. Does this make it bad? Absolutely not. The low-end has plenty of thump for most any track but simply comes across leaner than many sets. There is moderate rumble like on the track “Groove” by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Usually, I’ll get a low and droning reverb that sets the tone for the track. On the Duo I get that low drone but it’s simply less authoritative. I like the clean vocals which run parallel with the bassline, and I do like the extension down low. Killer Mike has a track “Down By Law” on his brand-new album and usually this song comes across with a bit more of a haptic sensation. I actually hear nice low-end extension on this track.
The mid-bass is also slightly held back with moderate slam. That said, I like the speedy nature of the bass. It’s pretty well defined with a perceivably more rapid boom. Transient attack & decay seems to resolve quicker as the bass handles complex bass tracks great for a $29 iem. “Edge Of The Ocean” by Stick Figure sounds fantastic on the Duo. There is a ton of instrumental harmony floating throughout the melody of this track in tropical waves and the Duo represents each individual peice in that melody. All the while the bass is not lost and comes through relatively strong. I suppose this is the beauty of this tuning, the Duo is capable of taking on some complex musical arrangements without drowning them out in bass veil. I guess this is where I should also add that the bass does not muddy up the midrange. It’s strategically rolled-off purposefully to keep the overall balance of the sound clean and carefree.
Bass as a whole & some discrepancies
In truth, I much more gravitate towards an authoritative low-end which helps to add depth. More low-end emphasis rounds out the mix by helping give vocals and instruments some weight and body to them. A more robust low-end helps with the timbre as well. Having more bass is also more exciting and fun to me. The Duo almost gets there. However, I find the Duo makes up for it with something more like “lean muscle mass” and a closer to “pristine” take on my music. Also, the bass is plenty enough for me in most tracks. Maybe this is partially caused by the use of 7mm Drivers handling the Woofer section but I’m not complaining, it still sounds good.
Listening with the Duo, the bass guitar usually doesn’t have the same robust growl. On the other hand, kick drums have that hollow boom with some tackiness at the leading edge in attack. The downside of this bass is that it is not for bassheads at all and that it doesn’t offset the brightness as well as I’d like. I can’t help but be impressed with the agility of the Duo’s bass region though. It’s speedy & macro-detailed, it’s not one noted and it’s dynamic. Even if it’s less in quantity. However, if you must, try to EQ a few Db’s into the low-end around 60 to 100hz, somewhere in there if you need more. It really does help and turns this set into a real challenger in the price point and not just a great niche type replay. Still, all things considered, the bass as it is in its stock form is mature and clean and I’m sure many will enjoy it.
In my humble opinion I believe the midrange steals the show, so to speak. Definitely not recessed but also not so forward that anything is in my face or unnatural in its forwardness. I find the midrange fits. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with some subjective quarks and qualms…
First off, the note weight on male vocals is skewed towards unnaturally thin though not overtly thin or papery or dry. Vocals still have a moist edge to them. Despite that, I could still use a touch of weight and a pinch more warmth. However, I’m not you and I’m sure many will love the Duo’s rendition of a male vocal. Over time and listening, I began to really dig the sound of a male vocal on this set. Nothing jumps out as “off” per se. Slightly thin, maybe a bit crisp at note edges but males have good presence in the mix. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by Home Free (U2 Cover) shows off every pitch and cadence of a male voice and I gotta say, the Duo handles this specific track lovely. Then again, pick any song off that album and you’ll hear the same result.
The upper midrange has a real draw to it for me. Forward in the mix but also transparent and revealing. There is this shimmery type of smoothness that gives female voices this soft and subtle lift. Now, just like the lower-mids, the upper-mids also aren’t the most robust in body, but they aren’t lacking either. In “Whispering Waltz” by Sierra Ferrell, her voice is naturally sweet and feathery, but I can’t help but notice the Duo aligns with the inflection and cadence of her voice very well. The Duo does well with nuanced and lovely little articulations or modulations in a females vocal delivery. I really enjoy the way CCA tuned this area of the mix. Pick any Ingrid Andress track, like “More Hearts Than Mine“. Her voice has this sweet edginess or tuneful rawness, almost like a rasp but stays smooth and mellifluent. The Duo displays this perfectly without turning that rasp into something processed, metallic, or tizzy sounding.
The midrange also creates some space between instruments and voices in a nice manner for a $29 set. It helps that the attack-through-sustain is actually a tighter transition and cleaner than you’d probably think too. Despite the brightness on the Duo, everything is still very well balanced which also helps in the Duo’s ability to separate elements of a stage and create a more authentic field of sound. Timbre is not perfect, but the structure of the sound is nice for instruments. Cymbal’s strike with some pep, in fact percussion in general has a strong pang to my ears. Piano could use more fullness and stuff like violin sounds nice…
Downsides of the midrange
The potential issues within the midrange are all centered around the note weight and timbre. Like I said, if you are coming from some warmer and lusher iems and greatly enjoy that type of sound then the Duo may not be for you. Timbre isn’t perfect as everything comes off a bit bright and simply not as full sounding as some iems. I don’t think this is a real issue, but it may turn some people off. On the flipside, the Duo isn’t shouty either, believe it or not. At least not to me. Also, I don’t hear any sibilance. The midrange is also more detailed than I would’ve thought. Certainly, more so than other Double-DD iems we’ve seen of late. In fact, the Duo almost comes across like an all-BA set in many regards to my ears. The Duo has the snappy behavior of a BA set yet without the BA timbre.
The treble region has some brilliance to it. It has pizzazz up top. Not brilliant in the sense that they come across shrill, but brilliant as in; bright enough to lift the entire mix. There is a coldness and emphasis up top which cascades all the way down to the bass region. The treble quite literally jazzes up everything. There’s some decent extension up top as well. For example, the secondary harmonics of a cymbal strike don’t come across attenuated but also, they don’t come across too splashy either with good note definition & character extended way out. Trumpets in this region have a nice brassy type of fullness. Perhaps a bit too bright and thin but not bad at all. Violin sounds nice to my ears. In truth, I think all instruments will be colored towards the uplifted and sparkler side of things. So, expect that.
Now, for the most part, I don’t find the treble shouty or sibilant. I feel the treble stays right below the line of discomfort. Again, for my tastes. After burn-in I do believe the treble flattened out a bit, calmed down some, and gained some control and gained some ductility that it didn’t have before. This is not an ultra-crispy treble but instead it’s slightly punchy, perhaps a bit tinsley, it is on the thin side too, but it’s still snappy with some nice smoothness. There’s nothing jagged or coarse, nothing grainy and again, I don’t hear any sibilance.
Not “completely” safe
To be honest I think CCA really did well in this region being that they were trying to tune Dynamic Drivers which don’t always impress a whole lot in the higher frequencies. I think that CCA did the best they could in creating a brighter treble region which still holds on to some semblance of timbre integrity, has nice micro-details and nuances and doesn’t scare me off with ear piercing sheen. One thing is for sure… This treble is not considered completely safe.
Micro-details are certainly in abundance in the treble region as in a track by Billy Strings… “Ice Bridges“. His rapid-fire banjo play proves the Duo can keep up with fast and nuanced tracks in the treble region by delineating each string pull and keeping the rest of the musical arrangement in check. Another track which impresses is “Bishop School” by Yusef Lateef. This song is littered with different types of treble activity. Granted, any recording I’ve heard of this song isn’t that great, but the Duo is able to capture all of the finer details while doing a decent job of highlighting each instrument well.
Downsides to the Treble Region
Now please don’t confuse, the Duo is not going to blow anyone’s mind in its ability to recreate a natural and speedy treble region. It’s still pretty bright. I’m simply giving credit where credit is probably due. There are certainly issues. First, it may be too bright for some, too sparkly and too shimmery. There’s a coldness to the sound that not everyone will jive with. It took me many hours of burn-in coupled with brain burn to really begin to love the sound. So, I do think it is acquired taste. I think real treble Heads will probably be happy with this set.
I find the soundstage is neither small nor overtly large. I think it’s an average sized stage with good width, a pretty full height and about average depth. The Duo is not simply a wall of sound and does not sound flat to me. There is depth there which aids in layering and adding distinction between instruments and voices. Overall, the stage size is about average and for all I tents and purposes, for $29…that’s a good thing.
Separation / Imaging
I think the Duo does begin to excel a bit in these two parameters, meaning separation and imaging. I have zero problems imagining distinct instruments for most any track besides bad recordings and tracks that are simply congested no matter what iem is playing it. For the most part I feel the Duo does very well at separating elements on a stage which is a nice attribute at this price. Also, imaging is very easy to imagine in this psycho-acoustic world. Left to right is as it should be and there is some depth of field to render front to back instruments and voices. The Duo has good control overall which certainly helps it to cast all pieces of a musical arrangement in correct places making them fairly easy to distinguish.
I think you already know what I’m going to say here. The Duo does very well at illuminating the finer details in my music. It has a recipe for success to be honest. The stage is decently sized, the tuning is overall more lifted and airier, separation is very nice and note definition is good too. We don’t have any masking from the bass or too much coloration either which helps to bring the minutia to the surface. Be it a fast track or a solo acoustic track the Duo will perform pretty well in the detail department.
Note: I just want to let you all know that each comparison will be against the other sets of varying prices which each have the same driver configuration. KZ had asked me to do so, and I am gladly obliging that recommendation. The only set I left out (that I have to compare) is the Tripowin Kailua as I am in the middle of completing a review of that set and wanted to save some info for that review. Plus, the Kailua is a beast, and the price difference is warranted. These comparisons are not a duel to the death. I really don’t think crowning one set above another is very helpful as these are my subjective thoughts. I’d much rather try to simply state the differences between the sets I’m comparing so as to better explain the set I’m reviewing.
TRN MT4 ($17)
TRN noticed a trend in the hobby as the MT4 was announced right in the middle of the 2-DD extravaganza that took over the budget arena within the hobby. Up to the MT4 we hadn’t seen a Dual-DD set which was priced so low. Coincidentally the MT4 wasn’t just a couple drivers slapped in a shell. In fact, the MT4 is actually pretty darn good for the price and certainly got a “REC” from me (MT4 Review). The MT4 has its issues but for the price it’s hard to beat up on. The MT4 employs one 10-mm Beryllium coated DD, and one 6-mm DD and is built extremely well for the price.
To start off I do think the build quality is about the same between these two sets. However, I much prefer the look of the Duo as it just appears more unique looking and slick. The MT4 is a bit larger in comparison and about $10 to $12 cheaper. The MT4 is quite a bit warmer (warm/neutral) than the Duo (bright/neutral) in tonal coloration and is a hair easier to drive.
The MT4 has more bass, period. The one huge criticism I have of the Duo is its lack of substantial bass emphasis. However, the Duo has a denser bass with a more refined note definition down low than the MT4. The MT4 has a fuzziness to the bass with a boomer approach whereas the Duo is punchier and much quicker. Basically, the Duo is more audiophile in its low-end to the more fun bass of the MT4.
Straight away the MT4 has the warmer midrange with almost a veil across this 3rd of the mix. Male vocals are thicker and slightly lusher. Female vocals are more tamped down, less shimmery and less mellifluous. The Duo is much clearer & cleaner throughout the midrange with a better detailed sound, better separation and has better resolution. For those who prescribe to a more laid back and warm approach you may like the MT4 better but for everyone else, the Duo truly outperforms the MT4 in every midrange metric.
The Duo is brighter and more finite in its note delivery. I found the Duo to be more emphasized and airier whereas the MT4 seems to almost lack air. In fact, in my review this was one of the cons I found with this set. When I began comparing, I knew that the treble region would go to the Duo and iw as not mistaken. Yes, the Duo is more airy, cleaner, better note definition, better detailed treble, and has better extension to my ears. The Duo’s treble is better balanced in the mix while the MT4 I think needs that last little bit of emphasis up top to take away some of the slight veil which is cast upon the sound.
Both sets offer a decent technical showing but out of the two I think whole heartedly that the Duo simply out-duels and out-classes the MT4 in every technical aspect of the sound. From soundstage depth, layering, separation and details the Duo is a much more mature and audiophile type sound to the budget V-shape of the MT4.
In the end
Friends, for $17 I think the MT4 is a very nice set and still REC it all day long for fans of a warmer and more laid back approach and who like some low-end boom. However, this one isn’t even close if you are after a sound that is refined and clean. Truly the Duo is a bargain at $29 which is only $12 more than the MT4! For me, I feel the Duo is a runaway winner here.
Truthear X-Crinacle Zero ($49)
One of the larger hype trains iems within the budget space in the last year is the Truthear Zero. The Zero is priced a bit more than the Duo at $50 US and was tuned by YouTube legend Crinacle (of YouTube renown) in a surprise collaboration. I’ve owned this set for quite some time and have yet to review it, but I’ve grown to appreciate the Zero. The Zero comes equipped with a 10mm & 7.8mm Dynamic Drivers and is very well tuned, so long as the tuning agrees with you. To be honest the Zero is a very polarizing iem in the community and I feel you either love it or hate it.
Both sets are built in a budget way, but both are built nicely and truthfully, I don’t think either is better than the other. I do like the look of both about the same. The Zero is a bit larger than the Duo so that is something you should consider. I’d say the Zero has a bit better accessory but not by much. I find the Duo is slightly harder to drive. Between the two the Duo has a brighter and more detailed sound but both sets are more mid-centric however I will get into all that now…
Definitely the Zero carries much more sub-bass presence. That said, the Zero has a bit slower bass. More boomy. The Duo has a more detailed and clean bass response yet still can bump when it needs to. The Zero sounds a bit flabbier than the Duo. The mid-bass quantity is also larger on the Zero but not by much, in fact the mid-bass gets rolled off extremely early on the Zero (one of its selling points) which you’ll either really like, or not. The Duo has more of a hard lined presence even with a less full bass. It’s tighter, punchier, and has better details in this area.
Both sets are very similar in the midrange. Both show off thinned out male vocal and both have more shimmery females. Although, I feel the Duo sounds a slight bit more controlled and detailed. The Zero is more recessed in the lower midrange and slightly shouter in the upper-mids. I like female vocals on both iems but I think the Duo comes across a bit more in control and more lustery. Possibly less natural though. The Duo boasts better details by a hair, but without question; both sets sound extremely clean in the midrange. Both sets offer very nice vocals. For me though, I’ll take the newer and less expensive Duo’s midrange. It’s more vibrant but somehow doesn’t walk into the shouty area as easily. Plus, the Duo has better macro-dynamics in the midrange as it is simply more full sounding. Not by much but doing a back and forth these are things that I’ve noticed.
Without a doubt the Duo has the airier, more detailed and more punchy treble. I find that details emerge much easier on the Duo as well. Both iems have decent extension into the upper treble past 10k but as a whole the Duo simply “outshines” (pun-intended) the Zero. The Duo has more treble bite and body and is more refined to my ears. Keep in mind that this isn’t by a country-mile, but I do think the Duo represents this region with a hair more skill.
You can basically chalk this entire paragraph up to the Duo. The Duo has a less narrow stage, better depth and the Duo has a better detailed showing across the board. I will say that both sets do well with imaging, I didn’t think one was miles better than the other.
In the end
I know after reading you’d think the Duo is a much better iem. This is not necessarily true, at all. The defining characteristic of what makes something better than something else comes down to you, the reader and what you like. This is from MY perspective friends. I do think the Duo is a better set and it’s cheaper, built just as well, maybe less attractive but I think it performs better. Of course, you may not like that neutral/bright sound, and you may want a more su – bass boosted set? This is really a question of preference as these two are actually different enough.
QKZ X-HBB Khan ($39)
Another collab iem, another Dual-DD iem and another budget oriented iem that has rolled-off mid-bass in expectation of a cleaner and more resolute midrange. To be honest I really enjoy the Khan. Again, it is another set that you either love or hate, it’s very polarizing. The Khan came about as an answer to some of the shortcomings or better said the “preferences” of HBB (Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews of YouTube fame) of the Truthear Zero. Truly, the Zero and Khan are almost Carbon copies of eachother with only subtle differences. However, they are meaningful differences.
How about the differences between the Duo and the Khan. First off, the Khan is accessorized much better, in fact it isn’t even close. The Kahn is built slightly better and looks better as well to me. Though that last sentence is definitely up for debate because the Duo does look pretty fly. The Khan is quite literally exactly the same as far as size and shape goes to the Zero with only miniscule differences and is also much larger than the Duo. The Khan is warmer in tonality with a more natural and organic take on the spectrum and my library of music.
Starting with the bass, the Khan has the more beefed-up low end with more boom and rumble. Some may consider this set a basshead iem (I don’t but I’m not everyone) and in the same breath many call the bass flabby (I don’t but I’m not everyone). The Duo has a much tighter, speedy, detailed and punchy bass while the Khan is more one-noted and slow in comparison. This doesn’t mean the Duo is better friends. I happen to love bass so for me it’s a difficult choice. Most certainly the Duo has a better-quality bass region, without question. Still, I wish that CCA would’ve bumped up the bass about four db’s because this wouldn’t even be a question as to which would be better. Do you like warm, full sounding and boomy or do you like snappy, fast, punchy and tight?
The midrange of the Khan comes across warmer and fuller sounding yet still relatively clean (unless a bass heavy song is playing) which is a nice balance. For instance, I find that even though the Khan and Zero graphs are almost identical, the Khan still has better note weight. The same is true against the Duo. The Khan has a slightly thicker, warmer sound but also, it’s slightly more veiled. The Duo is simply more neutral across the midrange, more resolute, with an airier feeling in the Mids and cleaner all the way through. The Duo has the better detailed replay, but I do find the Khan is a hair more musical and emotional. The upper-mids are also more forward on the Duo with a sparkler and more uplifted female vocal. Pick your poison really, both sets offer a different take on the midrange, yet both are also good at what they do for the asking price.
Just like the Zero, the Khan is much less bright and doesn’t pick up the macro-nuances and micro details quite like the Duo. The Duo is much more emphasized where the Khan sounds like it’s rolled off a slight bit earlier. The Khan has a laid-back treble to the Duo’s very bright sounding upper 3rd. I realize the graph says the Khan should be brighter than it is but… This won’t be the last time I tell you that graphs are a horrible way to define the sound of an iem (just an outline people). Anyways, the Duo is again… cleaner to a degree, more refined throughout the mix, and it has a better treble punch and extension. On the flipside the Duo is also possibly more fatigue inducing in this region with an easier going sound yet still having enough treble boost for good instrumentation. The Khan also has a thicker and more bodied treble.
Just copy and paste what I said with the Zero comparison. The Duo simply out-duels the Khan in the area of technicalities. Well of course it does! The Duo has a slightly larger and more airy stage, more balanced across the mix, less bass bloat, better separation, both sets have decent imaging, but the Duo also brings out the nuances better. Pretty much across the board again for the Duo. Of course, I also didn’t add in a comparison with a set tuned similarly as the Duo, so these comparisons are pretty skewed.
In the end
Both sets are very nice and do what they do very well for being so cheap. Both sets offer two different flavors of sound, even more so than the Duo vs Zero. The Khan coming across even warmer to the Duo which is very vibrant. Again, this is another preference battle but really, I used the Khan to hopefully explain how the Duo sounds a little better.
Is it worth the asking price?
I suppose the answer to this question lies in you. I can answer for me and my wallet and my ears, but I do think the Duo is the type of set that you will either jive with, or not. CCA did not go the safe route and I kind of applaud them for it. It’s risky to create an iem that toes the fatigue line and pushes the boundaries of what color and emphasis can do to the overall sound. I for one think the Duo is a very good set. The technical ability alone puts the Duo in rarified air with some of the better detail retrieval iems in the price point. Relax, I didn’t say the best. Anyways, the Duo does things other sets can’t do quite the same but to get there CCA had to crank up the resolution… so to speak.
This is simple, because to my ears the Duo is one of the more capable sets in the price point. Built very well with one of the better-looking faceplates and a It has a speckless and clean sound signature that is very speedy and cold-balanced that doesn’t negate dynamics or musicality. Friends, I just have to come out and say it, the CCA Duo is an extremely good sounding iem. I do think that EQ’ing a few db’s of low-end will take this set to an even better place as well, so that’s something to think about. After spending so much time with them it is very hard for me to find negatives for such a low price. This one is an actual, real life, bona-fide… NO BRAINER! Yes, the Duo is worth every penny.
Note: all ratings are based upon my subjective judgment. These ratings are garnered against either similarly priced sets or with similar driver implementations or styles with the unique parameters of my choosing. In the case of the CCA Duo ratings below, that would be $20-$35 iems in any configuration, not just Dual-DD. Please remember that “ratings” don’t tell the whole story. This leaves out nuance and a number of other qualities which make an iem what it is. A “5” is exactly average and please take into consideration the “lot” of iems these ratings are gathered against. $20-$35 US is a broad scope of iems and so seeing a 9 better mean something special. My ratings are never the same and each set of ratings tells a different story. Each time you read one of my ratings it will be unique to that review. Basically, I create a Rating that makes sense to me.
-Build Quality: 9.3
-Accessories: -.- (At this price Accessories don’t apply)
These ratings are pretty easy to understand and not much to summarize. The lot of iems that the Duo is battling for your dollar in is any set between $20 and $35. There are a ton of decent to good iems here. I won’t go into detail about all of those sets but there are a few that really perform quite well. Namely the Reecho SG-01 Ova, Simgot EW200, Kiwi Ears Cadenza etc. There are obviously more sets which will give the Duo headaches but in truth, not many of these sets can outright-outperform the Duo. Some may be more musical, some may be more fun, better timbre. Still, none are blatantly more technical and detailed, and none are straight up cleaner or more precise.
The CCA Duo is without question a nice set that can go up against any in the price point in my humble opinion and the ratings I gave speak to that. The only Rating that could go either way is “timbre”. Honestly, what is “correct timbre” or “good timbre”? That is wholly subjective I every way. Some may think the Duo has amazing timbre that’s lifelike and great while others may despise the bright and thinner type sound and may think that the timbre is not that good. So, there will always be some questionable ratings from me, I can surely admit that. In fact, I really detest Rating anything as I believe they are way too simplified and don’t explain anything. I like nuance and the recognition of nuance in everyday life as well as with my audio devices.
To conclude my full written review of the CCA Duo, I just want to give a thank you and shout out to Tyvan Lam as well as KZ Audio for providing this very well done iem. Guys and gals, I really love writing these reviews. I am not the best at it, and I’m trying to understand and grow more in the hobby with my writing every day and I can admit that I am not as learned as some folks, or not as “Audiophile”. I’m a dude who loves music and loves the devices which replay that music. What I will say is that I explain EXACTLY what I hear every time I write a word. I want to make it clear that I will never be swayed to change my words to suit anyone. It won’t ever happen. I don’t need review samples friends. I don’t. I’d rather keep my integrity and breathe easy knowing I can defend my position on anything I write based on listening experience.
Also, please, I implore you all to take some time to check out other reviewers’ thoughts about the CCA Duo. We are not nearly all the same. We all have different music libraries, likes and dislikes, preferences, hearing abilities and we all haven’t been down the same path in audio. I say this in every review; make sure to read, listen to, or watch other perspectives so that you will have a good understanding about the Duo and can make a better-informed purchase.
With all that said I also want to thank you the reader for checking out this or any review that I write. It means a lot, it’s great for the website and my best wish is that it helps you to make a purchasing decision. Please leave a comment at the end of this review or ask any question and I will surely try to get to them. Take care and as always… God Bless!