CCA CRA+ ($30-36)
Everyone say hello to one of the newer KZ / CCA iems to come out within the last month or so… the CCA CRA+. I’m sure if you have paid even slight attention to the Chi-fi scene than you know… in the budget space, the CRA+ do come with intrigue. The CRA+ follows the tremendous success of its predecessor… the CCA CRA. Both iems are in the ultra budget sector of the crazy iem world. In my opinion both iems replay much better than the price would indicate. However, this isn’t a comparison review (CRA vs. CRA+) but a review of the CRA+. In fact I don’t even have the original CRA for a comparison as I gave them away some time back. Later in the review I do compare similar iems within the $15-35 price point.
Here in the States, we normally receive to market any Chi-Fi related items much later than the actual respective release dates. In this case I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the CRA+ from Amazon US for $36. In most cases it involves waiting for what seems to be an eternity for your iems to arrive. By which time the novelty of receiving the “new hot thing” has vanished. Not really an issue but…I count it a win to actually get an iem within the first month of its release.
I do want to preface this entire review by stating that everytime I use a word like, “fantastic” or “great” or…just pick a descriptive adjective. I look through a budget lens when using such words describing the CRA+. In no way am I equating the greatness of a plus $100+ iem to the under $50 crowd. Also, I am just as joyful of a $15 success as I am with a $200 success and maybe even more so. I love an underdog, or something that supersedes the stigma that the world seems to naturally categorize things with. I know I am preaching to the Choir though, why else would you be reading this.
Thank you for spending your precious time reading my thoughts about the CCA CRA+, I really do hope it may help in a purchasing decision.
-Fun but balanced tuning
-Tonality through much of the mix
-Easy to drive
-High expectations and big hype
-Sub-par accessories (I know, I know…these are $30)
-Not the most polished treble
-Slight metallic tizz on some vocals
-Honestly, no serious cons at this price, just enjoy
–Zooaux Dongle Dac (For use as a lower powered source)
This will be short. The CRA+ comes in the same little white box that many KZs’ budget iems come in. Very simple and straightforward. Nothing wrong with that. You will receive #3 Pairs of Eartips. Not the best ear tips I should add. Not the worst either. These are white KZ Starline tips but seem not as firm as the black old school Starlines. If I were you, I would expect to tip roll. Also within the box you will get the cable. I believe it is a #4 core, Silver Plated Copper cable. The cable is the same as most other KZ iems with the QDC style 2-pin sockets. That’s about it. Not that I need more.
I have no issues whatsoever with the build of the CRA+. They used Zinc Alloy on the faceplates adorned with a shiny gold-plated appearance. An absolute fingerprint magnet. Plastic was the material of choice on the housing. They are sturdy enough and are feather light in the ear. The build feels solid and durable with nicely rounded contoured edges. Nothing rough or pain inducing, at least for me. Thumbs up on the look as well. I like the simple but handsome look of the CRA+. These are fashion forward, sleek enough, solid enough and not embarrassing while listening in public.
The CRA+ houses a single Dynamic Driver, 10mm Polymer Composite Diaphragm touted as having very low distortion rates due to the “Ultra-Thin” makeup. Supposedly a step up from the first iteration of the CRA line. Listed with a 23.5-ohm impedance, and a sensitivity of 111 DB.
The cable also feels durable. I didn’t catch any microphonics that took away from the overall experience. The cable is pliable and soft enough to the touch. Truthfully, the cable isn’t anything to get excited about. Again, like all other KZ in ears, the cable provided ends in the 2 pin QDC style connectors. Much the same as with any other KZ iems in the price range. Really the cable is perfectly fine. I saw no sonic benefit to switching cables with the exception of using a balanced cable when needed for my balanced sources.
The first thing that I did after unboxing was hook these bad boys up to a device and burn them in for about 20 hours. I normally burn-in for much longer, but at 20 hours these sounded good. Truthfully, I have no idea if this helped or not, just figure I should get it out of the way. It never hurts. Except the waiting…that hurts a little bit. Also, I did some Tip-Rolling throughout this entire review by switching to the Kbear 07 Eartips. I feel the sound does become a bit crisper and tightens up a bit. I should note that the included Ear tips aren’t bad at all, just my preference.
Anyone reading this likely already has an idea of what these sound like. The question though is how well does the CRA+ pull off what we all expect. Well to break it down in a quick way; the CRA+ do carry a V-shaped to almost a Harman type tuning with a little emphasis in the low end and the upper mids. The CRA+ carry a more balanced sound across the spectrum. A very fun approach to a balanced display if you will. You get a steady thump in the lower regions and good air in the higher areas of the frequencies. I will go into more detail further in the review.
The CRA+ are in a competitive price bracket. The competition is getting better by the day it seems. Back in the day this tuning would cost you quite a bit more. We are spoiled nowadays with well-tuned budget gems that blur the line between budget and premium. Speaking purely about the tuning that is. Obviously better parts and pieces more often than not correlate to better fidelity and a better experience so… I’d advise to limit your expectations a bit.
All in all, the CRA+ has an upbeat, energetic & fun sound. Thankfully void of any nasty peaks and good for longer listening times. Leaning just a bit warm of neutral yet with an airy feeling to my music.
These are not bass-head bangers. The CRA+ do however have decently controlled bass. Again, remember to keep in perspective any glowing thoughts that I give. These are budget descriptions here. However even for a budget iem the CRA+ tries to jump price tiers with a melodic bass line and deep enough bass drops. All things considered the Bass is the highlight of this set…in my meager opinion.
You will not hear anything out of control at all. Unless many bass lines are going at once. Nothing crosses the Midrange line to add bloat. What we have is pretty good bass. For me anyways. I need bass, require it actually. Leaving out a substantial low end is like a tree without leaves. With the CRA+ the low end feels like an anchor to the rest of the mix. Pretty good for $30 bucks.
Again the con here lies in songs with multiple basslines as it’s possible to hear some blending going on. For instance, in a track like “Blue Laces 2” by Nipsey Hussle, the CRA+ shows a bit of weakness as two separate bass parts converge at times which displays a bit of confusion. The bass is pretty good but can show some rough spots. Obviously this issue is few and far in between and can easily come and go without you realizing. Also, this is not the most refined low end I’ve ever heard. Not exactly hollow but not completely dense either. Just shy of pillow actually. This is $30 Chris! Oh, oh ya.
The low end has plenty of rumble, though that rumble is not the deepest I’ve heard. Still it also doesn’t have to be. Bass drums have impact, Baritones have body and synth bass has a tangible thrumming feedback.
I honestly can’t find any really horrible faults here… for the price. Unless of course you are allergic to decent bass on a budget. However, those people likely would never turn to KZ to fix their “Audiophile” habits. Some people just don’t need this type of tuning, as all is subjective in this hobby. Hence why we have reviews. To hopefully steer a person in the right direction and clue them in on what a device sounds like.
The Sub-bass has a decent extension into the lowest regions of the spectrum. The Sub-bass is pretty clean as a whole. You won’t get the same haptic response as a bass head adjusted iem, but you also won’t be lacking with the CRA+. I do like the approach CCA took here as there is a Sub-bass roll-off, but it isn’t drastic. Unlike the first iteration of the CRA, the company decided to bring the CRA+ down a few DBs across the low end with a quicker roll-off of the Sub-bass. Whether this is good or bad goes back to subjectivity. All I can really do is tell you whether these perform well in what they were tuned to do.
The Mid-bass has a bit more volume and energy, but not by much. It is pretty punchy, has a good enough slam for me and has okay speed. In a track like “Marmalade” by Macklemore I hear a very clean boom when the bass drops. Plenty of rumbles. During soloed out basslines there is a clean leading edge with a solid attack and even a smooth decay.
From the Mid-bass to the Midrange there is some bleed over, which I think is a good thing. This does help to give body to the lower midrange. A hint of bodied warmth perhaps. More on that next.
The lower Mids have good energy. They aren’t too far in the background and still have good presence. You could almost say that the CRA+ has more forward Mids as a whole than similarly tuned iems in this price bracket. The Lower Mids have good note weight, important for an emotional enough vocal performance.
Listening to a song like “Simple Things” by Teddy Swims, his voice sounds very breathy, but also bold. His vocals are forward, not coming across too thin. I do hear a slight bit of fuzziness as notes begin to decay but it all ties together nicely. Yet in a track like “First Place I Go” by Avi Kaplan, with his Baritone guttural resonance, his voice comes across very true and captivating. Granted Avi’s vocals are clean and deep on any iem but even more so on the CRA+ as the Mid-bass slightly dives into the mids giving warmth and round heft to that area.
Male vocals have good density with a passable timbre. Granted the midrange doesn’t have the cleanest and resolution focused sound, but the tonality is there. This shows up in the male vocals especially in my opinion. While the balance of the whole spectrum is nice and not much was sacrificed, I do think there is a slight loss in clarity. Very slight. This sounds like a big “con”, but truth be told…the CRA+ does the midrange just fine. In my opinion they stack up against many budget V-shaped to Harman tuned iems in the price point.
As we move on, going from the Lower Mids to the Upper Midrange everything is drawn even closer. Female vocals for instance, they seem more highlighted. A little more on display. This is common with this type of tuning. Again, tonality is fine. Resolution is bumped up a notch in this area as well as a bit more energy and feeling can be heard.
CCA did a nice job with the female vocals and that is certainly not what this iem specializes in. The Upper Mids stray from anything shouty, which is great for me. Much unlike the original from what I can remember. Female vocals are pretty smooth and with good control. In “Everything I Didn’t Say” by Ella Henderson I hear a very emotional and forward vocal. Any further back and these would not have done her vocals justice.
In a nutshell the Midrange sounds appropriate to the music. There is good enough depth to the midrange as well as presence and feeling. I love the fact that nothing is so recessed to take away from my library. This is a nice touch for a low cost option in the Chi-fi iem world.
If anything I do notice a very faint fuzz to some Male vocals but you would have to listen with a discerning ear. If I were to nitpick, and for the price I really shouldn’t, I would mention that there is very slight sibilance that is just audibly there. It really only shows up on tracks which are prone to such a thing. I also do hear the faintest metallic edge to the outro of vocals. This should not dissuade anyone from purchasing this set and for the price I questioned even mentioning it here. Tonality is key at this price and as far as tonality is concerned… the CRA+ tuned this set with passable pitch and tone.
The Treble is pretty nice. I like the extension here. I hear a nice and smooth replay without rough edges. Nothing shouty or piercing at all in my experience. Just an easy enough listen. There is a good and cohesive walk from the Upper-Mids to the Lower Treble. Smooth and controlled. The same goes for the rest of the Highs. Cohesive, as a Dynamic Driver should be.
There is enough air to outline perceived instruments and each comes through pretty distinctly from one another. I do like how the Treble balances with the Mids and the Bass to not overshadow or take center stage. Still there is enough air to add levity to most songs. The extension and clarity does aid my music with some okay details coming through. This may not be the most refined Treble however.
For a budget set I’d say that the CRA+ does just an okay job with the Treble area. I don’t hear anything too aggressive or Grainy. Maybe a bit more shimmer would help but that is me being picky.
The bonus is that the air the CRA+ does have helps alot with the overall warmth of the CRA+ by ushering in some coolness to the replay. You will not hear anything fatiguing with this set in the Treble range. Even with an ear piercing song such as “In Bloom” by Nirvana, the CRA+ keeps that often shrill and piercing electric guitar in check, for the most part.
The Timbre is not bad with instruments in the lower treble area, but moving closer to the Upper Treble there is a slight tizz or splash to things like cymbals etc. Truthfully, I don’t have anything bad to say with the CRA+ in the Highest parts of the mix. After all these come in at $30. I have to keep this in mind as I write this. However, everything considered I do believe that the treble area is the weakest area of the CRA+ but also it is also far from being considered bad.
Soundstage / Imaging
I hear an average width with the CRA+. Just outside my head. Nothing sounds closed in at all. I wouldn’t expect some super wide stage. The depth is the same…average. Nothing which detracts from the overall sound of this set. The height…you guessed it…average. In truth I like the stage size. If I don’t have to think about it, that’s a good thing.
Imaging is on par with its price point. Personally I feel these just make average. I do find everything to have its place on the stage. Maybe clarity isn’t the CRA+’s strong suit, but the stereo image is still good enough. I will say it again, nothing detracts from my music in such a way that it bothers me at all. I can sit back and enjoy the tunes which I love and that is the standard by which a budget iem should be judged. Do they sound good casually listening to your music? Anything better than that is icing on the cake.
The CRA+ is a very easy to drive iem. You don’t need any special high-powered amp. This is created and tuned for the masses. Using a Dongle Dac such as the Shanling Ua2 or something similar will be way more than enough to power this set. Using the underpowered & budget friendly Zooaux Dongle Dac was more than enough as well. In fact, I really enjoyed the synergy with that pairing.
For mobile purposes I also used the IFi Go Blu and the Fiio Utws5. I really love both of these options. Obviously, the Go Blu opens the CRA+ up a titch more, but the mobility with the awesome sounding utws5 is fantastic. Either option is fine. I did also put them on the KZ AZ09 Pro Bluetooth Adapters and again… these are so easy to drive that I had no issue. Everything came across clean and dynamic with any of these audio devices.
Bumping up to the Ibasso Dx240 with Amp8 Mk2 is another step up in fidelity. Not a game changing difference but an expected difference, nonetheless. Obviously, a better source will always help. Synergy mustn’t be forgotten either. That said, I didn’t have an issue with synergy on anything I used.
So when all is said and done… whatever you have will likely be okay to push this set. Maybe I’d recommend at the very least a budget Dongle Dac. Like I said, even using my Zooaux Dongle presented everything very well.
KZ Zex ($25)
KZ chose to use a Dynamic Driver as well as an Electret Driver on the Zex. The Zex has more of a U-shaped tuning. In my opinion it is one of the better tuned budget iems that KZ has made.
Between the two of these sets the CRA+ has a bit more low end, especially in the deepest parts of the mix. The Zex does have a roll-off in the Sub-bass area but there is still plenty thump. To me these two are close to a draw in this category. Bass on both sets can replay many genres just fine. Both are tight enough as well. The CRA+ just has more to offer while remaining just as clean, if not a bit more resolute.
Male vocals are more forward on the Zex and sound better to me than on the CRA+. On the flipside the Upper Mids of the CRA+ sound better and more emotional and more forward. There is an audible dip in the Upper Midrange on the Zex, pulling female vocals back a bit. They don’t sound bad at all but the vocals just don’t have the same feeling to them as the CRA+ have.
The Treble area the CRA+ also is a bit better extended. However I wouldn’t say they are better. I think the Zex sound more natural in the Lower Treble on-out. The CRA+ almost have a bit too much and almost take away from other areas of the mix whereas the Zex are tuned very nicely and have a relaxing and easy tuning up top.
Both sets are fine on longer sessions while the CRA+ may be a bit more fun for certain genres. The soundstage is more open on the CRA+, imaging is a draw, and details go to the CRA+. Both hold up well against the under $40 competition.
KZ EDX Pro ($15-$25)
The KZ EDX Pro is another very good option from the company. Priced at about half what the CRA+ sells for, however it is definently debatable if the CRA+ is any better. The EDX Pro handles my library pretty darn well and has a very dynamic presentation. A more fun and toe tapping, BANGER of a set. It looks pretty sweet too.
The EDX Pro is a single Dynamic Driver that also confuses the lines of what a budget iem should sound like. The EDX Pro came on the heels of a comeback from KZ/CCA at the time. They came right in the middle of the KZ surge which hasn’t really stopped. When many had lost faith in the Company and their ability to properly tune their iems, KZ flipped the script with a very long streak of well-tuned and good-looking budget to mid-tier sets. Truthfully KZ has been running with a head full of steam ever since.
The differences to me between these two come down to preference again. The EDX Pro being a more fun and more V-shaped hitter compared to the closer to Harman tuned CRA+. Of course there are differences with how well the drivers handle certain passages of music but the differences there are minimal. Nothing truly stands out as better to me. Maybe I prefer one over the other but better is something different.
Male vocals come across more forward on the EDX Pro as well. Not only more forward but a bit more resolute as well. I also hear a slight metallic edge to the CRA+ which doesn’t exist on the EDX Pro.
The CRA+ replays a warmer sound and much easier to listen to over long periods. Also the EDX Pro can be peaky in certain songs whereas the CRA+ cruises right through them. Perhaps I hear a bit better placement of Instruments with the CRA+ as well but that is debatable.
To be perfectly honest I don’t think one is better than the other. I don’t know if the price increase is justified unless of course the V-shape just isn’t your bag with the EDX Pro. In which case there is a plethora of very good budget iems below the $36 asking price of the CRA+, so there is plenty to choose from.
Blon BL-03 ($30-$35)
Priced roughly the same I had no choice but to add the Blon 03. We all know this budget king by now. Single DD, odd fit, Yada Yada Yada. So many have owned or tried the Blon 03 in the past and it’s one of those sets where… you either like it or you hate it. They fit or they don’t. I do think everyone should at least check them out at some point.
I have to say between the two the Blon just sound more natural throughout. Instruments and vocals do not have that metallic ‘zzz’ sound either. The Blon 03 is renowned for the natural and organic tuning which the CRA+ just can’t duplicate.
Note weight I find has a bit more thickness with the 03 in the bass area as well as the Lower Midrange. Though the Bass comes across cleaner on the CRA+. Heading into the Upper Mids through the highest areas, these two switch. Things like details may be a bit more easy to perceive on the CRA+. Better extension as well.
As far as timbre and tonality are concerned, the 03 just cruises past the CRA+ with that bonkers good tonality and natural display. I say that while thinking that the CRA+ do lean toward natural. The Blon is just another level. Soundstage feels vaster and airier on the 03. Yet not necessarily a lot wider. The 03 simply have a more open display of sound.
Depending on fit and whatever tips you choose to use, the Blon 03 Bass is a bit bigger. Not necessarily better. I can’t say that. I’d actually choose the CRA+’s low end if I could. Like I said before, the CRA+ has a cleaner and tighter Bass. Both offer good enough slam and rumble. The CRA+ just have more clean edges to Bass notes. The CRA+ aren’t as intrusive covering the Midrange with their bass. Some have said that the 03 can be boomy as well. I don’t hear that, but you get the point.
Lower mids are weightier on the 03 while having just as good if not better presence to vocals. As we climb the spectrum ladder to the higher frequencies, I can say that the CRA+ is better extended. Female vocals come across more intimate and emotional as well.
In the $30-40 club the CRA+ does well against the competition. Of course, everything in this hobby comes down to what any sole person enjoys. If I am speaking on the quality of the sound which comes from this single DD, then I’d have to say that CCA get passing marks. If you are in the market for a budget iem with a closer to Harman sound and some Blingy pizazz, then I’d say this is the one for you.
I have enjoyed where KZ has been going over the last year or so. They have been banging out many hits and few misses. The CRA+ to me is a definite bulls eye. It isn’t perfect, far from it actually. Yet in a sea of iems that are stuffed into an already overcrowded market the CRA+ is a bright spot. If you take tonality over technicality I’d say you can get just that and all for the price of McDonald’s for a family of 3.
Thank you for reading, I do hope this helps even a little bit. Remember these are simply my thoughts from what I hear with my gear. I take a lot of time to complete these reviews and I really hope you know my thoughts come from an authentic place. Personal audio is a passion of mine which takes up a lot of my head space and thoughts. We all have different experiences and takes on these audio devices and I implore you to read other’s reviews and opinions before purchasing. Get to know different reviewer’s and their preferences and libraries of music. It’ll certainly help make your buying decision easier. Thank you again and take good care everyone.