disclaimer not needed: I purchased the CCA C16 along with the C10 without any discount or any expectations from an Ali store just to see what KZ’s new offshoot Clear Concept Audio was all about.
Unboxing / Packaging:
Packaging is rather unspectacular for a flagship headphone and those familiar with KZ’s white box style packaging will immediately see the similarity.
Again, anybody familiar with the KZ or CCA kit will immediately recognize the cable, tips etc. Also distinctly lacking is any form of carrying case which is pretty standard at the price point being asked.
Here again, We see very little new. The shell is exactly the same as the KZ AS10 (reviewed Here). The only external difference in the two is the faceplate and the cable. The cable is a throwback to an earlier generation KZ upgrade cable and while not a bad product, it does not live up to being served with a flagship earphone. The cable is both tangle prone and heavy and I recommend replacement.
Now we get to the good stuff. The CCA C16 is an 8 driver per side all balanced armature affair with two 22955 drivers handling lows, two 29689 drivers handling mids and 4 30095 drivers handling highs per side. I’ll admit with what KZ has done with single or paired 30095 drivers to date, I was expecting an absolute treble cannon when I saw the C16 contained 4 per side. Luckily, all are managed by a crossover which seems to be 1st order simple resistors and capacitors from the photos I have seen, but it does well in taming the treble and keeping everything in line. I have not been willing to dissect mine at this point to get better pictures. All BAs appear to be either the in-house made KZ or the common bellsing types. Nominal impedance is listed at 27Ω with a sensitivity listed at 105dB/mW and the C16 is fairly easily driven by phones and tablets but does benefit by a more potent amp.
Bass is typical of BA bass, well controlled with good attack and slightly lingering decay but lacking a bit in tactile response. I would classify the C16 as near neutral with only mildly forward mid-bass while most today would categorize it as bass shy much like the Tin Audio T3. It reminds me a lot of the Bass of the Magaosi K5 in quantity, timbre, and depth. Sub-bass is present, but not emphasized so can be tough to define without using tracks particularly targeting the sub-bass region. Extension is good with roll-off becoming pronounced below about 55Hz.
Mids are well rendered with better than expected detail at this price level. I was particularly pleased with the lack of a big dip in the lower mids or a large climb at the upper mids into the lower treble and as a result the C16 does good work with strings, acoustic guitars, and vocals without pushing male or female vocals out in front of the other as most others at this price point tend to do. Attack and decay are good with decay leaning a little to the slow side of attack and leaving a trace of lingering warmth.
I admit, when I saw 4 of the 30095 treble cannons loaded into the C16, I worried. After KZ had managed to reach nearly eardrum shattering levels of treble with 2 of those drivers on previous models, I was afraid the C16 might be best reserved for dogs or bats. Completely unfounded concern on my part. CCA has done a good job of stepping back the treble to a level that is not intrusive. So much so that the Tin Audio T3 mentioned earlier is actually a good bit brighter than the C16 despite having 3 less drivers in the treble region. By using 4 drivers, CCA is able to drive each at a much lower level resulting in good detail without a heavy spike and without creating a fatiguing listen. Air and sparkle are good, but CCA has tuned the C16 to roll-off fairly sharply above about 10kHz which does limit the top end a bit. Overall, treble is fast, detailed beyond expectations, and way more polite than exptected.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Oddly this category contains what I consider the best and worst points of the C16. Let’s start with the bad. Soundstage is only average with more width than depth and little 3D due to a distinct lack or height. That isnt to say the soundstage is bad, but once you take in all of the other particulars of the C16 it is certainly the weakest link. I Found stage to be a good bit smaller than its KZ cousin the AS10 which makes me think the tuning difference may be responsible and as such might be something that is easily improved in later revisions. On the flip side, Imaging and instrument separation are very good with no hint of congestion even with large ensembles and orchestral works. I was able to seat the orchestra in my head with little overlap and very good clean definition of positions on the stage. Impressive for a $100 earphone to be sure.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
I call the C16 the Quasi-flagship because in some regards it is very much the flagship of the KZ/CCA line. In others it falls short. Packaging would lead me to believe the KZ Zs7 or AS10 are higher models in the line than the C16. Sound would tell me the C16 is the top gun. Accessories are the same as the C10 which comes in a 1/4 of the price which again would make you believe this inst a top-end model. What the C16 does, is show that KZ/CCA has learned some lessons, and is still in the process of learning others. Sound has matured a lot and the price commanded for the C16 is not out of line with its performance, if anything price/performance may be better than anything else in the KZ family. With a few tweaks and some upgrades to cables and packaging, I can see the C16 selling for a good bit more, and I suspect we will see Clear Concept Audio continue down that path. The C16 has a lot to like, check it out. I already have the CA4 headed my way so we will see what comes next.