Review written by @Fc-Construct
Review units provided by Linsoul and KZ
If there is a brand that is synonymous with ChiFi, it would be KZ. Though now largely overshadowed by new competitors like MoonDrop or Tin HiFi, it is no exaggeration to say that KZ is historically responsible for the negative perception that accompanies Chinese audio brands of cheap, low quality, overhyped, flavor-of-the-month products released at a breakneck pace. Yet despite their poor reputation, KZ has legitimately done a service for those who simply cannot afford to spend more than the price of a nice meal on audio. In fact, you’d be surprised at how many live bands have adopted KZ’s IEMs for stage use given that they cost a mere fraction of the outdated but venerable Shure SE215s. While KZ may be seen as a blight by many self-professed audiophiles, I do salute their contribution to the hobby.
Introductory musings aside, the object of today’s review is the $35 KZ ZEX Pro that sports a hybrid 1 DD + 1 BA + 1 EST setup. This IEM is also known as the KZ x Crinacle CRN after an announcement revealing that it was a collaboration product with well known reviewer Crinacle providing the tuning. I believe the reasoning for this rather confusing naming situation was to gauge the community’s reaction to the KZ ZEX Pro before and after the reveal given KZ’s poor reputation and Crinacle’s respected name. But for the purpose of this review, the storied background of the ZEX Pro’s creation is irrelevant. What matters is its performance and if this collaboration will finally bring KZ time back into the spotlight.
What’s in the Box?
It seems like KZ’s packaging is the same as ever: a plain white box with nothing but the IEM, the cable, and 3 pairs of generic white silicon tips. It seems this time that KZ has provided a silver cable that uses their QDC-style inverted 2-pin jacks. This cable is actually pretty good with little cable noise or memory.
The body of the ZEX Pro is made of a translucent resin similar to many cheap IEMs on the market today. The faceplate is a fairly attractive zinc alloy that features the KZ logo. I have these IEMs in both rose gold and black versions. The Crinacle CRN version is same with the exception of Crinacle’s logo on the shell.
The fit of the ZEX Pro is surprisingly uncomfortable. Though it seems to be ergonomic and slots into my ear easily enough, there’s a bulge to the shell that protrudes towards the back of my ear. It seems like this extra bulk is needed to accommodate the dynamic driver. This may be a dealbreaker. At first it only irritated me but now, I can’t wear it for more than an hour at a time before starting to get uncomfortable or sore. Of course, your mileage might vary but despite how good the ZEX Pro may sound, I likely won’t be using it much beyond this review.
I had rather high expectations for the KZ ZEX Pro coming in given its frequency response graph that I had seen and Crinacle’s collaboration. But simply put, it’s not the game changer that some might have been hoping for. To be clear, the ZEX Pro is a good sounding IEM and almost certainly the best tuned product KZ has ever released. With a bass leaning balanced signature that will feel at home for most people and a price tag of $35, it’s a foregone conclusion that the ZEX Pro is worth the money. With that in mind, let me go through some of the nitpicks I’m less thrilled with about the ZEX Pro.
Frequency response of the KZ ZEX Pro and Crinacle CRN. Measurement taken with an IEC-711 clone microphone. Comparisons can only be made to other measurements taken by this specific microphone. A peak at about 8 – 10 kHz is likely an artifact of the microphone. It likely does not actually exist as depicted here.
Looking at the graph, there’s two ways you can interpret this. The first is that the ZEX Pro and Crinacle CRN are identical IEMs but have a minor product variance. The other way is to take the neurotic route and say that they are different IEMs or have somehow undergone so-called silent revisions. Personally speaking, I’d stick with the former.