CCA or Clear Concept Audio is a Chinese brand that seems to be an offshoot of KZ (Knowledge Zenith) and produces earphones. Recently I reviewed their C10 IEM and I was surprised at how good it was. Today we have another model from the same company, the CCA C16. This earphone has 8 balanced armature drivers per side and is probably the most affordable 8-driver IEM currently on the market.
Separation and detail retrieval
Solid build quality
Value for money
Includes the same cable as the C10 and budget KZ earphones
Treble lacks body and density
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Package and Accessories
The earphones arrived in a small, white box with an image of the earphones on the front plus some company information and specifications on the back. It’s identical to the C10 box but this time the image is of the C16.
The unboxing experience is familiar too, as upon opening we find the earpieces seated in a foam insert. Beneath the foam is the standard KZ (and now CCA) bundle which includes a detachable 2-pin cable and 3 pairs of silicone Starline eartips, plus a user manual and warranty card.
Build Quality and Design
The CCA C16 housings have a silver-coloured aluminium faceplate with a layered ripple design. Printed in black is the CCA branding plus a reminder that there are 8 balanced armature drivers inside and an L or R marking denoting the left and right sides respectively.
The dark blue shells are made from a dense plastic and have a single tiny vent on the inner face, towards the rear. On closer inspection, it’s clear that the C16 earpieces come from the same mould as the KZ AS10 as they are identical in shape and size and differ only in materials used.
The nozzles have the same tiny bumps around their perimeter to securely hold eartips in place but they only work if you use tips with a reasonably tight-fitting core. Unlike the KZ AS10, the CCA C16 has a thin mesh covering the nozzles to keep out ear wax and debris. Overall, the earpieces feel well-built and robust thanks to their heft and clean finish.
Comfort and Noise Isolation
I find the C16 to be very comfortable, just as I did with the KZ AS10. Those with smaller ears may have a different experience but personally, I’m a fan of this design and can comfortably wear the earphones for hours at a time.
Noise isolation is quite good and about average for this type of design. External noise still gets in but once the music starts you won’t hear much else. Noise leak is also fairly minimal and you shouldn’t need to be concerned about disturbing others nearby.
The included cable is the same one that comes with the C10 and minor alterations of the standard KZ cable. It has colour-coded aluminium 2-pin connectors at the top and pre-formed ear guides. The Y-split has very good strain relief and the cable terminates in a right-angled rubberized 3.5 mm plug.
It’s not a bad cable except for the stupid positioning of the Y-split, which is placed about halfway down the cable. This plus the pre-formed ear guides make the cable extremely susceptible to tangling and it can be very frustrating to use.
Gear used for testing includes the iBasso DX120 and Shanling M5s as my portable sources. As usual, my desktop rig consists of the Fiio K3 being fed FLAC files via MusicBee on my Windows 10 PC. With a 27Ω impedance and 105dB sensitivity, the C16 is easy to drive and can be comfortably paired with any device including smartphones without any need of extra amplification.
So, what does 8 balanced armature drivers per side get you with the CCA C16? It gets you a very detailed sound with a fairly balanced signature, balanced, in this case meaning that no particular frequency range is favoured over the others.
The C16 delivers an expansive soundstage, good clarity, detail and speed and for the most part, it does really well. However, it does have some flaws which I’ll cover in the following sections.
The C16’s bass is on the moderate side of the scales and is only slightly north of neutral. It has a medium attack speed and reasonably fast decay which give it sufficient body and thickness and works well with the modest quantity. It peaks at around 100Hz and mid-bass has sufficient punch and impact.
The sub-bass rolls off fairly quickly but the extension is good, meaning you’ll still get some degree of rumble when needed. As you would expect with a multi-BA IEM, the bass is tight and well-controlled throughout and with the C16 there is no noticeable bass bleed.
Throughout the midrange, the C16 doesn’t stray far from neutral. Notes are fairly thin throughout which helps to avoid congestion and the fast transients enhance separation. Thankfully, the mids don’t sound anaemic as a result but at the same time, they’re not the liquid or abundantly emotive type either.
What you do get is crunchy guitars that are bristling with texture, voices that are articulate and breathy instruments with good resolution throughout. Delicacy abounds here too, as the C16 will push forward micro details that other monitors might gloss over.
Probably what I would consider the weakest point of the C16 is the treble. It’s not excessive nor too subdued but it is thin and lacks body. Also, the peak in the 6kHz-7kHz range can occasionally throw out some dissonant notes that compromise coherency.
An example of this dissonance is the ride cymbal in “Nas Is Coming”. It stands out too far in front of the mix and the coherency is compromised and it’s quite grating on the ears too. It’s only a narrow band that’s affected and most of the time the treble is well-behaved if somewhat uninspired.
While the soundstage feels quite large, it lacks depth and the layering is average at best. Surprising for a monitor with adequate instrument separation, the C16’s imaging is middling and relatively underwhelming. The end result is a large space with loose boundaries and vague positioning.
KZ AS10 ($61)
The AS10 (review here) is a warmer sounding IEM thanks to its more accentuated bass and relaxed upper midrange. The AS10 is slightly less resolving and doesn’t reveal as much micro detail. It has a meatier, punchier mid-bass and a fair whack more sub-bass too. The mids are more recessed on the AS10 but at the same time, the treble isn’t as pronounced. The C16 has a larger soundstage but imaging and positioning are stronger on the AS10.
KZ BA10 ($57)
The BA10 (review here) has a warmer tonality and a more earthy, smooth presentation. Mid-bass and sub-bass are more pronounced but have the same type of texture and quality as the C16. In the midrange, the BA10 has slightly thicker notes and less upper midrange presence. This makes the midrange sound smoother but also more recessed than the C16. The C16 has more clarity and vocal articulation.
The BA10’s treble is much sweeter (IMO). It has greater density and a more accurate timbre, plus it’s not competing so much with the upper mids like on the C16. The comfort and fit of the C16 are likely to suit more people than the BA10 which can be finicky in the ears.
FiiO FA1 ($99)
FiiO’s FA1 (review here) only has a single balanced armature per side compared to 8 on the C16. It’s even more balanced than the C16 with bass, mids and treble all lining up together. Sub-bass quantity is similar but can be felt more on the C16.
The FA1’s mid-bass feels more snappy and faster. The FA1 is more coloured in the lower midrange and less accentuated in the upper mids. The C16 has better instrument separation and is more detailed. Treble on the FA1 is also a bit dry but it’s easier on the ears and less peaky.
So does more drivers mean better yet? In some ways it does but, in the end, it really comes down to tuning (IMO). The CCA C16 gets a lot of things right and it does make good use of its abundance of drivers, particularly when it comes to separation and detail retrieval.
It stands out from the crowd, having a more neutral tuning than most entry-level earphones and that is sure to appeal to a lot of audio enthusiasts. The overall bundle is sparse in terms of what you get in the box and the cable kinda sucks but overall the C16 offers good value and a pleasurable listen.
Frequency range: 20-40000Hz
Earphone interface: 2-Pin connector
Drivers: 8 Balanced Armature (8BA) driver unit per side