The CCA CS16 earphone is the brand’s current flagship model. Priced at $99, the CS16 comes loaded with 16 balanced armature drivers (8 drivers on each side). We’ve learned in the past that increasing the driver count doesn’t guarantee better audio quality. Will that be the case here?
Disclaimer: 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.
Awkward, large shells/fit
Narrow nozzles make tip rolling a challenge
Thinness in upper midrange
Earphone sensitivity: 105db/mW
Frequency range: 20-40000Hz
Earphone Interface Type: 2 Pin 0.75mm interface
Packaging & Accessories
The CCA CS16 comes in the regular CCA/KZ style plain white box. Inside is the standard fare: the CCA CS16 earphones, a detachable 2-pin cable and 4 pairs of silicone eartips.
To my eyes, the CS16 has a striking design, especially the black version which I have here. The aluminium faceplates are reminiscent of some other CCA and KZ models with a brushed aluminium surface and a vertical vent on the bottom end. There’s also some CCA branding in gold letters in the middle of the faceplate.
With its pseudo-custom shape, the CS16 shells look familiar, but you might have noticed the extra-long nozzle extension. I’m not sure why CCA chose to do this. Perhaps it was necessary due to the number of drivers stuffed inside or maybe they were modelled by someone with unusually deep ears?
The actual nozzles are more narrow than standard ones as well, making it more difficult for tip-rolling. So if you don’t have any luck with the included eartips, you’ll have to hunt around for something with a narrow core.
Due to being an all-BA unit, the CS16 shells are non-vented. This provides superior passive noise isolation but some people might experience pressure buildup or ‘cabin pressure’ from the sealed design.
In terms of comfort, these don’t work well for my ears. The nozzle extensions are extremely long so you’re forced to either go for a deep insertion or have the shells protruding quite far from your ears. Neither is ideal but your mileage may vary depending on your ear anatomy.
The included cable is the stock CCA/KZ silver-plated cable. It has a Y-split placed very far down the cable which combined with the thinness of the upper section makes it very prone to tangling. The quality of the actual wire is okay but it would have been nice to see something a bit nicer to accompany the so-called flagship IEM.
The CCA CS16 is an efficient IEM and will work fine with any source including straight from a phone. It has a V-shaped sound signature that leans towards thin and bright. Detail retrieval is quite good and on some recordings, the resolution is also fairly good. However, the experience is prone to change depending on the type of music and the CS16’s sound quality can be somewhat inconsistent.
When going into a multi-BA IEM review, I generally expect to be underwhelmed by the bass response. Sure, balanced armature drivers can deliver excellent control, speed and tone but they often lack overall impact, especially when it comes to sub-bass.
The CS16 does bass reasonably well here but ultimately lacks authority and rumble. However, mid-bass notes are well-defined with fast decay and are capable of bringing some slam. At the end of the day, these earphones are better suited to music genres that don’t have a strong reliance on big bass. What it lacks in impact, the CS16 makes up a lot in control.
The midrange is an area where the CS16 gets to do some virtual flexing. With the right kind of music, the CS16 can do mids considerably well. By that I mean music that’s generally lighter on bass, such as Hadouk Trio’s “Dragon de lune – Live”. Here CCA’s flagship does a good job of instrument separation and imaging. It could use some additional warmth and forwardness for added realism but the staging, speed and tone are all pretty solid here.
Vocals are articulate but slightly laid back in terms of forwardness and sometimes sound a bit strained, especially in the higher registers. As it gets up into the upper midrange, note size is somewhat thin and lacks body.
The CS16’s treble presentation is firmly rooted in the lower treble. Its lower treble is in line with the upper midrange then after 5kHz, it falls off a virtual cliff. However, due to the tight bass and lean mids, there’s still ample clarity and definition, even if there’s little airiness.
As a result, the treble is fairly dense and lacks any sparkle. The upside, of course, is that it’s non-offensive and doesn’t cause any treble fatigue. There is still ample detail retrieval and it gives the midrange more room to breathe.
The soundstage is fairly large and is wider than it is deep. Instrument separation is sufficient while placement and imaging are average. Some instruments lack density due to thinness but overall it’s respectable for something in this price range.
CCA CS16 Conclusion
The CCA CS16 is an IEM that delivers awesome specifications (i.e. high driver count) to the entry-level segment. Outside of that impressive driver count, it also offers decent audio quality but only if you manage to get a good fit. The shells are awkwardly large, albeit attractive. Furthermore, getting a good fit requires (at least in my case) some extensive tip rolling and experimentation.
The end result is an earphone that sounds great on some songs and not so good on others. If you’re all about bragging rights, the specs of this IEM will surely impress your friends. But if you’re looking for genuine audio quality there are other more viable options for the same price or less.