A Dynamic Driver + Electrostatic Hybrid + Balanced Armature in-ear monitor with lovely clarity – the KZ x Crinacle CRN (KZ ZEX Pro) impresses.
Some days I wish there was more time to listen to all the headphones, IEMs and HiFi equipment.
My house has become pregnant with audio splendour and every time I get sent a new product to review, I feel like I need to go back and listen to every other one I have to compare but the list is too long.
This newly updated set of KZ Zex Pro (also known as the KZ X Crinacle CRN) came to me directly from KZ for my review. Thanks KZ!
My current review methodology is simple. Don’t compare – just listen. If it moves me, if the frequency range is full, if the sound stage is enveloping, the comfort high and the sound fatigue affects low, then I don’t need to always compare.
PURE AUDIOPHILE SHOP
Because of the electrostatic driver, the KZ ZES would also have to be considered.
What’s different about the KZ Zex Pro, is it just another budget IEM from Knowledge Zenith?
No, actually, it’s a little different. This is a hybrid Dynamic Driver (DD) + Balanced Armature (BA) + 1 x Electrostatic driver.
TAKE NOTE: This is the updated version. There is a KZ Zex with dual drivers but this is the tribrid triple driver KZ Zex Pro. So if you’re looking for this one, make sure it’s got a DD, BA and Electrostatic driver in each side.
One of my favorite budget IEMs in the last 6 months
For a budget IEM it’s impressive that there is an electrostatic driver included with the dynamic. The pairing make for a really nicely balanced hybrid IEM that I’ve really enjoyed listing too.
Clear Mids and Treble with tight Bass that doesn’t muddy or mess things up. Perhaps not for bassheads but for everyone else, these should offer a real value for money budget IEM that performs well enough across all genres.
One of my favorites this year.
- Weight: 78.6 grams
- Plug: 3.5mm
- Pin Connector: 2 pin – .75mm
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 40 kHz
- Impedance: 25 ohms
- Sensitivity: 104db
- Triple Drivers: 1 x BA / 1 x DD / 1 x Electrostatic
What’s in the Box?
- 2 Pin Cable
- in-ear monitors
- Instruction Manual
- S/M/L sized silicon earbuds – Medium comes fitted
What we like (Pros)
- Great Bass that isn’t inflated
- Lovely mids that bring vocals and instrumentation clearly into the mix in a balanced manner
- Really good looking
- Nice build quality
What we like less (Cons)
- I don’t really have any – lame I know but it’s hard to critique a $20 IEM this well rounded and this enjoyable to listen to.
- Missing a cable tightener on the cable to secure at the base of your neck (pet peeve on budget IEMs)
The budget IEM space is pretty full so, brands need to innovate a little which KZ have done by throwing in, what is normally considered an expensive driver format.
Not the first of its kind, of course, and there are some high-end custom in-ear monitor companies doing some cool stuff in this space but this is the first budget IEM with a hybrid electrostatic, BA and dynamic driver combo.
Electrostatic Driver – what’s the deal?
Electrostatic drivers usually require extra power to really get them going. I’ve you’ve ever considered a set of Electrostatic headphones from Stax, HiFiMan or Audeze you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The Zex have an impedance of 25 ohms so pretty easy to get going from your smartphone/iPhone or laptop without much extra oomph needed.
If you want to add a headphone amp on then a smaller portable unit would be more than enough to drive some increased goodness.
I dislike when budget IEMs crank the bass to achieve some semblance of cool audio to their sound signatures. It’s a bit of a cop-out in my opinion.
The Bass on the KZ Zex is really natural. More like an IEM like the Westone UM Pro 20, tuned to be honest but not overly heavy.
Some might find they would like to boost it a little through EQ, but not me. I love where it sits – deep enough and really surprisingly tight for this price range
The acoustic representation on drums, floor toms especially in some tracks impressed me.
Pop music has nice PRAT and kept me bouncing and bopping along to the synthetic rhythms. New Rules by Dua Lipa is a tune I often try out due to it’s a nice deep bass drop in the chorus and a lot of mid electronic drums dropping in.
Hey Now from London Grammar – all there. Deep, full and rich without interfering with the rest of the instrumentation.
Tried some Taylor Swift – well, the Fat Max Gsus remix, not really my jam and didn’t find they quite had enough oomph here.
The Bass on all these tracks was really good 9 times out of 10.
My favourite part of these. Vocals are clear and rich. There is nice separation in instrumentation and nothing that should be forward is forward.
I feel these are pretty true to how I would mix my tracks.
Ultimately, at louder volumes, I can see how these might get a little fatiguing but on the whole, I really liked how they sounded.
Again, it felt really nice to hear the acoustic nature of a lot of instruments come through. Reverb on vocals and acoustic resonance from guitars, drums was great.
It’s not always perfect but better than most budget in-ear monitors I’ve reviewed to date.
I like treble. I say it every review I do. The problem is I don’t like too much treble on things like snare drums and mid-range cymbals.
These have decent treble without any sibilance or screech.
This makes them good for most of what I threw at them and having less super top end means less fatigue for most listeners.
Electric Guitars have enough crunch, Vocals almost have enough sparkle to make these punch well above their weight range.
General sound stage
These are not super wide. The soundstage is such that there is separation in instruments and vocals but it’s tighter than a lot of competitors.
That’s not to say it’s crowded. It’s more like being centre stage in a small venue with all the good things coming at you as opposed to being in a large theatre with space and room for the instruments to reach the edges of the space.
I don’t know how to describe this but instead of having a wide soundstage it has more of a depth – more front to back and less left to right.
So, things are not crashing into each other and it feels like a tight jam session with everyone in.
Build Quality + Comfort
These are good looking units. Comfortable and certainly something I’d be really happy to be seen on the Tube or Subway wearing.
The machine work is excellent and the 2-Pin cable had a strong feel to it.
For live use, I’d need a tensioner on the IEM cable. It’s a pet peeve of mine that a lot of budget IEMs don’t include a cable tensioner that allows you to tighten the cables at the base of your neck. I mention that in this video or one of our IEM videos.
The overall comfort is good. I’ve sat with them for extended periods and no complaints.
No movement, easy to get a good seal.
Normal line up at this price.
- s/m/l silicon earbuds
- IEM earbuds
Summing it up
If you don’t need inflated, over the top bass it’s hard not to recommend these as a serious player in the affordable IEM lineup this year.
My only wish was that Mid-Bass was a little stronger but that’s a small complaint. It will depend a little on what you send at them.
For the price it’s not much of a stretch to add these to your collection. Who knows, could be a cult classic over time.
Any questions, comments, fire away in the comments section below.
This post was last updated on 2022-04-26 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.