disclaimer: I received the CCA C12 from Better Audio as a review sample on 9/10. I would like to thank Sunny for providing these and suggest if you have an interest in purchasing these, you check out Better Audio on Facebook or their store on Amazon. I have no financial interest in Better Audio or Clear Concept Audio and have received no incentives for this review beyond the sample itself.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The CCA C12 arrived in a black lift-top box with a line drawing of the iem on the front and the specs on the reverse. The specs are a bit hard to read depending on angle of lighting as it is black on black. Once you lift the top, you are greeted with the earpieces resting in a tray with all other items hiding underneath. The kit is fairly sparse as it consists of the earpieces, cable, three sizes of tips, and the manual. This is not a let down as we are talking a 12 driver iem for less than $40. I’d much rather companies spend their money on R&D and better drivers than on cases, extra tips, etc.
The C12 uses a 3 part shell consisting of an outer metal faceplate, an inner plastic shell and a metal nozzle. Shape is a modified half circle with the nozzle exiting the top front and the bi-pin connector exiting the top rear. The nozzle has almost no rake so provides for fairly deep insertion but due to materials, isolation is only average. A single vent sits over the dynamic driver offset slightly from the middle of the driver to avoid the curvature of the nozzle. The face-plate has a lip around the the outer edge so it sits partially in the plastics shell as seen in the pictures below. This is the opposite of most of the KZ made models where the face-plate overlaps the shell. Seams are smooth, machining of the face-plate is well done with no obvious toolmarks and fit between parts is very good. The C12 is on the larger side, but sits fairly comfortably in ear and does not approach the size of the Zs10 that was uncomfortable for many. If the Zs5 series didn’t bother you size wise, chances are the C12 won’t either.
The C12, like its ZSX cousin, is a 6 driver per side design using a single 10 mm dynamic driver to provide low end grunt, four DWEK midrange balanced armatures to bring the mids to life, and a single 30095 balanced armature to give the highs a voice. Nominal impedance is listed as 24Ω with a sensitivity of 112dB/mW and is nearly identical to the ZSX but unlike the A10 clones, this one differs a bit in signature. I did find the C12 easy enough to drive from a smart-phone or tablet and while quality benefits from better sources, an external amp is really not necessary to run the C12 to its full ability.
CCA has stuck with using the brown KZ cable thus far and the C12 retains it again. I am not a big fan as I find the splitter oddly placed which is then compounded by the lack of a chin slider. Luckily the hooded-bi-pin style connector is now popular enough that many replacement options are available. I promptly replaced the stock cable with an upgrade cable from Nicehck designed for the Nx7 and it worked perfectly and remedied some of the issues I have with the stock cable.
The C12 is tip sensitive and I found does its best with narrow bore silicones. I settled on a pair of Spin-fits for my listening and testing.
The C12 has good sub-bass when called upon with roll-off only becoming evident below 40Hz. Mid-bass has slightly less emphasis than the sub-bass but still provides good thump. Mid-bass attack is faster than decay and gives the bass a bit of extra fullness. Bass is not slow or muddy, and no big bloom is present, but it does feel slightly thickened at times. The attack gives the kick drum a nice snap on the initial hit and keeps the bass from sounding less defined. Overall, not a ton of detail in the bass, but a nice thick presentation that won’t leave the user wanting for bass quantity.
There is some mid-bass bleed that colors the lower mids, but it isn’t overstated and brings some warmth to what might otherwise be a bit dry presentation by the balanced armatures. Mids start moving forward about as quickly as they transition from the bass while both male and female vocals have good weight, female vocals are a bit more forward in the mix and a bit more lively. Mids have better detail than expected at this price point and are surprisingly clean. String timbre is good but can be a slightly sharp-edged at times as the boosted lower treble comes into play and viola is typically a bit more natural than violin as a result. Guitar has good growl on electrics and fairly natural sound for acoustics.
CCA has been doing a better job thus far with the 30095 in the treble than their KZ counterparts and with this model, although its twin has improved, the CCA remains a step ahead with a more linear and better tuned treble. Treble stays very level from 2kHz all the way through 6kHz before dropping back. This gives the presence region a bit of extra energy without becoming harsh or fatiguing. A later push back up at 10kHz brings back some top end air and sparkle without jumping way out in front of the rest of the signature. Treble detail is only average, but clarity is good and extension is better than expected. overall, this may be the best tuned treble out of a KZ family member to date.
Soundstage / Imaging:
This is where the C12 comes back down to earth. Soundstage is only average for class with considerably more width than depth and only minimal height. Instrument separation is above average and seating the orchestra shows good positioning for the most part although the stage feels a bit shallow and instruments are pushed closer together front to back than side to side in the presentation. Imaging is fairly good with spatial cues being well represented and movement around the stage being fairly well articulated. The problem I have with the imaging is at times when a vocalist moves in the mix it winds up behind the guitar or strings as the C12 pushes that upper-mid more forward in the mix. This is particularly true of lower range vocals in the baritone range.
Well after the recent releases where we have seen multiple brandings on the same iem, I thought we’d do a quick compare between the ZSX and the C12 since they are at the very least fraternal twins. Both share the same drivers, cable, and nozzle but differ in shell and faceplate and possibly cross-over. I find the ZSX to be slightly more comfortable with its more ergonomic shape, but I find the signature more pleasant on the C12 with a bit more treble linearity. No doubt these two share more in common than not, but they are not the same exact iem as we saw in the previous C10 round of releases.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Clear Concept Audio continues to be an interesting offshoot of the KZ family. At one point, I had thought CCA was going to be the flagship branding, then they released some lower end models, at another point I thought maybe they were a way to increase brand awareness by creating a different persona in the market, then they released two or three that were sonic duplicates of their KZ counterparts. Due to a communication miscue, I have two ZSX samples, and the C12 on my desk right now and my first thought in looking at the pile was “oh, goodie! another set of KZ triplets”. I am happy to report that is not the case as both while certainly similar do have their own voicing as well as their own design aesthetic. For me, the better of the lot is the CCA C12. If I were buying one or the other, I’ll take the slightly more bulky shell with the better treble over the ZSX with its more ergonomic shape and slightly spiky treble rendering.
Pros: Good detail and better mids than expected, treble more linear than ZSX.
Cons: Same old KZ cable, shell not as comfortable as ZSX cousin.