Saturday 30 April 2022

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: CCA (Clear Concept Audio) C12 IEM - 1 Dynamic + 5 Balanced Armature Drivers - are more drivers better? (Plus new analogue disc technology, cable-maker Russ Andrews interview.)

Earlier this month, as I was preparing the final write-up for the KZ ZSN Pro review, I was impressed enough by the performance of those very inexpensive IEMs (less than US$25) to go ahead and grab these CCA (Clear Concept Audio) C12 (US$50) earphones to see how an upgrade at twice the price would perform in both listening and measurements. Note that CCA is a related company to KZ so when we look at the open-box image above, we see that the contents are similar. We have this time a braided ear-loop cable (that's still easy to get tangled), also 1.2m in length, a couple of info pamphlets, 3 extra sets of silicone ear pieces, same as the KZ ZSN Pro.

At twice the price of the KZ, the hope here is that these would represent a significant sonic upgrade across a number of domains. On the surface, a major talking point for these headphones is that they consist of a more complex arrangement of drivers which in theory could provide more accurate coverage across the audible frequencies. Drivers in each earphone include a single larger 10mm dual-magnet dynamic/moving coil driver, and 5 small balanced armatures (two of which are reported as Knowles 30095, not sure the others). So that's a total of 6 drivers per ear piece, 12 both sides - hence "C12".

Saturday 23 April 2022

MUSINGS: Myths, clichés and Hi-Fi+'s Taiko Audio SGM Extreme computer review. A hypothetical fast, fanless audio computer build. And "channels/bit-depth/samplerate" labeling convention - a suggestion.

"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890

Once awhile, we in the audio world run into devices that are so ludicrous that it becomes somewhat entertaining reading or watching reviews about them. Like Super Bowl ads, the advertising can be fascinating in themselves regardless of whether you care about or even know how to play American football. The Dutch Taiko Audio SGM Extreme is such a product which I find fascinating - not because the technology is all that mind-blowing (server CPUs, Optane storage, large SSDs, big fanless case) - but in seeing what they're trying to do with the "spin" around the product to try to justify an asking price! (Previously, I've referenced the device in a related discussion as well.)

I thought it was interesting reading this recent Hi-Fi+ review by Alan Sircom and examining the claims. Just because a review might be written in a "subjective" fashion doesn't mean readers can't or should not be critical about the beliefs expressed. To a certain extent, I believe it is the responsibility of "rational audiophiles" to push back against the nonsensical, even mythical, ramblings of certain subjective, supposedly honest, viewpoints. I agree with T.S. Gnu, typically we cannot expect magazine writers to be bluntly honest in today's environment.

For those unaware, The Absolute Sound (North America) and Hi-Fi+ (UK) are glossy, subjective-only, sister publications that IMO read like the unabashed advertising arm of the "high end" industry. Over the years, TAS & Hi-Fi+ have advocated snake-oil of all sorts and TAS even published pseudo-science articles purporting to be empirical research (look up the articles from Charles Zeilig and Jay Clawson around 2011 - I've mentioned this back in the day, and here's an example of what they do/say).

Saturday 16 April 2022

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: KZ ZSN Pro - very inexpensive dynamic + balanced armature IEM. (And the importance of the audiophile "low end" and meaningful succession.)

Since I believe much of high-fidelity audio is already "mature" technology, these days a lot of what I find interesting are products that either present new features for the music lover (and audiophile), or devices that are of high value. In a present era of inflation and energy price shocks, "value" I think for most people has become even more important into the foreseeable future. As discussed in the past, the price of luxury items is usually a reflection of non-utilitarian benefits rather than actual sonic fidelity; that is basically the epitome of the "high end" moniker, behind which, much snake oil is allowed to thrive.

In this post, let's have a look and listen at an IEM which I think absolutely represents a member of the "high value" class of products! At less than US$25, the KZ "Knowledge Zenith" ZSN Pro IEM is at a price point that anyone can afford if you're in the market for some wired headphones these days (funny the designation "Pro" for something in this price point!). Considering the wide range of prices for headphones, it's the kind of thing you can throw in your travel bag and not worry if they get damaged.

The question of course is how do these sound!? Let's take a deeper dive into this...

Saturday 9 April 2022


For the post this week, let's have a look at the 1MORE Quad Driver IEM (~US$150 these days). These have been out for awhile; released in mid-2017 I believe. The specs on these are quite interesting given the asking price. Driver configuration seems complex with single dynamic driver and 3 balanced armature units within the relatively small capsule. The dynamic driver is advertised as being some kind of "diamond-like carbon" (DLC) that covers bass and mids with the balanced armature units filling in at the higher frequencies based on the advertising material.

Furthermore, the headphone also has an integrated volume/playback control as well as a microphone when making calls.

The brand also prides itself on this being the world's first "THX Certified Headphone". I'm not sure exactly what that certification means; presumably some combination of testing to ensure low distortion and frequency response thresholds must be in the mix.

Saturday 2 April 2022

DEMO: Tears For Fears - "No Small Thing" - Low-DR CD vs. Higher-DR Steven Wilson 5.1 Downmix to 2.0 (and the obvious importance of audio production quality)

Despite all the examinations of what often amounts to subtle differences in sound when we compare different hardware devices, I think as audiophiles we too often neglect the very significant differences that mixing and mastering makes.

Recently, I received my copy of Tears for Fears' The Tipping Point, the Blu-Ray only available for order online here. As you can see in the image above (screenshot of the menu), the disc includes both lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD-Atmos mixes done by Steve Wilson.

I believe you can already stream the Atmos mix over Apple Music "Spatial Audio" but that would be in lossy Dolby EAC3+Atmos. As you can imagine, the multichannel mix sounds quite different from the 2-channel CD/lossless stream!