CCA C04: It’s Alright
Today we’re checking out a new earphone from a new brand, the CCA C04.
CCA came out of nowhere with a number of products that have raised some eyebrows; the C04, C10, and C16. The C10 features a 4+1 hybrid setup with four balanced armatures (BA) and one dynamic driver per side, while the C16 has a whopping 8 balanced armatures per side. Besides the number of drivers being crammed into their products drawing attention, it also seems that CCA is spin off from Knowledge Zenith, masters of the budget realm. This is evident in the accessories, ear piece shells, and more obviously from the application of KZ branded armatures viable through the plastics.
The C04 we’re checking out today makes due with a humble 1+1 hybrid setup with one dynamic, one balanced armature per side. Let’s take a closer look.
The C04 was sent over by Sunny from Better Audio on Amazon. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on a couple months with the C04. They do not represent CCA, Better Audio, or any other entity. At the time of writing it was retailing for 19.99 USD on Amazon.com. You can check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/Earphone-Balanced-Armature-Headphones-Detachable/dp/B07K6KJKLY/ref=sr_1_9?m=AF1C7ZDW9EPD8&s=merchant-items&ie=UTF8&qid=1544802047&sr=1-9
The C04 is plenty easy to drive so it spent most of it’s time connected to the Shanling M0 and HiFiMAN MegaMini. I prefer pairing it with warmer devices since it can be a bit harsh in the upper mids and treble.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800 Silver, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
- Driver: 1 BA + 1 DD
- Frequency Response: 20-40,000Hz
- Impedance: 17ohms
- Sensitivity: 103dB/mW
- Weight: 21g
Packaging and Accessories:
The C04 has very TRN like packaging thank to the reasonably sized, cream white box. On the front you find an image of the C04’s ear pieces done in a wire frame style. You also find CCA branding in the top left, and the C04 model into tacked onto the bottom via a sticker spanning the width of the package. On the sides you find CCA branding while the back contains specifications and contact/location info for CCA.
Lifting off the lid you find the interior split into two sections. One has the C04’s ear pieces set tightly within a foam insert while the other hides the accessories and documentation. In all you get:
- C04 earphones
- 0.75mm 2-pin copper cable
- Single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
Overall a very minimal accessory kit. Some may lament the lack of any sort of carrying case or baggy, especially given the packaging is large enough to accommodate it. Interesting to note is that the included tips may be familiar to KZ fans since they’re the same as their community named “Starline” series.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The C04 has a pretty cool shell with a semi-custom style shape that comes across as a stubby KZ ZSR. Behind the clear face plate is a metallic plate engraved with CCA and either Left or Right depending on the side. Out the top are keyed 2-pin inputs. One end is rounded to help ensure cables are installed correctly. The nozzles are quite long and have a prominent lip around a standard nozzle width allowing you to try a wide variety of tip styles. Overall the build is pretty solid. The quality of the plastics is nice and they feel durable. The fit and finish is quite good with the face plate lining up well with the rest of the body, and the 2-pin receptors fit tightly and in a uniform manner across both ear pieces.
The braided copper cable is good and will be familiar to anyone that has bought a recent KZ since it’s the same, minus new hardware. This also means it takes on the same qualities. It is flexible and doesn’t transmit much noise, but the y-split is set too low making it easy to tangle unless you store it carefully. The memory wire KZ often uses has thankfully been replaced with well-shaped preformed ear guides. They do a great job keeping the cable in place around the ear, so no complaints there. The y-split is also quite nice with some pretty extreme strain relief where the cable enters from the bottom, and splits leading to each ear piece. The latter is where relief is often omitted, so props to CCA for including it. The cable stumbles slightly when we get to the 90 degree angled jack. The good is that the strain relief here is also fantastic. The bad is that there is no extension for the 3.5mm plug to accommodate cell phone or DAP cases, and since the plug is somewhat chunky you’re likely to find they interact in a way that is not desirable. My LG G6 has a very simple, thin clear rubber case over it with a fairly spacious hole around the headphone jack. The C04’s plug sits flush with the body of the phone but rubs against the case so really any movement causes it to dislodge slightly. So yeah, if you’re planning to use the C04 with a device that has a case, you’re probably going to need to swap to a different cable or forgo the case.
While a little on the bulky side, the C04’s shells are actually quite comfortable thanks to the light weight and custom-like design. It fits into the outer ear quite naturally with the protrusions slotting into the various cavities of the outer ear, locking it in place. Someone with really small ears or an odd shape will still have issues though. In my mind, it basically addresses everything wrong with the shell KZ used for the ZSR by making it shorter and swapping out the unusually broad, 6mm wide nozzle, for something slightly smaller and more traditional.
Isolation is slightly above average thanks to the form fitting shape and single pinhole vent on the inside of the housing. I had no issues using these outside in noisy areas like the local coffee shop and grocery store. When I wanted some quite while working, they made for a decent ear plug, dulling the tapping of my keyboard and various noises from the roadway outside my window.
Back when KZ first released the ZST, hybrids in that price range were unheard of, and certainly not good ones. Fast forward to today and the ZST holds up well enough but lacks the refinement of more modern earphones like the ZSN and Bbooll BOT1. The C04’s signature and performance strongly resembles the ZST and falls just short of the competition in terms of overall refinement.
Treble is where this is most noticeable with it displaying a significant amount of grain and general roughness. Not as much as the ZST, but more than I’d like. On the plus side, it offers good extension with a little bit of extra upper treble emphasis that gives it some shimmer the ZST is missing. Detail and clarity is fine, but not amazing and is overshadowed by something like the Somic V4, an aging dual dynamic that still thwomps lots of today’s releases with it’s balanced, capable signature. Decay is quick though, so the C04 can keep up with some busy tracks without fumbling and blurring everything together. Not my favorite treble presentation, but passable.
While recessed, vocals are fairly smooth and well textured, though you still get some grain which is unfortunate. Compared to the C04’s bigger brother the C10, a very full and warm earphone, the C04’s mids are quite lean and on the cool side. Normally I find this style of presentation more engaging with male vocals than female, but that wasn’t the case with the c04. Running through Gorillaz’s “Empire Ants feat. Little Dragon” and Big Grams’ “Run For Your Life” I found myself drawn more to Yukimi and Sarah’s vocal sections when compared to Damon and Big Boi. Timbre is off with everything coming across lighter and more dry than it should, and some sibilance is present. Again, not a great mid-range but passable.
Bass is where the C04 picks itself off and dusts off the cobwebs. The dynamic driver is well tuned and in a sharp contrast to the the armature is very smooth in the way it presents itself, yet is still provides plenty of texture for crunchy bass lines like that on The Prodigy’s “Thunder” (RIP Keith Flint). Mid-bass is quick and punchy and sub-bass extension quite good letting the C04 rumble nicely on Kavinski’s “Solli”. Despite not being particularly mid-bassy, due to the mid-range presentation there is some bleed into the lower mids. Regardless, I quite like this low end presentation and think it is just as good as the ZSN in this area.
Sound stage is another area the C04 excels. It sets the music a reasonable distance from your head at default and thanks to the fairly lean presentation comes across quite open and airy. The ZSN in comparison feels more confined and personal. Imaging is solid with sound transferring from channel to channel cleanly, though it’s not quite as precise as the ZSN. Layering and separation are also quite decent. I experienced no issues with congestion, though the graininess of the treble occasionally got in the way.
Overall I like the basic signature of the C04 and find both the bass quality and sound stage quite nice. The rawness and lack of refinement in the armature is noticeable though and with anything but electronic-heavy music can get distracting. If the C04 were more expensive I’d be less pleased, but given you can routinely find this thing for well under 20 USD if you snoop around, the performance is plenty acceptable. And once you pull the rest of the experience back in, namely the comfortable, well isolating shell and good build quality, as well as the usefulness of a replaceable cable, it’s not a bad value at all.
There are a number of products I’d recommend over it in this price range though, such as the Bbooll BOT1 and KZ ZSN. Or just spend a little more and get the vastly superior C10. As it is, the C04 is pretty average and I can’t complain much given the price. Heck, you can spend more and get something that’s not nearly as impressive, such as the Colarad C2 or BGVP MRY6. What I’m saying is that the C04 is okay. I wouldn’t tell you to go out and buy one now, nor would I steer you away from it if you were dead set on picking up a pair. It’s an earphone. It plays music. It does what it’s supposed to do, better than some and worse than others.
Thanks for reading!
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Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Album)
Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bone) (Album)