Here is my review of the CCA C16 IEM:
The CCA C16 is the third and latest IEM from Clear Concept Audio, a sister company of KZ (Knowledge Zenith). It follows on from the CCA C04 (1DD+1BA) and the C10 (1 DD+4BA). It is an all-BA design, featuring eight balanced armatures per side, hence the name C16 (16 drivers in total).
It employs two 22955 bass drivers, two 29689 midrange balanced armatures and four 30095 treble units in each earpiece, which are 3D printed and made from a durable blue material with a contoured zinc alloy faceplate bearing the CCA logo and the words “8 balanced armature”. The design of the earpiece is similar in shape to that of the KZ AS10. On the side of the earpiece is written “Professional Configuration” along with the channel identification in a freestyle script. The nozzles have three small protruberances which serve as anchors for the eartips. The earpieces have no rear venting.
The C16 has a detachable 2-pin (0.75mm) cable which is identical to that supplied with the C10, being a copper-coloured braided type with knurled aluminium 2-pin plugs and a right-angled 3.5mm plug. The packaging and accessories are also similar to the earlier model and include the cable, a set of three Starline-type tips and documentation, all presented in a neat small white box with an illustration of the IEMs on the front and the specifications printed on the back. Considering that the C16 retails for around four times the price of the C10, this was a little disappointing. I feel an upgraded cable, a better selection of tips and perhaps a protective case could have been included at this price.
I found the pre-installed Starline tips did not give me a good fit and so I replaced them with the medium silicone tips from the TRN V80, which I have also used successfully on other IEMs. These gave a perfect seal and fit and provided perhaps the best isolation I have experienced on an IEM so far. The supplied cable is very long from the Y-split to the 2-pin plugs and is prone to tangling, so I also replaced this with a high quality silver-plated cable.
The earphones were left burning in for 100 hours before testing and included tracks of white and pink noise, glide tones and other audio conditioning tracks. After this I used a Hifi Walker H2 DAP with a Fiio A5 amplifier for evaluation. I found that the C16s responded best with a robust signal, with the amplifier set to high gain and volume at around 33%.
The immediate impression was of a wealth of detail. This was unexpected and startling, and even with familiar music, I was presented with things I had never noticed before. In addition to this, the stereo image was exceptionally clear with movement and positioning very noticeable. In more detail:
The bass on these was superb, and hands down the best I have heard, being deep and powerful with an amazing tightness and transient attack. Extension was excellent and overall was very linear with no mid-bass lift. A good example of this was in “Nuvole a Colori” by Rondo Veneziano. This features a series of synthesized string chord progressions overlaid by pseudo-baroque violin arpeggios. The bass had real impact and texture, creating a perfect foundation for the music. The ability of the C16 to go really low was evidenced in Messaien’s “Desseins Eternels”, a modern organ piece, meditative in feeling with unusual harmonies bordering on the atonal. A version by Louis Thiry has some of the deepest organ notes committed to disc, the pedal notes of the 32’ pipes reaching subterranean levels, all clearly reproduced by the C16. This is the first time I had heard BA bass, and I must say I was very impressed.
The midrange on these was very articulate, with very good separation and was not recessed at all. Reproduction of harmonics was excellent, giving instruments their correct colour and timbre and endowing the sound with a very natural and open quality. The mids were in perfect balance with the bass and treble and though generally having a neutral feel, there was plenty of impact and life in the music. “Castilla” from the Suite Espanola by Albeniz, rattled along in entertaining style with bass drum, percussion and brass delighting in equal measure. This orchestral arrangement by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos in a beautiful vintage Decca recording was a perfect demonstration of the C16’s ability to portray an orchestra in a realistic ambience and natural setting. Vocal performance was impressive, too. In “Talk to me of Mendocino” from Linda Ronstadt’s album “Closer”, Ms Ronstadt’s voice soared above the accompaniment in wonderful style, each word beautifully clear and articulated and full of power and emotion.
The treble was very extended with the finest details coming over clearly and with a crisp precision, but without being cold or harsh. There was an attractive crystalline quality to the upper register giving an airy and open feeling. Mark Dwane is a master of the MIDI guitar and has produced a series of albums based on mystical themes. “Paragons of Light” from the album “Variants” begins with multi-tracked jangly guitar sounds moving across the soundstage. Each string was beautifully articulated with an authentic metallic quality giving the music great impact. In Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five”, Joe Morello’s superb drum solo displayed the clarity and detail of the C16’s treble. Cymbals, snares and rim shots placed me right there in the studio with the musicians. Holst’s “Moorside Suite” for strings features attractive rhythmic arrangements of folksong melodies. The third movement is fast-paced and uplifting. The strings of the Northern Sinfonia conducted by David Lloyd-Jones gave a spirited performance which the C16s revelled in, with clean crisp string sonorities and an airy, believable acoustic.
The C16s produced a soundstage which was wide and deep with an unusually good impression of height, giving a wonderful sense of space. Along with the excellent stereo imaging and instrumental positioning, they gave a very natural and open picture of the recording which was both technically and artistically satisfying. Detail retrieval was exceptional, with complex arrangements being clearly laid out with every strand easy to follow. “Words of a Mountain” is a unique album. It is a new-age fusion electronic album by a black musician, Wally Badarou. In “The Feet of Fouta”, the powerful percussion beats and infectious rhythms combined beautifully with the keyboard melody lines to great effect, producing an entertaining and foot-tapping result. “Antarctic Echoes” from Vangelis’s score to the Kurosawa film features the main theme in a slow and concentrated variation set in a highly reverberant soundstage. The C16s produced a cavernous acoustic with impressive fine detail and decay.
In the past year or so, I have been fortunate to have tried out a number of excellent IEMs, including, most recently, the Yinyoo V2 single DD, the CCA C10, and the Senfer DT6 triple hybrid, all of which provided incremental advances in fidelity. However, in this case there was a significant increase in quality, which, given the higher price, one might have expected, but nonetheless was impressive. With its excellent detail retrieval, superb resolution, wide frequency range and open, expressive sound, the C16 now takes premier position in my ever-growing collection of IEMs. If you value a neutral, well-balanced sound, it really is an essential purchase. Do bear in mind, however, due to its revealing nature, that it will give of its best with a high quality source and recordings (320k mp3 as a minimum) so a dedicated DAP, and preferably also an amplifier, would be most appropriate.
Note: I would like to thank Sunny from Better Audio US at Amazon.com for a promotional discount of 50% on the purchase of this item.