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Review: CCA CRA+ – All You Need

The big pro of the gold faceplate is how it catches the light; the con is how it attracts fingerprints.
The big pro of the gold faceplate is how it catches the light; the con is how it attracts fingerprints.

The original CRA were one of the best ultra-budget pairs of IEMs on the market. Can CCA build on their success?

Thanks to CCA for providing this unit for review purposes.

Clear Concept Audio (CCA) is a veteran manufacturer of IEMs who has produced many pairs over the years, most notably a range of affordable hybrid IEM modes. They’ve also made some entries into the ultra-budget market – most notably the CRA, which retail for only about USD$15-$20 and are generally considered one of the best deals in portable audio.

The big pro of the gold faceplate is how it catches the light; the con is how it attracts fingerprints.
Bottom Line

For those looking for a pair of IEMs under USD$50, the CRA+ receive a strong recommendation from me. They aren’t the prettiest pair of IEMs on the market, but they are functional, comfortable, and most importantly, sound great for the price. If you’re an average music consumer looking for a cheap, good-sounding pair of IEMs, look no further—the CRA+ may well be a new king on the budget market. And they sound a lot better than your generic store-bought headphones.

What We Like
  • Powerful bass
  • Natural midrange
  • Coherent, relaxed sound
  • No-nonsense, ergonomic design
What We Don't Like
  • Slightly unnatural sound signature on acoustic tracks
  • Not the best-looking earphones on the planet

Since the new CRA+ is clearly an update of the original CRA, the question becomes: do they improve the original formula?

Technical Specifications

  • Form: IEM
  • Drivers: 10mm dynamic driver
  • Impedance (Ohm): 23.5 Ohm
  • Sensitivity (dB): 111dB +/- 1dB
  • Frequency Response (Hz): 20Hz – 40kHz
  • Removable Cable: Y
  • Source Jack/Plug: 3.5mm
  • Cup/Shell/Connector Jack/Plug: 2-pin

Packaging

The CRA+, clearly a budget product, comes in a small box with a limited set of accessories. It seems CCA has not spent excess budget designing a fancy package with a bunch of extra included items—an approach that earns my respect. Keep costs low!

In the box

  • Earphones
  • Cable
  • Two spare pairs of ear tips

Design

The highly visible driver enclosure is a beautiful aspect of the design.
The highly visible driver enclosure is a beautiful aspect of the design.

Visually, the CRA+ are nothing special, with a typical KZ-type body and a chintzy gold faceplate. However, the fact that the earphones’ capsules allow you to see the internals, including the dynamic drivers, is pretty neat.

If you’re looking for a pair of IEMs with the intent of making a visual statement, the CRA+ are probably not the best choice.

I personally have no problems with the generic looks – it shows that CCA’s attention is on audio rather than aesthetics. Between the two, I’d cast my vote for audio quality every time.

Comfort

This pair of IEMs is for fans of the moniker “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The IEMs have the approximate shape of every other budget KZ / CCA product. For me, that’s no problem since this capsule shape fits my ears perfectly.

I’m not sure if everyone can say the same, but for me, this is the ideal design for comfort —sleek, no fuss, and no slippage. Secure but not intrusive.

Sound

We got some plants for our living room - perfect for photoshoots!
We got some plants for our living room – perfect for photoshoots!

The original CRA were lauded for their superior cost-performance ratio, especially regarding sound quality. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard the first-generation CRA, but it’s my pleasure to say that the CRA+ are a terrific performer for the price.

It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve heard products 10 times the price of these that can’t measure up.

Overall, they have a bass-heavy, “V-shaped” sound signature. When it comes to entry-level audiophile-oriented products, you can’t go wrong with this tuning – it brings the heavy bass when necessary, but it also supplies enough clarity in the upper mids and treble to make well-recorded audio really pop.

They aren’t going to be the end-all, be-all statement of one’s audio-product collection, that’s for sure. They suffer from a little looseness in the bass, and the detail is not 100% there, with a little haze in the imaging, but nothing I can complain about for around USD$30.

Bass

The clear cable that lets you see the 2-pin connectors' internals is very thematic.
The clear cable that lets you see the 2-pin connectors’ internals is very thematic.

The CRA+ has a bass-heavy sound signature, meaning the bass really takes a prominent role in the music you hear.

For a pair of IEMs of this price, ‘bass-heavy’ often means muddy, sloppy bass that overwhelms the midrange. But with the CRA+, this characterization couldn’t be further from the truth—these earphones bring relatively tight, controlled bass to the party. This bass is powerful but doesn’t overwhelm or squash its surroundings.

The downside is that the strong mid-bass emphasis, while well-intentioned, can sound boomy or boxy. For example, the fundamental tones come through with acoustic or upright bass, while the upper harmonics are suppressed, resulting in the bass sounding somewhat unnatural.

For this reason, I would say the bass of the CRA+ lends itself very well to electronically-produced tracks while perhaps failing to fully capture the beauty of a good acoustic recording. But for below USD$30, I hardly mind—the bass is definitely good enough to justify the price.

Midrange

One common characteristic of V-shaped IEMs is that the lower midrange will be slightly recessed or “sucked-out” to lend clarity to the mix and prevent the bass from completely dominating the sound. Sometimes, this can lead to V-shaped IEMs sounding “cold” or “distant.”

The CRA+ have a full and vibrant midrange. There’s very little to complain about here.

There are certain times when the upper-midrange pinna gain region (around 3kHz) is very slightly over-emphasized, resulting in a little bit of unnatural brightness, especially in flutes and other woodwind instruments.

Such nitpicking in a pair of IEMs of this price feels almost insulting. These do more than well enough.

Treble

I wish the courtyard of our building was a little more scenic.
I wish the courtyard of our building was a little more scenic.

When evaluating the treble content of IEMs, I first look for unobtrusiveness. No matter how detailed the treble is, it’s all for naught if it’s annoying, sibilant, or grainy.

The CRA+ passes this test with flying colors. The treble is by no means absent—it’s simply very smooth and not at all annoying.

And really, there’s not much to say here (and that’s a good thing!). The treble is like the rest of the frequency range in that it lacks some refinement, some detail, and some technicalities. Put simply, it’s a bit hazy and maybe a bit grainy.

But overall, it’s much better than many of its competitors. The treble integrates nicely into the midrange, and there are no “problem areas.”

Good enough? You bet!

Where to Buy

 

Conclusion

Again, I love products that allow you to see the internals of the unit. CCA's got nothing to hide!
Again, I love products that allow you to see the internals of the unit. CCA’s got nothing to hide!

For those looking for a pair of IEMs under USD$50, the CRA+ receive a strong recommendation from me.

They aren’t the prettiest pair of IEMs on the market, but they are functional, comfortable, and most importantly, sound great for the price.

The sound signature may not be the “sweetest” for acoustic music, but it’s certainly no slouch. With modern electronically-produced music, the CRA+ truly shine and are sure to please most modern music listeners.

If you’re an average music consumer looking for a cheap, good-sounding pair of IEMs, look no further—the CRA+ may well be a new king on the budget market. And they sound a hell of a lot better than your generic store-bought headphones. Don’t waste your time with overpriced junk—check out the CRA+ instead.

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