If Crinacle’s IEM target curve does it for you and you don’t need TOTL technicalities, then the ZERO: RED does it all.
I wanted to hate these IEMs. It would have made writing this review so much easier – “cocky IEM maven designs cheap IEMs, and they SUCK!” How’s that for a headline? The article writes itself.
The Truthear x Crinacle ZERO: RED is the latest collab between IEM measurement internet celebrity Crinacle and Truthear. Their previous work was the Truthear ZERO which, like the RED, used a duo of dynamic drivers and was tuned to the Harman IEM target.
This latest incarnation is tuned to Crinacle’s own IEM target curve and has an upgraded crossover, reportedly to improve distortion performance.
Hype is common in this hobby, but delivering on promises is not.
Let’s dive into why I consider this pair of IEMs a budget benchmark and who should get them.
- Form: Vented shell universal IEMs
- Drivers: 2 dynamic: 1x bass + 1x mid/treble
- Crossover: passive electronic 2-way
- Sensitivity: 120dB/V (at 1kHz)
- Frequency Response: 20 – 20 000Hz (IEC60318-4, -3dB)
- Impedance: 10Ω ± 15% (@1kHz)
- Total Harmonic Distortion: ≤1% (at 1Khz)
- Cable Entry: 2 pin 0.78mm
Again with the anime girls! My better half is starting to think this reviewer gig is just a front for something stranger.
Long story short – the packaging is more than fine and wouldn’t be out of place for IEMs costing ten times more.
The box is within a glossy sleeve displaying the aforementioned cover art and a handy measurement graph complete with the basic tech specs. It’s not too garish, and I think does the job. After removing the sleeve, an understated box appears. I like it!
What I don’t like is that lid to the actual cardboard container is held firm by air suction, and there’s nowhere to grab it. You just have to let it slowly slide down and catch it once it comes loose. After opening it a few times, it gets easier.
Inside I’m greeted by the IEMs and a nice pleather case. Inside is the cable and an assortment of ear tips. The ZERO: RED also ships with a 10Ω impedance adaptor for a more bassy sound.
In the box
- Truthear x Crinacle ZERO: RED IEMs
- Silver-plated copper cable
- Storage bag
- 10Ω bass adaptor with 3.5mm connections
- Silicone ear tips (S/M/L) in narrow and wide bore variations
- M size foam ear tips
- Two sets of IEM nozzle filters
- QC certificate
- A cardboard stand for the paperwork box
The design and looks of the ZERO: RED get high marks from me.
The red faceplate looks really striking and gives the IEMs a premium look rarely found at this price point. It’s nice that the faceplates don’t catch fingerprints, so the ZERO: RED will probably look fresh for a long time.
As for the nozzles, they are pretty thick. Luckily they are well-designed and have a retaining lip for the tips to latch on. I’ve gone nozzle fishing with my Blessing 3 a few times, which wasn’t pleasant. My colleagues were quite puzzled when I stuck the ends of my Leatherman pliers into my ear.
The included cable is fine. It has four separate conductors, so a retermination to balanced is doable. It is a bit prone to tangling but doesn’t hold kinks and bends for a long time. The cable works fine and keeps out of the way of the listening experience.
I have no qualms about wearing the ZERO: RED for an entire 12h shift on a film set. There aren’t odd angles or edges that disagree with the shape of my pinna. Some of my more expensive IEMs sit better due to a better resin mold, but none are as light as the ZERO: RED.
The cable ear hooks are largely unnoticeable and work fine even with glasses. The input 3.5mm jack is angled and, in my opinion, works better than the straight options in a pocket environment. While the 10Ω adaptor is an interesting addition, I find the straight extension of the angled jack makes the overall setup a bit cumbersome.
Like the original Truthear ZERO, the ZERO: RED uses a 10mm dynamic driver for low frequencies and a smaller 7.8mm dynamic driver for the rest.
A passive electronic crossover ensures each driver gets only what it needs to perform at its best.
In a QA stream, Crinacle claimed that the crossover had been overhauled to improve THD performance across the audible range. I don’t think it has much to do with better electronic components rather than changing the frequency where the drivers cross over to each other.
Each of the nozzles on the ZERO: RED comes capped with a metal filter grate, preventing loose earwax from entering the shell. Two extra sets of filters are supplied – however, there are no instructions on how to replace them.
ZERO: RED Sound
The Truthear ZERO: RED are tuned to match Crinacle’s developed IEM preference target. Initially, I was skeptical because the Moondrop Blessing 3 were also very measurement based designed to match Crinacle’s tonal target, and in my opinion, tonality was their main weakness.
Upon first listening, I was surprised that the ZERO: RED sounded so good. There is plenty of bass, and the top end is extended, unlike on the Moondrop Aria. I would even say that tonality-wise, these IEMs are a benchmark and punch way above their price point.
I am a bit of a sucker for good dynamic driver IEMs, and these sure tickle my fancy. They’re not the comfort-food warm Aria. However, the low end retains the dynamism I rarely get from balanced armature implementations. Also, the crossover seems very well done, as I can’t detect any discrepancies between the two bands.
The ZERO: RED is mostly neutral.
There is, of course, the matters of personal preference, ear geometry, and ear tip choice, but to me, the ZERO: RED hit the tonality target. It is a great relief to use IEMs that require no EQ on my part finally.
Like Crinacle, I think some would prefer more low-end and will be inclined to use the included 10Ω adaptor. When put between the IEMs and the amp, it attenuates everything but the low end, making the overall sound signature markedly darker. It also bumps down the sensitivity, so it may be useful with more hissy sources.
ZERO: RED has decent technical performance, but it’s not the homerun that is their tonal balance.
I’m sure people will proclaim that the ZERO: RED proves that all pricy IEMs out there are a scam. I will admit that these IEMs will make me a harsher judge because the ZERO: RED have superb value for the price. Where more luxury IEMs take over is in technical performance.
While the ZERO: RED have a fairly wide headstage, the imaging could be more pronounced and precise. Even without the impedance adaptor, the low end can seem a tad hazy. The highs, while extended, don’t have the ethereal nature that a well-implemented electret or balanced armature driver can pull off.
Now, do these shortcomings make the ZERO: RED bad? Of course, not. I had to whip out my trusty Theiaudio Monarch MK1 to zero in on any objections I’m describing here. Oh, and the Monarch MK1 still needs EQ to be as neutral as the ZERO: RED.
There’s both extension and impact – a fun ride guaranteed.
I have very little qualms about the low end on the ZERO: RED. For bassy music, there’s enough extension so that nothing is missing. I especially enjoy the lack of balanced armature speedy yet featherweight bass.
The adaptor may be useful for proper bass freaks out there, but for me, it isn’t a worthy tradeoff. The loss of control doesn’t work well for me with most tracks. Stuff like old Led Zeppelin was one situation where the net gain was positive, as the original recording is sometimes a bit thin.
Ain’t nothing right if the mids aren’t right – that’s my motto for all audio gear.
With ZERO: RED, mids are again relatively neutral, so there’s little else to write home about. There’s not enough resolution to imbue them with the magic that higher-end IEMs often offer.
Luckily the bass doesn’t seep into mids, so they’re relatively clean. And there’s no trace of any kind of peakiness caused by resonance. The tuning makes the mids very recording-dependent, so be prepared for a surprise if people in the studio did it right.
No surprises in the treble. They are tuned well with enough extension to render all overtones.
With such good tuning, it’s tough to write about anything but the shortcomings of the ZERO: RED. The top end is very good and doesn’t cause ear fatigue, yet it falls short of higher-end offerings. Is it a problem with the price that Truthear asks for these IEMs? Heck, no!
Where to Buy
In case you missed it, I greatly enjoy the ZERO: RED!
As a reviewer, my job is to focus on the shortcomings of every product out there. If the device I’m testing is this good, there’s just not much to say. In this case, I think the ZERO: RED are a no-brainer purchase for anyone looking for an affordable neutral pair of IEMs.
To be extra sure, I recommend people to go to Crinacle’s measurement page and EQ their own IEMs to his target. For me, the ZERO: RED will stay in my quiver of IEMs so I can compare others to them. While not perfect in every way, they are superb where it really counts – the tonal balance.
I can tell that the ZERO: RED are made by people with tremendous industry experience. Both the presentation and build quality are top-notch for the affordable price. I’ve seen way pricier options fall flat where Truthear and Crinacle have shown excellence.