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Review - Crosszone CZ-10

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TLDR version on YouTube: TDLR - Crosszone CZ-10

The Crosszone CZ-10 have been sent to me by Pickupsound, the Spanish distributor for the the brand, for me to try them out and to share my opinions in this review.

There have been no requests or comments made by Pickupsound and I will, as always, be as unbiased in my review as possible.

You can find the Crosszone CZ-10 via Pickupsound.es here: https://www.pickupsound.es/auriculares/high-end/crosszone-cz-10/

As always, this is a non-affiliate link, meaning I receive nothing in exchange for any click or purchases made via the link.

To avoid being repetitive in my reviews, you can find all the info about how I create the reviews, equipment used, how I receive the products and how to interpret my reviews by visiting: About my reviews

Intro…

I first came across Crosszone a couple of years ago at High End Munich (if they were there last year, I missed them). They had a small little stand hidden away in one of the speaker sections, quite a distance from other brands (except for Hifiman, who was also in the same section for some reason).

I remember they had 3 models on show, at least I think it was three, and the stand was deserted. I briefly tried the models and thought they sounded rather good (for show conditions in a speaker section). They had some basic information about them being a Japanese brand and how they used a special technology and chambers to achieve a more spacial presentation.

Again, I thought they were both interesting and sounded rather good, so I picked up a business card and proceeded to forget about them completely.

Then, a month or so ago, I received an email from Pickupsound asking if I would be interested in trying out and reviewing the CZ-10. I was pleasantly surprised, first, because I suddenly remembered Crosszone and my curiosity for them, and second,  because I had no idea who Pickupsound were.

I was of course interested in trying out the headphones, so I said yes, and then proceeded to check out the website pickupsound.es. From surfing around their site, I found that  they seem to be a small team of people with a passion for music and quite a nice selection of things that you don’t usually find in a lot of places. Their selection of speakers and headphones may not be huge but they are definitely interesting. I was also surprised to find out they are located in Jerez, somewhere that I am close to on many occasions, due to a lot of projects (for my real job) happening in Cadiz. If I had known this in the past, I would probably have made a couple of trips there.

Anyway, I digress, back to the reason of this review, Crosszone, a brand of headphones that you may not have come across but is certainly worth checking out, so let me tell you why I think they are interesting…


Presentation…

I really can’t go too deep into the presentation and packaging of  these headphones as I have received a demo set and am not the first person to open them.

The headphones are in a silk lined black box that simply states Crosszone in gold across the top. This box comes inside a black cardboard sleeve that shows an image of the headphones on the front, along with make and model, with some very basic, and I mean very, on the back. One of the things that struck me is that Crosszone is located in Hong Kong yet the headphones are made in Japan, I am much more used to seeing that the other way around.

As far as accessories, all I received was the cable and a small owners manual. I have no idea if that is what is included with the purchase or not but it is certainly enough to make the headphones play music.

One thing to note is that the cable is a 3.5mm TRS to dual 3.5mm TRRS connectors and it also uses a specific pinout, which means that it doesn’t matter which side the cables are plugged in but due to the way the sound is fed to both cups (more on that in a moment), it does mean that it will be more difficult to find aftermarket cables, if that is something you are interested in.


Build and aesthetics…

The aesthetics of the CZ-10 shout 80’s and 90’s Japan at me. I don’t know why but I am sure that if they were on a table with a bunch of other headphones, these would be the ones I guessed as being Japanese.

By this I mean that they are a very simple “function over form” design, that are in plain black except for a gold bar that runs across the outside of the cup and a few other gold highlights such as the letters.

The build also shouts “Japan”, in a way that they seem to be the sort of headphone that you could use daily for many many years and never have to worry about anything other than swapping the pads at some point. 

They adjust in just about any direction you can think of, yet not really in an expected way. The metal band slides out of the headband sort of horizontally, rather than from the bottom, making you think it would make them wider, but it doesn’t, it adjusts them in a way that just feels totally natural on your head (or on mine at least). The cups swivel, fold in slightly and also extend out on a spring loaded mechanism that has just the right amount of clamp force to guarantee a solid seal but never feel cramped.

The pads are a slight triangular shape, in perforated fabric, that surround my ears well and result in, together with the general build, one of the most comfortable over ear headphones to wear for me personally.


Sound…

All tracks mentioned are clickable links that allow you to open the reference track in the streaming service of your choice (YouTube, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, etc.)

As I mentioned in the intro, Crosszone use a specific design and placement of the drivers to create what they refer to as “External Sound Localisation” effect. They state that “the CZ-10 uses Acoustic Resonance Technology (ART) and “Acoustic Delay Chambers (ADC) to achieve this natural and spatial sound field. It simulates the experience and sound pathway listening with stereo speakers”.

And I have to say that it works. And it works well. I think that the CZ-10 offers the most spacious soundstage that I have heard from any closed back headphone. They use a 3 driver set up, where 1 driver is used for low frequencies, a second driver is used for high frequencies and the third driver is used to bring in sound from the other channel (so right channel in the left ear cup and vice versa), using cross feed to imitate that of speakers. They also use a secondary route to feed in the sound from the back of the high frequency driver.

All of this sounds confusing, and I am sure it is much more than that from a design point of view, but the outcome is a very open and spacious soundstage and presentation that has no right to be coming from a closed back set of headphones.

As far as the general sound of the CZ-10, they are more focused on being an enjoyable and musical listen than something that focuses on minute details. By that I don’t mean that they are not detailed, nor that they are overly warm (which is often tied to “fun”), but they are not something that make you sit up and take notes, they are something that make you sit back and enjoy.

Now, getting into the actual sound signature and starting with my obligatory “Chameleon” test in the subbass, there is not a huge amount of rumble in these lower ranges. By this I don’t mean that subbass is totally absent, but there is no boost in these ranges. There is a nice extension down into the lower ranges but these are balanced in a way that makes them existent but not prominent. For those who are looking for a boosted low range, then the CZ-10 does not provide that kind of response.

If we focus on the midbass range, we do find a similar story, although I would say that there is more of a clean bump in the lower midbass that make things sound a little tighter, more punchy than rumbly in the low end. An example of this would be “No Sanctuary Here”, where the midbass is more of a focus than those lower subbass rumbles. “Sun Is Shining”, to pick another electronic track that places more focus on the midbass, shows a nice and punchy beat but it is not the center of attention. Adding a little boost (for example with the XBass on iFi) does make this take a step forwards and benefits the CZ-10 for things like EDM.

My midbass fatigue test with the low end reverb of the guitar in “Crazy” shows that these headphones do a much better job with acoustic and instrument based tracks than electronic productions. Here I found the low end to be nicely balanced, with that low end reverb being pretty noticeable but not overpowering.

Whole Lotta Love” is another example of how the low end works well for things that don’t need a lot of rumble and presence while not being anemic. As the bass guitar kicks in during the intro, there is plenty of weight and body to it, yet it is neither overpowering nor lost in the mix as other instruments kick in.

If we turn towards vocals and my preferred genres of simple acoustic and vocal presentations, this is where I find the CZ-10 to excel. “Dreamin’” has a wonderfully smooth presence to the vocals of Raelee Nicole while the instruments surround her. “Gimme Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman has the same smooth and balanced presence, with a very nice sense of space around her voice.

Swapping over to male vocals, the smoothness is still a major factor in things like “These Bones”, where the vocals may not reach quite as deep as on other sets, or rather don’t give the impression of reaching as deep, yet they balance nicely between the different voices. Leonard Cohen in “Happens to the Heart” brings me to the same conclusion, where his voice does not seem to be as deep yet has a smoothness and spaciousness to it that works pretty well. What I did find was that the breathing that is heard on this track seems to be focused more on the right channel than on other sets, maybe due to the cross feed that is implemented.

I have to say that I found that, while I find male vocals pleasant, female vocals are what really draw me in to these headphones. I found myself listening to a lot of my favourite acoustic tracks and always feeling that female vocals excelled over male vocals in similar compositions. Obviously it is going to depend on the actual singer but in general, that is the feeling that I get from the CZ-10.

As we move into the upper mids, there is a bit of extra presence that moves vocals forwards, along with things like pianos etc. This can become a bit harsh with certain tracks that are already on the harsh side in their recording, such as “Don’t YouWorry Child” by Beth. In this case the vocals are on the harsh side, as is the piano on occasions, but that is the nature of this recording and I wouldn’t say that the CZ-10 make it overly aggressive in comparison to so many other sets.

Sibilance is kept in check rather well in “Code Cool”, maybe around a -2 in my non scientific scale of -12 to +12, but this is aided by the fact that the treble of the CZ-10 does roll of rather early, making for quite a smooth top end. It is actually quite an experience as there really isnt’t any airyness to the treble, yet the spacial presentation of the headphones in general avoid things sounding dull and closed in.

Another strange thing I found with the CZ-10 is that they are not really suited to binaural recordings. It is not that they sound bad, it is just that things seem to lose the clear space that is there on tracks like “La Luna” on traditional designs. I again think that it is the cross feed and other technology in the CZ-10 that make normal stereo tracks sound open and with plenty of space, that detracts from the placement of specific sources in binaural recordings, which I guess is to be expected.

Measurements…

Ok, so you may (or may not) have noticed that I didn’t do my usual procedure of dropping in the graph of the headphones before talking about sound. I normally post the graph first and then move on to my subjective opinions, which may or may not align with the graph but they are usually in the same ball park. 

In this case, I didn’t do that because, when I measured the CZ-10, I thought I was doing something wrong and spent quite a bit of time playing around with measurements because they really don’t reflect what I am hearing, or at least not to the extent that the measurements show.

Here are some graphs to show you what I mean and then I will explain.

First, here is the CZ-10 feeding just the right channel while measuring the right channel:

Ok, now here is the CZ-10 feeding the left channel while measuring the right channel (in comparison to the right channel being fed):

And here is the CZ-10 with both left and right channels being fed while measuring the right channel:

To put all of it into perspective, I have included the HD6XX as a known reference.

Ok, so, if we just look at the graphs of the CZ-10, I would say that there is a disconnect between the subbass and midbass, with a bump in the lower midbass, then a bit of an uneven midrange, leading to quite a boosted 2.5kHz peak and a large lack of treble. 

To some extent, all of that is true but not to the extent that I would guess seeing it on paper. My guess at a response, just by looking at graphs, would be a a rather harsh sound which is lacking in treble. Yet, when listening to these headphones, I find things to be much smoother and balanced than I would expect.

I am not going to repeat myself, as I already gave my subjective opinions above, but to my ears, there is quite a gap between what I see on paper and what I experience during listening. I do not find them to be harsh overall (with some tracks yes, but those tracks are harsh in the recordings), I do not find them to be disconnected between subbass and midbass, yes there is more of a presence in midbass than subbass but not really a disconnect. I do find the treble to roll off but I don’t find them overly dark.

Basically what I am saying is that, although I am not arguing with the graph, a measurement I a measurement (which can be more or less accurate based on the rig of course), but I think that that the crossover and ways of routing sound that Crosszone are using in these headphones make the ear, or rather the brain, interpret the sound in a different way than just a normal stereo set of headphones.


Conclusion…

The Crosszone CZ-10 have some things going on that make them an amazing set of headphones, depending on what you are looking for. I can’t say they are my pick for electronically produced music, or things that have a focus on the subbass and I also don’t find that they do binaural recordings justice.

However, for smooth acoustic recordings, especially those with female vocals, I find them to be a very very pleasurable experience. There is a spaciousness and smoothness to the vocals and acoustic stringed instruments that make them a set of headphones that I can sit back and listen to for hours, without feeling tired at all.

The presentation really does remind me of sitting in front of a set of nicely placed HiFi speakers and just relaxing. In fact, I think that would be a good way of explaining the CZ-10, they are not a set of studio monitors, they are not a 2.1 with a thumping sub, they are not a live line array, they are nice set of HiFi speakers that are set up just right to give you that enjoyable imaging and space, with a slight emphasis on the vocals. Something that I truly enjoy.


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