Country of Origin
Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref as USB bridge/SD transport, Jay's Audio CDT2 MkII & DAC2-SE
Headphone amplifiers: Bakoon AMP-13R, Nagra Classic, COS Engineering H1, Kinki Studio THR-1, SPEC RSA-777 EX [on review]
Headphones: HifiMan Susvara, Final D8000 & Sonorous X, Raal Requisite SR1a, Meze Neo Classic
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra, Puritan Audio Labs PSM156
Review component retail: €900 [incl. 21% VAT]
Spring-loaded hinges join lateral swivels to accomomdate all head shapes and sizes. Each ear cup's arm extends separately out of the head band to track narrow and wide skulls. CZ-1 at left, XZ-10 at right.
+ 1. It's shorthand for a party's invite, of "bring a friend". But if you're a lonely ear invited to a headfi party, you'll always just come by yourself. And we're not talking after you've done a bloody Van Gogh.
No, it's about each ear only hearing one channel in complete isolation.
If you never considered that fact's inherent unnaturalness, look at a stereo speaker setup. Your left ear hears both speakers. So does the right. It's a proper + 1 deal. The left ear hears the right speaker a fraction of a millisecond later than the left. That and the shadow of your head create minimal attenuation. With a small delay and signal cut, each ear hears what the other one does. The result is the familiar stereo illusion.
To open up the typical headphone experience and expand it outward from feeling locked inside the center of your skull, certain headphone amps use electronic crossfeed to bleed back a predetermined amount into the opposite channel. This can be done in the analog domain but today is more commonly implemented by DSP. But Crosszone of Japan and their Taiwanese subcontractors do it passively in the mechanical/acoustic domains – inside their headphone so no special electronics are required. The flip side is, you can't turn the effect off. It's literally built in.
Crosszone's CZ-10 is a sealed dynamic two-way design with 23mm tweeter and 35mm mid/woofer plus second 35mm driver for the counter signal. That 'ghost' driver's output routes through the pipe which is visible in the outer layer of the housing. Routing the opposite channel's signal through sound-absorbent materials along a precisely determined length creates the intended delay and cut before it joins the main chamber. All three drivers use zero electrical filter parts, are beryllium-coated and encased in brass for vibration control. They're also shielded from dust with a fine silk cover from Crosszone's Okaya City. That's in the Nagano Prefecture as an area famed for its silk-spinning industry. Crosszone prefer silk to synthetic alternatives also sonically.
Compare their CZ-1 and CZ-10 models to see that whilst sharing identical 20Hz-40kHz bandwidth and 75Ω impedance, they differ in sensitivity, weight and woofer Ø. The CZ-10 on review is the firm's second model. It very likely incorporates feedback gathered on the CZ-1. Consequently, sensitivity grew by two decibels to 99dB, even more ideal for mobile users. Far more decisively, size shrunk and weight lowered, the latter by a very significant 100g to now 385g. Lastly, the two 40mm mid/woofers lost 5mm. The CZ-10's resultant "brighter sound tuning" suggests that listeners used to conventional headphones had found the CZ-1's tonal balance a bit dark. Either model comes with two cable harnesses. One is a 1.5m length terminated 3.5mm for walkabout use, the other a 3.5m leash with 6.3mm plug for stationary home listening.
The models also share the rigid die-cast magnesium head band whose built-in torsion springs are tuned for a comfortable fit, with low pressure that's constant regardless of size adjustments. A side effect of the 4/ea. conductors per cable leg is that the two ends of the harness are interchangeable so not marked left or right. Had you thought of nothing new under the headphone sun, you didn't count on the land of the rising sun for a novel concept which Crosszone claim creates a more natural external sound field. Simple logic predicts that their intended target audience must be all those who find traditional headfi with its sound inside the head unnatural, thus of little to no appeal. It's the silent 'not-me' movement. Of course an entire generation also grew up thinking ear buds and mono Bluetooth speakers to be the new gold standard. They might need exposure to proper stereo speaker imaging first before fully appreciating how Crosszone do things differently.
In the end, only listening will tell us how close Crosszone's unique approach comes to a conventional speaker system's general imaging perspective. Thankfully Yoshi Hontani, proprietor of MuSon Project Ltd, a global distributor of specialty Japanese hifi, was happy to make a pair available. My wife would represent that audience which dislikes the typical headphone experience. I'd represent someone who recognizes it as different from speaker listening and the live experience but finds it just as persuasive.
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