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Crosszone CZ-1 Review: Gentle Giant

It’s not often we get to go back in time and revisit a headphone that’s suddenly made itself known again to the audiophile community. But Crosszone’s CZ-1 is no ordinary headphone. 

What started off as a pet project for Taiwan-based Asia Optical Chairman Robert Lai, CZ-1 was actually designed and manufactured in Okaya, Japan, also known as the ‘Oriental Switzerland’ for its wealth of precision machinery manufacturers. 

Lai, a frequent traveller and headphone enthusiast, found himself fatigued by the ‘in-head’ sound of regular headphones, and also by the general discomfort of large over-ear headphones for longer listening sessions. In 2015, looking for a solution to these problems, he consulted with well-known audio engineers in Okaya, who at the time were working with Asia Optical on other products.

The result was CZ-1, and the company established to create it, Crosszone. 

For almost a decade, Crosszone’s CZ-1 has challenged convention, using three dynamic drivers in each oversized – and oddly-shaped – earcup to overcome the spatial localisation ‘challenge’ of conventional headphone designs. 

Modelling itself on how stereo speakers present sound in a treated room, CZ-1 became the first, and still the only, headphone to feature external sound localisation, the opposite effect of the internal sound localisation of single-driver stereo headphones. 

It does this using two interesting and related techniques, Acoustic Resonance Technology (ART) and Acoustic Delay Chambers (ADC) to deliver what Crosszone calls a natural sound field:    

That’s right folks, this is the first and only multi-driver headphone I’ve seen, even though I’m aware of one or two others that use multiple drivers for different purposes. 

As you’re probably already surmising, CZ-1 does not sound like normal headphones. In fact, on first listen, I had to mentally disengage from what I was expecting to hear from a normal headphone, and take time to process what I was hearing with CZ-1. 

It took some ‘brain burn-in’ to finally ‘get’ what CZ-1 was doing, and to settle into how it was presenting familiar music in a whole new way, and I’m excited to share that journey with you in this review. But first, let’s take a closer look at CZ-1, at least the parts that still resemble a regular headphone. 

Design and fit

I usually start a headphone review with packaging and accessories, but since I was sent a sample CZ-1 in a nondescript box for easier shipping there’s not much to show.

I can tell you the original display box is big and heavy, reminiscent of the impressive velour-lined display box for Sennheiser’s HD-800. Along with the headphones, Crosszone includes two accessory cables: a 3.5m cable for AV systems, complete with a ¼” single-ended plug, and a shorter 1.5m cable for portable systems with a 3.5mm stereo plug. By special request, they also sent me a newer 1.5m cable fitted with a 4.4mm balanced plug, necessary for more driving power from portable sources. 

These are all 8-core twisted structure pure OFC copper cables designed for minimum distortion, although I must say they look and feel quite basic compared to some of the fancy IEM cables I’ve been reviewing of late. Interestingly, the dual recessed 3.5mm connectors on the headphone side are channel agnostic, meaning you can plug them into either side. That’s because CZ-1 processes stereo channel information in its own special way, making channel-specific connections redundant.

In case you need it, Crosszone also supplies a written manual that covers all of these connection quirks, and also gives some guidance on how to best wear and maintain the headphones. Because of their unusual triangular earcups, the suggested wearing position is with the cups pushed as far forward on the ears as possible (towards your nose), to maximise the sound localisation effect.   

Speaking of which, the earcups are probably the first and most obvious difference between CZ-1 and other headphones. They are very large, covering not just the ears but also part of your cheeks and jaw, effectively creating large acoustic chambers for the sound to properly propagate. 

If you look inside the cups, you’ll see two of the three drivers partly exposed behind carefully-imprinted grilles, with the third, the 40mm cross-channel driver, hidden behind the fabric lining. The odd-looking circular lever on the outside of each cup is actually the external housing of the physical tube that delays the sound from the cross-channel driver. Very cool indeed.   

Along with the earcups, the headphones themselves are very large, and heavy, weighting in at just over 500g. The headband is made of die-cast magnesium, which is both robust and lightweight, as are the torsion-spring hinges that reduce lateral pressure on the head. It looks comically small at first, but push it outward and flat magnesium rods cleverly extend outward in a smooth motion to adjust to the size of your head.   

Along with generous padding on the headband, which is shaped to reduce any vertical pressure on the topmost part of the head when worn, these are easily the most comfortable-feeling headphones I’ve had the pleasure of using, in the same class as Meze’s Elite and Sennheiser’s HD800 for all-day comfort, despite the weight. 

Both earcups are made from a premium-feeling plastic material, with faux leatherette texture on the outer cups. The earcups don’t swivel completely, but have enough range in their motion to conform to my head shape. They are rigid, with no signs of creaking or flex even when shaken. The earcup pads are made from a dense but very pliable foam material, with a soft velour covering that feels luxurious on the skin.

I can understand the use of plastic – albeit high-quality plastic – in the earcup construction, as metal would have been too heavy and wood too expensive and less robust. Overall, despite their size and unusual looks, these are some of the best-made headphones I’ve seen, built with a Japanese flair precision and careful attention to detail.

Continue to sound impressions…

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Guy Lerner

Guy Lerner

An avid photographer and writer 'in real life', Guy's passion for music and technology created the perfect storm for his love of portable audio. When he's not playing with the latest and greatest head-fi gear, he prefers to spend time away from the hobby with his two (almost) grown kids and wife in the breathtaking city of Cape Town, and traveling around his native South Africa.

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