The CCA PLA13 are the company’s first IEMs with planar magnetic drivers. It’s quite possible the PLA13 are just rebranded PR1 from CCA’s sister company KZ. At just $65, the PLA13 are one of the cheapest planar IEMs you can get today, which is quite an achievement since just a few years ago you would have to spend hundreds of dollars for the same privilege.
In this review, I will be looking into the audio quality of the PLA13 and assessing whether it’s worth getting on to the planar hype train in this price range.
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The PLA13 have a somewhat typical CCA/KZ design with chunky earbuds made out of transparent resin. I personally do like this chunky shape as it makes it easy to grab when inserting or removing the earbuds and they don’t stick out much from your ears.
The earbuds are also very comfortable; the shape felt just right for my ears and they are also very light. The silicone ear tips are soft and create a great seal. I could wear them for hours if I wanted to.
The earbuds have a standard 2-pin connector for attaching the cable. The cable is of good-enough quality for this price. It’s light, flexible, and reasonably long with an L-shaped connector at the end. The bends for the ear hooks are a bit stiff but not uncomfortable. The cable does not retain any bends and microphonics are minimal. The Y-split is a bit too further down than I’d like with no way to adjust but aside from that I didn’t have any complaints with it.
You can get the earbuds with or without a microphone. There is a single button on the microphone cable for answering or ending calls and to play/pause. If you get the microphone cable, make sure your amp supports the TRRS connector but this shouldn’t be an issue with most USB DACs and adapters. I tested with a Shanling UA2 and Apple Lightning to 3.5mm adapter and had no issues, although the microphone would only work if the adapter also has an ADC or is passive.
Planar magnetic drivers are known for their superior performance. Passing the voice coil through the diaphragm and then suspending it within a magnetic field by having magnets on one or both sides causes the entire surface to vibrate uniformly removing any driver flex that can happen on dynamic drivers. It’s also very light, which makes it extremely quick. In effect, planars are to dynamic drivers what OLEDs are to LCDs. On paper, they are just better.
However, the basic design of the driver is one thing and how it’s built and tuned is another matter altogether. It is possible to have a really good-sounding dynamic driver and a shoddy planar. And that is more or less what we see with the CCA PLA13.
Whatever technical superiorities the PLA13 driver may have in theory, they are drowned out in CCA/KZ’s typical v-shaped tuning. The low end is bloated and often boomy and even a planar’s speed cannot make up for it. The mid-range is fine but is often drowned out by the lows. The treble is easily the worst part; it’s overly sharp and sibilant and can make some content absolutely unbearable.
More so than the tonality, it’s the overall sound that comes across as oddly compressed and muffled. Compared to my 7Hz Zero, an IEM with dynamic drivers that costs half as much, the difference is night and day. The Zero, aside from being masterfully tuned, also sounds open and airy with distinct instrument separation and vocal clarity. The PLA13 on the other hand sounds like listening to an FM radio broadcast of that same track with boosted bass and treble.
Anyone familiar with CCA and KZ’s tuning knows what this sounds like. It’s unfortunate that the brands cannot get over their obsession with this aggressive v-shaped tuning even in the modern IEM landscape. There is a way to do a v-shaped sound but this isn’t it. It’s just too aggressive and the equivalent of adding too much salt to bring the flavor.
Powering the PLA13 wasn’t an issue despite the planar drivers. You can easily drive them from any phone that still has a 3.5mm port or Apple’s 3.5mm adapters.
A quick word on the microphone: It’s not very good. It sounds awfully quiet and voices don’t sound that much better than most good Bluetooth earbuds.
The CCA PLA13 is a great product in theory. $65 for planar IEMs would have been unheard of not too long ago. Unfortunately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and in practice the PLA13 are disappointing. I would highly recommend the aforementioned 7Hz Zero if you like a more balanced tuning or the ever-popular Moondrop Aria if you want to hear what a good v-shaped tuning sounds like.