A review of the ATH-CKS55

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope your day was joyous and that you got to spend it with your family. I’ll try to do something different for a change. Instead of just features and interviews on the local apparel and music scene, I’ll try to construct my own reviews for the different gadgets and technology that I receive over the years. Let’s start!

Audio-Technica ATH-CKS55

A pair of IEM’s (In-ear Monitors) that are for the music lover who expects a defined bass sound while not sacrificing over-all sound quality. I got these pair of earphones just recently. Initially, I wanted headphones. But then I was looking at the perks that earphones had. They’re portable. They don’t attract too much attention while still maintaining good sound quality. I felt that, as a student, earphones were the way to go. I commute to and from school everyday, so I guess these were the better choice. Might look into getting headphones soon, as people swear that the increased sound quality is worth it. We’ll see!

It was actually an early Christmas present, paid for by each of my 3 sisters. I got these babies from SM’s Soundroom. Funny enough, it’s hard to find good headphones/earphones in Cebu, as the amount of dealers stocking the items are limited.

Audio-Technica as a brand is well known and has been branded as the most trusted headphones brand in Japan. I have several friends who tell me their stuff really is bang for the buck. They were not wrong! Let’s check out some specifications and the contents before we go to the review proper.

ATH-CKS55

Drivers – 12.5mm

Frequency Response – 5~24,000 Hz

Output Sound Pressure Level – 105 dB

Maximum Input Power – 100 mW

Impedance – 16 ohms

Cord Length – 1.2 m

Weight – 6 g

Accessories – Soft pouch, earpieces (S, M, L, XL)

So, we’ve got the specifics covered. Just so I don’t bore you with walls of text, here are some pictures of the said earphones with the respective content.

This is the new incarnation of the older model ATH-CKS50 and it’s the younger brother of the ATH-CKS70 and ATH-CKS77. It comes in 2 colors, black/red and white/grey. I wanted it in white and grey, but then I realized that the black and red combination would be better in the long run! White tends to soil and discolor as time passes. The black and red combination is also sort of reminiscent of Beats, so it’s a bit on the cool factor as well. Partly also because this was the last pair in black and red, so I had to get it!

Like I mentioned earlier, this was a Christmas present from my 3 sisters. It wasn’t cheap! Soundroom at SM Cebu has some good headphones and earphones for anyone who would like to check them out! The SRP in the Philippines for this one was P 2,799.00. So for those who would like to get the hi-fi earphones and headphones, start saving up!

Right out of the box! The straightforward presentation of the earphones and all the details in the back were a welcome sight. In white. Just very sleek. Professional looking and a good job by Audio-Technica. Once I opened it, there was a soft carrying pouch that is somewhat useful, but I would have liked if it was hard and had a magnet enclosure like Sennheiser carrying pouches. There are 4 plastic eartips that come in S, M, L, XL. No foam tips, but these plastic tips will do just fine. No flanged ones either. Just straight up regular tips.

We go to the presentation of the ATH-CKS55 itself! Like I said earlier, the black and red combination reminds me a bit of the colors used in Beats by Dr. Dre, so it was sort of an added bad-ass bonus!  Although the white ones were pretty sleek too, and reminded me of the original iPod earphones. The jack is 3.5 mm, so it’s built for most MP3 players and iPods. It’s gold colored and in the L shape. It’s also much smaller than the usual bulky and thick L-shaped jacks we see, which is really good! The cord is red and it seems to be thick enough to take some damage. A simple black Y-splitter that is durable, so that is good too. The actual earphones don’t look conventional, as based by the description, it has another air chamber and acoustic reactor, which is responsible for the overwhelming and booming bass sound. It takes some time to get used to, as it is definitely larger and quirkier than your usual IEM’s.  The angle on it actually seems weird at first, but it actually makes noise isolation much better. It’s a good combination of black and red. Once you actually get to wearing it though, the sleek looking and feeling Audio-Technica logo on the outside definitely wins points in style.

I’ll be borrowing the review format of one of Head-fi.org‘s IEM reviewers, who goes by the moniker of ljokerl. He’s reviewed over 200 earphones, all in different price ranges, so hats off to him! Check it out here. But since I’m not as much of an audiophile as he is, I’ll be using my own ears and experience for this review. Will be rating it from 1 to 10 and we’ll see how it goes. No flaming!

Accessories: How useful and complete the bundled set of tips & accessories is. This depends not only on the quantity and quality of the accessories but also on how well they are suited for that particular IEM.

– Well, the ATH-CKS55 comes with a soft pouch and 4 eartips that come in S, M, L and XL. It seems a bit lacking, as a sound clip and a cleaning tool could have been nice as additional accessories. More eartips (particularly foam and flange) could have also been a nice addition. But hey, these earphones aren’t really considered as top-tier, so it’s alright. I’m giving this one a 7.5/10.

Build Quality: How good the initial assembly of the IEM is. Depends choice of materials, structural design, and overall feel. Also includes any common observations on the longevity of the earphones.

– Since I don’t have any benchmarks aside from my sort of hi-fi earphones, the Sennheiser CX-500, I’ll just try to compare these two and of the other generic earphones in terms of build quality. It seems pretty durable, as the actual earphones themselves seem like they’ll last. The cord isn’t flimsy either. Over-all, it looks and feels like these earphones will last for a pretty long time with good care and use. Let’s see how long it lasts! But anyway, initial feel makes me give this an 8.5/10.

Isolation: The passive reduction in ambient noise provided by the IEM. All IEMs isolate external noise by virtue of sealed ear coupling, but some are better than others. The better-isolating IEMs are capable of providing is upwards of 30db of attenuation, an 8-fold reduction in ambient noise volume (enough to reduce the volume of an average vacuum cleaner to a whisper).

– Since these earphones are angled, it gives a better seal. Noise isolation is good, and when the music plays at 50-60%, I can’t hear casual chatter. Although other kinds of noises, like that of an airplane or of a karaoke machine would be heard. But that’s alright, I’m kind of glad that these earphones don’t block out noise entirely, but they do a pretty good job. Also, at 50-60% the music is blaring when you’re listening, but the people around you can’t hear a thing. It’s pretty good, so I give it an 8.5/10.

Microphonics: Susceptibility to cable noise, a common malady affecting in-ear earphones. Mitigating factors such as the inclusion of a shirt clip or cable cinch and the ease of wearing the IEMs over-the-ear are taken into account.

– Microphonics. A big word. But it’s actually pretty easy to explain. It’s just the noise you hear when the cable moves around. I’ve got a shirt clip that helps me stop the cable noise, but when it does happen, it happens. It’s common for all IEM’s. It’s not over-the-ear too, but for the most part, cable noise is to a minimum. Giving this a 7.5/10.

Comfort: How easy the earphone is to wear for long stretched of time. Note that this is very tip-dependent, although general trends still apply. The ease of insertion/removal of the IEM is also taken into account.

– The description above is right. This is very tip-dependent. You see, when you wear the right tips, it creates a better air seal, thus making the bass seem boomier and the sound fuller. But in terms of comfort, these earphones are huge! Not the usual in-ear that you find with your friends and family. It takes some getting used to with the angled tip and the huge-ass second chamber, but it’s fine because for the extra size, it also gives out better sound. I give this a 7.5/10.

Sound: Possibly the most subjective of the categories, the sound rating is an evaluation of the relative merits of the sound signature, scaled to the best earphone I have heard.

– This is very subjective. I am no means an audiophile, and I have yet to evaluate the countess earphones, headphones and amplifiers out there. But I do trust my ears, and I will try to give an accurate description. We’ll break it down into bass, mid and treble. For the uninitiated, the bass is the low sound, generally the thumping bass sound that accompanies the mids and treble. The mids are the middle sound, which can cross into a bass or treble sound, depending on how it is focused upon. The treble is the top sound, usually heard with the vocals. The box describes the ATH-CKS55 as having an advanced deep and punchy bass sound. It is correct in all aspects. I’ve been downloading a lot of electronica, rap and hip-hop to see whether the bass can take the lowest frequencies. The ATH-CKS55 does a great job. The bass is deep and punchy, but still refined. Some earphones tend to be messy when the lower frequencies come, but the ATH-CKS55 handles it like a boss! I have yet to hear any song that the ATH-CKS55’s bass can’t handle. Bassheads will be happy with this one! The mids. Let’s see. There is a clarity to it that doesn’t make it sound forward or recessed, but just enough that it complements the bass and the treble nicely. I like to think of the mids as the fullness of the sound, that it doesn’t sound too thin or too harsh. No complaint with the mids. Lastly, the treble. Vocals are sparkling clean and they aren’t too trebly. I tried playing some classical music and simple piano-vocalist arrangements, and the treble is pretty good. But it seemed a tad bit relaxed, trying to maintain smoothness and not trying to sound harsh.

Overall, the sound profile on this one is pretty balanced with a bit of a tilt when it comes to the bass. I’m liking this offering from Audio-Technica, as it is definitely a fun IEM. It’s not a monitoring earphone, but it is definitely a pleasure to listen to for hours on end! I’m not too well-versed when it comes to soundstage and the other factors, but for me, the ATH-CKS55 definitely has a soundstage. Music sounds full, and it really feels like I’m in the middle of a club or concert ground when I listen to it. It can definitely handle songs that require minute details, and it does a pretty good job. I’m really happy with the sound profile on this one. Hopefully I can give a listen to some Sennheiser’s or some Grado’s and see how they differ. But for now, I’m giving sound a resounding 9/10.

Value: How all of the earphone’s flaws and merits compare to the competition at and above its price point.

– Well, there are a lot of other earphones in this range, but it’s hard to come by locally. I’m guessing that the other competitors would be Soundmagic, Skullcandy, Sennheiser, Monster, Bose and other brands as well. I got this for PHP 2,799.00 from Soundroom SM Cebu, and let me tell you, this offering from Audio-Technica definitely makes me agree that this brand is bang for the buck. It’s by no means cheap, but it is considered relatively cheap when talking about tiers in the US. But for me, as an entry-level IEM, this one is pretty darn good. Balanced sound with a bit of a tilt to the bass, nice colors and presentation, durable, basic accessories, this one is an easy rating of 8.5/10.

Well, there we have it. An amateur review, but this has been insightful for me, and I hope for you as well. I’m looking to enjoy sound and sound devices, and maybe I’ll do more reviews in the future. We keep learning and we get to enjoy our music as well. This 2,000+ word article will really help me be more critical on benchmarks and future reviews. I hope when you buy a pair of earphones or headphones, or any gadget in particular, review your facts and compare it with other brands and offerings, so you come out happy with your purchase. I know I am. Audio-Technica has brought out the audiophile in me. Listening to music has never been such a pleasure, and these earphone will definitely amplify my experience.

Until next time, Cheers!

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16 thoughts on “A review of the ATH-CKS55

  1. hello!

    first of all, thanks for the review…

    judging by your review, it seems this particular earphone sounds almost the same as my ATH-CKS50, which i bought mid-2011…

    they both have good isolation, great bass, and crisp sound..

    i got mine for, iirc, around 3.5k… quite pricey, considering it’s possibly the last one in stock at Power Mac – SM North EDSA..

    i’m happy you’re enjoying your earphones, as much as i’m enjoying mine… you may opt to get an amp to further improve your listening experience..

    1. I think 3.5k was an alright price! I was looking at the last stock of the ATH-CKS50 in my shop, and it was 4k! But yeah, good isolation, thumping bass and a crisp sound. Spot on! Glad to know we’re both enjoying our earphones! But I’d really love to purchase some headphones and get to see the difference. We’ll see. Maybe when I can scrounge up some cash and do another review. Cheers!

  2. Read your review and decided to buy a pair of them £27 off an eBay shop get them tomorrow can’t wait now.

    1. that seems to be a steal! haven’t tested the ath-cks 77’s but they said it’s worth shelling out a bit more. but I hope you find happiness with the 55’s! if you’re upgrading from the regular apple earphones, your ears will be in for a treat! :)

      1. Paid for the 55s now someone said they were a good buy!!! I’m sure their what I need thanks for the review

      2. I am so impressed with these so glad I came across your review Michael must spread the word on audio technica.

  3. Thanks for the review, man. Best review out there for this model of earphones. Going down to buy them at a local store tomorrow.

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