Audio-Technica and its rubber C-Tips
Audio-Technica hailing from Japan is one of the leading headphone manufacturers in the world. They compete along with the 3 big names from Germany – Sennheiser, AKG and Beyerdynamic.
They have a rich tradition in the in-ear monitor (IEM) space in addition to their traditional headphone business. They have recently released a new range of IEMs and headphones called Sonic Fuel. The Sonic Fuel series is designed for people who like to listen to their own music while working out. One of the major complaints many people who work out face is that earphones keep falling out. To counter this, Audio-Technica has introduced a new design which incorporates a removable rubber C tip which promises to hold the earphones securely even during vigorous movement.
To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled with the rubber C tips but thankfully they are removable. Even without the tips the IEMS were pretty comfy and stayed in my ears during walks. There are 3 IEMs in the CKX series – ATH-CKX9iS, ATH-CKX7iS and ATH-CKX5iS. The middle model – ATH-CKX7iS is under review. The ‘iS’ moniker in the name is for a built-in volume control and microphone. All three IEMs are available without a mic and volume control also for a lower price.
Packaging and Specs
|Driver diameter||8 mm|
|Frequency Response||10-24,000 Hz|
|Maximum input power||40 mW|
|Weight||10g (without cord)|
|Cable||1.2 m (Y type)|
|Connector||3.5mm gold plated stereo 4 pin mini-plug, L -type|
|Accessories included||Carrying pouch, Comply™ foam ear tip (M), silicone eartips (XS/S/M/L), C-tips (S/M/L)|
|Microphone sensitivity||-44 dB (0 dB=1 V/Pa, 1 kHz|
|Microphone (Frequency Response)||<100 – 10,000 Hz|
|Microphone (Polar Pattern)||Omnidirectional|
A comply ear tip is a big bonus as few earphones offer them but 1 ear-tip lasts a month or two with regular use and they cost a decent amount to replace. However, it is still a plus point.
Other than that you get a built-in volume control that works with all devices and a microphone.
The ATH-CKX7iS are built of glossy plastic which I didn’t care too much for but otherwise, they seem sturdy enough. The cable is a flat cable which I frankly love! Flat cables are tangle free and cause the least micro-phonics (rustling sounds when the cable rubs against your shirt.). Honestly, I would be most happy if all earphones came with flat cables!
The volume control works with all devices. Most built-in volume controls found on other earphones work only with Apple devices The microphone is also decent and worked perfectly on my android phone. No complaints on voice quality.
The jack is an angled jack which generally is most resistant to stress, but it can cause issues when used with certain devices which have a non-standard 3.5mm socket placement. However, I prefer this type of jack.
The nozzles of the ATH-CKX7iS are adjustable which makes it easier to find a perfect fit. I generally have fit issues with earphones, but I had no problems using these earphones. Isolation is excellent due to the deep insertion of the ear tips. However, it is reasonably comfortable. I completed the review with Silicon tips since the Comply tips don’t last very long.
I tested the ATH-CKX7iS via my mobile phone and the Sansa Fuze. I also used the Creative Sound Blaster Omni sound card via my laptop.
The ATH-CKX7iS are reasonably easy to drive with any of the sources.
Bass was the clear weak point of these earphones. While it had a reasonable punch it was mostly midbass. There was a steep roll off after the midbass and the sub bass was clearly lacking. This was evident enough for most of the soundtracks I used.
Mids were very nice and without a heavy bass, the mids were very clear, smooth and reasonably detailed to boot.
Treble was very well implemented. It was smooth and extended but lacked any bite or sharpness. On my sibilance test track it smoothened out the sibilance and general harshness which was good but detailing was still very good. Those who like an in your face treble need to look elsewhere.
Soundstage is where the ATH-CKX7iS truly shines. It’s very wide for an IEM and portrays a good sense of space. Something which few IEMs offer.
Due to the lack of sub bass, action movies were a bit of a letdown but general movie watching was very pleasant as the overall sound is quite smooth and neutral. Even games were fine as the wide soundstage and excellent vocals helped. But one does feel a little put off when massive explosions lack that depth than most other earphones at a lower price point give.
One important point I need to make is that the sound is very smooth and so listen fatigue is reduced. This is important for people who work out (the target group for this earphone). So people can work out for extended periods without suffering from listening fatigue.
The ATH-CKX7iS earphone is a very decent performer but the lack of bass at this price point does detract from the overall feel of the earphone. Other than that, the ATH-CKX7iS has very good build quality, good mid-range, good treble and an excellent soundstage. If you like to listen to a lot of artificial music like House or Trance the lack of bass may be a real big down point but for most other music the bass performance is generally OK.
Audio-Technica has a higher end ATH-CKX9iS for just a little bit more. Hopefully, we can get our hands on that and test if that has a better overall sound given that the rest of the ATH-CKX7iS is a very good earphone.
Honestly, I am not a big fan of the rubber C tips but they are removable and even without them the ATH-CKX7iS has excellent fit and isolation along with reasonably good comfort.
The comply tips bundled with the IEM are very nice but foam tips have a pretty low lifespan and they do cost a bit to replace.
So to sum up the ATH-CKX7iS has very good build quality, fit, isolation along with good comfort. Very good mids and treble along with excellent soundstage BUT with a weak sub-bass response. If you find IEMs to offer a very closed soundstage you might find the relatively wide soundstage of the ATH-CKX7iS to be a pleasant surprise!
The price in India is around 4,200 INR which is actually very competitive compared to the US MSRP of $79. However, its bigger brother – ATH-CKX9iS- is even better priced around 5,200 INR ($100 US MSRP) which might be a better bet. Hopefully, we will be able to review the ATH-CKX9iS in future.
- Secure fit and excellent isolation
- Excellent build quality
- Excellent flat cable with built-in mic
- Excellent soundstage, mids and treble
- Very easy to drive
- Sub bass performance is lacking
- Price is a little closer to its higher-end sibling in India.