And it’s back to audio here at Technical Fowl. We’re taking a short departure from gaming headsets to another pair of in-ear wireless earphones from Audio Technica – the CK3TW. Smaller and lighter than the CKS5TW’s we took for a spin a while ago, they’re lighter on the wallet too at $99. As always, let’s take a look at some features before we get started:
- Bluetooth® 5.0 connectivity
- IPX2 drip-proof rating
- Built-in omni-directional mic with touch control
- 5.8 mm drivers, 20 – 20,000 Hz frequency response
- Flexible silicone eartips
- Portable charging case
- Qualcomm cVc™ (Clear Voice Capture) technology
- Compatible with Qualcomm® aptXTM
Design and Functionality
I draw a lot of comparisons with the CK3’s to their larger cousins the CKS5TW’s. I was excited to take these for a whirl because my ears are kind of small, and for that reason earbuds have never really been a comfortable option for me. The CKS5’s did come with some small silicone eartips that let me use them mostly comfortably, but these have smaller drivers (5.8mm vs 10mm) , and for me personally provide a better fit. So if you’re one that’s a bit diminutive in the lobes, then this is already a consideration for you.
Not only are we looking at smaller drivers but the overall design seems to be aimed at a reduction in size as well. Instead of the full circles and protrusions with some of the other A-T models, these have slimmer ovals that don’t stick out as much. Another change is the on-ear controls, which have been switched over from hard buttons to touch – meaning volume and tracks are controlled by taps and swipes on the outside. Sometimes these controls can get a bit frustrating until you get the positioning down right, but once you do it becomes routine.
The CK3TW’s come in a taller, slimmer case with a flip top that thankfully stays standing when opening, which is something different than some of the competition. The earphones themselves are magnetized for left and right, so there’s no way to get an improper fit when putting them away. While resting in the case, a built-in battery charges the headphones until the case itself needs charging, which can be done with the included USB-C cable.
Once pulled out of the case, the max charge is roughly 6 hours, and if you have a fully charged case you can get up to 30 hours without having to plug in for some more juice. Again, these are smaller budget earphones, and as such they do carry a shorter range than the 15 hours at a shot (45 hours total) you can get out of the CKS5’s and some of the competition. It’s still a solid range of battery though when traveling with the case.
One of the features we were surprised and happy to see at this price point was automatic in-ear detection and pausing. Normally you can remove earphones but not without finding your phone and unlocking it and hitting pause or stop. These automatically pause when you take them out of your ears to respond to a conversation or just to put them away. You’d be hard pressed to find that elsewhere at the $100 mark. It’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you experience it.
On paper the only real stat difference we’re looking between these and the CKS5’s are a 20-20kHz frequency range as opposed to the 5-40kHz. Now granted, a broader frequency response doesn’t always mean better audio, but with A-T headphones I have found that it tracks.
We’re all spending a lot of time at home right now so I’m using these for the majority of my work calls and, of course, the Zoom and Teams extravaganza that is the new normal work day. The Bluetooth pairing process is seamless and sound on audio calls is wonderfully clear. It’s great to be able to pop these in and walk around or be able to work completely hands free without discomfort.
Music, video, and games still pump out some decent sound for this price point. Even cranked up I didn’t experience any clicks or pops at the high and the low ends, and the bass and treble don’t fight each other at high volumes. My standard audio test of the Red Circle scene from John Wick gave the entire range of sound, and like I mentioned just a bit earlier the high pings of the gunshots weren’t overshadowed by the bass hits from the soundtrack. While crystal clear, they weren’t quite as sharp as the CKS5’s. The bass hits weren’t as hard and in the high end there wasn’t that same chirp that you get from A-T’s headset options like the ATH-G1 and G1-WL but for this price point I absolutely can’t take anything away from it for that.
On to music, we tested with Massive Attack’s “Angel” and some of Ramin Djawadi’s covers from Westworld and got good sound on both. The underlying bass line on the former was steady but again, didn’t deliver the same punches as their larger cousins. For the latter though, we got great sound on Djawadi’s covers of David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Sweet Child O’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses. Overall the CK3’s seem well tuned for orchestral music or any ensembles featuring heavy strings, like movie and video game scores. For those who would use these primarily for pop, rock, or metal, you’re going to find the sound just a touch quiet in the highs and lows.
The only other downside is while it supports Qualcomm’s aptXTM HD sound, it doesn’t support AAC codecs.
Overall this is a better-than-good and well rounded set of general purpose wireless in-ear headphones this provides great value at $99, and a great purchase for folks that don’t need something specialized and need something reliable for travel. While it doesn’t have the same punch as other Audio Technica models, you just can’t beat the price versus what else is out there.