For our audio review today we’re going from over-the ear headset to in-ear headphones, and clipping the cords to go truly wireless. On the stage is Audio Technica’s new ATH-CKS5TW wireless in-ear headphones, retailing for $169 on their official store and Amazon. 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 and control buttons
- Exclusive 10 mm drivers with dual-layer diaphragm, 5 – 40,000 Hz frequency response
- Flexible silicone eartips with 3D loop supports
- Portable charging case
- Qualcomm cVc™ (Clear Voice Capture) technology
- Compatible with high-quality Qualcomm® aptXTM audio and AAC codecs
Design and Functionality
The ATH-CKS5TW’s (OK I’m just going to call them the “earbuds” from now on) come with a very cool design that isn’t only stylish but practical too – and this includes the charging case that comes with the set. The pillbox style charging case houses both earbuds with magnetic cavities to prevent having to fiddle around to get the case to close neatly. The earbuds come with a number of silicone tips and 3d loop supports to fit most ears comfortably. Aesthetically they have a nice look, with some shine on the outside and the subtle Audio Technica logo.
Let’s talk about that case though. It has a USB-C port in the back for charging, which charges both the case and the earbuds themselves. While the earbuds themselves have a 15 hour battery life, the case itself has enough battery charge to re-juice them from empty to full twice without having to plug in. So while commuting or traveling (as I just ran this test for), you can squeeze up to 45 hours of use out of these earbuds without a recharge. Given that kind of battery life, it’s understandable that the earbuds and the case are slightly on the larger side compared to other models of wireless earbuds.
And when you do need to charge up? that USB-C is fast charging, so you’re back on the go with a minimum of fuss. I charged these up before a recent trip from Philadelphia to Toronto, and I was still listening to music on the flight home, three days later, with the charging cable sitting unused in my computer bag. The auto on/off feature was also nice, with the earbuds auto-pairing to my phone just by being removed from the case, and off again when they’re put back in.
I was able to work with the default silicone tip and ring to get these into my ears – using a sort of “twist and lock” mechanic for a snug fit. Once they were in they stayed put without jiggling or coming loose, and I really only had to take them out to tell the flight attendant that I’d like a coffee when they came around for the beverages. I tend to shy away from earbuds as they can be uncomfortable for me, but I was able to wear these 45 minutes at a shot without any sort of issue.
For functionality, the hard buttons on either side worked perfectly for managing audio from my phone as well as answering calls, with the built-in microphone picking up my voice clearly with no clicks or pops, at least according to the folks on the other end of the line. Bluetooth 5.0 and the IPX2 drip proof rating provide solid device connection and clean audio and mic pickup with sweat and moisture resistance.
I mean don’t take these into the pool or anything, but they’ll work for you at the gym or if you’re out for a run.
To put it plainly, I was impressed. My field of personal audio is generally over-the ear headphones and gaming headsets, mainly because I’m confident they’ll deliver the bass hits I’m looking for. I generally don’t expect that from in-ear models.
These broke that assumption. Once you find the right size silicone tip and/or loop, the sound you get is very solid, noticeably more in the low end for bass hits, which is always a good thing. The nice thing about it is that the bass doesn’t overpower the rest of the range, which you may find with some headsets that are more bass-tuned. The mids and highs still star in the show. They’re not as noise-cancelling as over-the-ear models of headphones, and I could still hear the environmental hum of the airplane during travel testing, but to me that’s a pretty minor thing.
I thought the soundtrack to No Man’s Sky would be a good test for the complete sound profile for these, namely track 3 – Asimov by 65daysofstatic. The bassline was nice and strong, and I even noticed some background sounds in the midrange that I’d actually never noticed in the song before. There are small “pops” on the offbeats, which I can only describe the sound of a raquetball hitting the wall, but the addition did make the track more complete. Next up was Run the Jewels’ album Run the Jewels 3, where the stylings of Killer Mike and El-P were deliciously consumed to my delight.
I paired the set to my PC to test out some media there as well. I fired up Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix and the soundscape was very good – the only minor downside was a slight slight delay I could pick up between the audio and the characters’ lips moving when delivering dialogue.
Overall this is a fantastic set of truly wireless in-ear headphones that give the competition, if even only Apple’s AirPods, a run for their money. They’re a little bit on the large side but that’s the only tradeoff for truly wonderful battery life and premium sound. Once you fiddle around and find a good fit, this is a great personal audio device.