“Audio-Technica nails the performance-and-features worth for cash components.”
- Nice sound with large bass
- Enormous battery capability
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Bluetooth Multipoint
- IPX4 water resistance
- aptX Adaptive
- No wi-fi charging
- No put on sensors
- Cumbersome charging case
Audio-Technica (A-T) is finest identified for its studio-grade however extremely inexpensive wired headphones and its turntable cartridges. However the Japanese model is also carving out a pleasant area of interest for itself within the wi-fi earbuds world. Its newest effort — the $149 ATH-CKS50TW (yup, like all A-T fashions, it’s a mouthful) — observe that very same components, and could be thought of the other of Apple’s iconic AirPods, in practically each significant manner. They solely are available black, they’re large, they’ve an astounding quantity of battery life, and relating to bass, I don’t assume there’s the rest like them.
How do these bodacious buds stack as much as the competitors? Let’s test ‘em out.
Simon Cohen / Digital Developments
Audio-Technica’s aesthetic is a mix of form-meets-function. I’d hardly name the corporate’s headphones fashionable, however they do possess a purposeful, no-nonsense high quality I love. The ATH-CKS50TW (which I’ll from right here on out name the CKS50 on your sanity and mine) observe that very same method, with an nearly monolithic (and monotone) design. They’re chunky — regardless of their rounded contours — one thing which all of the beveled edges on the earth can’t disguise.
As an alternative of the extra frequent contact controls, A-T makes use of bodily buttons on its earbuds, that are positioned on the highest edge, the place they’re simple to entry. That’s a little bit of a departure from the standard placement on the entrance, round panel, however maybe that room was required for the drivers and large batteries.
With Bluetooth Multipoint help, you’ll be able to preserve two paired units energetic concurrently, like a PC and a cellphone.
You gained’t need to take the CKS50 to the seashore, however their IPX4 score for water resistance ought to preserve them protected from the ravages of sweat and rain so long as you clear them after every use.
Their charging case can be a cumbersome affair, and whereas it is going to simply discover a residence in a health club bag or backpack, you’re asking for some humorous seems for those who cram it in your pocket. Ordinarily, I’d assume the dimensions was associated to the battery inside, however as I’ll clarify later, that doesn’t fairly add up.
On the intense aspect, A-T has used that dimension to make the CKS50 very accessible. The large flip-top lid will get fully out of your manner, and the earbuds sit dealing with barely ahead, making them simple to seize and change.
The case’s flat backside enables you to stand it upright on any flat floor, however there’s no wi-fi charging. With the CKS50’s large battery, that’s so much much less of an inconvenience.
Consolation, controls, and connections
Simon Cohen / Digital Developments
The CKS50’s large dimension means these with small ears are going to have points with match. They’re not fairly as giant as Sony’s mammoth WF-1000XM4, however shut. Nonetheless, so long as your ears can accommodate them, they’re a really comfy form, with a gently tapering horn. A-T gives 4 sizes of silicone ear tricks to show you how to get a great seal, and I discovered the default mediums have been superb for me.
I used to be pleasantly shocked that regardless of their dimension, as soon as firmly seated they stayed put, even throughout a exercise. And so they have been comfy sufficient to put on for as much as two hours earlier than I wanted a break.
The multifunction management buttons on every bud are simple to succeed in and along with the tactile suggestions, you get a brief tone to verify whether or not you’ve single-, double-, or triple-clicked. Sadly, there’s little or no journey on the buttons and so they’re a bit mushy, making multi-click instructions a bit tough.
Utilizing lossless hi-res tracks, it turned obvious that aptX Adaptive was delivering a better high quality sign.
Nonetheless, they supply all the things you wish, together with play/pause, observe skip ahead/again, name reply/finish, and quantity up/down. Should you obtain the A-T Join app for iOS/Android, you furthermore mght get the power to customise the long-press operate for every earbud, with these selections: Voice assistant entry, fast hear-through, low-latency mode, ANC management, or no motion. By default, these are set to ANC management on the left bud and fast hear-through on the suitable. I’ll talk about these options extra in a second.
Simon Cohen / Digital Developments
By default, the buds offers you voice suggestions for features, e.g. “Play,” “pause,” and so on., however you’ll most likely need to disable these within the app as they really decelerate the response occasions for every operate and so they’re actually not mandatory.
The one factor lacking right here is auto-pause. The earbuds aren’t geared up with put on sensors, in order that they can’t cease and begin your tunes as you take away and change them.
The A-T Join app does an excellent job of letting you handle related units.
With Google Quick Pair, getting Android units related is a cinch, however even getting the CKS50 paired with iOS units remains to be very fast and straightforward. Due to Bluetooth 5.2, the connection is powerful and really dependable — I had no dropouts in any respect whereas testing. Higher but, with Bluetooth Multipoint help, you’ll be able to preserve two paired units energetic concurrently, like a PC and a cellphone, and change between them seamlessly.
The A-T Join app does an excellent job of letting you handle related units, exhibiting which of them are energetic and related, which of them you’ve related to beforehand, and provides you the power to place the earbuds into pairing mode remotely so you’ll be able to add extra units while not having to futz round with the earbuds’ controls. It’s the most effective multi-device help I’ve seen in a companion app to date. And sure, you should use every earbud independently for each calls and music, however you’ll be able to’t cut up them up between paired units.
Sound high quality
Simon Cohen / Digital Developments
True to Audio-Technica’s status for audio high quality, the CKS50 sound nice. The manufacturing unit tuning is large on bass — dramatically so. I actually have numerous love for earbuds and headphones with highly effective low-end efficiency (just like the teeth-rattling JVC HA-XC90T) and I can’t keep in mind the final time I felt overwhelmed by it, however the CKS50 had me looking for the EQ changes within the A-T Join app instantly.
Don’t get me improper, it’s completely wonderful. And for those who’re a bass-head, I think you’ll be in heaven. However I discovered it simply an excessive amount of. Thankfully, these EQ settings could make an enormous distinction. There are useful presets, like clear vocal and treble improve (and even a bass enhance for those who dare), however you can even use the five-band sliders to create and save your individual steadiness. What wants no tweaking is the general efficiency. There’s tons of definition and readability within the midranges, the soundstage is beneficiant in its width and precision, and vocals are clear and crisp — although these have been additionally improved with EQ modifications.
Having Bluetooth Multipoint means I used to be in a position to join the CKS50 to each an iPhone 11 and a Xiaomi 12 Professional concurrently, and hop backwards and forwards between them so I might hear the distinction between the AAC codec on the iPhone and aptX Adaptive on the Xiaomi. Utilizing lossless hi-res tracks from Amazon Music, it turned instantly obvious that aptX Adaptive was certainly delivering a better high quality sign.
Dynamics have been improved significantly, and little particulars began to emerge. On the Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, as an example, the vocals took on an airier high quality, and deep, complicated synthesizer notes felt clear, not fuzzy. I can’t at all times inform the distinction between AAC and high-quality codecs like LDAC and aptX Adaptive — it just lately proved fairly tough when reviewing the Sony LinkBuds S, however the Audio-Technicas profit from it in a noticeable manner.
One different spectacular function: You may determine how granular you’d like the amount management to be — from a minimal of 16 steps to a most of 64. I can’t recall ever seeing that possibility on a set of wi-fi earbuds earlier than.
Noise canceling and transparency mode
Simon Cohen / Digital Developments
ANC on the CKS50 is great, offering superb discount of most frequencies. It’s equally adept at coping with fixed, droning appears like rest room followers or air conditioners, because it is with intermittent and variable noise like visitors.
I had no drawback staying targeted on each podcasts and music whereas strolling by way of downtown streets, and when sitting at my pc I used to be in a position to use it to only get a little bit of peace and quiet for focus.
I even had a coworker touch upon how good my voice sounded, which I can inform you doesn’t occur fairly often.
You may decide from two sorts of transparency: Fast hear-through mutes (however doesn’t pause) your audio and enables you to hear the surface world for ad-hoc conversations, whereas a devoted management for ANC enables you to change between ANC, transparency, and no operate (off) on your longer-term wants. They’re each helpful, however I’d prefer it if the A-T Join app let you choose to only change between ANC and transparency as a substitute of biking by way of the off mode.
The silicone suggestions do a superb job of passive noise isolation, so the transparency mode is useful, but it surely’s not the form of magical feeling of not sporting any earbuds that Apple has mastered with the AirPods Professional. Nonetheless, it’s higher than nothing.
Name high quality
Total, calling on the ATH-CKS50 is excellent. Like most wi-fi earbuds, they battle a bit with canceling background noise, however what I like is that they don’t distort your voice as they accomplish that. As an alternative, there’s a slight lack of microphone achieve — you sound quieter and farther away.
However get them in a quieter location and your voice will sound clear and really pure, with loads of resonance. I even had a coworker touch upon it throughout a Microsoft Groups name, which I can inform you doesn’t occur fairly often.
There’s a selectable side-tone possibility within the app, but when there’s one weak spot to calling on these buds, it’s that even with side-tone turned on, your voice will nonetheless sound a bit muted to your individual ears — positively not what you’d get with the AirPods Professional, or the Jabra Elite 7 Professional, each of which supply glorious voice suggestions.
As I hinted above, the ATH-CKS50 have a fully monstrous battery capability within the earbuds — a claimed 20 hours. Granted, that’s with ANC disabled, however even when it’s on, A-T says you’ll be able to count on 15 hours — nonetheless large by wi-fi earbud requirements.
And from what I can inform, these aren’t exaggerated numbers. What I can’t fairly work out is why the charging case solely holds an extra 30 hours. Don’t get me improper, that’s a extremely large determine too, it’s simply the proportions that appear skewed to me.
For comparability, the AirPods Professional final about 5 hours on a cost, and their tiny case can recharge them about 4 occasions earlier than it dies and desires to be recharged itself — a reasonably frequent ratio. The CKS50’s case is manner larger, and but it could actually solely recharge the earbuds about 1.5 occasions. It appears to me that the case ought to have the ability to do at the least a three-times cost, which might give these buds a complete play time of 80 hours.
Once more, 20+30 is nothing to be sneezed at, however while you’ve acquired that a lot room to play with, why not swing for the fences? A fast-charge function provides you an extra 90 minutes of play time with simply 10 minutes within the case.
The Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50 are an excellent set of noise-canceling earbuds with monster bass and monster battery life. And regardless of just a few lacking options and a charging case that’s something however pocketable, they’re an unbelievable worth for across the $150 mark. Should you’re in search of a premium set of wi-fi earbuds, they deserve a spot in your shortlist.
Are there higher options?
At this value, the CKS50TW don’t have any competitors relating to battery life and massive, daring bass. And when you concentrate on their many different strengths, it turns into even tougher to seek out direct comparisons. Their closest opponents come from Anker Soundcore:
The $179 Ankervalue a bit extra, however they provide wi-fi charging, put on sensors, and I feel extra individuals will discover them to be a greater, extra comfy match. Sound-wise, they’re each very good and each supply Bluetooth Multipoint. However the Soundcores can’t maintain a candle to the CKS50’s large batteries, and I feel Audio-Technica does a greater job with ANC and controls.
The $129 Ankereven have wi-fi charging and put on sensors, and with the latest addition of the LDAC Bluetooth codec, additionally they do hi-res audio. The CKS50 nonetheless sound higher total, plus they’ve that vast set of batteries, and so they have Bluetooth Multipoint, which the Air 2 Professional lack.
How lengthy will they final?
It’s at all times arduous to judge this with wi-fi earbuds, however I’m going to exit on a limb right here and say that the ATH-CKS50 will last more than most different fashions. I say that for 2 causes: One, like all Audio-Technica merchandise, construct high quality is great. However two, and arguably the extra essential cause, is their large battery capability. Each time you recharge a battery, its capability drops by a really small quantity. The mathematics is straightforward; the larger a battery’s preliminary capability, the longer it is going to present a helpful quantity of energy. E.g. if a set of earbuds loses 50% of its complete playtime after 500 recharges (I made that quantity up), then which means a set of AirPods Professional will die after about 2.5 hours of use, whereas the CKS50 will nonetheless have an enormous 7.5-10 hours relying on ANC usages.
Must you purchase them?
Sure. The ATH-CKS50 don’t nail all the wi-fi earbud components, however they ship the stuff that almost all individuals will care about: Sound high quality, battery life, ANC, and glorious app-based settings, and so they do it for a really affordable value.