Saturday, August 9, 2014

Audio- Technica ATH-CKX9iS 'SonicFuel' Earbud Review

Audio- Technica ATH-CK9iS (Silver color)
Being a "SonicFuel" model, the ATH-CKX9iS in-ear headphones from Audio- Technica are built for an active lifestyle.  They are specifically designed to withstand sweat, moisture and are designed to stay in your ear when running, biking, exercising etc. courtesy of the rubbery 'C-tips' that hook into your ears preventing them from coming loose and falling out.  This active lifestyle focus introduces a number of positives and negatives in regards to fit and comfort. Whether or not the CKX9iS's are right for you really comes down to the question of your specific usage scenario.

The ATH-CKX9iS's ship with a plethora of accessories, resulting in a highly customizable/ modifiable pair of ear buds.  Included are four different sizes of silicon ear tips (extra small, small, medium and large) three different sizes of silicon C-tips (small, medium and large) and an extra nice touch, a pair of Comply brand foam tips.  Also included is an extremely nice hard carrying case, emblazoned with a large, chrome "Audio- Technica" logo.  The amount of accessories included exceeded my expectations, even for a $100 dollar pair of ear buds.

The ATH-CKX9iS is available in black or silver.  Both color options look very nice, but its the silver version that I truly prefer, as the cable is accented with blue and the ear tips are a frosted white color as opposed to just a solid black.  They are a relatively eye-catching set of ear buds, without being overbearing or gaudy (I am looking at your, Powerbeats!)  The build quality is also impressive.  The cable is a flat design, although it still does suffer from tangling, which is pretty much unavoidable with any ear bud.  The 3.5mm connection is a right angle jack with a large rubber strain relief.  Large rubber strain reliefs are present at every connection/ weak point, including the inline remote/ mic.  The inline remote/ mic is positioned at the Y-split area of the ear bud.  I actually prefer this position to having the remote on the left or right cable.  The inline remote has a volume slider (as opposed to a rocker button) as well as a play/ pause button accented with the Audio- Technica logo.  Sliding the inline volume control to the lowest setting does not completely shut off the music, but it reduces the volume enough that you can carry on a conversation with the person next to you with the ear buds still in.  The inline remote does lack skip track buttons however.

Comfort is an area where the CKX9iS struggle.  The ear buds are comfortable initially, but they begin to put an uncomfortable amount of pressure in my ear canal over longer listening sessions.  The C-tip design itself is good for preventing the ear buds from falling out, but comfort is definitely sacrificed by this design.  The silicon ear tips provide a much tighter seal than other ear buds I have used.  This results in impressive bass response and impact, and blocks out an impressive amount of noise from the outside world, allowing the listener to be truly immersed in the music. Overall, the ATH-CKX9iS are not the most uncomfortable ear buds I have used, but they aren't comfortable enough to forget that you are wearing them.

Being ear buds designed for an active lifestyle, I felt it necessary to actually use the ear buds in the environment that they are designed for.  The CKX9iS's stood up to sweat and even getting the cord caught and pulled out of my ears by the bar of a moving elliptical trainer (something I thought for sure would have killed them) all and all the build quality and durability of these ear buds is quite commendable.  Of course, only repeated use and time will tell how well these hold up over a longer period of time.

Audio- Technica nailed the sound signature with these ear buds.  They feature solid, powerful and deep bass response, courtesy of the very large 13.5mm driver units (such a large size driver is highly uncommon in ear buds).  The upper midrange and highs are rather bright, and may not suit listeners that are used to the warmer/ darker sound present in most headphones nowadays.  When I first listened to the ATH-CKX9iS's, I found them too bright and treble heavy for my tastes, but I have grown to enjoy their brightness over time.  Either way, one can easily darken the sound by reducing the treble with an equalizer.  My iPhones treble reducer EQ preset did the trick, and the ATH-CKX9iS's respond remarkably well the equalization.  They do have a tendency to introduce sibilance at extreme volume levels, however.  Overall, the ATH-CKX9iS's do not disappoint where sound quality is concerned, but I would expect nothing less from a $100 dollar pair of ear buds from Audio- Technica.  The inline microphone is exceptional, and while I do not have extensive experience with inline mic's from similar ear buds, Audio- Technica is a major manufacturer of professional microphones, so this came as no surprise.

In order to create an ear bud that stays in the ear no matter the situation, Audio- Technica had to get innovative with the C-tip design.  While the C-tips do a fantastic job keeping the ear buds in the listeners ear, they do reduce the overall comfort of the ear buds, at least in my experience.  They aren't unwearable, and the discomfort does take some time to set in.  Pulling them out for a few seconds and putting them back in usually helps.  The CKX9iS's reproduce music excellently, with a great deal of clarity and with a nice bass bump that, while not neccesarily "accurate," creates an engaging and fun sound signature.  The engaging sound, exceptional durability and active focus makes the CKX9iS's a serious choice to consider if you want a pair of ear buds that lack the gaudiness and average sound quality of competing sports headphones.

CLICK HERE for Audio- Technica ATH-CK9iS Product Page
CLICK HERE for Audio- Technica ATH-CK9iS Amazon Product Page

1 comment:

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