Audio-Technica ATH-CK10

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Reviewed Jan 2010

Details: Audio-Technica’s diminutive Dual-armature earphone may not be its flagship, but it sure competes well with those of other manufacturers
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: $399.99)
Specs: Driver: Dual BA | Imp: 55 Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 20-15k Hz | Cable: 4′ I-plug
Nozzle Size:4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids, De-cored Olives
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes), cleaning cloth, and oval clamshell hard case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – Ever since I first laid my hands on the CK10 I have used it as my build quality benchmark for IEMs. The build is outstanding – rubber-covered metal housings with titanium faceplates look and feel indestructible. The cabling is soft and thick, terminated with a beefy 3.5mm I-plug. They’re not perfect (I prefer an L-plug and the strain reliefs could be better), but in most ways the build of the CK10 is what every other earphone needs to stack up to
Isolation (4/5) – With the proper tips the tiny CK10 can be inserted very deeply, providing impressive levels of isolation
Microphonics (5/5) – Microphonics are nonexistent in the cabling when worn cord-up and unnoticeable when worn cord-down
Comfort (5/5) – The tiny round housings rest inside the ear when the CK10s are worn cord-up, but contrary to the way they were designed the CK10 can be worn cord-down as well. Either way they are impossible comfortable and simply disappear when donned, but wearing them cord-up allows for deeper insertion

Sound (9.2/10) – I’ve always done my reviews on a comparative scale, with the perfect score in each category going to the best performer I’d encountered to date. The CK10 has been and still is my SQ benchmark for IEM reviews. The CK10 is as close to a perfectly balanced earphone as I have heard. The low end is smooth, tight, and extended. It is detailed and well-textured, conveying plenty of information. Impact-wise the bass is medium-low on the grand scale, not much greater in quantity than an amped Ety ER4S, but more full-bodied. It is also impossibly quick – I sometimes get the feeling that the armatures on the CK10s could reproduce several different songs simultaneously and never miss a beat. Midrange detail and clarity are close to the ER4S but vocals have better air and a dimensional quality to them that the Etys lack. The treble is best described as being “sweet”, but not excessively so. The CK10s definitely sparkle at the high end and roll off very little – Audio-Technica was quite conservative with the specs on the CK10s, which is a welcome change from the optimistic “8-25k Hz” specifications I’ve been seeing get slapped on $20 earphones. Treble smoothness is top notch – harshness and sibilance are nearly imperceptible even on flawed recordings. Resolution and imaging are both excellent. Soundstaging is above average – though they don’t quite have the lateral width of the RE252, they have the RE0 and Phonaks beat in both depth and width. Transparency is also impressive – the CK10s are my earphones of choice for testing amps and sources. They add no color to the sound, allowing the properties of the source to shine through. That said, I find them more forgiving of poor quality source material than most other high-end IEMs.

Now for the qualifiers: the CK10s score very highly with me at the moment of this writing. There are still many high-end IEMs I have not heard and the CK10 is definitely not for everyone – it does not have a thick, creamy midrange so the Shure faithful may be underwhelmed. The quantity of the bass will not satisfy a basshead’s uncouth craving – the TF10 is better suited there. They may also not be engaging enough for those who tend to get bored with balanced, neutral sound – like the RE0 but to a lesser degree they can be described as sounding ‘thin’ and lacking in body, though I find them to be quite energetic. Lastly, the treble sparkle can quite easily cross the line separating it from brightness for some people. A poor fit can exacerbate the problem.

Amping: Although the CK10s aren’t particularly efficient and do a good job of cutting down on hiss from sources such as the Amp3, they are not difficult too drive. There are small increases in speed, resolution, and bass slam when they are amped, but I often eschew an amp for the sake of portability when using the CK10s – they sound great straight from a portable player and take up no room at all being the one IEM I have no qualms about carrying around without a case.

Value (8/10) – Upon release, the CK10 was Audio-Technica’s flagship and retailed at or near the $399 MSRP, but sold closer to $200 for most of its lifespan. With my personal affinity for its sound I’m tempted to say that it is still some of the best money one could spend. However, with budget and mid-range earphones constantly improving, it is becoming more and more difficult to make such statements. The RE0 still costs about 1/4 as much as the CK10. Is the RE0 1/4 of the earphone? Not to me. That said and this being head-fi, diminishing returns are an expectation. With that in mind, plus the fact that the CK10 is one of the most user-friendly IEMs around, I find the asking price quite justified.

Pros: Well-built, extremely comfortable, no microphonics, great clarity, detail, and imagine
Cons: Stock tips are underwhelming, flat bass won’t please everyone


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

12 Comments

  1. GCFSA on

    Hey Joker, was just wondering how you would compare the new(er) im02s to these. I’ve been told that the CK10 are rather well renowned for their ‘neutrality’ (whatever that may mean) but it’ll probably be more difficult to find a pair nowadays (especially where I live).

    • ljokerl on

      The IM02 is more similar to the CK90Pro (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/audio-technica-ath-ck90pro/) than to the CK10. The CK90Pro was another dual-driver from the same generation of audio-technica products as the CK10, but it was the smoother, darker-sounding, less resolving one of the two.

      Objectively speaking, the CK10 is a little on the bright side of neutral while the IM02 tends towards a darker tonality. Which one works better depends on the listener, which is probably why audio-technica had both the CK10 and CK90Pro in their lineup at the same time. The CK10 was part of their audiophile line, though, while the CK90Pro was oriented towards pro/studio use.

      • GCFSA on

        Ah ok, that makes sense since people have been mentioning the IM02 in the same sentence as the CK90Pro and CK10 but I don’t seem to see many reviews about how they actually compare… just lot’s of people saying they’re similar.

        Thanks for the info, this helps a lot 🙂

  2. PMorphy on

    Thanks for your help Joker! I just ordered the etys and I hope to be enjoying them next week.

    • ljokerl on

      Awesome, hope they’re exactly what you expect!

  3. PMorphy on

    Hi Joker, I’m considering buying the ATH-CK10 (250€, new) but I won’t have the chance to listen to them first, so I would really appreciate your advice.
    I’m looking for a neutral sound with clarity and detail, Hd 600 sort of, but with a different personality. I listen to a bit of everything, but mostly all types of rock and classical.
    After reading your review, the ck10 seems what I am looking for. Do you still feel the same way about them six years later?
    I’ve also considered the Etymotic Research ER4S, 280€, InEar StageDiver SD-2, 350€, and Custom art one (if I can get the impressions done).
    Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      The CK10 is an interesting earphone. I still have mine and it’s still functional, but it hasn’t been a part of my rotation (or my recommendations) since the final crop of the solid $100-150 TWFK earphones came out (the VSonic VC1000 is the one I still use). I’m not sure any of these are the answer here, though – compared to an HD600, the CK10 and other TWFKs err a bit on the bright side in terms of tone.

      Ultimately it comes down to what you personally prefer, but I’d say the other sets you’re considering are all safer choices for an HD600 fan with your genre selection. The ER4 is a classic while the Music One is not quite as analytical as the Etys, but it’s also a little less warm and “dull” compared to the SD-2. It’s a compromise, but a pretty solid one coming from the HD600. As a “neutral” listener myself, I’d get one of those over the SD-2.

  4. Jmop on

    I was looking primarily at TWFKs because I love the sparkle on the VC1000s. Basically what I’ve come to want in a headphone is that shiny treble, a slightly leaner presentation than neutral, and tight bass that can hit ever note. Perhaps it’s asking too much in the bass department. I’m not looking for rumble, but with some electronic music I can’t hear every bass note clearly that I know is there. I really enjoy being able to follow the bass rather than just hearing the boom of it.

    Never really cared much for the Philips form factor, and with the GR07 I was worried about its treble refinement although I’d probably love its bass presentation. I’ll check out the ATH-IM02 and the Rockets though. I appreciate the feedback 🙂

  5. Jmop on

    Although I probably won’t have much luck finding one of these for sale it seems like something I’d enjoy. A quick question how is treble shimmer compared to the VC1000? And about the bass, do the CK10s dig deeper than the 1000s and hit with more edge?

    • ljokerl on

      A little more shimmery than VC1000 (actually thought the VC1000 had more natural treble on the whole), with slightly punchier bass. Very similar to VC1000 overall though – wouldn’t recommend owning both.

      • Jmop on

        I see what you mean by natural, the treble is very smooth for a bright headphone. A lovely sound for female vocals. Would you say the bass isn’t all that different between the two as well? After awhile of listening I find myself wanting bass that hits lower and isn’t as soft noted. I like the depth of my RE-600 in terms of bass if that helps. How does the CK10 bass compare to both of these? Thanks!

        • ljokerl on

          Yes, that’s exactly right! The bass, likewise, is very close to the VC1000 but a little “sharper” if that makes any sense. Almost no difference in overall impact and depth, though. You’ll notice a larger difference in bass quantity if you go with a $200-300 dual-BA that’s not based on the TWFK driver, e.g. the ATH-IM02.

          The RE-600 delivers a different bass presentation from both of these, likely due in large part to it being a dynamic-driver earphone. You’d probably also like the bass on something like a VSonic GR07 or Philips Fidelio S2… or even the Aurisonics Rockets.

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