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