Audio-Technica ATH-CKM500 Review

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Audio-Technica ATH-CKM500
Added May 2013

Details: mid-level Audio-Technica model with a form factor similar to the CKM99
MSRP: $79.99 (manufacturer’s page); $99.99 for ATH-CKM500i with mic & 3-button remote (manufacturer’s page); $99 for ATH-CKM500is with mic, remote, and analog volume control (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $75 from amazon.com for CKM500; $75 for CKM500i; $60 for CKM-500is
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 105 dB | Freq: 5-25k Hz | Cable: 2′ I-plug + 2’ L-plug extension
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: standard single-flanges, short bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (4 sizes), carrying pouch, and 2’ extension cable
Build Quality (4/5) – Plastic housings combine with sturdy cables and flexible strain reliefs to provide very solid construction. The stereo version boats a modular cable while the CKM500i headset has a 1-piece cord
Isolation (3/5) – Average due to shallow-fit design
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Cable noise can be bothersome and is difficult to eliminate as these must be worn cable-down and lack a cable cinch
Comfort (4.5/5) – The housings are not small, but are lightweight and ergonomically designed. Like the pricier CKM99, the CKM500 uses a half in-ear design with no sharp edges to provide a comfortable and secure fit.

Sound (8/10) – Like the far more expensive CKM99 I reviewed a while back, the Audio-Technica ATH-CKM500 is a slightly v-shaped earphone with powerful bass and a wide presentation. The most noticeable quality is the strong mid-bass response – there is more mid-bass impact than, for example, with the VSonic GR02 Bass Edition or the rather bass-heavy HiSound Wooduo2. Deep bass is present as well but less prominent in comparison, resulting in sets like the Sony MH1C and Wooduo 2 appearing to have cleaner, more prominent sub-bass. The strong mid-bass response does take away from the overall finesse of the earphone but will undoubtedly find its fans.

Though the sound of the CKM500 is heavy on the bass, apparent midrange recession is mild and confined to the lower midrange, with the upper mids coming across strong and clear in typical Audio-Technica fashion. The v-shape is noticeable mostly because of the intrusive, somewhat bloated mid-bass. Note thickness is good, which is not the case with the mids of certain other v-shaped earphones, and the clarity is surprisingly great considering the bass quantity of the earphones. The CKM500 is not as clear as the thinner-sounding, more balanced VSonic VC02 but easily beats the more veiled-sounding Brianwavz M5 and most other bass-heavy dynamics in its price range.

The top end is where Audio-Technica earphones can sometimes be overly energetic but the CKM500 does pretty well. There is a good amount of treble energy and some very mild grain but nothing too harsh at reasonable volumes. The treble is not too sparkly and extension is good. The VSonic GR02 Bass Edition, while a little more crisp and clean at the top, is also more sibilant. Soundstage width is also good, as is the case with the pricier CKM99, but the midbass bloat hurts the overall presentation, causing some congestion. Despite the good width and overall sense of space, there’s not a ton of depth to the sound, though the CKM500 still performs well enough to draw comparisons with pricier sets.

Value (9/10) – The Audio-Technica ATH-CKM500 is yet another solid offering from one of Japan’s best-known headphone manufacturers. The earphone impresses with its strong bass, good midrange clarity, and spacious presentation, all wrapped up in a comfortable angled-nozzle housing with a strong cable and good strain reliefs. The CKM500 strikes me as the perfect upgrade to the newly-popular TDK MT-300 and an alternative to other mid-level heavy-hitters such as the VSonic GR06 and Shure SE215.

Pros: Good overall sound quality with strong bass; comfortable and lightweight
Cons: Bass bloated at times; modular cable in 2’+2’ configuration may be an issue for some


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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.

28 Comments

  1. Victor on

    Joker, I’ve had the CKM500 for quite some time now, and I really love them, but I’m looking for an upgrade IEM (same signature).
    Based on that, what would you recommend? Is there something better that has a similar sound signature under <$120? I think CKM500 overall sound is good, but it lacks a bit in detail.

    • ljokerl on

      I’m partial to the JVC FXT90 when talking about ~$100 IEMs with v-shaped sound, plentiful bass, crisp and aggressive treble, and good detail. JVC and Audio-Technica signatures are a little different from each other, but in this case not night and day.

      Or you could go for a more off the wall choice, like a DUNU Titan 1. This has a form factor similar to the Audio-Technica but a more midrange-focused, clear, hyper-detailed sound. It’s one of the most detailed IEMs in its price range while still having above-neutral bass – not as much as the CKM500 or FXT90, but a good amount considering also how tight the bass is.

  2. Mike on

    When you say there is a midbass bloat it kinda concerns me with these headphones. I really do like sub bass but I also really love clarity. Are these good for my liking?

    • ljokerl on

      It’s a give and take. These have a very good balance of bass and clarity IF you like a fairly bass-heavy sound. Keep in mind here you’re getting mid-bass as well as sub-bass, and mid-bass tends to be more audible with this type of tuning. If your preference leans more towards clarity and you’re willing to have less bass than the CKM500, you have other options – for example the VSonic VSD3S, which has fantastic clarity and a good bit less bass, but with a deep bass focus.

  3. AzimAkbar on

    Hi ljokerl

    Currently I only have 2 IEM. MEElectronics Sport-Fi S6P for my sport activity. Not great in absolute SQ. Need to boost volume especially while running. But fitting is excellent with over the ear design with memory wire. Comply foam really help. Remote button with slider volume really help. The cable is 0.6m for use with armband and another 0.6m extension cable. The price was great about 25USD. So far so good just wish I can get better sounding sport IEM with short cable and remote button.

    The other IEM is the multi awards winning Soundmagic E10M. After a proper burn in and suitable selection of silicone tip (biflange for me) the sound is great for any music I currently have. Mostly metal rock music like Helloween, Live, Collective Soul, Counting Crows,Metallica etc .Occasionally slow pop from Sarah McLachlan,Joshua Kadison to bass heavy from Lady Gaga,Rihanna. Great price about 35USD.

    I am currently looking for a better IEM at about 70USD or lower. I read somewhere in your previous reply, you mention about Audio-Technica ATH-CKX5. How do you find the sound as compared to this CKM500? Other model within 70USD are ATH-CKN50/70, ATH-CHX5/7 and ATH-IM50. Sony latest MDR-EX650 can be had for around that price.

    If you have any other suggestion please let me know. Thank you so much.

    • ljokerl on

      The CKX5iS I have does not have a short cable. With Audio-Technica IEMs the Japanese version sometimes has a split cable (short+extension) but I don’t think that’s the case for the CKX5iS.

      That said, I think the CKX5iS sounds significantly better than the M6/S6 from meelec. It’s a lot like these CKM500s, just with less intrusive bass and maybe slightly less full-bodied and natural sound. Both of these have a more aggressive and less smooth and laid-back sound compared to your Soundmagic E10, which is a model I actually quite like, but they’re good for the Audio-Technica sound signature. The value is really good, especially if you find a cheap one like this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EO3DP6A/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00EO3DP6A&linkCode=as2&tag=thehealis-20&linkId=CMQU57AA2DWV4NSC

      • AzimAkbar on

        Thank you so much for your prompt reply. I wish I am in America so I can order CKX5 from Amazon. Unfortunately I am halfway around the world in Malaysia. The cheapest offer I can get is around 50USD which is still acceptably cheap for me. The question is, is it significantly better than my E10? Or should I go for more expensive CKX7 instead.

        In your review you have high praise for JVC FXT90 the dual dynamic driver from JVC. Audio-technica also have their own dual dynamic driver IEM like IM50/70. Both priced about the same. Between the FXT90 and Audio-technica sound which one do you prefer?

        • ljokerl on

          Unfortunately I’ve only tried the IM50 briefly at a show and I haven’t tried the CKX7 or IM70 at all. The IM50 has a more balanced sound to it (not v-shaped like the conventional CKM/CKX sound signature) but I haven’t tested it in depth so I don’t know what level it performs on. My gut feel is better than the CKX5 and E10 by a good bit, but of course the tuning is different as well. Couldn’t tell you from memory how it compares to a higher-end one like the FXT90 in performance but the tuning is less v-shaped for sure.

          Between the E10 and CKX5iS it’s more a matter of tuning/sound signature than which is better – the CKX5iS is just more aggressive when it comes to bass and treble. But even at $50 I think it’s quite good.

          • AzimAkbar on

            Thanks ljokerl. Actually I am more inclined to IM50 due to over/behind the ear design. Complete with detachable cable if I plan to get cable with remote later. CKX5 is cheaper definitely but I am not very sure the C tip design.

          • ljokerl on

            It did seem pretty comfortable, but I have no issues with the CKX5iS, either. Not sure if the IM50 is sweat-resistant like the CKX5 and S6P, though. Probably not.

          • AzimAkbar on

            Already place an order for IM50, ebay seller from Japan. Probably will arrive in a week or two. I have no intention for using IM50 or even CKX5 for sport. S6P is enough so far and I have a Bluetooth headset Avantree jogger pro if I don’t prefer wired earphone. Jogger pro has flexible but rigid behind neck wire design which is quite comfortable. It has 12hours battery life which is probably a bit overkill, but still nice to have. SQ is about the same as S6P but I dislike it because it produced distracting clicking sound while running. Later I will find a better sport earphone to replace S6P. Probably I will check out the Jam Transit 🙂 or Plantronics BackBeat.

          • ljokerl on

            Other than a somewhat shallow low end the BackBeat GO2 sounds pretty good – better than the Transit, albeit with a much brigher and less bassy sound. Not in the realm of many of the wired in-ears you can get for the same price (or my favorite wireless one, the Sony SBH80), but solid in clarity and detail resolution.

            Hope you like the IM50!

      • AzimAkbar on

        Just received my IM50 on Friday, just about a week shipping from Japan. Pretty fast for oversea shipping. Out of box they sound pretty good. More clear and detail than Soundmagic E10. Bass is enough for me but not better than E10. Just hope after proper burn out period the sound will get better. The only significant difference is E10 only need lowest volume setting just level 1or 2 on my Lenovo S930. And many songs actually sound overly loud. IM50 and other earphone need at least level 3-6 to get same sound as E10. For 35USD E10 really set a high level. Even IM50 which cost twice as expensive has hard time to actually surpass E10 sound quality. Yesterday I went to a local store Harvey Norman as they have many earphone available to test. I managed to try CKX5. Actually it sounds very balance with just enough bass but not as clear or details as IM50. The C tip actually does feel comfortable and add stability to fitment. The other Audio-technica I try is CKS55x, which fit nicely into my ear. It sound best with bass heavy Lady Gaga songs. Unfortunately it does not suit rock/ metal which most of my music comprised of. The only earphone that caught my ear that day is Beyerdynamic DTX 120. Very balanced sound suited for any of my music genre and the bass is better than E10 and IM50. But of course it is also more expensive.
        After some searching I found JBL Synchros Reflect for my sport use. It has C tip design like CKX5, short/extendable cable with remote mic. Not buying yet as I just bought IM50, but soon.

        • ljokerl on

          Did the Synchros sound better than the CKX5? Just curious. They seem to be class competitors.

          • AzimAkbar on

            I have no idea since the Synchros is only on watch list:) My wife will “kill” me if I continuously buy all these earphones. If it sound like the CKX5 I will be more than happy. Nothing wrong really with CKX5 for sport. Only thing is I always use my small smartphone on armband for running so a long cable like CKX5 is not suitable for that. I like my MEE S6P for what it is -sweat proof design, volume and remote control built in, short /entendable cable. Unfortunately the sound quality is lacking and I really need to crank up the volume to about 60-70% to get satisfactory hearing experience.

          • AzimAkbar on

            Finally found my sport earphone. My local online store Lazada Malaysia made a surprise fire sale last Friday. They are selling a pair of Bose SIE2i, red and blue color for just 40USD!!! I immediately snap up the blue color one and it has arrived yesterday. I thought for that ridiculous price I will get a fake or at least refurbished earphone. It turn out that I got a brand new in box original Bose SIE2i. Complete with Reebox armband and full accessories inside a blister pack and box.
            They are quite comfortable and fit my ear nicely with large size c tip silicon. Out of the box it sound rather flat with minimal bass, but high in clarity. Hopefully after burn in period the sound might get better. But for 40USD I will not even complain even if the absolute SQ is lower than IM50 and E10.

  4. Chriss on

    How ATH-CKS77 compare to these? Which ones have more sub-bass and less mid-bass? Thanks.

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately I haven’t tried the CKS77 but from what I understand of Audio-Technica’s product lines, the CKS** earphones should be bassier than CKM** models.

      • Chriss on

        Thanks for the reply joker. I’m wondering then how ckm500 compare to Beyerdynamic dtx 101. Which ones have better soundstage and bass extension? Big difference or not?
        Thanks again.

        • ljokerl on

          The CKM500 has a more spacious soundstage by a noticeable margin but deep bass is more well-defined with the Beyers because of the CKM500’s mid-bass emphasis.

  5. Ross on

    ckm500 was my only IE headphones and I need some help to choose another IEM. Although ckm500 is quite bassy, if compared to full-size headphones, it sounds as if there is no sub-bass. For example, there is a huge difference in regards to sub-bass when listening to Moby’s Extreme Ways with full-size cans like ath-m50. Is it usually the case with any IEMs? What are IEMs that could reproduce sub-bass of full-size headphones?

    • ljokerl on

      The CKM500 has a lot of mid-bass, which takes away from sub-bass prominence. See this part of the review above:

      “Deep bass is present as well but less prominent in comparison, resulting in sets like the Sony MH1C and Wooduo 2 appearing to have cleaner, more prominent sub-bass.”

      Sets like the FutureSonics Atrio and HiSound Wooduo have less mid-bass but produce more convincing deep bass.

  6. tolec on

    How does this compare to UE600 in sound? Is the fit similar to Monoprice 8320? Thank you for putting up such useful information!

    • ljokerl on

      They are pretty much opposites. The CKM500 has a ton of bass that towers over the midrange and also very prominent, sometimes slightly edgy treble. The UE600 has very neutral bass that never gets in the way of the midrange and treble that is very smooth, almost laid-back.

      The fit of these is different from the 8320. Better, IMO, but you have to wear them cable down, unlike the Monoprice. Their fit is more like that of a conventional earbud (e.g. apple earbuds) but with a nozzle that sits inside the ear canal.

      • tolec on

        I am looking for shallow-insert iems: 8320 feels okay, ue600 feels great, steelseries flux is already too long for me… Is there anything else that has a nozzle like 8320 and ckm500 or a short tube like ue600? Thanks again!

  7. capozide on

    Hi Joker,
    I love the dedication you’ve put towards this site and the head-fi community as far as the reviews go, I’ve read through a decent amount of them. I was looking at getting these IEMs in particular, my list I’m trying to fit right now is basically slightly bassy + decent quality, at a bargain price ($100 or less). Would you recommend these in particular, or would you say I should go off of your Earphone Buyer’s Guide? I don’t want crazy amounts of bass because it seems to become too muddy and make the mids/highs less clear, but I still want it to be there.

    Don’t know if this helps or keeps things in perspective but I’m somewhat of an Audio-Technica fanboy, I own a pair of ATH-A700s, and I like how they’re closed back and have a little bit better bass response over the AD700s, and I just love the overall clarity and quality for the price. I want to dive into a decent pair of IEMs because I work at a desk in an office with the opportunity to listen to music as I work. Genres of music I listen to are mainly electronic (vocal trance, progressive house, liquid dubstep, liquid drum and bass), with occasional hard rock or metalcore when the mood strikes. So I want to invest in a decent IEM, but don’t want to spend quite as much as I did on my headphones.

    Thanks for your time.

    • ljokerl on

      Thanks, I appreciate that.

      Honestly, I would say the CKM500 is more than “slightly” bassy. One of the reasons that it isn’t in the buyers guide is that while I don’t think it’s quite a basshead model, it’s a little too heavy on the low end to fit into the other categories. It has a rather large mid-bass hump that tends to be clearly audible and the treble is a little less refined than I would like. If you can live with that, it’s great for the price and easily competes with pricier earphones.

      It’s been a while since I heard the AD700 but from what I remember, those were way less bass-heavy than the CKM500. I never got a chance to try the A700, unfortunately.

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