Details: Audio-Technica’s titanium-housed dynamic-driver earphone
MSRP: $229.95 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $190 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 104 dB | Freq: 5-28k Hz | Cable: 2’ I-plug + 2’ L-plug extension
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges; generic bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down
Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (4 sizes), 2’ extension cable, cleaning cloth, and magnetic clasp carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The housings of the CKM99 are made of equal parts sturdy plastics and sturdier titanium. The design is of the half in-ear type, with flexible strain reliefs all around and a modular cable. Unfortunately, the cord is not as thick as with the higher-end CK10 and CK100 models, lacks a sliding cinch, and has a greater tendency to tangle. Color-coded left/right markings on the inner side of the housings are a nice touch
Isolation (3/5) – Despite being a half in-ear design, the ear-filling CKM99 provides surprisingly good isolation
Microphonics (4/5) – Low despite cable-down form factor
Comfort (4/5) – Despite their size and heft, the 14mm housings fit snugly and securely. The excellent molding quality and a design that completely avoids sharp edges are partly responsible though those with smaller outer ears may find the CKM99 too bulky
Sound (8.6/10) – The ATH-CKM99 is Audio-Technica’s latest dynamic earphone and the company’s take on a high-end consumer-class IEM. The signature of the earphone strikes a balance between the typical high-end dynamic-driver IEM and Audio-Technica’s bright-and-shiny house sound. The end result is lively and versatile. The bass is plentiful but never excessive. It is deep and controlled but a little soft in character. A mild mid-bass hump is present, giving the low end greater overall quantity than either the VSonic GR07 or the Sennheiser IE7. The IE7 really isn’t very far behind in slam or power but its forward midrange causes the low end to stand out less. The GR07, on the other hand, is clearly quicker and tighter than the CKM99. Though it lacks most of the mid-bass boost, the GR07 manages to be both more resolving and more immediate in impact. Those who value bass body and fullness of note over speed and accuracy will likely prefer the bass of the Audio-Technicas by a margin. Coming from the GR07, however, the CKM99 sounds a bit too boomy.
The midrange of the CKM99 is slightly recessed next to the emphasized bass and abundant treble. There is a touch of warmth imparted by the bass hump but the CKM99 is still a neutral-to-bright earphone on the whole. Clarity and detail are good – similar to the Sennheiser IE7 and very respectable for a dynamic-driver earphone. The mids are extremely smooth and very fluid – occasionally too much so, leading to a slight loss of texture. The GR07 sounds slightly dryer, less smoothed-over, and not quite as polite as Audio-Technica’s flagship.
The treble is where the CKM99 attempts to revert to Audio-Technica’s house sound. There is a fair bit of emphasis starting at the upper midrange that, in contrast to the VSonic GR07, doesn’t seem to flatten out a whole lot with burn-in. As a result, the CKM99 is a bright-sounding earphone and can be a touch hot and spitty with certain tracks. The treble peaks seem to be far broader and lower down than with my ATH-CK10, so a much wider range of source material is affected. Compared to the GR07, the sibilance of the ATH-CKM99 seems a little more widespread and a whole lot more violent. My GR07, post burn-in, simply has far shallower treble peaks. Aside from the sibilance added to some recordings, the treble sounds very clean and refined. Extension is good, a-la GR07, and there is no excess (and certainly no lack) of sparkle. Like the VSonics, the Audio-Technicas aren’t ideal for high volume listening but work well otherwise with their solid detail, clarity, and bass impact.
Presentation is an area where most higher-end Audio-Technica earphones I’ve heard shine, and the CKM99 is no exception. The emphasized treble gives the sound an airy, lightweight feel. The stage is above average in size and extends well in all directions. Dynamics are quite good and the earphone has no trouble with separation or positioning. The similarly-priced Sennheiser IE7 has a larger soundstage but, like the higher-end IE8, has some trouble portraying intimacy. The CKM99 has significantly better on-center feel and sounds a bit more convincing on the whole. The GR07 has slightly better layering but otherwise doesn’t score any points on the CKM99 either.
Value (7.5/10) – The Audio-Technica CKM99 is an exquisitely well-built earphone that exemplifies an angled-nozzle design done right. Despite the huge 14mm drivers used, the CKM99 fits comfortably in the ear and isolates better than many other high-end dynamics. It also sounds good, competing well with similarly-priced offerings from Sennheiser and Monster. VSonic’s similarly-priced GR07 monitor will probably be a constant thorn in the CKM99s side but the earphones have different purposes. The GR07 is fast, neutral, and balanced. The CKM99 is lively, colored, and liquid. In typical Audio-Technica fashion, it breaks from the warm sound of most similarly-priced dynamics and captures some of the company’s ambient and euphonic house sound. Not being priced up in the $250+ range with Audio-Technica’s BA-based flagships helps the CKM99 stay competitive and availability outside of Japan is nice to see as well.
Pros: Excellent build quality; comfortable angled-nozzle design; good overall sound quality
Cons: Cable not as nice as with CK10/CK100; can be sibilant