AUDIO TECHNICA CKR9: Experiencing The Reality Of Sound Waves
Hello fellow headfiers! I hope curious in-ear fans encounter this thread and become satisfied with the information about this eccentric in-ear. This is also my first serious review about an in-ear monitor, any advice or critiques about my review style are encouraged.
I consider myself a huge audio technica fan since 2009. I had the old ath-ckm77, ath-cks77 solid bass, and the audio technica ck10s, a former king in the dual ba in-ear realm. With this much experience with their audio equipment, I felt induced to purchase the audio technical ckr9s when it was released in April 29 of this year.
Ath-ckm77 on the left, Ath-ckm500 on the right
Ath-Ck10 on the upper left, Ath-ck77s adjacent to it
Before I commence the review, allow me to briefly cover details concerning the date this product was released, the models they released, and alleged claims of this in-ear’s capability to reproduce what Audio technical of Japan calls it, “Sound Reality.”
The recent CKR series that Audio Technica announced since March had headfiers flabbergasted at this odd “push-pull” design that the company touts as “The first push-pull earphone design.” Originally, few people believed that the midrange to high end CKR products were designed with the push-pull design, but the company elaborated that only the high end CKR were eligible for the push-pull implementations. The budget end to midrange series, known as the Ath-CKR 3-7, had a single dynamic driver with various sizes ranging from 9mm to 14mm. However, the ckr9-10 in-ears are structured differently, as they both contain 13mm dual dynamic drivers facing against each other. One driver essentially pushes sound and the other focuses on pulling sound which reduces frequency distortion and allows the in-ear to produce both armature and dynamic sound.
Once Audio Technica released the in-ear models in April 29, I immediately purchased this product at Amazon Japan. After months of ownership, the best question to ask would be “Is this in-ear relevant in the current market?” Let us explore the answer together.
· Driver Diameter: Dynamic, 13 mm x 2
· Maximum Input Power: 200 mW
· Frequency Response: 5 – 35,000 Hz
· Sensitivity: 102 dB
· Impedance: 32 ohms
· Weight: 12g
· Connector: 3.5 mm gold-plated stereo mini plug (L-shaped)
· Cable: 1.2 m (Y type)
· Accessories Included: Earpieces(XS,S,M,L), Case
Paper and Board packaging on top of the rigid box. Simple to remove and beautiful
Difficult to remove the cover due to AT’s adoption of a 2-piece box construction.
Vigorous shaking transpired in this un-boxing.
Upon opening my package during May 2, 2014, I immediately became enamored with AT’s premium packaging. The in-ears have been enclosed by a rigid embossed box and a smooth matte surface with a Silver inscription on the upper center of the package. It read “CKR SOUND REALITY.”
While unboxing this product, I encountered problems with this specific model of packaging that AT adopted. The company used a 2-piece telescopic embossed rigid box, which made the box removal process require laborious effort. In contrast, The Ath-IM0X series contained a simpler unboxing method with a book flap rigid box design.
Once I finally unboxed the product, a sense of trepidation engulfed me. First, the inner packaging contained only three sets of tips that required further effort to remove, and the pouch only destroyed my expectations in AT’s ability to provide premium accessories at this price point. The Audio technical company has, once again, recycled their accessories from their CKM series. In contrast, the ATH-IM series at the maximum had a different pouch to carry the earphones while still retaining the same tips from the CKM series.
Fortunately, the in-ears were secured in a precisely cut foam, which simplified the unboxing process.
Build Quality and Design
The ath-ckr9s themselves were great in handling, size, and weight.
The ckr9s conveyed a prestigious appearance with its round aluminum housing, an oval shaped plastic matte outer shell to secure said housing, and a thick, durable, strain relief. The housing, strain relief, and body are the only premium materials of the in-ear itself. Also, there is a metal mesh near the aluminum housing, possibly used to produce this semi-open atmosphere in music.
Despite the thick and durable strain relief, ath-ckr9 lacks removable cabling options and derives its cable components from the IM-0X series. (Refer to that one noob’s and earfonia’s IM series review). To save you the troubles though, the cable becomes easily tangled and lacks a chin slider. It is a Y-Split type of cable, so at least audio technica did not skimp on the cable’s layout unlike their previous microdriver series.
Also, microphonics is below average when worn down, but slightly above average when worn over the ear. This earphone is susceptible to wind noise. The amount of wind noise you’d hear? I would estimate around half of the volume on a player at 30 percent.
Shame on you for providing a lackluster cable, Audio Technica.
Size, Fit, Comfort, Isolation
Regardless of the aforementioned cons, be mostly scrupulous of the in-ear’s size. While smaller than most 13mm drivers, this product falters in the portability aspect of in-ears when compared to the competition.
Surprisingly, the fit felt amazing for its size and bulky design. In addition, the bulky body of the in-ears had not deterred my ears from accepting its invitation to perform free entertainment for them. However, my ears would succumb to a gradual pain after a few hours of retaining the housing’s above average size. I’m afraid that headfiers with small ear canals should avoid purchasing the ckr9s. See image below.
Contrary to some people’s opinions on the ath-ckr9’s
wearability, this in-ear CAN be worn over ear.
Isolation was slightly above average when travelling outside my home. My ears struggled to articulate the slightly audible sounds when I walked around traffic. Noise leakage was average when raising it to 50 percent volume on a portable player. Slightly audible if you set the volume settings to 30 percent in most players (except the sony z1060, which I used for the ckr9s as sony’s player requires more volume than the usual players).
Further Discussion About Fit
Also, for this in-ear to reach its maximum potential in sound quality, try playing with the fit.
Some state that AT’s in-ears requires more of a shallow type fit. I completely attest to people’s statements. However, sometimes the fit may necessarily require a deep fit for a good seal, as the sound felt distant and a bit lacking in resolution when I superficially placed the ath-ckr9s in my ears. Once I reached a deeper fit for this in-ear, I found that, for my personal experience, that these earphones produce an accurate frequency response with a deep fit. As they say, YYMMV
The ath-ckr9 – easy to drive?
A resounding yes should be heard when asked about the driving capability of the ckr9s. One should not feel obligated to pair this in-ear with an amp. I have no trouble driving my ckr9s with the LG G2 player, sony Z1060 walkman, and the PC’s motherboard realtek audio chipset.
Sound quality – Low End
The song that tested the in-ear’s ability to produce accurate lows and percussion instruments is Steely Dan’s “Aja” due to the instrumental portions of the song.
Upon hearing the middle section of the song, bass produced by the ckr9s unveiled a good amount deep, rich, and texturized bass that traverses on the warm line. The bass lacked flabbiness and bloat which made the song ever more invigorating to listen. Unlike some earphones, bass decay is accurate as the bass notes abruptly end instead of linger on (unless the recording intentionally had the bass decay for a good duration of the song).
Bass impact is above average and is comparable to bass heavy in-ears like the sony xba-h3s.
Percussion instruments have a crisp quality and almost sound flamboyant in my ears. The closer drums are to the listener, better perception of striking detail occurs. Snare drums produce clear and articulated snaps, bams, and ‘tuts,’ while bass drums have good thunderous booms and thuds. Bass have great rumble and impact upon my listening experience with the ath-ckr9s.
Subbass roll off begins at the 24-23hz region, meaning that the ckr9s are well extended in the bass region.
Quick summary – Lows
In conclusion, along with the percussion instruments provided in Aja, the low end propagates a competent, puissant, and alluring quality of the low end. Bass expounds itself when the certain recordings desire more potency.
Sound Quality – Mids
Tim McGraw, Ray Charles, Thomas Rhett, and Mariah Carey came to mind when I determined the ckr9’s ability to reproduce the original sound heard in these recordings.
Before I Continue This Segment
Be warned that the Audio Technica Ckr9s contain a 2-4db peak at the 4khz region. Of course, this peak depends on recording and a good example of that peak would be Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” song from his Innervisions album. His voice sounds transparent, but a bit too forward. Yet, this peak provides both an exciting and vociferous experience due to the intrusiveness of the midrange in my ears.
I was astounded upon hearing vocals through the ckr9s.
The midrange, as an aggregate, sounds fantastic. Mariah Carey’s beautiful voice in her song “Always Be My Baby,” sounded creamy, airy, and detailed enough for anyone to hear the balanced warm/dry tone she conveyed with her vocals. Her voice also sounded energetic and provided sufficient weight to deliver accurate timbre. Thomas Rhett and Tim McGraw had a more relaxed tone with their voice and produced a warmer presentation to their songs, “It Goes Like This,” and “My Best Friend.”
Ray Charles’ vocals in “Hit the Road Jack” become phenomenally reproduced by the ckr9s. The female singers in this song positively suffocate me with their incredulous warmth and forwarded vocals in this song. Ray Charles’ voice recesses slightly behind them and produces this disparity between their positioning in the song. Ray Charles’ voice sounds a bit dryer and detailed than the slightly warmer tone that the women bear.
Lastly, instrument rendition sounded positively accurate. String instruments reflected the similar timbre of live performances. Guitar strumming is delicate, smooth, warm but detailed. Other instances, strumming becomes abundantly detailed and in addition, thick as well.
A perfect analogy of the instrument and vocal thickness reproduced by the ckr9s can be surmised using meat patties as an example. A Ba driver usually lack thickness and weight to the midrange. Thus, a ba driver is equivalent to one meat patty for those hungry customers at a burger joint. A dynamic driver, specifically this ckr9, becomes comparable to nearly 3 meat patties as its weight in sound.
Quick summary – Mids
In conclusion, the midrange retains an organic, airy, transparent, thick, and a balanced reproduction of the warm/dry sounds in its presentation. Disregarding terrible recordings, Sound becomes incredibly silky smooth and lacks any sibilance. I commend Audio technical for reproducing the midrange in the most eloquent fashion.
Sound quality – Highs
Steely Dan’s “Aja”, Stevie Wonder’s “Too High”, and J-Pop artist Ohara Sayaka’s “Wings Of Liberty” assess the ckr9’s capability in high frequency reproduction.
Cymbals lack the splashy quality that some earphones and in-ears produce. In addition, the cymbals never sound metallic and provide a crispy, silky, and airy atmosphere for the listener. Hi-hats, and the method drummers use to play them, become immediately apparent for any audio beginner and enthusiast. A tap, brush, crash, strike, and clash variations of cymbals and hi-hat become easily distinguished by the ckr9s. Detail retrieval in cymbals and hi-hats are above average, and the reverberation from the vibrations that cymbals cause is satisfying.
Highs extend up to the 16-17khz region. There are no declines, peaks, or deficiencies in the treble spectrum. There is a latent recession in the 10khz region, but that region only becomes conspicuous in certain songs. Tonality almost becomes linear until the ckr9s produce terribly recorded music, which results in sibilance. However, any good recorded music sounds stellar on the ckr9s.
Quick summary – Highs
In conclusion, Highs never manifest upon the entire frequency and avoid sounding rudimentary for my ears. Crisp, versatile, and efficacious in quality is what I would describe the Ath-Ckr9s.
Like the image above, ckr9’s imaging capabilities are deep and endless.
To avoid dragging this review any further, the ckr9s have an appealing soundstage and imaging. The soundstage, however, becomes grand due to the ckr9’s imagery. Imaging cultivates the soundstage with its accurate portrayal in sound positioning and endless layering. The ckr9s can stack multiple instruments both in height and depth, causing a 3D presentation.
For example, a trombone player can be heard center stage, the trumpet player above him, the drum player behind them, etc. Thus the soundstage feels airy and open, but not exactly large either, unless the recording desires it.
Reviewing this in-ear was thrilling and fatiguing. The ckr9 becomes highly regarded amongst the technically adept audio products in my profile. I am not stating that this is the best in-ear for you, but that the ath-ckr9 exceeded my expectations and captured all preferences that most in-ears failed to accomplish. If Audio Technica ever produces a hybrid in-ear, I’ll immediately purchase that product and review it.
If there are any further questions, please do not hesitate to ask.