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Great Design, disappointing sound

A Review On: Audio-technica In-ear Headphones Ath-ck323m Rd

Audio-technica In-ear Headphones Ath-ck323m Rd

Rated # 679 in In-Ear
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Isolation
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $20.00
FYLegend
Posted · Updated · 9982 Views · 6 Comments

Pros: Styling and comfort, tangle-free cord, detailed treble with very little sibilance, decent amount of sub-bass, great isolation (with other eartips)

Cons: Microphonic and springy cable, congested soundstage, recessed mids and mid-bass

The CK323M is a Japan-only budget IEM from Audio-Technica. There is also a version with an in-line mic and controls, the CK323i. The CK323iS appears to be a version that is compatible with Android and has a switch on the side. When my CKM500 broke during a flight to a transfer stop to Japan, I bought this IEM at the airport store for around 20$ USD. I knew it wouldn't sound as good as the CKM500 but hoped it would at least have some good sound coming from Audio-Technica.

 

Design and Comfort

These are some of the best-looking headphones by Audio-Technica.  They come in many different colours though I like the red one. The cord is semi-flat and not prone to tangles (CKM500's cord tangles quite a bit in my pocket), but at the same time it's springy and makes a lot of noise while moving around unless a clip is used. There is a cinch, but only when it's moved just below your chin will it reduce some of the microphonics.

 

They are also quite durable - I've had them survive several laundry washes in my pockets.

 

Sound Quality

Out of the box, the sound signature was a sharp V-shape with emphasis on the highs. They were a bit bright but otherwise sounded detailed, and not much sibilance at all. I actually prefer this type of sound to that of the CKM500 which has a rather thick-sounding treble. The deep low end is also noticeable but unfortunately the bass lacks definition and the mids are deeply recessed and lack warmth. Burning them in helped tone down the treble and boost the mids a bit but the overall sound quality still sounds dry, there is also a considerable amount of sub-bass now. However, the bass is still muddy and bloated, lacking the definition of the CKM500 - the midbass still sounds recessed as with the lower mids. The soundstage is rather small on these cans (similar to the CKM500 but a bit more congested) and instrument separation is passable. They are forgiving of harsh highs and not as good for vocals or bassy music. A bit of EQ can add a bit of the warmth to the sound though. Dare I say, these are one of the few headphones that I prefer with Beats Audio EQ on my HTC smartphone, as it does boost the mid-bass and sub-bass considerably.

 

FILTER MOD: Taking out the filters makes them overly bright, though this can be relieved with some foam (eg from cheapo earpads). As a result there is a bit more shimmer in the highs and more sub-bass, approaching the signature of the ATH-M50x but the mid-bass is still very muddy.

 

Isolation

The CK323M is a half-in-ear design like other CKM headphones, which provides decent isolation but is not the best for very noisy environments. It uses the same eartips as the CKM500, so the isolation with the stock tips is about the same, though it can fit in your ear just a tad deeper due to the driver design (the CKM500 has a disk-shape preventing the earpiece from going in as much). The CKM500 has air vents on the outside of the housing, while the CK323M has air vents in the nozzle. Because this region is covered by the eartip, they don't really help with pressure or the soundstage.

Phillips SHE3590's tips significantly improve the isolation, so much the cans "suck" into your ears - the best isolation out of all my IEMs so far.

 

I do not recommend these for sports because they have quite a bit of cable noise, although it does come with a clip/cord manager. They are also extremely awkward to wear over the ear. (I actually lost the clip but I didn't find them useful, they do reduce cable noise but due to the springy cord, it's hard to actually wrap the cord around it)

 

Value

You're mainly buying these for the looks and I think they are the most stylish IEM made by Audio-Technica so far. Unfortunately, the sound quality can be deal-breaker here. They aren't the worst sounding at this price but there are better options. Perhaps my expectations were too high coming from the CKM500. I do think the Phillips SHE3580 and the Xiaomi Piston 3 are better options at this price.

6 Comments:

FYLegend: I couldn't agree more with your review. I recently bought CK323i which has a microphone and volume control built into the cable. The sound is exactly what you said; bass a little weak, mids a bit recessed, treble is very good with not much sibilance. I think this IEM is good for J-Pop music or music that is focused on the treble side.
An excellent review indeed.
I (accidentally) took off the paper covers from the drivers, which made the treble too bright, so I inserted some foam inside (a bit like the Kramer mod with JVC Marshmallows). Now the bass is fuller (more than the Phillips SHE3580), but still muddy, and soundstage is about the same still. SHE3580 is a bit more dynamic but can get a tad bit sibilant. The cord is also much less microphonic.
These are not terrible for some dave brubeck jazz in a pinch..
The review has it nailed, however.
Have you guys tried switching to bigger tips? I find the bass is reliant upon the correct fit. With the right fit these sound great for the price.
 
Some hi-res "Fleetwood Mac-Rumours" from an Audioengine D1 putting out to an Audio Technica AT-HA22TUBE desktop amp, and these sound fantastically close (under the same setup) to other ubiquitously-lauded IEM models such as the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore, which costs approximately four times the price.
I agree they are not terrible, perhaps I was a bit too harsh in the review (needs a bit of an overhaul), as it was largely based on them in the first few months without modding or different tips; the cable is more put-off than the sound. I loved the styling (reminds me of Sennheiser's recent CX and Momentum in-ears). They have quite a bit of sub-bass after burn in and the filter-foam mod I described above. I don't usually mind slightly recessed mids (like the M50) but I thought these were a bit muddy in the mids and mid-bass. The treble is very clean and not sibilant. In the end they sound like the M50, but a bit more muddy and less extension in the highs. The IM70 has a much more "lush" sound but unfortunately mine seems a bit broken. (right housing doesn't sound as punchy as the left)
 
Phillips SHE3590 tips isolate a lot better than the stock tips, to the point they "suck" on your ears a bit (they are completely enclosed).