In the last 8 weeks I've been trying to get a top-tier universal IEM backup for my Westone ES3X (customs). This journey started nearly 2 months ago.
First I got the Sennheiser IE8, then the new Shure SE535, then the Earsonics SM3, then the new Westone UM3X (I'd previously owned the older version without detachable cables or fit-kit with 10 different tips), and today I received the Audio Technica ATH-CK100.
The IE8, SE535 & SM3 didn't quite convince me enough to keep them and that's why I decided to get the UM3X (new version) again as this had been the best universal I'd heard and the only one that could come close to my $850 ES3X.
The SE535 and SM3 were a big disappointment SQ-wise, specially the latter and my decision to sell them came within a few hours after testing them - I remain convinced the SM3 has been hyped to disproportionate levels, but that's just my opinion, but one opinion that gradually seems to be shared by more people.
The SE535 was not as big a disappointment as the SM3 but the former's bass I found seriously lacking (anemic) and the treble a bit on the bright side for my liking and lacking refinement. The SE535, however, responded better to EQ'ing and I have a DAP, the Sony X1061, with a very good 5-band EQ, but I try to avoid EQ'ing and I only do so with very, very few albums.
The IE8, didn't disappoint like the SE535 and SM3, and in fact I quite liked them, but still felt the difference between these and my ES3X was quite significant, namely the extension along the frequency spectrum and overall clarity, but I did enjoy the IE8s and given the choice between the IE8, SE535 & SM3, I'd choose the former both in SQ and design, SQ-wise at least because I simply found them more enjoyable, but the SE535 EQ'd properly (to me, at least) is a serious contender.
So, I finally decided to get the UM3X again and then it all made sense again, and I could confirm once again the UM3X was the best universal I'd ever heard.
However, there remained one more top-tier universal I've wanted to try for a long time: the ATH-CK100, quite an expensive IEM. But having tried the ATH-CK10 and finding it seriously lacking bass response and the treble, though generally quite good, it did not fully convince me being just a little brighter than I find acceptable, and also finding the right fit was not an easy task. So, having read only a few CK100 reviews/ opinions I was curious but not that curious after my experience with the CK10.
About 10 days ago I came across a post that happened to mention the CK100 in passing, and so I decided to read up on them again - after all the CK10 is a dual BA IEM and the CK100 is a triple BA IEM. To my surprise I found many more posts than I had read originally, though they were scattered all over the place. Still, reports were rather confusing, but there were a few pointers that just made me order a set.
I was excited but somewhat sceptical, mostly by my not so great CK10 purchase, and the fact that those who had tried both either preferred the CK100 by a small margin, but there was one or two people who preferred the CK10 (that almost made not order it). But still, a few reports of better bass than the CK10, great mids and treble... I just thought "You know it's not until you yourself try them for yourself that you'll really know, and if you end up selling them like you have with other IEMs, at least your ears will have found out 'the truth'".
Well, what a great surprise, and a very pleasant surprise this has been. Right now, after nearly 3 hours with the CK100s I honestly don't know which IEM I prefer, the UM3X or CK100.
These two IEMs are different. The UM3X has more bass quantity, but the CK100 has enough quantity for my taste and REMARKABLE bass quality, it's tight and textured. Mids on both are simply brilliant, still cannot say exactly how they differ but I guess I'm a 'mids-head' and mids on both are fantastic. Treble on the UM3X is more pronounced but there is a quality in the CK100's treble I just cannot put my finger on, but I find it very impressive, and clearly better than the treble I remember on the CK10. Quantity-wise the CK100 has less treble than the SE535, but quality-wise the CK100's is clearly more refined, in my view, less 'harsh' and VERY natural sounding, I'm finding the treble quite fascinating, actually, and it may have (right now) the edge over the UM3X's treble, even when it has less of it - and that for me is saying a lot. But I need more time as these are first impressions, but first impressions are important.
I'm finding the CK100 incredibly neutral, and quite impressively so; I just did not expect I'd get this from Audio Technica. These IEMs are not bass light in the least. Bass is most definitely present and wonderfully textured.
I A/B'd them against my UM3X for about 20 mins and I cannot yet say which one I prefer. When I tried to A/B them against my ES3X a couple of times, the latter came out the 'winner' as expected, but just like my UM3X, the difference wasn't bothersome.
There was no WOW factor with the CK100 like I experienced with the W3 (nearly 2 years ago) or IE8 (2 months ago), but I've come to learn to see this as a positive sign. The SE535 & SM3, by contrast, not only did not wow me, but sounded plain 'wrong' to these ears compared to my customs.
After nearly 3 hours there's no fatigue and the CK100s are very comfortable. I'm using the stock large silicone tips (you only get these in S, M & L plus one pair of some sort of Comply type of tips. Have tried the Westone silicone tips & Sony hybrids as well but none provide the SQ of the large stock tips.
The cable, like the CK10, is of fantastic quality, with practically no microphonics and plenty of flexibility. The strain relief is markedly better than that on the CK10's. The CK100 has an L-shaped plug, which I prefer, unlike the CK10's straight one. The UM3X cable is 2" (5 cm) longer than the CK100's (50" vs 48" / 1.25 m vs 1.20 m)
On the whole I find the CK100s VERY smart looking - more so than the SE535s, though most head-fiers would choose the SE535, but not other (non head-fi) audiophiles, I think. They're impeccably built, smallish (which is great), though not quite as small as the CK10s. And although they can be worn with the cable down, isolation & SQ is definitely not as good as when wearing them properly, ie over the ear (as suggested by the manufacturer).
Packaging is just about right, nothing flashy yet quite stylish and just the right size - it is stated on the box that these are made in Japan. The case is very good and rather smart, but I prefer the more practical and sturdy UM3X new zip case.
I need to do more critical listening but right now I'm just enjoying the CK100s quite a bit.
Here's some pics of the CK100 & UM3X:
UM3X case, CK100's case, tips & cleaning cloth.
Edited by music_4321 - 9/6/10 at 3:02pm