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CK100, UM3X, SE535, SM3, IE8 – A Journey

post #1 of 90
Thread Starter 

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
post #2 of 90

I too recently received a pair of CK100's and have to say I am certainly enjoying them.


Looking forward to reading more of your impressions on them as I plan to write up my own review in the next couple of weeks as well, will be interesting to see whether your listenings contrast mine.


Nice writeup so far, keep up the good work!




post #3 of 90

you can't go flaming the SM3 around these parts.  its like the second coming of jesus 


but yeah, i've always wanted to try the CK100s, but i couldn't justify spending 400 bucks on a pair of IEMs.  the CK10s more than filled my wants.  anywho, well written and a good look at the top top tier (price and elsewise)

post #4 of 90

well, im glad there's someone out there who appreciate the sound of ck100 like i do...

post #5 of 90

My last stepping stone before i commit to custom. It's still one of my fav universal IEM :)


Thanks for the review music_4321

post #6 of 90

I guess I may one of the few who enjoy the CK10 more than the CK100 here :) Both of them are very good however and it boils down to preference especially in the midrange of the CK100.

post #7 of 90

FWIR, the CK100 is very dependent on your source. So the bigger differences might have occurred because of a non-synergistic source. I am curious, what do people consider a good match (DAP-wise) for the CK100?

Edited by violinvirtuoso - 9/6/10 at 9:18pm
post #8 of 90

If the Sony A828 was any indication Sony players would be a good match. I would avoid any player made by sansa for the CK100. For some reason warm sources do wonderfully on them.

post #9 of 90
Thread Starter 

Thanks to those who 'enjoyed' my previous post.

Further impressions:

These CK100s are wonderful IEMs. I ended up going to bed much later than I wanted to last night, in the end having listened to about six hours of music consecutively. No fatigue whatsoever.

The CK100 excel in busy passages and never become sloppy.

As for the mystery of the brilliant treble performance I think this has to do with how the CK100s render mids, and how the mids, in turn, blend with the high frequencies, producing an absolutely fascinating combination. Mids are stunning, and I'm still adapting to this new 'lesser' treble that has me wondering just how on earth Audio-Thechnica got it to sound so smooth yet so convincing, real.

Bass is wonderful, I have to say. Instrument separation is brilliant, though the UM3X may have the slight edge on that area, but only just.

I've intentionally not done any more A/B'ing as I want to immerse myself in the sound sig of this wonderful IEM for a few days, then go back to my UM3X for a day or so, and then do more A/B'ing (which I do not enjoy, BTW).

The UM3X are more sensitive and a bit easier to drive, and hiss more with my Sony X1061. With the UM3X I normally set the volume at 7/8 (out of 30!), with the CK100 at 10/11, so plenty of room if I want to go deaf with either IEM.

For those who like a more V-shaped type of sound, be warned the CK100 will most likely not be your cup of tea, mids are very present, but in my view they're rendered in a most efficient way. The words balanced, neutral and natural spring to mind all the time. Strings on the CK100 sound phenomenal, BTW.

And no, at this stage I cannot say I prefer the CK100 over my UM3X, but I'm very, very impressed still with the former. My guess is the UM3X may sound more engaging/ appealing to more people, but that's just my guess. I do know, however, that what engages my attention/ ears is not always what engages others - does that make sense? This is why I cannot declare a clear winner just yet.

Those who have seen my posts lately will know that I will be quite honest in my assessment of these or any other IEMs. And just like in real life, this attitude doesn't help to bond and make many new 'friends' - luckily, in most cases these are not the type of friends I'd like to have in the real world.

Here's a few more pics:













Edited by music_4321 - 9/7/10 at 8:14am
post #10 of 90

Their mids are a bit too forward to be considered neutral imo. That aside I pretty much agree with your assessment on this fantastic set of earphones.

post #11 of 90

Thanks for those impressions, Music_4321!

I would definitely like to try those, but hell, here in Belgium, those are probably the most expensive iems (apart from the Shure SE535 maybe).

Have you ever heard the RE-252, Music (or any Head Direct phone) ?

post #12 of 90

it is always nice to see comparison of high end earphone. thanks

post #13 of 90
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Photofan1986 View Post

Thanks for those impressions, Music_4321!

I would definitely like to try those, but hell, here in Belgium, those are probably the most expensive iems (apart from the Shure SE535 maybe).

Have you ever heard the RE-252, Music (or any Head Direct phone) ?

I haven't heard any Head Direct IEM, but have read good things about the RE-252. One thing, though, is I don't like the design, and build quality & cable don't look very good either, or at least good enough for me. Microphonics and flexibility are very important aspects I take into account, apart from SQ, comfort & isolation. So, I'm not really interested in any HD products, I'm afraid. If I tried another IEM, which I'm not planning to do, it'd probably be the Ortofon e-Q7, but even this one does not interest me that much.




BTW, something I hadn't mentioned yet: the CK100's imaging is excellent. This really is a fine IEM. 

Edited by music_4321 - 9/7/10 at 4:29pm
post #14 of 90

Very good quick review man. I have had the UM3Xs in the past and I loved them, the level of detail and... just pure SQ was astounding.

post #15 of 90

I agree, CK100 is definetly wonderful from the top universal iems I've tried. One thing I have to say though, perhaps I like a little more bass in general, that the CK100 is still quite bass shy for me quantity wise. Without a doubt, the quality of the bass is wonderfully textured. What impressed me the most and make me try it over and over again was its mids and highs are beautiful for female vocals (in particular j-pop). 


I then swapped my ck100s for e-q7 and having talked to several people extensively about it I traded my ck100. What a disappointment. The e-q7 were no where near what I expected and I felt that it was a step below ck100.!

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