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[kiteki review] Audio Technica ATH-CK10 - "the Calvin Klein..." (+ various IEM sound impressions)

post #1 of 49
Thread Starter 


Departing shortly with the CK10, I dedided to review it.



So, let's start off with the basics as reviews usually do, and then get to the sound later.


Packaging: Weak, just a plastic box I saw in pics, never actually received the packaging anyway, (thanks musicaacoustics).

Accesories: A very nice pouch with mesh inside to hold everything in place, (Imho it should be a little thinner than it is), three tips, and a useless piece of cloth, you know, because this isn't an IEM, this is a DIAMOND of IEM's you have to polish with a special cloth, so it looks nice and shiny, hell, where's the stand for it?

Build-quality: Terrific, like I said it's a gem, pretty minimalistic so I didn't think highly of it at first, but over time I've come to appreciate how simplistic and perfect the nature of the build-quality is, and come to realise that the cable is the best cable I've encountered for feel and low microphonics, I wouldn't hesitate in recommending this as a sports IEM, and in the manual provided there is a picture that recommends you wear it over-ear and down the back of your shirt or jacket and then connecting to the DAP in your pocket, I used this method sometimes and found the cable was the perfect length to do that with a little bit of slack left over, for reference I'm 177cm tall.
All in all, I wouldn't bother with paying a premium for warranty on these, because what's the point? They'll last you 7 years I'm sure, and you can throw them out a window or drive over them with a tractor in siberia.
I'm not sure about filter replacements though, I haven't heard of any filter replacements as such, or any tools to do that with.


Retail: There isn't much hype on the net for them I think, they're have a good reception, I don't know how audio-technica advertises it's products in Japan, as far as I know there are no radio or TV commercials, but I think there was an occasion where a nice looking girl was modelling the ck10 in her ears.

Price: They're only available in Japan now, I heard they used to be available in the USA for $200 or so, but those times are gone, now you'll only find them in JP for around $290, perhaps $250 if you find a nice deal or order from HK.  I don't really know who to recommend, but if I purcahse a new pair in the future I'll most likely use www.kakaku.com to find the good prices in Japan, and then use www.tenso.com as the forwarding service.

Counterfeit: None that I know of, so you can buy from shady dealers without hesitation.

Looks: They look very nice, especially on girls that like to model them.
They have a teal coloured metal plate, supposedly titanium, I think I checked if it was titanium or not once with fridge magnets and they couldn't pick it up, but they were attracted to the driver on the inside, anyway who cares, it's not nickel, you won't get a skin allergy from them, judging by the colour of the metal I can see on the circular verge of the metal plate it does look like titanium to me, and the teal is a paint that has been applied on top, so I believe after several years use perhaps the teal will eventually come off and reveal the titanium, which would look fine, a better metal than aluminium at least... this belongs in another category but the titanium has zero affect on sound quality, since the driver is independant of the face plate, and it's all plastic/rubber inside where the driver is, and as my fridge maget test revealed the dual-BA driver is not titanium.  What does affect the sound quality however is the filter and the nozzle and I believe the nozzle may indeed be titanium.


Fit: They fit very nicely in my ears, I always wear them over-ear, and my favorite tip to use is the medium sized custom tip that's supplied with them.

Isolation: It's pretty good, you can insert them deeply if you want since they're quite tiny, I haven't tried etymotics and I'm not very concerned with total isolation so I'm not sure on this one.

Comfy: Yes, everything from the tips to the sound flavour to the cables, just overall pretty comfy.

I can't think of any more categories right now, on the the important one then...





Low Volume: It's very good, but since when do I use low volume? I fell asleep in them at low volume a couple times, that was all.


High Volume: Very good, I can operate the CK10 at high volume for extened sessions, and afterwards my ears will feel only feel a bit numb for 10 minutes or so and then revert back to normal.


Sensitivity: They are very sensitive, actually they are too sensitive, why? because on my Sanyo PCDP, they are too soft at volume 1, and too loud at volume 2, on a volume scale of 132 !! and I listen at high volumes!



Let's go, press play on tape:


Ok so I'll start by copy pasting some of my opinions I've written on them during my time with them in the last 7 months or so, I have a longer experience with them now and other IEM's, so I'll finalize with my current thoughts at the end, but these were my thoughts along the way, the first one is from a trance thread, and the second one was a quick review I did shortly after receiving them, like 2 weeks or so, so I wasn't quite used to their SS yet, but first impressions can sometimes have a way of dissolving as we become acclimitized to a certian sound, so I think they have their value as well.



"Meh, if kamenadeezi was looking for dynamic-driver bass and immensely huge soundstage the CK10 isn't even what he was looking for in the first place, that's just naive, the CK10 is balanced-armature and soundstage is not immense at all, it is quite confined, it is however, the best soundstage I have ever heard, within the x y z parameters of it's depth, width and height.

I don't even listen to trance that much, it's not my favorite kind of music, I can personally vouch for the CK10 though, that I think they are THE 'phones for trance, including all full-size headphones I've heard.

Why?  because I think the CK10's are flawed, yes I think they're rubbish, yes, I think they are too smooth, too artificial, too fake treble, too un-acoustic, too flat, too perfect in soundstage, too watery, too relaxing (they're like xanax), too unnatural, too damn smooth, they're like cream

Then you turn on some trance, and everything I stated in the above sentence goes straight out the window, every flaw becomes a flower and every vice becomes a virtue, it's not like ho|y sh|t wtf experience, it's just like some giant tongue just licked you and the goddess of time stopped her clock, all seconds and ticks and tocks nonsense now, I am dancing in a room of a black syrup void, and patting pacman on the head.  If I bought some virtual reality glasses with strobe lights and dancing hot chicks and took some ecstacy, as far as my sensory input was concerned I'd probably think I was really at a club, that's what the CK10's are like."




"Pros: watery mids, airy highs, revealing, detailed, exceptional for trance and similiar music, excellent for background listening or sleeping in.

Cons: unnatural and flat sounding, not suitable for rock.

These are most likely the best IEM's you will ever find for trance, let me explain, firstly it is as if they are fine-tuned and sonically crafted for Trance and similiar genres, all the vices you heard in these IEM's in other genres suddenly become virtues and they simply come alive and you are swept away.

Secondly, there is something about the sound signature in these IEM's that is trance inducing, I believe it lies in the very flat and true to life frequency response and satin smooth mids, it's like listening to water, like a band playing on a misty lake, this quality is very fine and quite relaxing, unlike other IEM's I can listen to these for hours and I even fell asleep in them listening at low volumes.

Likewise I find them quite suitable for classical thanks to the very high detail retreival and true to life frequency response especially somewhere up around 6kHz-10kHz.

Next genre, I listened to the album Homogenic by Björk, I found this album remarkable on these IEM's.

Next genre, rock, vocals..... hm?  what's this?  Not so good here, every texture I'm used to is smoothed over, sand turns into silk, frost turns into water, marble into milk.... you get the idea, they lack livliness and aren't acoustically involving.

Listening to my Rock music as I'm writing this I had "Broder Daniel - Work" playing, and then halfway through the track I switched my ck10's with my stripped MDR-E888's, I can instantly hear everything I was missing, the vocals, percussion and electric guitars all sound more raw, acoustic and real now, much better for this kind of music.  So, I will give the ck10's a 7/10 for rock, and 10/10 for Trance.  I can live with this vice, they have a very high sound quality, so they will sound OK with any genre, for sure, and you can't expect 10/10 sound in portable audio.

For the price, I'd only recommend these to someone that listens to trance everyday, or someone that wants to make a long-term investment in a pair of high sound-quality IEM's that will not fail them.

If you want raw, edgy, lifelike, acoustic sound or open-window transparency, don't look here, my $75 stripped MDR-E888's I used in this review outperform them here.

If you want overall high sound-quality, mids so watery it feels like you could drink them, and highs so airy and detailed they're like... air... you should look here.

Most Exceptional Tracks:

Tiesto - Adagio For Strings
Paul Oakenfold - Gamemaster (original mix)
Dj Murasame - Scripted Connection -original extended-
Hilary Hahn - Paganini Caprice No. 24*
Björk - bachelorette*


Least Exceptional Tracks
my entire rock collection."





Back to the current (June, 2011) Navy Blue review then.


Speaking of colours, I had a certain idea for characterizing different flavours of sound, I thought, if I could give a colour to this sound, and a season to that sound, what would I select?


Along that line of thought, this is the colours and seasons I attribute to the CK10.


Colour: Overall blue, with hints of yellow and white.


Season: Winter.


For colours, well, it's just what comes to my mind, and it makes sense to me, I don't know how to transcribe something as abstract and intuitive as the association of colours to sound via mental imaging.


For seasons, I think that's easier, a spring sound is a sound full of life coming alive, upwards and happy.  Summer is constant, hot, shiny, nice.  Autumn is falling, but full of bliss. Winter is austere, cold... but truthful and exact, and full of it's own character and charm, i.e. a snowflake.


Moving on in a less picasso-like way then, here's what I'm using to amp the ck10's in this review as I'm listening to my music.


kiteki rig


That's my CK10 connected to the headphone out on my receiver, very powerful and pretty good sound, and my receiver is being fed from my laptop.

There's a Teclast T51 lying there, which I've done most of my portable listening on, and finally a CD player underneath, which I play CD's on and listen to via the receiver, the HO on the CD player isn't as high quality as the one on the receiver.  The equalizer is set to 2 CH pure signal, the equalizer and bass boost are turned off.


So... then... where to start? well, I'll quickly start with before I got into Hi-Fi as such and was more into music, for portable audio as a kid I used a cassette tape walkman, and as a teenager I used a Sony Discman, I just used the cheap earbuds supplied, or sometimes bought a pair of similiar earbuds, my Discman had a great parametric Eq on it, and I was an obsessive EQ tweaker, this lasted for quite a while through several pairs of earphones and a couple headphones, even the high-end sa5k, well that eq'ing all stopped in the........ ck10.


It didn't take long to realise I never needed to eq the ck10, whatever I did with the eq, I found the best setting on zero.


Sometimes I'll still eq it a little bit, or use special effects like reverb and impulse convolvers which it responds very well to, but that's quite rare, I've just come to appreciate it's excellent frequency response across the whole sonic spectrum.


I use eq quite rarely on other equipment now as well, and just want the pure signal, and listen to the IEM for what it is, I guess that is something that just comes with getting into Hi-Fi.


Aside from that, I just think the ck10 has a great balance overall, in other aspects of sound as well, it's not purely uncoloured, I think it has some nice flavour in it, and a little extra clarity than natural sound has, but overall I can see it as a nice benchmark IEM.


While not perfect, comparing it to the Sony MDR-V6, and the Fostex T-5, both of which are supposed to be tailored for studio use, I think the ck10 is more revealing and balanced than them, they have their own merits, but also their own flaws such as lesser detail retrieval and imaging compared to the Calvin Klein 10 fragrance.


Ok here comes some songs:



Tempest 2000 soundtrack:


- Stereo-imaging and Lo-Fi sound -


This soundtrack was for a videogame in 1994, I'm pretty sure it composed entirely on an Amiga computer, and came with the PC CD as a secret if you put it in CD players, well I have a 92 kbps MP3 rip of it that I listen to on my Teclast T51 pretty often, and I only like listening to this album on my CK10's, because it's a killer in Stereo Imaging and Lo-Fi, or low bitrate quality music, as in it makes it sound good. I hunted youtube for the tracks, and compared to listening to the rip on my Teclast they all suck, this link isn't the same as the 1994 tracks, but it sounded the closest:



Post-review edit: Anyone listening to this song with a good IEM, skip to 2:51 :RED LEVEL:, that's the best part ;)

I don't know how else to explain it, on my Sony MDR-EX700 this soundtrack sucks, I listen to it for 27.9 seconds and then turn it off, on the CK10 it rocks, the music is coming from about 1cm behind my antihelix, with good a good sense of space and dimensionality, the texture is perfect and flavoured nicely and the bassline is kicking along just fine to be foot-tapping in the 4th dimension as you're walking down the city streets.


Lesser good IEM's for this track: Sony EX700 - it falls behind in stereo imaging compared to the CK10, and is useless at reproducing Lo-Fi, much like my former Stax SR-404 which sounded weak on any source material that wasn't Hi-Fi.

Second best IEM: A-Jays Three - while lacking in clarity, the bassline in these just makes me smile and laugh, it's sonic candy.


Post-review note: This track is so damn good, sometimes I have to take my ck10's out, just to make sure my floorstanding speakers aren't playing in the middle of the night, because sometimes it sure sounds like they are.




Nirvana - Unplugged In New York - Pennyroyal Tea:


- Acoustic guitar, vocals, and Hi-Fi sound -


Another one of my favorite albums, I'm playing this one in 24/96 @ 2790kbps via my laptop.


The youtube link doesn't sound nearly as good, but here it is, don't look at the video, just close your eyes and listen:






Contrary to one of my prior reviews (in dark slate gray listed above), I think my ears have acclimatized to the ck10 sound now, and I can appreciate acoustic, vocal and rock music more than I did when I first acquired these IEM's, when I dismissed tracks like these as artificial sounding and lacking in timbre and real-life air and resonance - while that still holds true to the ck10, this track still sounds very well balanced and excellent, the highs are just right as you listen to his vocal exertion and emotion of angst you can hear via the guitar pick.  It is however difficult to hear the distance he is placed from the microphone, and size of the venue.

While not quite convincing enough to feel as though you are at the venue, the ck10 clicks well with it's even presentation, smoothness, detail retrieval, clarity spike, satin mids and open-sky highs.


Lesser good IEM's for this track: The CK10


- While sounding good, after listening with the CK10 I switched to the E888, and while this track is better on the CK10 overall, where I heard a voice, I now hear a human voice, for a moment it sounds very realistic.

The EX700 has much better textured bass and soothing tonality, Stax SR-404 is very atmospheric and wins in transparency.




PIERROT - 自殺の理由 


- percussion, vocals, electric guitar, bass, force, flavour, magic -


This time I'm listening via my CD player.


Doesn't exist on yt... click on this link and then press play:





Well, I've listened to this track a lot, and played it on guitar, and I never use the CK10's to listen to it, I always use a different IEM or earphone, so Pierrot and Calvin Klein don't cut it, yep, keeping it short, it's 4:30 A.M. and I'm drinking coffee.


Lesser good IEM's for this track: The CK10 - you need something with more colour and flavour to get the right connection with the music, here, even my old Sony earbuds sound more exciting, maybe this music is just broken like that, I'm not sure. :]





Lv.4 - World End Embyro - Angel Dust (2008 Mix)


- trance -


Well, the ck10 is amazing at trance, liquid, trance-inducing, stellar imaging, fast, exact, and high quality sound, as I have stated once in the past, all the vices become virtues, how could there ever be a better trance IEM? I'm not sure, but I'm continuing my adventure into different IEM's to find out.



I listen to this song on my DAP, but I also play it in a videogame called lunatic rave 2 a lot, it's like a synthesizer music/rhythm videogame where you play the song on top of the background track, and with the ck10 I can hear the layers and fast notes very clearly and I get slightly better scores with the ck10 than any other IEM, it's true, Lol, but I'm sure I'll have just as good reflexes with the RE0.





L'Ame Immortelle - Life Will Never Be The Same Again


- piano, female vocals, synth, electronic percussion, noise -


Just listening to this one.



Sounded nice.








Nirvana - Unplugged In New York - The Man Who Sold The World [24bit/96kHz, 2836 kbps]


- lyrics -




Ah, my last song on the CK10, it's sounds so good, it's so amazing.












My overall score for the CK10 is 10/10, for what it's good at, it does perfectly.


Top notes: bergamot, cardamom, pineapple, papaya, green tea accord

Middle notes: hedione high cis, violet, rose, nutmeg, gree tea accord

Bass notes: musk, amber. green tea accord 


A whiff of the lemony-aquatic mix garners differing views. Some like its lingering freshness and some find it too soapy and synthetic. But one thing is for sure, it created a huge following since it was first launched in 1994. And due to its success, Audio Technica comes up with a limited edition CK Ten every year.

Intrigued on  how this year’s CK Ten sounds like? Check out discount IEM online store for more news and updates on Audio Technica fragrances.




ck ten.jpg
















Edited by kiteki - 6/16/11 at 2:53pm
post #2 of 49
Thread Starter 

- stolen 1st post -

post #3 of 49

What a nice and very original writeup, kudos kiteki. Reminds me a bit of Bennyboy's review style, too bad he got himself banned. I'd love to see more creative and individual reviews here. Life is colorful, Head-Fi should be too. That trance track is wicked btw. smile_phones.gif

post #4 of 49
Thread Starter 

Thanks a lot James, I couldn't imagine a better first reply. =]  I really liked your imaginative photoshop review of the Final Audio series as well. Thx.



post #5 of 49
My pair didn't come with a stand either!
post #6 of 49
Thread Starter 

Copy-pasted from another thread, since there is information here relevant to this review thread:


Originally Posted by Pianist View Post


Maybe, although from what I read CK10 has a peak in the mid highs around 10-12 kHz. RE0 doesn't have any peaks like this. Of course with certain tips and sources the peak can be tamed I am sure. Still, I doubt CK10 is as subtle and delicate as the RE0.


BTW, my new RE0 is sounding great with the Panama Cat right now (sorry, bad quality, but this is one of my favorite tracks - I don't care lol). Almost perfect in fact, even unamped. Not many headphones I tried do - most sound too bright, too dark, lacking transparency or just have a coloration somewhere that ruins the mood of the track. It's a perfect track for testing tonal balance and mids and RE0 excels in both areas. The sound is butter smooth and the guitars and pads are spot on. A real pleasure to listen to!


These are very cool posts, and yeah, the ck10 is pretty smooth and delicate, but it does decay too quickly and have a clarity spike at 10~11kHz to be called a true reference IEM, I like the clarity spike because it adds a nice flavour to the ck10, I think the nozzle is made out of titanium and uses a certain filter, so that's why it sounds different than the DBA-02, or the Q-Jays? I never knew the Q-Jays had the same driver, that's very interesting, I wonder what it sounds like? I'm not interested in the DBA-02 after the FR graphs I saw and build quality issues, for me one of the winning points of the CK10 is it's super flat FR with a touch on the high-end (some may like it, some may not).

Edit: Yes, you can tame the clarity spike by using decored Shure Olive tips (These are wonderful tips), or the sony hybrids, the stock tips (my favorite for ck) retain the spike. 


Anyway I just reviewed the ck10 in full, and now I am listening to the song Pianist linked The Panama Cat -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUzAmd355TM


I don't think I've heard such a buttery smooth song in my life!  (still listening to the ck10), the mids are very smooth and buttery, I can confirm the ck10 is an excellent match with this track.


I'll go include it in my review thread, it sounds too good!



Edited by kiteki - 6/14/11 at 3:32pm
post #7 of 49

After reading your review, I am surprised that you can so easily sell off your CK10. I am guessing cause you are looking for a headphone like you said that is better for rock and the RE-0 sure isn't that. I am guessing you are trying to downgrade the CK10 to free up money to buy an IEM that suits this need. I hope your downgrade from a perfect 10 goes well, and make sure to keep the CK10 at least until your RE-0 comes just in case you have second thoughts. 

post #8 of 49
Thread Starter 

Nah, I can always buy it again later, they are still making the ck10 in Japan.


I wanted to free up cash, but traded for a Sony Walkman NWZ-X1051 instead, equal trade.


The re0 will fill the void while I explore other IEM's [that are more suited for rock, etc.]


but if they stop making the ck10 altogether, then I am really... "The Man Who Sold The World".



post #9 of 49
Thread Starter 

I only gave the ck10 a perfect 10/10 because "what it's good at - it does perfectly"

In my ears, it's achieved some kind of perfect score within it's own field, take the olympics, the ck10 is the best athlete at track and field, it doesn't mean it's any good at swimming.


Contrary to other equipment, when I listen to the ck10, I can't look at any single sound it produces and say "that one is lacking, that one is too much", I look at them and they're all perfect for what they are, a cyborg of track and field, he still sucks at swimming though.

post #10 of 49
Thread Starter 

Well.... I just impulse bought the Etymotic ER-4PT.


Amazon.com only had 1 left, and it was only $209, with $11 shipping to Australia, I just couldn't resist...

post #11 of 49

I liked the different moods/ frame of mind in this review as it covers different modes of focus in a cyclic way, much of the listening process is about where you are, or where you want to be/ should have been. The liquidity isn't about analyzing as CK10 didn't quite fit the bill, so the conclusion is somewhat surprising.. as the CK was to watery. So I gather there was something wrong with the attack as everything else was OK, but PRaT is also in some ways subjective.. where one's focus is.


post #12 of 49

Refreshing to see a different style and approach in this review.


Now, if you could do a similar review for E888 :)

post #13 of 49
Thread Starter 


Originally Posted by esanthosh View Post


Now, if you could do a similar review for E888 :)

How am supposed to review the most magical earphone ever... in this review style? I think the world would explode.


I'm listening to Pierrot on a vintage Sony Discman with an E888 right now :) :)

I would just give it a 10/10 again and say what it's good at - it does perfectly... = magic.

I think I need to totally reconsider my scoring system ...


I think I'll listen to the ER-4PT for a while, and ideally I'd need to have heard a Yuin OK1 or Piano Forte II first just to make a review like that fair ... 


If you want a mini-review, I can say that I have however taken the E888 apart, and put it back together again, like 10 times, and decided what every single part does to it's sound,

I've also heard Yuin PK2 and ATH-CM700 in the past, and they are nothing in comparison.


Anyway here's a nice picture I took of my E888


Sony E888




post #14 of 49
Thread Starter 


Originally Posted by Albedo View Post

I liked the different moods/ frame of mind in this review as it covers different modes of focus in a cyclic way, much of the listening process is about where you are, or where you want to be/ should have been. The liquidity isn't about analyzing as CK10 didn't quite fit the bill, so the conclusion is somewhat surprising.. as the CK was to watery. So I gather there was something wrong with the attack as everything else was OK, but PRaT is also in some ways subjective.. where one's focus is.


Yes you are correct.


The mids are too watery, I didn't listen to violin music on the ck, because I prefer a drier, staccato sound for violins, more realistic, whereas others - perhaps most - will prefer a legato more smooth sound, which is what the ck10 is.  My preference for dry and staccato +raw and natural, put me off the ck in violins and rock.  Coming from the SA5K, violins were so smoothed over it was annoying, and they had a more synthetic character to them as well. It didn't cut it. The end.


Yes, there was something wrong with the attack. +naturalness.  I have to criticize it for that, where I used the E888 as an example where an earphone at 1/3 the price sounds nicer, but at the same time, some sonic characters might be mutually exclusive, I can give a wine 10/10 for being wine, and a coke 10/10 for tasting like coke, it doesn't mean there's a drink that can be wine and coke.


ck10 is:


10/10 - trance IEM

10/10 - sports IEM

10/10 - flat FR IEM

9/10 - imaging/layering IEM 

9/10 - studio reference IEM

7/10 - rock IEM

7/10 - natural vocals IEM

7/10 - classical music IEM





post #15 of 49

Reading ljokerl review of the CK10 gave me the impression that they were a little bit boring with rock music, but now I know for sure that it's not about the body as much as it is about PRaT, So the Calvin Klein analogy makes that more of a sense..


I'm guessing piano also sounded not quite right, as somebody playing arpeggio actually are missing every beat in the way you describe the attack. Classical music I on the other hand though fitted these IEM's well as they usually are described as balanced, but it's more watery and neutrality is not making them natural as they actually are too smooth.


About the wine being spiked with coke, well.. some like tannins.

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