From left to right: ATH-CKW1000ANV, CK100, CK7, CM7Ti
There is a distinctive line when it comes to audio products that are under the category of monitoring and those under Hi-Fi. We see above a miniscule range of high-end (at least in their time) earphones that fall under both categories. When I began my head-fi journey, it started with the purchase of the KOSS ksc/7 then it moved onto the 75, until I discovered Audio Technica.
The signature sound, as one might call it, is very unique and one that captivates the true essence of female vocals. Smooth, luscious midrange with an ever-so-light emphasis on bringing the vocals out, is how I would like to define the Audio Technica earphone range.
So the earphones depicted above are all important developments in our lifetime. When the early mp3 player adoption began, it was a rather rave debate about which earbud was the best.. I mostly recall the baton being passed between AT's CM7 and Sony's E888. The CK7 represented one of AT's earlier entries into the in-ear scene and was quite popular considering its price. Even newer developments came in the form of the CK100, AT's first triple balanced armature IEM which received a hate-or-love reception. And of course, the CKW1000 which marks Audio Technica's 50th anniversary, but does it live up to its expectations?
After a long time at head-fi, perhaps the most important realisation is rediscovering your love for music. We often get so caught up in the details that we forget to enjoy the music, rather we learn to enjoy the details. The CKW1000, is one such earphone that made me contemplate this. Can one learn to appreciate detail yet also enjoy music?
Below are some shots of the packaging and of the earphone itself.
Outer box with textured gold label
50th anniversary dossier
CKW1000 housing, titanium and wood
...even the plug is coated in titanium
Sexy wood, not enough though
Plastic plug with a layer of titanium
*Comparisons below will be solely between the CK100 and CKW1000
I will separate the build quality into three components, quality of the housing, the cable and the plug.
The CKW1000 is well constructed, the housing feels solid and the wooden part doesn't attract fingerprints. The cable in comparison the the CK100 cable feels a bit more "plasticky" and so on my first impression appears to have some cable memory effect. Thickness is about the same. In terms of the cable slider, Audio Technica have done away with the transparent shrink-wrap tube and added a black plastic slider, a feature that I have dreamed of for a long time (because it looks better). The plug -> cable itself is well strain relieved with a good length of rubber. The plug is coated in titanium with some words reminding you that its a 50thANV product.
The CK100 is also very well constructed, more plastic is used in the construction of the housing, but it still retains a very solid and very light feel. Cable is of excellent thickness and is highly rubbery, which has very minimal "memory" effect and doesn't tangle. The plug itself is made of some soft plastic, which is also well strain relieved.
Convenience and Ease of Insertion
Haha very funny. In all seriousness, the CKW1000 is easier to insert in your ears day to day due to the design being similar to an earbud. With the CK100, I have found that I needed to run the cables behind my ear to reduce microphonics, strangely, microphonics is very minimal on the CKW1000. It is a minor inconvenience, but interesting to note.
The pouch that comes with the CK100 is simple, just roll the cable up by hand and place it inside the pouch. The CKW1000 becomes a more elaborate affair. Inside the case is a plastic mold for which to place your earphones in, then you may wrap the cable around the case and place the plug in the plastic mold. In all honestly, I wouldn't be bothered doing that on the move.
CK100: 4/5 (because I can simply use the CK100 pouch with my CKW1000 =p )
Highly subjective. I think the CK100 looks rather plain, whereas the shape of the CKW1000 is interesting. The use of materials on the CKW1000 gives it more of a "classy" look.
Test setup: iPhone 4S > CKW1000/CK100
CKW1000 using stock small size tips, CK100 using stock medium size tips.
Songs tested: a mix of Asian and Western music of various genres.
For those who own the CK100, the best way I can describe the sound is: imagine that the CK100 comprises of two speakers. Now apply a slight disco U-smile equaliser on it and add a subwoofer. The sound is the polar opposite of the CK100. The CK100 was bass light with fair extension, with very forward midrange and well controlled highs. The amount of detail produced by the CK100 was good, notably in the midrange and high-range spectrum. The bass however lacked the appropriate quantity and extension on some tracks (such as 34:30 into "The Blue Room" by DJ River).
The CKW1000 on the other hand produces a darker image of the music with a completely different tonality. The bass is notably stronger than the CK100 both in terms of extension and quantity, its like adding a subwoofer to a studio monitor setup, you suddenly hear a greater emphasis on the lows, but the tonality changes because there is a shift in the balance of the output. The midrange appears slightly recessed in comparison the the CK100 (at least upon initial A/B tests) and the treble is also well controlled and well extended.
So you might be wondering, well which one is better? And for that I don't really have an answer. To me, the perceived details in the midrange and highs are greater on the CK100, because the user tends to place greater focus in that region because the bass is less dominant. With the CKW1000, the bass is present, the midrange is there, the highs are also there, while not perfectly balanced, there is still detail if you try to focus on different parts of the music. But with the CKW1000, you get tired trying to focus, you just feel like listening to the music as a whole, as the sound engineer had intended.
Interestingly enough, the CK100 is marketed for in-ear-monitoring use, whereas the CKW1000 appears to be marketed for consumer use. We again see that this is similar to what is happening with the speaker scene, with studio monitors compared to hi-fi speakers... what is better? As with most studio monitors, there is a rolloff around 50-80hz to prevent the bass frequencies from muddying up the output. This is similar to the CK100 where we are "forced" to hear the details and less of other elements. So if you are deciding between these two earphones, ask yourself this question, do you want to hear the music as the engineer heard it, or do you want to hear the music as the engineer intended it to? This I believe explains the disparity in the musical presentation of both earphones.
Drawing comparisons between the Audio Technica lineup, I find that the two dynamic in ears (CKW1000 and CK7) share a similar sonic presentation, whereas the CM7Ti (also a dynamic) shares a similar sonic presentation to the CK100. Although the CK100 is superior to the CM7Ti in that it has some bass presence lol.
So in conclusion, I rank the sound quality without score on various elements
Bass extension: CKW1000 > CK100
Bass quantity: CKW1000 > CK100
Bass detail: CKW1000 > CK100
Midrange presentation: CKW1000, recessed slightly | CK100, forward
Midrange detail: CK100 > CKW1000 (read the aforementioned reasons, the detail is similar, but the disparity is due to the focus of the listener)
Treble control: CK100 = CKW1000
Treble extension: CK100 = CKW1000
Treble detail: CK100 > CKW1000
I would liken the CKW1000 to a mid-range hi-fi system and the CK100 to a mid-range studio monitor system. I have found the CKW1000 an interesting affair, in that it made me rethink what is truly important when listening to music. With the CKW1000, you get the full enjoyment of music, you hear all the elements of the music, from the bass to the treble, nothing appears sonically wrong with it. Whilst it may appear to be slightly less detailed than the CK100, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The music is appreciated more, you can listen for a long time forgetting that there are various layers in a song, yet you can hear the details if you care to focus. As a dynamic in-ear earphone, the CKW1000 is the best I have heard and probably will be for some time to come.
Edited by blazer78 - 2/23/12 at 3:25am