Pros: Clean sound, well-extending bass, solid build.
Cons: Pushy bass, highs lacking
Preferred Genres: Anything that emphasizes bass, hip-hop, some genres of electronic, and even some jazz.
Home - Musicbee (WASAPI) -> ODAC -> O2 ->CKM500
Portable - iPod Classic -> CKM500
Like most sub-$100 IEMs the CKM500 come packaged in a rectangle shaped cardboard box with a clear window displaying the IEMs. The front of the packaging has a logo and some basic information, but looks a little busy, especially with the two stickers on the clear plastic window. The sides of the box are very simple though, simply showing the model number and a very small amount of information that I can’t decipher. The back will be almost completely useless to those who can’t read Japanese other than the picture showing the parts of the IEM and how it’s put together. When opened up the CKM500 are sitting in a foam display with the accessories in a small rectangular box below it.
Included with the CKM500 is a pair of small, medium, and large mushroom tips that feel a bit hard compared to my Sony hybrids. Also included is a cable extension due to the very short cable length. A piece of paper comes with this, which I assume is a warranty card as well as an instruction card, but it’s also in Japanese so I can not read it.
If you’ve bought one sub-$100 IEM you’re probably familiar with the packaging. No frills and the lack of accessories indicate that these are meant to hang on a retail shelf at the equivalent of a Walmart in Japan. Nothing here will catch your eye, and there’s nothing included that isn’t necessary.
Design and Build Quality
From the packaging I expected a cheap feeling IEM that looked the part, thankfully Audio Technica cares more about the design of the IEM than the packaging. The CKM500 are a well-built IEM that feels solid throughout and looks very nice to boot.
Let’s start with the housing, the first thing I would like to mention is that this is quite possibly my favorite shape of IEM. The reason why I love the shape of the IEM is that it limits how far the IEM can go in your ear while also sitting comfortably in the outside of my ear. The shape of the CKM500 makes these very easy to simply put in your ear and not worry about setting them correctly unlike my JAYS q-JAYS or my Meelectronics A161p, which I’m constantly fiddling around with. The shape of the housing lends to a semi-deep insertion that feels very secure with my Meelectronics double flanged tips, which I highly recommend for these.
I’ll touch on that more later though, how are they built? Well the CKM500 are all plastic and have a few sections in the housing starting with a rather wide nozzle that has some sort of cloth filter as opposed to a metal or plastic meshed one. Going towards the body on the part of the IEM that will touch your ear there is a right and left indicator as well as the model number in light grey that makes it very easy to read on the black plastic. Going outwards we get to the colored part, mine is a midnight blue which only makes up for a small portion of the housing, but provides a beautiful contrast sandwiched between the black ends. The outside of the IEM narrows out to a small cylinder with the Audio Technica logo on the back. Everything feels well put together and I have no worries of causing the housing to fall apart due to stress like the RE0 I owned.
Coming down from the back cylinder a solid rubber stress relief offers a little leeway, but looks like it’s going to keep the cable stress free for a long time and I have no worries about the cable breaking at the housing. The cable itself is rather flexible, but feels very sturdy as well. I have complete confidence that this cable will hold up for many years. The cable has a y-split, though no cinch to help reduce microphonics and the cable terminates very early which makes it almost necessary to use the cable extension.
I talked a bit about the fit earlier and I absolutely love the shape of these because of how easy they are to put in, I don’t have to think about it at all unlike every deep insertion IEMs that have a rather straight shape. I could potentially see this shape causing irritation for those with small ears though, but I’ve not heard any complaints so far. The CKM500 sit semi-deep, but don’t provide much isolation by themselves even with my Meelectronics double flanged tips. Microphonics are also an issue that can be a hassle when exercising and could have simply been reduced with a cinch, but I guess that was overlooked. Many people resolve this issue by wearing their IEMs over-ear, but the shape of these makes it very awkward unless you wear them on the opposite ear, that causes audio quality/fidelity problems though since you’ll get reverse imaging problems. Comfort was also a problem for me with the included tips, they weren’t long enough to get a good seal and it caused irritation to my ear, the Meelectronics double flanged tips help this though by providing just enough distance to allow the housing to sit comfortably in my ear. To put things into perspective, I’ve been wearing these for 2-3 hour sessions before the comfort bothers me, and I’m sure I could solve this with softer tips or something.
These have a lot of hit and miss things with these, my biggest complaint would be the lack of a cinch to reduce microphonics and the need to use a cable extension with this, which causes the cable to be too long for me when jogging. The isolation could be better, but I’ve not had any problems using these on my walks or jogs, but I live in a quiet town so isolation is never something hugely necessary here like in a city. These are very well-built though and if you’re willing to buy some tips these will have a good comfort level for extended use, there is definitely room for improvement though.
I gave the CKM500 over 250 hours of burn-in through either listening or letting music play through while I was away. I perceived a tightening of response in the bass to a minor degree throughout the process.
So these are the new flavor of the month budget IEM that everyone is praising, being that I’m a fan of Audio Technica’s products I figured it couldn’t hurt to pick some up myself. Within the first week of owning the CKM500 I had a love and hate relationship with these, hate might actually be too strong of a word, perhaps better described as a dislike for certain things with these. The reason this is, is that the CKM500 have a warm tonality about them that certainly emphasizes the mid-bass with good presence as well the lower it gets. I call the CKM500 warm, but they could even be looked at as dark headphones as they lack a sparkle about them and have been mostly immensely satisfying for bass heavy music.
The bass is certainly the star here and when I first got these I felt it to be a bit too boomy, perhaps a bit loose. I can’t be sure if it is true burn-in effects, bias from claims in the CKM500 thread, or psychological burn-in, but the bass certainly seems to have tightened up and become less pushy in the mids than they initially were, while still maintaining a strong presence. The bass extends very well with decent texture to it and with acceptable speed, but the bass can seem a bit grainy, especially when straight through my iPod, as opposed to the O2/ODAC combo. The mid-bass is what these headphones are tuned for though, or possibly overtuned. Kick drums, bass guitars, and electronic bass frequencies are the star of every song, regardless of what you’re listening to. This makes certain genres that focus on mids, or even the highs, seem a bit lifeless as the bass hides some details as the frequencies get higher. I’ve greatly enjoyed music by Four Tet, Frank Ocean, and Baths through the CKM500 because they are music that is enhanced by a strong bass presence, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the minor details that the bass covers up.
The mids feel clean and intimate, very clean I should say, especially when the song isn’t bass heavy. The bass cuts in a bit to the mids, but they have their own spot in the sound and come through nicely. The biggest con in the mids though is the lack of energy, and this is partly in due fault of the bass being pushy. The highlight of the mids is listening to delicate female vocalists, not the ones with powerful voices, but vocals more akin to The xx. Singers with powerful voices tend to sound a bit flat on here as the CKM500 struggle to translate the energy of their voices through sound, and you guessed right this means the same for instruments as well. Aggressive guitars seem to have their energy cut out of them, though synthesizers sound nice and full.
The highs are the biggest disappointment here, to say they are unremarkable would be an understatement. At times the highs are pretty much non-existent thanks to the overpresent bass pushing the highs into the background. I would comment further on them, but really I would be typing more just to create length. The highs are somewhat here, but if you like bright music then avoid these.
The sound of the CKM500 is presented in a somewhat tight manner, I equate it to a small club. This causes congestion at times and makes music with complex parts with multiple instruments less than ideal. The soundstage presentation suits electronic music best and feels lacking with most other genres. As for an amp for the CKM500 it’s of my opinion that if there’s a difference then it’s minimal and not necessary to have an amp with the CKM500. The sound is the same, to my ears, whether through my O2 as it is from my iPod Classic.
It seems I’m all over the place with the CKM500 in regards to how I feel about them, and that’s true. On one hand I like the CKM500 for their build quality and I certainly love them for bass heavy genres, they really suit darker music excellently. The problem is that the CKM500 do not work nearly as well for other genres and there are plenty of excellent IEMs that will suit rock, or pop, for instance, much better. The overly long cable, when extension is attached, in combination with pretty rough microphonics makes these less than ideal for exercise as well. What a bag of mixed feelings.
Despite my flip flopping I do like the CKM500 for what they are. If you plan to use the CKM500 in mostly a stationary environment for darker toned music then these are the IEMs you want. Everyone else look elsewhere, these are not the second coming like many suggest.
Come see more picture here.