Many Thanks to Audio Technica Singapore, for lending me the CKR9 & CKR10 IEM for review!
I had them for about 2 weeks. Actually not long enough for me to do a very accurate review, but I will try my best
Audio Technica claims, that CKR series is the world's first IEM series to utilize technology known as the "Dual-Phase Push Pull Drivers".
Push Pull Drivers have been used in speaker system for quite some time, to reduce distortion, especially for woofer and sub-woofer. But in IEM, CKR series is claimed to be the world's first "Dual-Phase Push Pull Drivers".
They are different than dual dynamic driver that works as 2 ways system, because in "Dual-Phase Push Pull Drivers" system, both drivers are full range drivers covering the whole frequency spectrum, without any crossover. Push Pull means both drivers are working at the opposite phase / polarity. The difference between dual symphonic drivers in ATH-IM50 and IM70 is, the dual symphonic drivers are working in the same phase / polarity. There is a theory that when the diaphragm is moving forward, it has different distortion characteristic then when it is moving backward. With Dual push pull, one driver moving forward, and the other moving backward, in theory will minimize the overall sound distortion, especially in the bass region, improving bass dynamic and detail. Do CKR9 & CKR10 achieve this goal? YES they do! They have excellent dynamic with very realistic bass detail and texture!
Before we elaborate more on each model, here are some Pros and Cons of CKR9 and CKR10:
- Outstanding 'life-like' realistic dynamic. Excellent speed and power, close to life music performance.
- Relatively easy to drive, doesn't require powerful amp to produce 'life-like' dynamic, although good quality player is certainly better.
- EQ friendly, responses really well to EQ tuning.
- CKR9 Maybe an IEM with the best bass quality. Bass level is accurate, bass quality simply among the best, realistic and life-like. CKR10 follows with similar quality, with a few dB (slightly) more bass than CKR9 for those who prefer slightly fatter bass.
- Sound signature significantly different before and after burn-in, that makes the sonic character difficult to be observed from a new unit. All required relatively long period of burn-in to sound best. A full of 7 days burn-in is recommended.
- The stock silicon tips are not optimum for both CKR9 & CKR10. Larger bore tip is preferred for both.
- Cable jacket is rubbery, not smooth like the ATH-IM series cable.
- Straight-down wearing style, cannot be worn over the ear. Moderate microphonics (cable noise when rubbing or touching other object) is expected. For an IEM at this size, straight-down wearing style is not very comfortable for walking, jogging, or other physical exercise. CKR9 and CKR10 with their relatively big size are more suitable for music listening while sitting and relaxing.
ATH-CKR9 has a unique sound signature, especially considering that it uses relatively large 13 mm dynamic driver. It doesn't really have the warmness commonly heard from large dynamic drivers, but also it is not analytical sounding. More towards clean natural sound, in between warm and analytical. Sometime may sounds a bit dry, with short reverberation decay, so a slightly warm sounding player is recommended. Generally CKR9 sounds clean, almost like BA driver, with powerful dynamic, better than many other dynamic drivers. And that's really impressive!
CKR9 is not a bassy IEM, and never sounds like a bassy IEM. Not like my favourite ATH-IM50 where I always have the impression that IM50 is a rather bassy IEM. But IMHO, CKR9 has the best bass quality I've ever heard from an IEM. Bass dynamic is simply 'life-like', very realistic. CKR9 bass is very natural in both quantity and quality. What I mean by natural in quantity is not the flat bland type of bass, but the 'life-like' bass. Bass that gives real bass vibration, and makes us toe tapping. Bass texture, detail, tightness, speed and punch power is simply awesome!
CKR9 bass stays behind until it's called upon. When the music calls for bass, the bass always comes out with full power and authority, with excellent speed and dynamic. Bass pounds hard, tight, detailed, and very realistic. It never sounds boomy, and never overpowering the mids. Listening to percussion from CKR9 is nothing short of amazing. Never heard before percussion recordings sound so realistic from an IEM. Percussion rendered so naturally with all the natural dynamic, speed, detail and texture. Two thumbs up to "Dual-Phase Push Pull Drivers" technology! CKR9 is simply one of the best IEM for high quality bass, regardless of the price.
Before burn-in, tonal balance is not very linear with some glaring treble. But after 5 days burn-in or more, tonality improves significantly; treble peaks are totally ironed out. By the way, I'm not a fan of burn-in, and prefer IEM that sounds good out of the box, but for CKR9 and CKR10, burn-in process is a must. After burn-in overall tonal balance is relatively natural, just mildly mid-centric (especially when using stock tips). There is no over emphasized or over de-emphasized on any region. Only some mild emphasize (a few dB) on the upper mid around 1.5 - 2.5 kHz, so vocal presentation is rather forward. The excellent dynamic property of the "Dual-Phase Push Pull Drivers" also improves the midrange quality significantly. Midrange detail is very good, realistic and effortless.
With the stock tips, though treble level is good and sufficient for most modern genre recordings, treble extension is slightly lacking and not airy enough for classical orchestra, and sometime doesn't have enough treble sparkle for my sonic preference. It’s not a flaw, but more of my personal sonic preferences. Well, not everyone is looking for sparkly treble. For those who are looking for gentle treble, CKR9 offers nice and gentle treble that never sounds harsh or causing sibilant. Treble started to rolled off gently from around 8 kHz. CKR9 is very EQ friendly; a mild EQ adjustment is what I need to get the tonality that I like. My favourite EQ for CKR9 is to lower the area around 1.5-2.5 kHz around 2-3 dB, 0 dB at around 4-5 kHz, and gently shelf up starting at 7-8 kHz, to get around 3 dB boost from 12kHz onward. This mild EQ setting wonderfully opens up the CKR9 transparency and spaciousness, and I got a wonderful tonal balance with life-like dynamic. Awesome!
Thanks to Head-Fi'er dsnuts who gave me suggestion to use the 'Spiral Dot' silicon tips from JVC HA-FX850 for the CKR. And it is true that the JVC Spiral Dot tips improve the overall tonality of the CKR9. Treble extension is improved, and the CKR9 sounds more open and spacious with the Spiral Dot tips. Not a night and day differences, but something that I will recommend for those CKR users. The JVC Spiral Dot tips also softer and feel more comfortable.
ATH-CKR9 with JVC Spiral Dot Tip (Left)
JVC Spiral Dot tip can be purchased from Amazon Japan. Just search the following item codes:
The gentle treble might not give high perceived detail like on those analytic sounding IEM, but detail is actually very good on CKR9. The "Dual-Phase Push Pull Drivers" has all the speed to deliver very good level of detail. From what I heard, CKR9 has slightly better perceived detail than CKR10.
As for spaciousness, CKR9 doesn't sound as spacious as my DUNU DN-1000, but it doesn't sound congested either. Spaciousness is good, considered as average size of spaciousness in IEM category. Imaging is good, clear, focused, and accurate.
Both CKR9 and CKR10 can use any generic tips for the common 5mm nozzle size. The stock tips looks very similar with the IM series tips.
Compared to UE TF10, UE TF10 is more mid-centric, mainly on the low mid, lesser low bass extension and upper treble extension than CKR9. On quick succession, from TF10 to CKR9, CKR9 might sound like a bit V shape compared to TF10, due to less low mids level, slighlty more bass and upper mid. CKR9 sounds more forward, open and spacious compared to TF10. For vocal, I slightly prefer the UE TF10 tonality, as it sounds more intimate. But vocal sounds clearer on CKR9. And for instrumental, and classical, CKR9 is clearly better than UE TF10. And as expected, CKR9 bass quality is much better than UE TF10.
Compared to DUNU DN-1000 using the JVC HA-FXD silicon tips (EP-FX8M-B), tonality, DN-1000 is more linear, with better overall tonal balance. Vocal is rendered more naturally on DN-1000 with superb transparency. But the difference is not night and day. Vocal still sounds natural on CKR9, but slightly more forward. Bass level is about the same between DN-1000 and CKR9, but CKR9 bass quality and dynamic is better than DN-1000, tighter, punchier, more detailed with better texture. Please take note; I'm not talking about DN-1000 using stock tips, as it sounds quite different with DN-1000 using the JVC HA-FXD silicon tips. Using the JVC tips, DN-1000 has very good balance from bottom to top. None of the DN-1000 stock tips can achieve this balance.
Compared to ATH-IM70, CKR9 bass level is a tad less than IM70, but much tighter and less boomy. Bass quality of CKR9 is better than IM70 bass. Somehow IM70 imaging is slightly less congested, like listening to music in a big reverberant music hall. While CKR9 gives the perception of listening music in a dryer, less reverberant hall. Vocal is again more forward on CKR9. Overall detail and clarity is better on CKR9.
CKR10 built with Titanium housing, instead of Aluminium like on CKR9. I'm not going to write too much on CKR10, because it shares some characteristics of the CKR9. Both have excellent and realistic dynamic, with good level of detail. So while referencing back to CKR9, I will describe more of the differences of CKR10 from CKR9.
Before burn-in, CKR10 sounds rather mid-centric and congested, narrow perceived stereo field. After burn-in, it improves a lot. After burn-in, the differences with CKR9 are mostly on the tonality. CKR10 has slightly fatter bass (only a few dB), with also thicker midrange. It doesn't have the mild upper-mid emphasize like CKR9, so vocal presentation is not as forward as CKR9, although not laid back either. Vocal presentation might be the strong characteristic of CKR10. Vocal sounds a bit fuller, and overall tonality on the midrange area sounds more linear.
CKR10 Treble is softer than CKR9, therefore sounds warmer and rather more mid-centric than CKR9, with emphasize more on the lower mids. The softer treble and the thicker mids, to me sometime make CKR10 sounds a bit congested, less spacious than CKR9. But it can also be interpreted as more intimate sounding, especially on vocal.
For CKR10 especially, larger bore silicon tips such as JVC Spiral Dot tip mentioned above, is highly recommended to improve the treble and spaciousness.
Overall, CKR10 sounds more intimate and CKR9 sounds livelier, although the difference is not much. Music is an art, it goes well with colours. Some prefer warmer signature, some prefer natural and lively. So it boils down to personal preferences. As for me, I prefer the more natural tonality and spacious sound stage of CKR9.
Some of players and DACs used in this review:
Yulong Sabre DA8
Audioquest Dragonfly v1.0c
I found both CKR9 and CKR10 are relatively easy to drive, and player friendly. They mostly sound good with all the players and DACs I used in this review.
I really like how CKR9 with JVC Spiral Dot tip, paired with Yulong Sabre DA8. The pair sounds very natural and realistic. DA8 headphone output is among my favourite. I have other DACs and amplifiers like Mytek 192-DSD, Violectric HPA V200, & Yulong Sabre A28 balanced headphone amp. But to be honest, I keep coming back to Yulong DA8 build-in headphone output, whatever the combination is. Beside sounds very natural, DA8 headphone output has a touch of warmness that makes recordings sound more musical. This slight warmness compliments really well to the overall clean sound of CKR9. Very lively and musical, simply awesome!
For those who need extra air and transparency, Audioquest Dragonfly is also a good choice.
Finally, I would say Audio Technica did it again. After the successful ATH-IM series I reviewed last February, now Audio Technica comes with the new CKR series. CKR9 and CKR10 are awesome sounding IEMs, good examples of how "Dual-Phase Push Pull Drivers" technology can be successfully implemented to In-Ear Monitor.
Driver: 13mm x2 Dual-Phase Push Pull Dynamic Drivers with Aluminium housing.
Impedance: 12 ohm
Cable: 1.2m – Y type
Jack: 3.5mm – Angled
Driver: 13mm x2 Dual-Phase Push Pull Dynamic Drivers with Titanium housing.
Impedance: 12 ohm
Cable: 1.2 m – Y type
Jack: 3.5mm – Angled
Edited by earfonia - 5/25/14 at 9:30pm