Audio Technica's flagship IEM in Sound Reality series equipped with
Dual Phase Push-Pull Drivers in High-rigidity titanium housings.
Comes with Detachable cable with A2DC connectors -Star quad cables for L/R channel separation
Pros - Excellent vocals and natural timbre. Very musical IEM with great clarity. Nicely coloured.
Cons - Not cheap, not super detailed, not the best cable, slightly coloured
Simple Man’s review – ATH CKR100iS (399 USD)
This is called simple man’s review because they are based on the sound of these earphones directly from my smartphone using 320 Kbps mp3 tracks. No expensive gears nor lossless tracks,no EQ, and all that hi-fi stuff.
Product Specs :
Driver: Dual Phase Pull Pull Dynamic (13 mm x 2)
Frequency response: 5 - 45000hz
Impedance: 80 Ohms
Sensitivity: 107 dB/mW
Cable: Detachable 1.2 m (3.9') with A2DC connectors; with microphone
Build – 4/5
The IEM housings are solid, and feels unbreakable.
Replaceable cables - check
Cables – Not the best. It is springy and can’t stay in one place. It does feel like it will snap with a bit of rough use. I wish they had put in the same cables as the E70.
Neck Slider – Nope
Microphone works good for calls – no complaints there.
Accessories – 3/5
Minimal, but you get a sexy case with a plush leather finish. And you get 4 pairs of extra silicon tips of different sizes.
Isolation & Sound leakage – 3/5
Isolation is very good for a semi closed design. Slightly better than JVC woodies. Sound leakage is almost nil at normal listening volumes.
Microphonics – 2/5
They are quite bad because of the jumpy nature of the stock cables.
Fit – 4/5
Conventional, No around-the-ear fancy stuff, and the housings, although a bit large, stay put if you got the right tips.
Before we get to the sound:
First, tips: ATH tips don’t do it for me. JVC spirals work the best for me here.
Second, Sound volume (drivability): I was a bit nervous looking at the specified 80 Ohm impedance, but i was pleasantly surprised to find that these can be driven as easily as the ATH E70s, directly from my phone with no problems. Hell, they throw in a microphone here for answering calls. So, of course a smartphone can drive them easily.
And... You must know that i don’t listen to trance, EDM, or bassy stuff, no metal stuff, so, take my opinion about the extremes of the sound spectrum, and speed,etc., with a grain of salt, as they are just based on the kind of music I listen to- namely Jazz, blues, some progressive rock from the 70s/80s. However, to give a fair review, i include some of my favourite Daft Punk, Tool, NIN, and some Pop songs among my test tracks.
Let’s get to the sound. I had very high hopes for these earphones, as I love the ATH sound and never had any of the other famous CKR phones, namely CKR9 and 10. And let’s just say that these didn’t disappoint me. These have been my daily drivers for around two weeks now.
The bass in these earphones is very well done. In all my other earphones, I found them either slightly wanting, or just a bit overdone in the best of cases. The CKR100 has the perfect bass quantity which has good presence, and show off pretty well. I wouldn’t call them very tight, but they aren’t flabby either. The bass goes deep to the sub bass region, and pushes some air in when required. The mid bass has good presence, with no hump whatsoever, and thumps with authority. Listening to the bass drum hit was never more satisfying. With all this, I still found the bass to be very well controlled, and well mannered. There is just enough decay which adds timbral authenticity. These are not warm. These are not bright. No kidding. I imagine these won’t do great in the speed department, as i find that they are not super tight like BA drivers (E70 for instance).
At no point does the treble sound peaky, or shrill. They extend very well, if you ask me, and has superb definition with the cymbals, and all the chimes that play around here are a pleasure to listen to. They have absolutely no sibilance at all, and the highs in these are most tastefully done. The treble information can be noticed playing at a good height, away from the nether frequencies. This gives the IEM a nice rounded soundstage with good height and width. They also have a good splash and sparkle but never get splashy like these treble tilted phones (think Ocharaku). The best part about this is every instrument has good weight in their notes, which gives them such a realistic timbre. Nothing sounds thin, and neither are they overdone. You can detect a good amount of micro details as well, with good clarity and definition. I can’t comment about the super high frequencies, because i don’t hear more than 15Khz, and neither does my choice of my music go to these places.
Imagine the final audio heaven’s bass (without the mid bass bloom) and their superb highs, all done with dynamic drivers. That’s what you will witness here.
I said the bass has very good authority with good mid bass impact. And i also heard the highs show off very well with good sparkle and definite presence. Yet, I would say, and insist, that the mids are the best bit about these IEM gems. They are full, and show you all the details in great resolution. The vocals! My god, how do i put it? Male vocals are simply amazing (the bass voices of blues singers are perfectly done), and the female vocals too are just perfect (soaring high and well above the male range). If there is a chorus, you can really hear every voice distinctly and can easily say how many singers were singing at that point. Very tastefully done, and I love the taste. All this goes to say that they are a bit coloured. Not Final Audio coloured, but ATH style. If you are one of them that’s looking for very neutral presentation of mids, with no accents in the signature, and if you prefer your vocals dry and accurate, then you might dislike these IEMs.
Soundstage: Good width and height, with very nice 3D presentation. You can see the instruments play in different depth of the field.
Separation: I would have liked just a little more separation between instruments and a teeny bit of extra space between. But i’ve been quite spoilt by some monitor IEMs that do this too well, and well, one can’t have it all! But i don’t see this as a bad thing, as i find them very musical and i get to enjoy the song as a whole. That said, you can still notice the instruments separately, and positioning is very distinct. Only, the song is presented as a whole and not monitoresque.
Please note that i prefer to use the cables from E70 to drive these as i notice slightly more details with them.
E70 cable > stock cable > E40 cable – that’s how it sounds to me.
But, for the below comparisons i’m using the stock cable, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Select sound comparisons –
ATH E40 vs ATH CKR100iS
Why? E40 also employs Push-Pull tech with dual dynamic drivers. Only difference is E40 has a couple 12.5 mm drivers vs the CKR100 using 2x13 mm drivers. CKR100iS is 4x more expensive than the E40!
I actually thought the CKR100s are going for an easy win here, but the E40s surprised me!
E40s with 12 Ohm impedance are much easier to drive. As i switch from CKR100iS to the E40 (of course, i adjust the volume to get the same output), i immediately notice that the soundstage is wider in the E40’s. The CKR100s have a more rounded soundstage, with slightly taller stage. The E40s, aptly categorised as a monitor earphone, shows all the details very distinctly with almost the same emphasis for each sound. Like, notes that were more subtle in the CKR100 are now much up front, and you can see them clearly. Some minute detail in the left end of the stage which appeared quite insignificant with the CKR100 is now presented with more impact and authority with the E40s. The E40s are a little more raw sounding. It appears like all the details in the music are presented in a 2-D manner with the E40s. The only downside with the E40s is that the edges are a bit too rough, and want more definition. With the CKR100s they are presented in a very sublime manner, although slight sounding they have better definition and clarity (but not so obvious). The E40s, very clearly, tell you there is something going on in the corner, but only with 90% clarity. The CKR100s show them with better clarity, but are slightly muted, or adjusted to play with the stage.
The vocals are great in both of them, with the CKR100s showing more” soul” in voices.
Let’s just say that the CKR100s sound more refined, adjusted, and optimised to sound more musical, whereas the E40s are just playing the raw format. I actually wanted the CKR100 to be the E40 with more clarity and definition, but i find that not to be case.
Anyway, i can listen to the CKR100 for longer periods and be entertained by the music, more than the E40s, which get a bit boring after a while.
CKR100 is like a posh, classy girl that wears expensive perfume, expensive and excessive make-up (not in a disgusting way, but done with style), highly mannered, very nicely dressed, cute, pretty and what-not.
ATH E40 is the same girl, but this one born and raised in humble dwellings, no perfume, no make-up. She will give you quite a different experience, and one might say she is even better than the classy chick.
Comparing these two were very interesting indeed.
ATH E70 vs ATH CKR100iS
Why? ATH flagship of the Professional Monitor series with 3 BA drivers VS Flagship IEM of Sound Reality series. They cost the same.
Again, it’s very clear when you switch between these two that the E70 has wider soundstage vs CKR100, which has some height in its stage. The bass quantity and impact seems to be similar between the two with the BA drivers being quicker, with lesser decay. And since the mids and treble play at a neutral level with the E70s, the bass seems a bit dominating at times. With the CKR100, the mids and lower treble are accented making it sound a bit more rounded – where you feel the mids and treble emphasis balances out the impactful bass. E70 easily has more treble details, and sparkly as well. The E70s also sound more energetic than the CKR100s.
As i’ve already mentioned in the E70 review, these are simply much better than the E40s when it comes to definition, clarity, micro-details, and instrument separation. Seeing how the E40 and CKR100 were almost neck and neck, it must be obvious that the E70s easily trump the dual dynamic drivers of the CKR100. I’m not enjoying what i write since the CKR100 is my newest toy. But still, in terms of clarity, precision, details, separation the E70 is clearly the winner. The only downside with the E70s are that they get a bit sibilant – especially when the singers are throwing out the ssss or shshshshhhss. When this happens it simply messes up the song for me. I couldn’t find any way around this. And, the only aspect where i would say the CKR100s are better would be the vocal presentation, and the more cohesive sound which makes it more musical. Also, the CKR100 gives a nice 3-D kind of stage although not as wide as the E40 or E70.
Overall Sound rating of CKR100iS:
Instrument Separation 4/5
If you like to enjoy and immerse yourself in music, rather than monitoring sound in songs, and if you are open to some ATH house colour, then these earphones will satisfy you, like it does me. The price could have been a 100 lesser. Seeing that ATH gave us the E70 for 400 USD, these must not have been more than 300 USD. Well, I’m not the boss anyway,and no one at Audio technica gives a rat's ass about how much I think these should cost.
---- UPDATE after a couple of months of use -----
If you buy these, please do buy the upgrade cable as well. I know it's already expensive and ATH must have put in their upgrade cable as the stock for CKR100. Anyway I got the ETHOS cable for around 70 dollars, and the sound is great! Much better than with stock cables. So, the sound impression that follows is with this cable.
I have a decent collection of IEMs and these are my absolute favourite. I can't listen to anything else now. The detail and resolution of the CKR100 are, IMO, the best that dynamic drivers can get you.
Let me tell you why these are the best!
Bass, Resolution, Vocals. They are simply amazing, and most satisfying. No other IEM gave me this perfect combination of the three most important parameters that make an IEM great. Just perfect. No sibilance at all, tight bass, with perfect decay, mesmerizing vocals, perfect colour. This is how an IEM should sound (IMO). It has all the details. ALL of them (you need to upgrade the cable to notice this)
More than the sound, there are couple of things which make these IEMs the real winner. That is,
A. The Form factor - No vents here to allow any outside wind in. The semi-closed design also gives a decent isolation, and no leakage of sound that could disturb anyone around. Also, the straight-down conventional method is super simple to wear, and remove when necessary. In just a second, they are out and you can make some conversation and pop them back in. I find this is what makes me pick them up every time I go out.
B. Housing material - The hard/shiny body of these makes sure that these are solid forever, constant use won't tamper them. Think wooden housings, like JVC woodies or Keyaki, touching them means some dirt is going to be deposited there whether you intend or not. It's going to lose the shine, and even the sound is going to change after a considerable amount of use. This forces me to use the Keyakis indoors, and not take much of a risk with them.
I've also learned a thing or two with my earphones experience. For me, dynamics are the best. BA's don't cut it for me. I'm not a super analytical listener, and all the extra on-you-face details simply bores me and distracts me from enjoying the music. Example: Ety ER4, ATH E70. Even the musical BA's like E-Q5 and FAD IV don't give me as much satisfaction as a good dynamic driver does me.
The only other IEM that gives me so much satisfaction across all genres is the Sony EX800. The downside with these are the open vents (terrible sound leakage, and wind noise). The EX800 bass feels a bit (just a little) loose sometimes. This is not the case with CKR100.
Also, a word comparing E70s. The drum-kit grabs all the attention with the E70s, and I also notice that the timber is a bit off (I guess, between 200-800 hz range). Also, the vocal sibilance puts me off. The CKR100 has the perfect timbre, every drum hit sounds authentic (not the case with E70). And everything plays out in a very balanced manner. E70 will win with micro-details at the expense of sibilance.
So, overall, I'd say this is the best 500 dollars (including the upgrade cable) I've spent on earphones. No regrets.
Adding half a star to my initial rating. Still loses half, just because of the cable.