WIP/Review: Audio Technica CK-10 Dual Armature IEM
Nov 18, 2008 at 10:42 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 18

shigzeo

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The Tech-Talk

Type: Dual balanced armature type
Output sound pressure level: 107dB/mW
Frequency Response: 20 - 15,000Hz
Max input power: 3mW
Impedance: 55 ohm
Cord type: 1.2m Y type

Audio Technica CK-10 Dual Balanced Armature Based Inner Ear Monitors

In the increasingly crowded house of Inner Ear Monitors (IEM), it is very hard now to make a mistaken purchase: most of the contenders are of high enough sound or build quality to guarantee a well founded purchase.

My personal IEM purchase path began with the humble Sony EX-51 purchase in 2003. When it finally broke I purchased the Sennheiser CX300 and then in just a few weeks after being fed up with a bloomy bass, I purchased the UM2 from Westone. After selling it and changing to the Shure E500, the ETY ER4S, then the Futuresonics Atrio M5, then the Denon C700, the Kenwood C711, Sleek Audio SA6 and ending with the Victor FX-500.

A dirty little secret is that though I do not like the sound of balanced armatures, I bought the Audio Technica CK-10, a dual armature based phone that steered me toward this review after a full 3,5 months of use.

The Interrogation PART A - Why do you not like the sound of balanced armatures?

The answer to this question is very personal. I have had a problem with each of the phones I have tried. I am not a perfectionist but I find faults very easily with every single phone I have purchased even if very small indeed.

Armatures have from the first presented a very speedy and pleasing sound to my ear. The UM2, E500 and ER4S were my first purchases and all were steps well above my previously purcahsed CX300 and EX51. Bass is fast, well articulated and deep. Treble also remains beautiful and detailed - something that helps present the phones as speedy. Mids too are excellent for the most part but I found the ER4S to be quite harsh despite loving their excellent detail and speed.

Saying that, I hint at my major concern: fatigue or harshness. I have found every single armature based inner ear monitor to fatigue me, even the smooth and oft-praised E500 from Shure. After as little as five minutes, I experience what I cannot describe other than a ‘tweaking’ in my ear. It is a sibilant pulsing sensation that does not affect my listening experience whilst using the Denon C700, Atrio M5, Victor FX-500, viz. dynamic driver based inner ear monitors.

The Interrogation PART B - If you do not like the sound of balanced armatures, why did you purchase a new balanced armature phone?

There are two answers to this quandary. Firstly, I excercise often outside and have found for all their sonic problems, armature based phones produce less wind noise than the dynamic phones that I have used. Secondly, since many armature based phones have a smaller hole, it is harder for sweat to enter the canal and disrupt the function of the driver.

Armature based inner ear monitors are used heavily by performing musicians on hot stages or in charismatic bands where sweat is as apt to flow as milk and honey is in the promised land. I bicycle, hike, snowboard, sleep on my side, take the bus train and run for the bus and train: I need a workhorse phone that will supply me a beat to which I can fit my runnings to and fro.

Enter the CK-10: Initial Impressions

I don’t remember the packaging as I care little for that fluff. It is gone. I don’t even remember the colour. Suffice to say, I opened whatever it was that the phones came in and immediately began to play with the sandbox before me. It is a very small sandbox.

The included accessories are these: Case, Ear pieces (silicone).

There is no tube cleaner, no foam pieces, no airline adapter. There is no extension cable or 6,3 mm adapter.

However, in the case of some other phones I have used, I am not unimpressed. The cable is quite long and despite I have my ipod in my trouser pocket much of the time, I have never been bothered by it stretching even when I am at strange angles.

The case is in a word: the best case that I have seen included with any IEM. It is stiff and well padded and has two pocket areas for earpieces, an extension cable or anything else that is small enough to fit. They are of nylon mesh, so they will not stretch or deform.

The case zips closed and on top has a nice Audio Technica logo.

Most importantly are the phones: out of the box they are a very refined ‘bling’. I am not a fan of Audio Technica; I find many of their designs to be tastelessly inefficient, flimsy and or just too radical. However the CK-10 are very well manufactured with a plastic/rubber main body that is capped by a metal plaque.

In a word: stunning. Small, efficient, invisible.

Fit

Compared to other multiple driver phones, they are tiny. Even with my small ear canals, when fully inserted, the plaque logo cannot be seen from the side. These phones are stealthy.

These are the first phones that for a small-canaled person I believe, can actually call canal phones. Every other IEM I have tried has stood out at strange angles or been uncomfortably large in my ears. The CK-10 lie flush with within the flap of skin that covers my ear canal and the last part of my outer ear.

My UM2 would fill up the outer ear canal and the E500 would take up more room. Sleek Audio’s SA6 stick out at strange angles as do the Denon and Victor and to a lesser extent, the Atrio phones. We all know how the ETY ER4 series fits.

I have never been able to lie on my side with any earbud, phone or IEM. The same is almost true with the CK-10. They are small enough to not cause me discomfort, but as they are very thin, they do not lie flush with the inner side of my ear, so when I lay down, the tube angle changes and the sound is swallowed up.

They are more comfortable than any IEM I have used to date, full stop. However, I must qualify this. The earpieces that are included with are all silicone. For most people, silicone might be comfortable and usable but it bothers my ears very soon and in just a few days of use, I will develop sores inside my ears.

For this reason I have used the foam pieces that came with my Victor FX500. They are not soft foam nor pourous like Comply, Westone or Shure pieces. They are hard but when warmed, very supple and maintain a very good fit in my ears. Using these, I am able to achieve a very comfortable fit.

Build Quality

I think this word combination has become a byword at headfi that has little meaning anymore as ‘good build quality’ has been applied to cheaply made products that are delicate and breakable.

The build of the CK-10 is phenomenal but has two problems I can forsee.

Firstly, its cable is the best cable I have used in an IEM, canal or earbud. It might be likened to the material used in the HD650 cable, but as that has not been directly applied in a portable setting, I cannot be sure. It is soft and easily bendable but not given to calcification with sweat or body oils. I have used it bicycling whilst taking God’s worst hail and rain storms as well as on hot plus 30+ days when I am fully soaked in my own body’s sweat.

Even the very well built Westone cable caused me some consternation as I was not sure that in the offensive climb or fast descent that I would not snag one of the wires on my helmet or part of my bum pack.

The microphonics are null. I can fully attest that the cables do not harden after use in hot weather or cold weather nor on a sweaty body. They are bulletproof and because of this resilience they do not cause agitated microphonics with age. It is as silent as the Westone UM2 cable is today as it was on day one, nearly fourth five months ago.

Stress Relief: This is the first area that I have concerns. The cable from the earphone unit itself seems stirdy: at least as sturdy as the Westone unit but with a different construction. It is not melt-stabilised as is the Westone but housed in a soft tube of rubber that extends into the body of the unit itself. Because it is soft, no amount of twisting or fiddling with cause the cable to fray on the unit itself. This was always a concern of mine with the UM2.

However, the plug end of the cable is a straight angle plug. It is long and if your player was dropped, this unit could easily either break off in the player or break the player’s headphone output section. I wish Audio Technica would adopt the right angle connector that ETY and Westone use.

Lastly, the sound tube is the same narrow tube found in most armature based IEMs but is not housed in an equally and stupidly thin channel. The earpiece tube is about as thick as that in UE and Sony phones, making it easy to swap earpieces and find which one works best for you. Since it is feebly constructed, I think that the actual housing on the CK-10 may be the strongest build on the market. They are bulletproof.

Sound Quality

I chose to write about this last in my introduction, I mentioned that I do not like the sound of armatures and that I purchased these for their function rather than for performance. However, I will comment.

Presentation: Fast, open and detailed but not weighty or thunderous.

Bass:
They have a typical armature based sound which to me is summed up in two words: no impact. The bass does not massage the eardrums, it merely merely knocks on the door. They go low and pace very well on any player from my now deceased Meizu M6 to my Sony players to my iPods.

There is no lack but there is also a leanness of body. Not to the same extent as the ETY offerings but it cannot touch the fuller sound of the UM2 or the E500.

Unlike those two however, these phones are undoubtedly unperplexed by fast electronic bass lines. Sometimes, I found the Shure and Westone to sound either off beat or too slow to be able to follow the baselines of my genre of choice: Trance.

The CK-10 adroitly runs along with any speed or acceleration of the music, never missing a beat.

Mid:
I am not a rocker and do not care for mids but can understand their usefulness. My music rarely has any text in it but recently, I have listened to some albums that are almost all vocal: Markus Schultz and Faithless’ albums.

Despite being a faster speed IEM, they do not lack a sweet mid as do my other trance favourites: ETY ER4S. No vocal ever sounds tinny or stressed. If there is sweetness in the voice, it is there in the CK-10’s reproduction.

I have now listened to a some of my wife’s music including jazz, classical and Swedish polka and all sounded wonderful. They sounded great too with the UM2 and E500 but the ETY I found to destroy those genre making the voices thin and warbly.

Treble:
I am a trance sort of guy, what can I say? A phone that is dead on the top end loses its presentation of speed, accuracy and the effects of トランス状態。These have a fast and airy top end despite the slighted frequency response. All details are presented and instruments remain succinct and open. I have never flinched or raised an eyebrow wondering if there was treble smear in the music.

Cymbals shimmer, synthesised instruments ring clear and above all: I enter trance. I can put it no better: I enter trance. They make no mistakes. In fact, they don’t even bother me with a sibilant presentation as did even the UM2 and to a lesser extent, the E500.

I am unfatigued, yet never lacking for speed and lightness in my music.

Isolation

Using the silicon earpieces:
These are not ETY phones. They will not drum out the bus, its full complement of passengers and the riot police in the background. They will however deaden a babies cry (not recommended for parents of young children) or the shrill sounds coming from some rock’n roll deadhead’s DENON DJ phones on the TTC.

Using the Victor ‘foamies’:
I can suppose that another 3-5db of sound is attenuated and the expense of being that much more comfortable. Not only do they take the sting out of baby’s cry, quite nearly, the baby’s head is taken off as I can barely hear it above the heavenly din of Armin Van Buuren.

I listen to music from my iPod touch at about 1/4 to 1/5 of the volume slider so complete isolation is impossible. However, those of you who listen to loud volumes of 1/3 to greater than 1/2 may find that the world just disappears.

In Close:

I can truly say that the CK-10 are the best armature phone I have used for my purposes. They isolate well and provide excellent comfort and because of their miniscule size, draw no awkward stares. They are light on bass but not ETY light. Mids and Treble are probably a rock and roller’s dream but so is a big car and long hair, so perhaps that is a warning. Treble on these sings without stinging. They are amazing.

If I were to give them an overall rating: it would be Kiss.

Wipe: rubbish
Slap: nearly rubbish
Tap: getting interesting
Grab: worth it
Kiss: a paradigm shift

Pictures to follow. Eventually
redface.gif
 
Nov 18, 2008 at 10:49 PM Post #2 of 18

jinx20001

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thanks for that, i like the sound of these things. was some of that review cut and paste?? because if you wrote that up off your own thoughts in your own time its mighty impressive and insightfull. cheers!!
 
Nov 18, 2008 at 11:44 PM Post #3 of 18

jant71

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Thanks for the review, Shigzeo. I did discuss these with Dscans a while back. He felt they have a larger soundstage than the Triple.fi. Do you think they have a larger soundstage also vs. UM2/E500?

I agree about the Shures. I buy them then end up selling them because they are too slow. I said after the E4G, no more Shures' but had to try the newer ones and ended up calling myself a dumbass since I knew they were gonna be to slow. Got a great deal that I couldn't pass up though.

I also agree that armatures are lean and do not agree with what Westone and Shure do to beef them up as they don't get it right. I always go the Yuin/Head-Direct way. Added impedance beefs them up nicely. Talking again with Dscans he said that they seem to be easier to drive than the C700's even though rated at 55ohm. Again seems like they could benefit from some impedance.

With some Shure clearflex sleeves and S-adapter and an E5(maybe with bass boost) they should go from a little lean to just right with some nice impact without killing their speed and resolving power.

You have them creeping back onto my radar! They are just plain gorgeous and even the lower end AT earphones have nicer cables than many IEM's, so I know that part is dead on. I still want to see what the RE0 is and if UE has something new up there sleeves. Anyone find a better CK10 price than Warehouse123?
 
Nov 19, 2008 at 1:55 AM Post #5 of 18

shigzeo

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I have not tried the triple fi so I cannot really make any comments. From memory about Westone or Shure is that both had excellent separation but not the best of stages.

Since I went to Atrio after UM2, I found that the dynammic seem to have a wider stage but not as well developed separation. the CK10 have a great stage, but I don't have my UM2 or e500 to compare them to at this moment.

I was surpised however by the back to front depth of the CK10 though I think they must not be as good as the atrio for depth of y axis.

As for versus the FX500, they are a completely different style of phone. the FX500 are not dark in the same way as the Atrio where treble dissolves into the plastic chambre, but they are darker than these which are if anything: defined by their clear and beautiful treble.

The FX500 are like a bit more of a dry refined Atrio but they don't have the phenomenal bass of the atrio.

Looking back to all of my purchases and preview listening, the atrio remain my favourite but with many reservations. if the echo were gone and the trebles as nice as these or even a bit more clear, i would not have sold them.

these are merely the best armature based phone i have tried but for my tastes, their signature sound is very good. i do not imagine that bass heads or people who really like an ear licking mid will love these.

they are very good all-rounders but i think for electronic, they are near perfect: a long stretch for any headphone as it is too ponderous a genre to do well. i am pleasantly surprised.
 
Nov 19, 2008 at 4:58 AM Post #6 of 18

Crikey

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is it me or does the review actually have japanese popping up (トランス状態) that pretty much means trance condition/situation? Shizego could you say why you included that or provide some sort of tranlsation?
 
Nov 19, 2008 at 6:22 AM Post #9 of 18

Libertad

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From reading the review id say sound wise these are a carbon copy of my HJE900s which is awesome but there price for the CK10 in the US is insane honestly. Either way im glade your enjoying them and its nice to see another trance head here as well.
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Nov 19, 2008 at 1:10 PM Post #10 of 18

shigzeo

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well the price in japan is not cheap either. most stores sell them for 299-350$ usd or so.

having however owned several headphones in that price category and a few more that i think do not deserve their price bracket, this phone is so well made that it deserves its rank. if it has survived as long as it has on my bicycle and bus trips, it is indeed not made anywhere near the shure factory. the thicker ear tube is genius actually and will never snap ala westone or shure or sleek audio
 
Dec 10, 2008 at 1:46 AM Post #11 of 18

shigzeo

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it looks as if the ck10 are now joined at at's top by the ck100 which are triple driver. they have just been released and are now at the 350-450$ (msrp of 550$ usd) usd pricerange so im sure the ck10 have gone down a bit. they were still around 350$ usd at big box stores when i left japan.
 
Dec 13, 2008 at 4:49 PM Post #12 of 18

schneller

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Please keep this updated. A comparison with the SA6 would be nice too. Thanks.

(I am an ATH-CK7 user at the moment.)
 
Dec 13, 2008 at 5:11 PM Post #13 of 18

shigzeo

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i suppose i could: but only briefly.

i do like the sa6 in some ways; the beefy yet overemphasised bass is pretty good but not natural the way it is in other phones but it has a nice fast signature that works well with non vocal musics. i do not like them so well for vocals but maybe as i am not a vocal bloke, i don't care for very close mids. they seem to be quite good but just not sweet.

the ck10 are probably good rock phones but they are fast. they are light on bass but not er4 light. the sound is more detailed than the sa6 for sure and more airy. overall presentation is one of the best i have heard in armature phones. really very impressed.

comfort: no contest. sa6 really are not meant for me. they are way too large for my ears. i was expecting them to fit in my ears from impressions and pictures, but they stick way out, almost as much as er4 for the body of the phone but the cable of course is right angle versus 130 degree or so.

the ck10 can be worn with a toque whereas the sa6 are impossible to use with any soft of headgear that covers the ears.

isolation: no contest: sa6 is more isolating with any piece. it goes further into the ear (longer smaller tube) but i find the silicon pieces are iffy. they move and my ear becomes irritated quickly. foamies do not work for me very well.

construction: no contest. sa6 looks like it was made in a china factory. it is meant to be brushed with a feather and never worn anywhere where it might encounter any physical resistance. all plastic even cheap plastic on the headphone jack that has a really poorly designed 'chrome' piece. poor design.

the at phone is encased in a thick plastic shell with nice rubber around the sides and finally an alulminium or other metal faceplate. it is properly strain reliefed on the phone but the jack itself is straight angle and prone to disaster.

microphonics: no contest: sa6 is much louder and the cable gets hard in the cold. the at phone is again construced of much higher quality materials.

i think for sound only, more people might prefer the heavier beefier sound of the sa6 but it is a very one dimensional stage compared to the dynamic sounding ck10.

but for my uses there is no contest at all: the ck10 trumps the sa6 in every category that i need: comfort, construction quality, seal sustainment, microphonics, safety (if anything hit my head from the side, that sa6 would be a bullet into my eardrum) and looks: ck10 is a mature design, not a flashy teenage design
 
Dec 13, 2008 at 5:34 PM Post #14 of 18

schneller

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What kind of trance are you into by chance?

I listen to a lot of female vocal trance. Stuff from ATB, Tiesto, PVD, Generation Trance, etc.
 

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