Audio-technica ATH-CKS50TW True Wireless In-ear Headphones Review
Can this solid new mid-range true wireless headphone cut through the pack? Matthew Jens decides…
ATH-CKS50TW In-Ear Headphones
AUD $249 RRP
I’m not going to lie. I am as confused by the current Audio-technica true wireless lineup as you are. The lowest price offering in the range also has the largest drivers and the widest bandwidth, whereas the most expensive offering has the smallest of both but offers QuietPoint noise cancelling. Okay…
Like most people, I would probably plunge straight into the middle, hoping for the best of both worlds. Which, coincidentally, seems to be the theme of the ATH-CKS50TW that I have been trying out over the past few weeks. There are a lot of true wireless offerings in this price bracket, and its name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. However, as we’ll see, there is much to recommend, including a not inconsiderable battery life and the bargain price.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way; the buds are slightly oversized, but the case is downright gargantuan – especially when compared to something as humble as the Apple Airpods Pro or Sennheiser CX series. This makes it awkward to fit into a jeans pocket and nigh-on impossible for slim-fit pants of any kind.
To put it into perspective, the Airpods Pro case is matchbox-sized, and the CKS50TW case is like two Jenga blocks taped together. Both buds feature IPX4 ingress protection, and to be honest, I’d probably trust the Audio-technica offering to be more robust in a drop test.
So, it doesn’t fit into that weird coin slot in your jeans and has a silly name – but it does have one redeeming quality that knocks the competition on into a cocked hat, namely its battery life. Twenty hours, with an additional thirty hours of charge in the case, is by far the best-claimed battery life of any true wireless product I’ve reviewed. The numbers hold up, too. In my weeks of testing, I charged this unit once! So if a beefy battery is high on your list of requirements, do pay attention.
The good news continues with the app, too. Dig in, and you’ll find a 5-band EQ, low latency mode options – made especially good via the inclusion of aptX support – and the ability to adjust how many volume steps you would like. Very neat, especially for an option in this price bracket.
Noise cancelling is ample for a product of this price. While the CKS50TW is bestowed with Audio-technica’s QuietPoint technology, it still fares well against others at its price point without punching too far above its weight. However, if you need strong ANC, it’s worth forking out the extra dough for the Galaxy Buds Pro or the AirPods Pro.
The CKS50TW really starts punching above its weight when it comes to sound. Despite being an affordable offering, the response is mature, collected and poised. The sub-bass extends nice and low, helped by the sheer amount of surface area that a 9mm driver can push inside a small enclosure. There are even satisfactory levels of rumble to accompany deep pass punches down there.
The midband is presented evenly, with a refined, natural character lacking in any offensive sibilance. I’ll even go so far as to call this a safe frequency response which reduces any bite or sharpness, and instead takes a softer, relatively inoffensive approach. Vocals are presented with a clean, natural timbre and don’t suffer from honking or veiling.
I feel like this kind of sound signature is the way to go for a travel-oriented true wireless product. I would prefer this over a more pointed, bright sound, which would be painful when I’m cranking it up to get over the noise of public transport or flying. Especially with that equaliser function in the back pocket, just in case things aren’t exactly as I want them to be.
Call quality is adequate – not quite stellar, but far from being unusable. Callers on my side were presented clearly, and adding “side talk” (allowing a little bit of ambient noise into the headset during phone calls) makes these a worthy office companion, too.
This is another solid offering from Audio-technica then, with an IPX4 rating, a well-rounded sound signature, a 5-band EQ (via the app) and a best-in-class battery life offering. The tradeoffs here are the sheer size of the case and less-than-amazing noise cancelling. If these issues aren’t a game-changer for you, the CKS50TW is well worth an audition for those shopping for a budget-friendly true wireless in-ear monitor.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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