In-Ear Headphones Face Off Page 6


Audio Technica ATH-CK10

Key Features
• Accessories: 3 pair ear tips, hard-shell fabric carry case • Impedance/Sensitivity: 55 ohms/107 dB/mW

Audio-Technica makes an extensive line of portable headphones that ranges from the bargain basement to this twoway dual-armature design priced at $400. The ear tip nozzle is angled, which assists in getting them properly seated in the ear canal, though these are so small that I had a tough time keeping a grip on them as I pushed them into my ears. The ATH-CK10 comes with only three sets of ear tips and no additional adapters or other accessories beyond a carry case - a little surprising at this price point.


It became painfully clear from the moment I started listening that the ATH-CK10 came up short on deep bass compared with its competition. I played for a while with the ear tips and the positioning to maximize the seal and consequently the bass performance, even swapping out some big-boy tips from one of the other earphones to build out A-T's meager selection and see if that was the problem. But I was eventually convinced that there simply was no there there. Descending-frequency sweep tones started to drop off noticeably below 50 Hz, and I didn't hear anything substantial much below 35 to 40 Hz. Holding the 'phones in my ears and listening very intently, I could detect some faint puttering on a 20-Hz tone with the iPod cranked up near its limit, but it was down so far in level as to be meaningless. On the other hand, a frequency sweep revealed smooth perceived response almost all the way through the rest of its range.

The ATH-CK10's polite bottom end created a heartbreaking lack of warmth that thinned out and sometimes made abrasive an otherwise spectacularly smooth midrange and high end. The sweet, rich texture of the delicate, opening violins on the Stravinsky track sounded almost heavenly. And the ATH-CK10 also imaged beautifully and created more sense of the space of the hall than nearly any other earphone. But male voices sounded thin, as evidenced by the lack of richness in Eric Kuf's baritone on the Common Rotation track. And instruments like the close-miked, uncompressed piano notes recorded for Sound Check lost all their weight and body, taking on an almost harpsichord-like character. Needless to say, the A-T just couldn't carry my playlist's R&B and African drum tracks with any authority.


Though it dangled a promise with its pure midrange and high-end extension, the ATHCK10 ultimately gave up too much of the music to be serious competition at its $400 price point.