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Accessories Review of Audio-Technica CKR9 and CKR10 dual driver in-ear headphones w/lots of pics!

Discussion in 'Android Accessories' started by twister6, Dec 14, 2014.

  1. twister6

    twister6 Android Expert
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    This is a Review of Audio-Technica CKR9 and CKR10 premium dual-driver IEMs, http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/headphones/1108c4542caf5790/index.html and http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/headphones/df517c93c488bb58/index.html

    From Audio-Technicas SonicPro "a legacy of sound" family, I have a pleasure of introducing to you their ATH-CKR9 and ATH-CKR10 premium in-ear monitors. Though not exactly a brand new release, these are finally available from Audio-Technica US which is a great news since now you can rest assure your purchase will be covered under a local (outside of Japan) warranty. This has been a topic of a number of discussions I've been involved in after my review of ATH-IM02 and ATH-IM03 IEMs. When you invest money in a premium quality headphones, especially something like CKR series with non-removable cables, it's nice to have a piece of mind with a local warranty from an authorized dealer.

    So what is so special about these CKR9/CKR10 models? Introduced earlier this year, Audio-Technica presented them as a first IEM with a dual phase push-pull drivers configuration. It's quite an interesting concept where instead of a traditional config with both drivers facing the same direction toward the nozzle of headphones, these 13mm drivers are facing each other while being wired out of phase. There is some science behind this design which in the past was only implemented in full size speakers to reduce harmonic distortion and unwanted vibration. Here, it was scaled down to IEM size with quite an impressive results delivering high resolution sound.

    Though they both feature a similar design, these IEMs have a different tuning and a different housing material where CKR9 uses aluminum while CKR10 has metal-coated titanium, both inside of a plastic outer shell. Also, with a rated frequency response of 5Hz to 35kHz for CKR9 and 5Hz to 40kHz for CKR10, the later one qualifies for "Hi-Res Audio" certification. I know spec numbers are important for some people, but at the end what counts is the actual sound you hear with your own ears. For this review, I will start with a common section dedicated to unboxing and the design details, and will go into individual sound description followed by comparison with other IEMs. So without a further due, here is what I found.

    Starting with a packaging, both CKR9 and CKR10 outer sleeve greets your with a high res picture of these little beauties with a distinguished detail of Aluminum silver-color theme of CKR9 and Titanium gold-color theme of CKR10. On the back you have a lot info in both Japanese and English with a list of features, specs, and the close up of the internal drivers config. One thing is to read the description, but it's a whole different experience to see the actual detailed assembly of the drivers. It also shows how much pride AT takes in their product showcasing their design, similar to what I found with their IM0x IEMs. After sliding out the sleeve and removing the top cover, both CKR9 and CRK10 models have the same display presentation and identical accessories with IEMs inside of the foam cutout, a premium leather case in the lower left corner, and a set of eartips in the lower right corner.

    CKR9 unboxing and accessories:

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    CKR10 unboxing and accessories:

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    Looking closely at the design of CKR9/10 series, you will find them almost identical with an exception of metal part of the housing.

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    Starting with a plug, you have a very sturdy 90deg hard plastic housing and gold-plated connector with an excellent strain relief and enough extension to fit any audio player or heavy duty phone case. The only difference here is a slim metal ring detail on the plug of CKR10 to distinguish its premium appeal. Moving to the cable you have a soft rubber shielding which is a bit sticky and unfortunately prone to some tangling. The cable design is partitioned in a way where you have a left/right wires from each earpiece with signal/ground going all the way down to 3.5mm connector keeping the ground wires of L/R sides separate. As a result, you have a very basic y-splitter clip separating individual wires from a dual attached one going to the plug. There is no chin slider which is not a show stopper since it's usually helpful for over-ear fitment, although it makes me wonder if chin slider would have been helpful to keep cables from moving to mitigate a considerable amount of microphonics introduced by the cable.

    Moving up to earpieces, first thing you will notice is a high quality strain relief. Considering CKR9/10 don't have a removable cable, I was very pleased to see a well designed and attached soft rubber tube strain relief that was sturdy enough to be handled even while removing headphones from your ears. I found the shape of the shell to have a perfect size (not too big or too small) and an excellent fitment for my medium size ears, and we are talking about two rather large drivers enclosed in a metal housing surrounded by a plastic shell. To improve ergonomics of fitment, CKR models have a cable attached at the front rather than back allowing a more comfortable inner ear fitment. Together with an angled nozzle I found it to fit my ears like a glove, even before I started tip rolling. I guess there is a way you can try over-ear wiring, but the extension of strain relief will get in the way. Another thing worth mentioning, there is a slim port opening on the back which I assume actually functioning rather than for looks.
     

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  2. twister6

    twister6 Android Expert
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    CKR9 design details

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    CKR10 design details

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    This brings me to the most important part of the review - the sound analysis. Unlike other AT headphones I tested in the past where incremental model number meant an additional driver or a more significant design change, I found CRK9/10 numbering to just distinguish two different sound signatures. Before starting my test, I was well aware these dynamic drivers require a burn in, thus I put them through at least 50+ hrs of play in free air for a proper conditioning. A quick note, right out of the box the bass was more exaggerated in both models, but afterwards it settled down nicely along with more refinement in high frequencies.

    If you look at overall tonality of CKR9/CKR10, they both have a nicely balanced signature with a decent extension at both ends of the spectrum. But individually their sound tuning follows two different directions. Also, due to a brighter nature of CKR9 I was using their stock narrow bore tip to reduce some higher frequency peaks, while for CKR10 I switched to UE900 tips with a medium bore opening for an opposite effect to open up higher frequencies which also widened soundstage perception and made sound more natural.

    Beginning with CKR9, it has a smooth analytical/neutral (a blend in between) sound which is on a brighter side. Starting with a low end, it has a well controlled tight bass which is definitely north of neutral in quantity. With a rich sub-bass texture and a softer attack of mid-bass, I found it to have a very accurate delivery and natural tonality. There is absolutely no bleed into lower mids, and it has zero bloat. Moving into mids, you have lean lower mids and bright detailed slightly forward upper mids. Upper mids sound a bit thinner which leads to somewhat colder and dry presentation of vocals. It still smooth without any peaks or harshness. The same with treble, having a clear and detailed non-fatigue sound without a hint of sibilance. Treble does extends nicely, and has a perfect balance of clarity and smoothness.

    Moving to CKR10, it has a smooth balanced warm sound with an enhanced bass, though I wouldn't call it L-shaped. It has a well extended lower end with a deeper sub-bass texture (a bit higher in quantity in comparison to CKR9), and fast punch of mid-bass which has more impact in comparison to CKR9. Still, bass is well controlled and has an excellent balance with the rest of the frequency spectrum without adding too much bloat. Lower mids have a thicker body which adds a nice warmth and smoothness to midrange, while still remaining very clear and detailed. I personally prefer mids of CKR10 because I felt they had a more realistic vocal presentation. This was a first time I experienced such a high level of details with a warm sound signature. Treble was very similar to CKR9 having a nice detailed sound with a perfect balance of clarity and smoothness.

    Both IEMs had a similar staging with above average depth but only an average width that contributed to a more intimate listening experience while still having plenty of airiness. This "open intimacy" had pretty good layering and separation with a relatively accurate positioning of instruments and vocals in space. I have to add that most of my testing was done with X5, but once I paired it up with either E12A or C5 headphone amps, the soundstage improved with a new dimension of more 3D spacing and better width. You really don't need an external amp to appreciate the quality of these IEMs and can easily drive it even from a smartphone, but it does helps if you want to breath in more refinement into their sound.

    Next, I put CKR9/CKR10 against my other IEMs, and here is how they stack up in a quick overall comparison.

    vs DITA Answer:
    9 - more mid-forward and thinner in sound, similar bass but a little less in quantity, brighter thinner mids, less treble extension, and narrower in staging
    10 - more mid-forward sound, deeper sub-bass with a faster mid-bass, brighter upper mids, smoother treble with less extension, staging is narrower

    vs IM50:
    9 - thinner sound, overall better retrieval of details, scaled down bass with less sub-bass, brighter, thinner, and more detailed upper mids, crispier treble and similar staging
    10 - overall better retrieval of details, better controlled bass with a bit scaled down mid-bass, brighter upper mids, and crispier treble

    vs VSD3:
    9 - better retrieval of details, less sub-bass, more detailed and thinner upper mids, more treble extension, similar staging
    10 - better retrieval of details, less sub-bass, more detailed and accurate upper mids, greater treble extension, similar staging

    vs IM03:
    9 - more mid forward, less sub-bass, thinner brighter mids, more detailed, similar treble, and a bit narrower staging
    10 - more mid forward, cleaner and more detailed bass, brighter and more detailed mids, similar treble, a bit narrower staging

    vs B3P1:
    9 - brighter and better retrieval of details, crispier bass, brighter mids, a bit crispier treble, narrower staging
    10 - better retrieval of details, more articulate bass, cleaner mids, a bit crispier treble, narrower staging

    vs A83:
    9 - similar retrieval of details, a bit less sub-bass and a bit more mid-bass punch, a bit thinner upper-mids, less treble extension and a bit narrower staging
    10 - similar retrieval of details, more sub-bass and faster mid-bass punch, smoother upper mids with more body, less treble extension and a bit narrower staging

    Conclusion

    Overall, I think I found my new favorite pair of IEMs, and if you haven't guessed it already from my review - it's CKR10! Both CKR9 and CKR10 are fantastic in-ear headphones with a ground breaking design and performance. With its retrieval of details and smooth analytical/neutral sound, you will be scratching your head how CKR9 can deliver such a high quality performance with only two dynamic drivers! With CKR10 - I honestly never experienced such a smooth warm natural sound with an enhanced and very articulate bass and amazing retrieval of details! Typically warm/smooth and detailed doesn't go in the same sentence, but here I'm sitting with a huge smile on my face enjoying a full body rich balanced sound with a natural timbre like I never heard before. I started my review by mentioning about dual phase push-pull technology AT implemented in this design. As a result of this "science experiment", Audio Technica came up with a product that delivers a very impressive rounded characteristics for a dual dynamic IEM. Of course, this is a matter of personal opinion based on my taste and the type of music I'm listening to, so YMMV. But take my word for it - CKR10 sets a bar very high for the particular sound sig I have been after for a very long time!!!
     
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  3. Chewzan

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    Great write up Twister, love your work!

    In reading your reviews up to now, I was wondering where the CKR10 sits in comparison and if you still consider it as the perfect sig for you as I have a chance to pick some up today and feel our preferences in sound align for the most part.

    I have the CKM1000's I'm looking to accompany, I like the idea of the warmer, new AT sound to compliment my current go to IEM.

    Cheers!
     
  4. twister6

    twister6 Android Expert
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    CKR10 is still at the top, but DuoZA coming close. DuoZA can't reach the same level of refinement and a little bit darker, but I was still impressed with it - just worry a bit about DuoZA's driver flex :( At the current moment, I also enjoying UM Pro 50 but we are talking about IEM that costs a whole lot more money :) So to answer your question, yeah, I still consider CKR10 having a perfect sig and a perfect fitment. AT guys really nailed it!
     
  5. Chewzan

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    Thank you Twister, much appreciated for your prompt response!

    Just reread your DuoZA review and now I have those on the mind's ears...but as an AT fan I'm leaning still toward the CKR10 beforehand, I have a couple of hours to still pull the trigger on those at $178 US new so hard to pass up.

    Driver flex can be a concerning annoyance for sure, my CKM99's have that in spades but no trace on the 1000's. Who knows, maybe it helps lessen the amount of burn in needed :rolleyes: Whatever the case, I wouldn't want my workhorse to have this attribute agreed.

    With a of a lot of ATs in my collection (various CKM's, CKN50, CKN70 soon since it's only $35 now, ES55, ES500, ES7, ES8, ES9W, WS99, A900X), the idea of the CKR10 and its new AT sound will be a treat for the ears.

    On a side note, I noticed you have the X5 as well, this will be my primary DAP for use with the CKR10 so good to know you've been there, done that! I am looking into the X1 to replace my various Sony walkman DAPs for portable usage as well, saw your write up on that on Amazon, good stuff! Also saw the C5 amp review, now that's on my radar too. It's like I'm back on head-fi which is simultaneously a good and bad thing depending on how you look at it o_O:cool::eek:
     
  6. twister6

    twister6 Android Expert
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    Yeah, as we say on head-fi "welcome to the forum, sorry about your wallet" lol!!! Oh, and as a heads up, do not read my upcoming review of Cayin N6 dap :p Your wallet gonna end up regretting it lol!!! I wish I could get my hands on AK120 II because so far I heard from a number of people that N6 is on par in sound quality, and at 1/2 of the price. Yeah, it's a bit bulky and not the greatest battery life, but it's a truly high resolution DAP that sounds better than X5 + C5 (just a tad narrower in staging, C5 is a king of that), and plays/decodes DSD files natively. In theory, if you already have something like X5 or D90, and want to keep it - C5 is a fantastic upgrade that will allow you to drive any open/close and high impedance cans. But if you have a budget of about $600 to spend on a portable DAP and amp, wait until FiiO will release their X7 android touch screen DAP and then make a decision between N6 and X7 ;)

    If you already have X5, C5 pairs up nicely, and so does E12A. But C5 will be better for high impedance hard to drive cans if you have some in your collection. Otherwise, E12A is fantastic and more transparent for IEMs (it's specifically designed for IEMs, but can drive high impedance load as well). X1 is a fantastic little audio player with the same scroll wheel interface, but it's HO amp is just ok, nothing special and inferior when you do a/b comparison with X5. But perhaps next to your Sony Walkmans it will sound better. And, it's 3.5mm jack is switch selectable between HO or LO, so you can pair it up nicely with external AMP, like C5. A lot of choices, a lot of toys, and "sorry about your wallet" again ;) Speaking of Walkman, NWZ-A15 for under $200 (from accessoryjack) is also a great alternative option.

    With AT, did you see they just announced at NAMM a new set of M70x? It supposed to be a higher end MSR7 version with improved bass (the biggest complain about MSR7 which I read so far). Perhaps, it's just my wishful thinking, but I'm hopping M70x will have a combined performance of M50x + MSR7.

    $178 CKR10 is insane!!! From Japanese seller, brand new? Keep in mind, now since AT US carries CKR10, even if you buy it from Japanese seller, you can service it in US under warranty ;)
     
  7. Chewzan

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    Oh man! That Cayin N6 and ATH-M70x both sound irresistible, I'll have to do some serious following on the forums! I do love the X5 but have to check out your review, I am curious to see how the synergy goes with your phones!! Not to mention realizing there is room for improvement in my DAP as much as I love my X5, but to sum it up, my wallet better be packing a few bills on because it will need it in the near future :D

    The staging boost alone on the C5 addition sounds enticing as well, a versatile pairing if in the end it makes more sense than an outright DAP swap. I'm still in the honeymoon period with the X5 despite getting it as soon as it hit the states. Coming from the Sony 7 series and various other Walkmen, including the old tried and true NWH-HD5, it is a revelation of sorts and fun to pair it up with the collection. Up against my home / office iBasso D7 Sidewinder setup, it certainly holds its own! Nice little on the go, that Sony A15, also another temptation to populate another unfilled niche, I seem to find that realization a lot. X1 and that E12A, also great options, great hardware out nowadays huh?! All mentioned a few pegs or more seemingly under that elusive AK 12o II, but my checking account doesn't want me to associate with it more than a quick fancy so if the N6 or X7 turns out to be mighty close, color me sold;)

    For now, the CKR10's should land soon, can't wait to get them worked in and running on a consistent basis with whatever source I can find to throw at it. Some serious tip rolling also awaits, I too dig those UE gels with their medium bore on a few other IEMs so I'll try those first :cool:

    I will be sure to post back once I get a good listen in and thank you again, also a huge plus AT USA is offering them here, although I might be out of luck warranty-wise purchasing off of ebay. Not a Japanese seller, but with the great US $ to Yen rate, I would imagine some better deals are out there from Nippon sellers indeed.
     
    #7 Chewzan, Jan 27, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2015

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