Japanese audio company Audio-Technica sells quite a few different models of headphones, some of which are consistently very good to outstanding — such as the unimpeachably priced QuietPoint noise-canceling models — and others that vary from so-so to good or great depending on the specific model. Today, we’re quickly reviewing two recent and relatively inexpensive models: the ATH-CKS55i Solid Bass Inner Ear Headphones ($80), and the ATH-CP500i Waterproof Inner Ear Headphones ($60), both of which sport three-button Apple remote control and microphone capsules, plus designs that sit partially inside your ear canals while leaving a lot of plastic on the outside.
ATH-CKS55i is a less expensive sequel to last year’s ATH-CKS77, reusing the same housing design with only small changes. As before, ATH-CKS55i achieves an unusually strong level of bass performance for an in-ear design by cheating the “in-ear” definition a little, creating twin air chambers that extend considerably outside of your ear, akin to traditional earbuds capped with your choice of four included sizes of silicone in-canal tips. The space inside the chambers enables the earphones to create additional bass resonance, channeling their sound through an adjustable post inside the silicone tip, so that you can improve the fit and sound isolation.
Silver metal rings have been swapped here for black chrome, but the new model would otherwise be hard to tell apart from its predecessor in a lineup. The earphones are a little Frankenstein-like when viewed in isolation, but look fine inside your ears, with the remote dangling from the otherwise symmetrical right side of the cabling, which terminates in an L-shaped and relatively case-compatible 3.5mm plug. Audio-Technica also includes a simple fabric drawstring case to carry the headphones and spare rubber tips.
Not surprisingly, ATH-CKS55i lives up to its promise of providing “overwhelming bass sound.” Like many of V-Moda’s past models, this headphone floods your ears with bass in a manner that some users might find fatiguing, but others—particularly those who would shop for “overwhelming bass” at this price point—will probably love. You can almost feel the little speaker flexing inside with every low-end beat, and every song we threw at CKS55i was presented with bass as its dominant component, possessing just enough treble and mid-treble to avoid sounding flat. Distortion is par for the course at this price point, comparing with common $50-$60 earphones that carry $20 premiums because of Apple’s remote control. There are no sonic surprises here; this is a pretty good but decidedly skewed earphone, exactly as marketed. Those looking for something more sonically balanced, though comparatively anemic in the low-end department, could consider Audio-Technica’s less expensive and more colorful ATH-CK400i model.
While each model’s remote control unit looks and feels a little different—the Solid Bass model has interestingly elevated buttons, while the waterproof headset has nearly flush, pill-shaped ones—their microphone performance is virtually identical to one another, and to Apple’s headset microphones, which use the same components. Callers detected no significant differences between any of them during our testing, and button responsiveness was satisfactory, as well.
Both of these models will appeal to specific categories of users. The Solid Bass ATH-CKS55i is a good option for bassheads who are willing to deal with oversized earpieces to get a substantial low-end fix, and want a three-button remote and mic solution to be in the mix. It’s worthy of our general recommendation. Athletes will appreciate the resilient design and features of ATH-CP500i, but may or may not find that the speakers are positioned ideally for the locations of their ear canals. The lack of certainty as to how the audio will sound is the primary reason it merits a limited recommendation; if you’re considering this model, our advice would be to shop somewhere with a good return policy, just in case they don’t match your ears properly.
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Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, and iPods