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-CP500i is one of the slicker-looking sports headphone designs we’ve seen in recent years, and part of Audio-Technica’s “Players Line” of sports headphones: it combines traditional earbuds with soft rubber loops that fit over your ears to keep the accessory stable even during workouts or running. What’s unique is that this model is IPX5 waterproof—washable, not submersible—with an IPX2 rain-proof remote control unit, so it can safely be used without fear of sweat or rain. The remote unit is located at neck level on the cable, which terminates in an L-shaped, case-friendly 3.5mm plug.
Audio-Technica did a pretty good job on the ATH-CP500i’s design. The loops use a very fine dot texture that looks and feels great, and the plastic earbuds are capped with a mix of circular dark metal accents and triangular rubber stabilizers that work as backups to keep them in place, even if you tug on the cords. Audio-Technica has further used an symmetric cable design to discourage tugs, with a very short right side, so the headset winds up feeling very stable and reasonably comfortable at all points. A detachable shirt clip and simple carrying bag are included in the package, as well.
There’s only one problem, and that’s ATH-CP500i’s sound, though this issue that will vary from user to user based on the size and shape of one’s ears. When they’re ideally positioned, the earbuds are capable of performing very respectably balanced and reasonably clear sound for a $60 earphone, with nice bass, clear treble, and fair midrange; even when they’re not ideally positioned, they have no shortage of the volume necessary to let you hear your music while working out indoors or outdoors. However, the circular earbud housings are made from hard, glossy plastic that could have really benefitted from some rubber coating, and the little speaker grilles point in a position that will suit some ears better than others. We found it difficult to channel the good audio directly into our ear canals, which made music sound shrill despite the fact that merely repositioning the little speakers could fix the problem. If ATH-CP500i offered users a way to turn the speakers to the right angle—or channel the audio through silicone tips like ATH-CKS55i—it would deliver better results for more people.
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.
Company and Price
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, and iPods