The new Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW true wireless headphone is slapped with a “Solid Bass” feature. Retailed at S$218 in Singapore, the CKS50TW also comes with ANC and Hear-Through, supports EQ adjustments, aptX Adaptive Audio, Low Latency mode, Multipoint Pairing, Sidetone function during calls, IPX4 water protection, a massive 20-hour battery with a single charge. It even supports Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.
Design and Operations
The ATH-CKS50TW retains the Audio-Technica true-wireless design DNA – an upright case which opens to reveal the earbuds perked at a gradient and protrusion for ease of removal. The case is relatively chunky, as are the earbuds. A protruding physical button operates the controls, similar to the ATH-CKS5TW and the ATH-ANC300TW. The position at the top of the earbud allows user to click without applying pressure into the ear canals. There are 4 LED lights to indicate battery level.
Thanks to Google Fast Pair feature, it is easy to initiate pairing with nearby devices. For manual pairing, place the earbuds in the charging case and wait for 5 seconds, then press-hold the buttons on both earbuds for 6 seconds until the LED on the earbuds light up in red. Then remove the earbuds from the charging case and pair with your device.
As always, the medium-size ear tips are installed on the earbuds, but I find them a little too tight for comfort. Switching to small-size ear tips feels better yet they still achieve good seal.
Once the earbuds are paired to the smartphone, open the Audio-Technica Connect app to access features available to the product. With the CKS50TW, you can manage the following features:
- Change the audio codec manually (auto, aptX Adaptive, aptX, AAC)
- Apply EQ presets or customise your own
- Select ANC, Hear-Through, or turn off: no option to adjust the levels for each mode
- Enable low latency mode (for gaming): latency is reduced but still not enough for mission-critical games
- L/R Balance adjustment: great for users with imbalanced hearing, this is an uncommon feature for earbuds
- Volume step adjustment (16-, 32-, 64-step): another uncommon feature which reflects A-T commitment to meeting the demands of audiophiles
- Enable Side Tone for phone calls: the intensity is almost not felt though, hopefully a firmware update will improve this
- Set up Sony 360 Reality Audio: requires taking photo of your ears and optimising with a compatible streaming app like TIDAL, but the result is worth it.
- Configure key assign settings: limited options to change the key assign.
I’m delighted to learn that the CKS50TW supports Sony 360 Reality Audio, a feature worth trying if you have TIDAL or Deezer subscriptions to play the supported content. Now I don’t have to buy a Sony-brand earbuds to listen to 360RA content, which requires special encoding to play content, just like Dolby ATMOS. While you can still play 360RA tracks on non-360RA earbuds, there is a vast difference when you play on earbuds after going through optimisation process using the Connect app. The 360RA creates a 3D sound effect that puts you in the middle of the performance, so you can hear instruments and effects coming from all around your head. Make sure you search on the music streaming app for dedicated 360RA tracks and not the normal stereo tracks. I recommend listening to Dua Lipa’s self-titled album that is specially produced in 360RA, available on TIDAL.
ANC and Hear-Through
Unlike the ATH-ANC300TW where the ANC and Hear-Through comes with different modes or levels of intensity, the ATH-CKS50TW only has default settings. Though the ANC300TW delivers better ANC performance, the CKS50TW is effective in reducing urban noises like engines of buses and trains, and let me listen to music without needing to turn up the volume too high. When ANC is activated without playing music, they are not strong enough to attain deep silence compared to Technics AZ60 or Sony WF-1000XM4.
For the Hear-Through feature, the amount of audible ambient sound is sufficient to hear environment noise around the low and midrange, but upper frequency is not amplified, so in general the Hear-Through does not sound very transparent (as if not wearing earbuds).
Though the ANC and Hear-Through on the CKS50TW are not as strong as the ANC300TW, the features add value to the product. When you need to turn on Hear-Through quickly, press-hold the right earbud and it will drop the audio volume to 10% so that you can hear and react to activities or conversation, instead of fumbling the controls to pause the music and turn on Hear-Through (though the quickest way is just remove the earbuds from the ears).
There is no denying that the ATH-CKS50TW is tuned for bass lovers, but there is a nice balance that even non-bass heads like myself can appreciate. I like that the bass pumps are full and cushy, while the bass notes are heard with clear tonality, not a rumbling blur. The bass occupies probably about 60% of the sonic space, leaving the rest for the treble to fill up. This tuning works for music with strong treble mix, but genres like Classical and Jazz might not sound as satisfactory.
I will now compare with other Audio-Technica true-wireless earbuds. The ATH-CKS3TW is the most V-shaped sounding model among these compared, and it’s a sound that I enjoy listening to, thanks to its sparkly treble details and a deep bass impact. Comparatively, the ATH-CKS50TW treble is less sizzling, but it is still clear enough to avoid being labelled as dark or rolled-off, which the ATH-CKS5TW is guilty of.
Let me now bring in the ANC300TW for comparison. The ANC300TW has a harsher upper midrange, resulting in a shouty vocal performance which can sound fatiguing at loud volumes. The CKS50TW eliminates this harshness and presents a more refined treble, while percussions perform under a slight veil and midrange details are also slightly obscured by the bass. With the tendency of chart-topping songs to sound more pushy at the treble, the new CKS50TW lets you enjoy vocals in warmth while emphasizing powerful bass lines. I enjoy listening to the CKS50TW because It achieves a fuller bass feel while keeping the treble parts relatively clear. When you are out in the streets, shopping or even working out, that bass boost provides some listening energy and motivation.
In any case, you can always enable EQ preset to bring up the treble to your liking. The “Treble Enhance” preset elevates the treble to a sparkle.
- Bass: 8.5/10. Elevated bass with cushy impact that does not sound too bloated.
- Midrange: 6.5/10. Warm presentation veiled by the bass.
- Treble: 7/10. Average brightness that can be compensated using EQ to bring out the details.
Using the earbuds for voice calls, the ATH-CKS50TW offers average quality. At indoors, the mics pick up my voice loud and clear. Under windy conditions, the background noise cancelling helps cut out wind noise, together with my voice, so the other party couldn’t hear me speak when the wind is too strong. Similar to most true wireless earbuds out there, the CKS50TW will be a struggle to hold a conversation in a noisy environment. If needed, I suggest pulling out one of the earbud from the ears and place it closer to the mouth to improve communication.
What I like is that you can use just any one earbud for calls, and the mic switches over seamlessly to either earbud when the active earbud is docked for charging.
The Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW will be an enjoyable pair of true-wireless earbuds for consumers who desire for a little more oomph on the bass while retaining some treble clarity for extended listening. It also comes with a lot of features that you can manage using the smartphone app, for instance, applying EQ preset to achieve your preferred sound balance for all your audio sources. I hope Audio-Technica can revamp their earbud design in the coming years to make them less bulky so that there is less hesitance from me to carrying them out among my collection of earbuds.