As with many hobbies, the world of audio buyers are split into the casual listeners, who enjoy music or podcasts without analysis of the sound, and the enthusiasts, willing to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to reach their end game setups. Neither side is right or wrong, they just prioritize different elements in their listening devices. Though Audio-Technica is a name known more in the enthusiast audiophile community, I actually believe the CKR5iS is a perfect fit for more casual listeners who are more interested in comfort and construction quality than the fine elements of sound.
Built Strong to go Anywhere
Built with sturdy plastics and firm rubber and with a retail price of under $40, the CKR5iS feel remarkably tough. The plastic in the shell feels strong, with no cracking or chips, and the rubber provides good tension release on the cable. The ear buds are larger than most, but still remain light. They might poke out a little more than average while wearing them, but they look good and the comfort is only benefited by the extra material. My pair are a sleek black with subtle hints of gray. The CKR5iS also comes in a red and black as well as a white version. The cable throughout is extra thick and buff, inspiring an additional level of confidence in its durability. While the cable might hold some loose bends, it’s actually on the better end of the spectrum in terms of keeping itself out of tangles.
The subtle hints of glossy silver on the outer layer of the logo and shell let the CKR5iS remain sleek and stylish. You’ll also a receive three sets of differently sized ear tips and a rubberized pouch with a magnetic clasp for storing the CKR5iS. The pouch is very uncommon at this price – a nice added luxury even if it’s not going to completely protect them when you shove them in your pocket. The point where the cables coming from each earbud merge through the media control unit into a single cable is abnormally low. At a standing position, the Y junction rests only a few inches above my belly button. Odd.
With Strengths, Come Weaknesses
The pain point of the otherwise impressive build is the microphone and media control combo unit. The shiny plastic feels a few tiers cheaper than the sturdy stuff used on the earbuds. As far as the controls go, you’ve got a single button for all your playback control and a dedicated volume wheel. The single button for media controls is fairly common and this implementation is good. The button is slim and tactile with no missed clicks in my testing. It’s the standard affair for controls as well: push once to play/pause, twice to skip forward a track, three times for skip backwards a track and hold to activate Siri. It’s responsive to use and the three clicks for skip backward is actually more accurate than most implementations I’ve used.
The volume wheel is independent of the connected device’s volume, acting as a separate valve to adjust the audio output level. The wheel sticks out and is smooth and light to turn. Unfortunately, the lightness of the wheel and the media control unit’s low position makes it very easy for the wheel to catch on clothing and spike the volume.
The microphone falls into the common category of mediocre with more than enough clarity for calls or communication. However, it’s a bit under powered for tasks like video projects or on the go podcasting. Just be aware that these are designed for mobile use and terminate in a 3.5mm 4-pole mic and audio combo jack and don’t come with an adapter for computers with separated audio input and output.
Strikingly Snug Ergonomics
It’s worth noting that the silicone ear tips are a unique shape. They have a slightly slimmer width with a deeper length and fit. As a result, they go deeper into your ears than most earphones. It’s a new sensation at first, but once I became accustomed to it, these earphones made it onto my shortlist for comfort. If the deeper fit is a total turn-off, the locking ridge on the nozzle is compatible with a spare pair of more standard ear tips. Just beware your results may vary and no standard tips are included. This comfort boost doesn’t come without consequences. Passive noise isolation on these is a little weaker than most in-ears I’ve tested. The CKR5iS stay in your ears very well, even while running. Though a bit more ambient noise might leak in, none of what you’re listening to leaks out.
Symphonics Semi Sweet, Paired with the Comfort, Always a Treat
The sound is an interesting point on the Audio-Technica CKR5iS, because although it’s pretty good, it’s not my favorite part. The earphones have a reasonable amount of clarity and detail. The highs roll off and are gentle to the ears. All in all, when you compare it to your typical $40 earbuds, they sound pretty dang good. They’ve got very mild highs with clean and clear mid frequencies and the bass is present but actually much less over-emphasized than many other budget in ears. While the core sound is good, the CKR5iS can’t quite break past the narrow and blurry sound stage and imaging that accompanies so many in ears. I actually prefer these to some better sounding earphones I own solely off the back of their incredible comfort. Comparing them to something fancier, they do sound a little veiled. But I don’t think that’s a fair fight.
A CKR5iS Conclusion
A testament to the strengths of the CKR5iS is that they nearly always make their way into my travel bag. I own far more expensive and better sounding headphones, but because of the compact design and comfort, these tag along. They’ve got a super ergonomic fit, sleek design, a durable build with audio quality that’s respectable, if not quite jaw dropping. If you’re a casual listener to podcasts and music on-the-go and at home – not concerned with making sacrifices for the very best audio per dollar – these are an obvious option.
*The majority of testing was done through foobar2000 v1.3.14 with high quality MP3s (256kbs to 320kps) and a scattering of FLACs. I also did significant testing with mobile streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud. No amplification was required.