One minute review
How can you differentiate a pair of true wireless earbuds from all the other comparably priced true wireless earbuds already on the market? Well, if you’re Audio-Technica and the earbuds in question are the ATH-CKS50TW, then you’re pointing out a) massive battery life, b) comprehensive specs, and c) eloquent, revealing sound.
Points a), b) and c) are all fair enough. The ATH-CKS50TW are fairly small and light, making them comfortable. Battery life is better than most alternative designs. The specs highlights – Bluetooth 5.2 with aptX Adaptive, 9mm full-range drivers, a fully featured control app – are not to be missed. And the sound they make, all the sky-high levels of detail and rock solid soundstage, is never less than enjoyable.
Of course, you’re probably glossing over the active noise cancellation, which isn’t quietly cutting edge, and the rather grainy rhythmic expression the ATH-CKS50TW offers. After all, nothing is perfect — especially when it comes to true wireless earbuds for this kind of money. Read on for our full Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW review.
Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW: Price and Release Date
- now available
- $199 / £149 / AU$249
The Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW (trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?) are on sale now for $199 / £149 / AU$249.
You know as well as we do that the world is full of true wireless in-ear headphones for this kind of money. Some are from brands with a reputation even greater than Audio-Technica’s, others are from brands you may have never heard of – but they all want you to give your money their way. So – as if it should be mentioned – Audio-Technica has its job to do if it’s going to make a compelling case for the ATH-CKS50TW.
Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW: Design and Features
- Significant battery life
- Comprehensive control app
- Compact and comfortable
The Audio-Technica are diamond-shaped wireless earbuds (as opposed to the stem-dangle alternative), and they use the long-established ‘twist-to-lock’ method of fitting. They are fairly compact, fairly light and live in a discreet and nicely curvaceous charging case. Nothing about how they look or fit will alarm anyone.
Inside, the CKS50 features large (9mm) full-range dynamic drivers, powered by Bluetooth 5.2 wireless connectivity that is compatible with Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codec. That high-quality connection can also be maintained for a very long time between charges – the Audio-Technica earbuds are good for 20 hours of playback (15 with active noise canceling turned on) and the charging case lasts another 30 hours or so.
So when the little voice announces “battery level: high” as you take the earbuds out of the case and push them into your ears, you can be sure to hear that message for a very long time before using USB-C or any Qi-certified wireless. path to charge them. Should the worst happen, just 10 minutes of charging is good for 90 minutes of playback.
The CKS50 is IPX4 certified against the ingress of moisture and thanks to their multipoint connectivity, they can connect to, for example, a smartphone and a laptop at the same time.
Controls are available through the earbuds themselves or Audio-Technica’s extremely thorough ‘Connect’ app. The app features four EQ presets, along with the option for the user to define their own using the five-band control. It also lets you choose between ‘noise reduction on/off/hear through’, adjust volume levels (and also choose between 16-, 32- or 64-step volume increments), change the left/right balance, switch ‘side tone’ (which lets you hear yourself when you make or receive a call) on or off, and set the earbuds to work with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio spatial sound algorithm.
The app also allows the wearer to determine the function of the control buttons on each earbud. Instead of the more common capacitive touch surface, the Audio-Technica uses actual push buttons – there’s one on the top edge of each earbud. The positivity of the action is reassuring, but there’s no question that the position and fit of the earbuds (which are so crucial to the final sound) can be compromised by pressing the buttons.
Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW: audio performance
- Balanced, balanced and informative sound
- Good levels of detail and plenty of dynamic headroom
- Noise cancellation can be more effective
As with any pair of headphones that gives the user a degree of control over the way they sound, it is possible to distort the sound of the CKS50 quite completely via the EQ adjustment. But as with almost any set of headphones with this facility, the flat settings the audio engineers chose are the best way to hear the Audio-Technica. You can certainly make them sound different, but you can’t make them sound better.
Acoustic design: Closed
Drivers: 9mm dynamic
Battery life: 20 hours (earbuds) 30 hours (charging case)
Additional Features: Active Noise Canceling, In-App Equalizer, aptX Adaptive
So with the EQ settings well left alone and a TIDAL stream of The Raincoats’ Fairytale in the Supermarket† the CKS50 are an uplifting, informative and engaging listening experience. The rudimentary musicianship and uncomplicated power of the performance are fully expressed, and the sense of unity of performance and musicians interacting with each other is palpable. Every area of the frequency range is given due attention, and the Audio-Technica does not overestimate or underestimate any part of it.
Bass notes are nicely formed, packed with information on tone and timbre, and are quite straightforward in attack and decay. The opposite ending is so close to hubris, but never quite gets there – instead, highs have about acceptable levels of bite and shine. In between, the midrange fidelity that the CKS50 is capable of makes every hesitating note and approximate pitch of the vocal lines in this song sound immediate and quite endearing.
Switch to what is arguably the 21st century equivalent of this recording (Being in Love by Wet Leg) and the Audio-Technica unleash their dynamic potential, their ability to create a compelling soundstage and, again, their happy ability to put even the most transient details into context. But it also highlights a slight but clear suggestion of lumpiness in the way the CKS50 handles rhythms – they’re not a disaster in this regard, but they’re also not the most sinuous or expressive earbuds that kind of money can buy.
They’re similarly not bad, we suppose when it comes to noise cancellation. To be fair, you’ll have to spend a little more if you want to completely remove outside noise from the equation – but nonetheless, the CKS50 can only go so far when it comes to ignoring ambient noise. Don’t imagine that the rumble of the train (or the rumble of its passengers) won’t be visible at the edges of the music you’re listening to.
Should I buy the Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW?
Buy them if…
Don’t buy them if…
Not convinced by our Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW review? We’ve picked out three more pairs of true wireless earbuds for you to consider as well.
First assessment: April 2022