The Audio-Technica ATH-CKS5TW ups the bass compared to the brand’s usual neutral sound, for a mix well suited to true-wireless earbuds. However, the wingtip fit may take some getting used to.
- Sounds great
- Punchy bass
- Long battery life
- Fit takes some getting used to
If you’re after audio on-the-go, it’s hard to ignore the incredible rise in popularity of true wireless buds. Audio-Technica, one of the most dependable brands in personal audio, are jumping into the fray with a new set of completely wirefree buds, the ATH-CKS5TW.
With a strong battery and a bass-oriented audio profile, the ATH-CKS5TW do the Audio-Technica heritage proud, though we’re going to need more time to see if the industrial design is comfortable over longer periods of use.
We had a brief hands-on session with the true-wireless earbuds ahead of their IFA 2019 debut. Read on for our initial thoughts on the Audio-Technica ATH-CKS5TW.
Price and availability
The ATH-CKS5TW goes on sale September 2019, priced at £149 (about $180 / AU$270).
That’s a mid-to-premium price tag, and it’s in line with the feature set here, with strong battery performance, good drivers and USB-C connectivity.
For comparison, the Apple AirPods (2019), cost $159 / £159 / AU$249, and remain the most popular true wireless earbuds (although not the most impressive). Read our round up of the best true wireless earbuds to see how the rest of the competition compare.
The ATH-CKS5TW true wireless earbuds follow the design standards you’d expect from the wire-free category. Left and right earbuds sit in a pillbox-shaped charging case, snapping in magnetically. Charge the case (which has its own battery storage built in), and it’ll also charge the earbuds housed within. Once they’ve been paired once with your audio device, they’ll connect over Bluetooth automatically when removed from the case, and switch back off when placed back inside.
So what sets the ATH-CKS5TW apart? The two headline features here will be battery life and USB-C charging, the reversible fast-charging port remaining a relative rarity among true wireless earbuds. In terms of battery life, you get a lengthy 15 hours out of the fully-charged earbuds, with the case holding a further 30 hours for 45 hours total playback. That’s a very respectable amount of time.
What the extra battery life does mean however is that the earbuds and case themselves are slightly larger than some other models we’ve tried. That’s notable in the earbuds in particular, which use the “bud-only” style of design, rather than the stemmed-look that you’d see with AirPods. Matte-black with a wingtip designed to keep them in place in your ear, they can be a bit fiddly to lock in – though we’ll reserve judgement from a longer test to see how comfortable they are during extended playback.
What’s certainly appreciated though is the physical button on each earbud. It gives you far more reliable control over playback than a touch sensitive panel, and looks to work well here.
In addition, IPX2 waterproofing makes them well suited to a light workout (but not a swim or shower), while Bluetooth 5.0 should ensure a stable connection to your devices.
Once snugly fitted, the ATH-CKS5TW earbuds sound great. They’re a bit of a departure from Audio-Technica’s usual neutral sound, with bass tones more prominent in the mix than you’d usually expect from the brand.
We’re usually all for a neutral sound, but the added bass is welcome here – historically we’ve found true wireless earbuds to be a bit lacking in the low-end department, and Audio-Technica’s handling of the bass enhancement here is done tastefully, giving the earbuds a little extra oomph without overpowering the rest of the mix.
Jumping between tracks as diverse as the Beastie Boys’ ‘Body Moving’, Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and Deap Valley’s ‘Royal Jelly’, there was lots to enjoy during our short preview listening session. There’s good dynamism and detail to be pulled from the 10mm drivers, with a dual-layer diaphragm employed in tandem with (and we warmly quote here) “a redesigned exit hole” to better send tunes into your ears.
The ATH-CKS5TW handled deeper electronic bass notes with aplomb and laudable volume, while also picking out the finer details of Young’s older analogue recordings. More time will be needed for a full impression of the breadth of their capabilities, but the ATH-CKS5TW impressed on first examination.
On a tighter budget? Try the ATH-CK3TW
If the price tag of the ATH-CKS5TW is a bit too steep for your wallet, give the ATH-CK3TW a try instead.
Though we’ve yet to have the chance to listen to them ourselves, they’re a more budget-friendly take on true wireless buds from Audio-Technica. Here’s the low-down: smaller drivers, and smaller battery, for a cheaper £99 (around $120 / AU$175) price tag. The CK3TW instead offers 6 hours charge from the buds with 30 hours stored in the charging case, making use of 5.6mm drivers.
It’s also using touch-sensitive controls rather than physical buttons for playback, and makes use of Qualcomm’s low-latency TrueWireless Stereo Plus, which should ensure a stable connection and prevent lip-sync issues from arising when watching mobile video. It’s also compatible with aptX and SBC codecs, with black, white, blue and red color options available.
With a promising battery life and well-managed bass enhancement over Audio-Technica’s usual neutral sound, the Audio-Technica ATH-CKS5TW true wireless earbuds have a lot going for them. Wait for our full review coming soon to see if we can get used to their unusual fit – if so we may have a winner on our hands.