When Audio-Technica embosses the words “Solid bass” on a box, larger even than its own logo – and in silver – it’s pretty clear a stall has been set out.
Bass is what the Audio-Technica CKS55s promise, and on that score they certainly don’t disappoint. But more on that later – let’s start higher up the frequency range.
When it comes to openness and a feeling of space, these are some of the best we've heard. With a suitably lavish recording – we opted for Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara’s Kele Kele – at times it’s almost as if you’re listening to a pair of over-ear cans. No mean feat for a pair of earbuds.
Audio-Technica ATH-CKS55: Emotion and detail
The sweet treble and finessed midrange serve up all the emotion and detail you could hope for at this price, and complex rhythm work is handled with kid gloves; Manu Katché’s eye-crossingly elaborate cymbal work on Joe Satriani’s eponymous album, for instance, is explicit and accurate.
But again – and this looks to be an emerging theme with in-ear headphones around this price – there’s a veil of bass drawn down over the proceedings. Yes, there is a warning on the box, but also a promise of solidity – something the low frequencies here don’t have much of.
The saucer-shaped section on the back of the ear-tips, and the cylindrical construction behind that are both chambers designed to enhance and tune the bass performance, but they seem only to have accomplished the first part.
Audio-Technica ATH-CKS55: Need tighter bass
It’s a shame, because if the bottom end was tightened up, the whole performance would be among the best here.
As it is, though, it slows everything down and saps music of drama and immediacy. If your player has an EQ on board, it’s worth playing with it as this can help matters somewhat – but shouldn’t have to resort to that, to be honest.
Still, if you crave low-frequency heft at the expense of all else, then these are the buds for you.