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Audio-Technica ATH-CKS5TW Wireless Earbuds Review
There are so many ways I’ve fallen in love with Audio-Technica’s latest true wireless earbuds: they deliver the best bass in true wireless, the 45-hour battery life is top-tier and in comparison to the other big brands, the mid to premium price tag is generous. But for all my genuine affection for my best buds, the real price I’ve paid is comfort. The deep canal tips bring me such physical pain that every morning I have to barter with myself: are the superior battery and seismic bass worth the physical pain?
Let's jump into everything I love about the ATH-CKS5TWs before delving further into the funky fit.
What we like about the ATH-CKS5TW earbuds
- Best bass in the true wireless biz
- 45-hour battery life
- Button controls
ATH-CKS5TW audio quality
There’s bass then there’s Bass with a hard B. Buh-ace. Even some of the best in-ear headphones produce a sound that skews towards mid and high frequencies. Finding balance across a broad spectrum of frequencies is every headphone manufacturer’s burden but then again, there's no such thing as ‘perfectly balanced’ as most of it comes down to personal preference (and music taste).
My personal preference is an audio profile that emphasises lower frequencies with deep, thunderous bass. I’m not even a fan of EDM or drum and bass but I find that a warm bass profile keeps me engaged.
For example, listening to Thom Yorke’s "Dawn Chorus", a song that opens with a deep bassline and distorted keyboard, has more of an emotional punch for me when I’m listening with the ATH-CKS5TW earbuds than with something more skewed to mid and high-frequency audio.
While I still think the more rounded sound profile of Sony’s WF-1000XM3 earbuds are the best option for most preferences (if you can justify the cost), Audio-Technica’s bassy buds have grown on me and if it weren’t for the severe discomfort I experience while wearing them, they’d easily be my personal pick.
ATH-CKS5TW Battery Life
The ATH-CKS5TW buds last about 15 hours with an extra 30 hours of charge in the case, giving you an overall battery life of 45 hours. To quote Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, Hoo-ah.
Those numbers are absurd. After testing so many wireless earbuds recently, I was blown away when my mate at WhistleOut told me they were getting an easy 24 hours of use out of the AirPods Pro buds. In comparison, those are rookie numbers. I’ve become so liberal with the ATH-CKS5TW buds that sometimes I’ll just leave them sitting loose on my desk (rather than fishing around for the charging case) and I’m still getting multiple days out of the buds alone. It’s only been a bit over a week since I started reviewing them but I haven’t had to charge the case once.
I’m not someone who is all that bothered with having to charge my earphones every other night but I know that it’s a huge factor for a lot of people (especially people who work out most days) and you honestly couldn’t do better than Audio-Technica’s efforts in the true wireless space.
The only thing the ATH-CKS5TWs don’t have is wireless charging, which is a bit of a drag but not uncommon with premium buds. The case will also take about 3.5 hours to charge which is at the lengthier end of the spectrum when it comes to true wireless but time-to-charge is usually relative to battery life anyway.
The ATH-CKS5TW buds don’t have touch controls, but rather traditional physical buttons on each bud. The commands are typically the same as you get with touch controls (e.g. one press for pause and play, double-tap for skip) so you’re not missing out on anything feature-wise. There’s often a moment of fiddling about looking for the button when you first get started but before too long it becomes second nature and, to be honest, I’ve found going back to buttons a breath of fresh air.
My experience with touch controls on earbuds so far has been more trouble than it's worth. Some are too sensitive, some aren’t sensitive enough. Often the reaction time isn’t fast enough for you to know whether it registered so you end up double or triple-tapping by accident. You know what you’re getting with good old fashioned physical buttons.
Most true wireless earbuds these days also sport an IR or motion sensor that can tell when you’ve removed a bud and will pause what you’re listening to until replaced. It’s a great feature when someone asks you a question or calls out your coffee order and while it may not always be perfectly executed, it’s definitely a feature I’ve missed in the ATH-CKS5TWs.
What could be better about the ATH-CKS5TW
- Cumbersome case
- Super snug fit can get uncomfortable fast
- No active noise cancellation
Considering the mammoth battery life of the ATH-CKS5TWs, I'm honestly surprised the charging case isn't bigger. Still, that doesn't change the fact that it's one chunky mother. Nowhere near as sleek as the Apple AirPods case but still much lighter than the Sony WF-1000XM3's case, the issue isn't so much the size as it is the storage method. Rather than face-down, like most true wireless earbuds (or the AirPods' tail-first fit), the ATH-CKS5TWs are laid flat in the case with the charging contacts pointing down.
It sounds simple enough but when you're in a rush, putting the buds back in their case can be a finicky and frustrating process. Far too often, I'll just pocket the buds to save the hassle, but that's bad news for anyone (like myself) who is prone to dropping and losing expensive tech.
Design and comfort
When I first unboxed the ATH-CKS5TWs, I was taken aback by the length of the deep canal tips. They are almost comically long and look like something Neo would plug into his skull before visiting the Matrix. At first, I thought it was a good thing; no chance they would slip out on a run when they’re practically embedded in your brain, right? But after a single day of use, the ATH-CKS5TWs were beginning to cause physical pain.
I tried a few different tip sizes but the pain became so bad in my left ear, I had to take a couple of days’ respite. Now every morning before I leave the house, there’s a moment as my hand hovers over the charging case and I ask myself, am I willing to pay the price for that sick, sick bass? Last week, it took more than 24 hours for the pain to subside. Like a new pair of shoes, I seem to be breaking the ATH-CKS5TWs in slowly; each time is a little easier on the ears but I haven’t found much difference between the packaged tips when it comes to comfort.
It’s hard to mark down Audio-Technica for this as comfort and fit depend on the shape and size of your ears. However, the unique shape of the tips leads me to believe this is going to be a problem for a lot of people.
Passive noise isolation
I’m beating a dead horse here but the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds still offer the most impressive active noise cancelling for in-ear buds. The ATH-CKS5TWs offer passive noise isolation like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless and, to be fair, Audio-Technica does a standup job with the technology at its disposal.
They pass the peak-hour public transport test with flying colours. I’ve had no issue shutting it all out with an episode of The Ringer’s Binge Mode or Gimlet’s Heavyweight podcast.
Call quality has also been a little hit and miss in my experience. Even in quiet environments, friends and family on the receiving end have always seemed relieved when I switch back to my iPhone’s inbuilt microphone.
ATH-CKS5TW Earbuds Verdict
The bottom line is this: if you already have trouble finding a pair of in-ear buds that don’t cause you physical pain, best steer clear of the ATH-CKS5TWs. For all its strengths, like its superior bass and top-tier battery life, it's hard to recommend a pair of earbuds I genuinely struggle to wear. Again, this might not apply to everyone.
If you don't have as much difficulty as I do finding a comfortable set of in-ear buds, then by all means, buy these bloody earphones. In fact, I've spoken to a couple of people who use them regularly and while they've admitted they can be uncomfortable, nobody I've spoken to has experienced the same level of lasting pain I have.
Like a new pair of shoes, I feel like I'm starting to break the ATH-CKS5TWs in. Each time I wear them is a little easier than last. So who knows, maybe there's still a future for me and Audio-Technica. I'm just not looking forward to finding out.
See what we thought of Sony's efforts
Or our second best, Sennheiser