Audio Technica's bass-happy in-earphones are a golden grab for the budget buyer, delivering versatile sound that's great for the mobile music-listener. Though you've got to take the good with the bad down this low on the audio food chain, with tonal imbalance and some iffy bass reproduction in tow.
For less than $50 if you shop around, the CKS55i is a very sweet pair of in-ears that'll cover most uses. They fit in comfortably (once you're used to them), stay in while you're on the move, and deliver richer sound than most others in its price range.
The two 12.5mm drivers sit inside the typical in-ear insert for a bit of sound-isolation, but the rest of the unit isn't so typical. The insert is attached to a larger chamber than sits inside the bowl of your ear, making for a snug fit that latches onto the inside of your ear. This air chamber system, with its aluminium housing fitted with an acoustic resister, amplifies the bass response when the earpiece is properly fitted into the air.
The resulting sound is less than dynamic, with the artificial bass boost making the sound a little too warm for the high-treble and mid-sections to shine through. Pop music that's already treble-heavy and sharp in the high sections with a fat underlying bass hook will overcompensate enough on both ends of the spectrum to deliver some solid sound, but music with finer details from your jazz to your classical will suffer.
The sound can be overly warm rather than delivering a natural timbre, almost like the resonance you get from cupping a small phone's speaker to amplify the sound. Despite this, what you get is a bass response unlike most other in-ears in this low-budget class which can be quite impressive.
There are also inline smartphone controls with a microphone for skipping through songs and answering calls, optimised especially for iPhones. The buttons are solid and the little unit sits neatly along the right side of the 1.2 metre cable in a quality build that feels sturdy and unlikely to break or loosen over time.
We mentioned the chamber that sits in the bowl of your ear earlier, and this comes with its perks and cons. This chamber is edged with a rubbery texture, but is still quite sharp, so when you first start using the earphones they can start to hurt after extended use. This became virtually unnoticeable in the second day of use though. For the sound to reach its full potential, this chamber has to sit just right in the bowl of your ear though. The fit holds firm enough to stay in spite of little tugs and pulls during the day, though when the fit starts to loosen up, so does the sound.
The interchangeable ear plugs will solve most of the problem, coming if four separate sizes to fit most ears. These clip onto the in-ears at two levels of depths, so adjusting for the right fit for deeper or shallower ears is easier than with most in-earphones. The overall design makes these earphones friendlier than most for those who aren't as comfortable using in-earphones over ordinary earphones.
The CKS55i in-earphones might not live up to its 'solid bass' name, but the bass boost is a solid improvement in its class. Treble can become too sharp at high volumes as you'd expect for a cheap pair, but the overall sound quality is great for the price. For a quality set of earphones that'll cater to in-ear and conventional earphone users alike on a financial tightrope, don't pass up a listen to these.