Audio-Technica CKR3iS Review

Greetings everybody, I’ve got yet another pair of in-ears for review, from the same guy with the HyperX Cloud II! He also bought an in-ear, the Audio-Technica CKR3iS, for listening at school or generally outside the house, and I’ve managed to get a hold of it. Thus, I’m going in for another one-day review here! Ok, let’s just get straight to the point!

Build Quality and Comfort


IMG_1682

Aesthetics-wise, the earphones do look pretty cool, with a piston style instead of the common Apple earbuds style common at this price range. However, as you can see, the paint has already worn off a bit, and I know that my friend has only bought this like 2 months ago, 3 at most, so I’ll have to deduct some points for build quality. The housing doesn’t seem to be made of very high-quality materials either, having a plastic, overly glossy feel. Kudos for style though. This is only a borrowed product, so I don’t have the packaging or the different earbud sizes to comment upon, by the way.

IMG_1677

The plug on this thing looks pretty solid, and yes, it is indeed gold-plated. Why they decided to gold-plate the plug on an otherwise mediocrely built pair of earphones is beyond me, though Audio-Technica is known for focusing on audio, so there’s that.

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See? This is why I just call this thing “that gamer guy’s earphones”…

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This here be the volume control module and mic. Looks pretty rad I’d say; too bad it’s all plastic and the volume knob is tiny. The max-min meter is a nice idea though.

Comfort-wise, this thing… HURTS!!! I only plugged this into my ears for like 20 minutes for pre-testing and my canals already felt funny. It also somehow even managed to damage my outer earlobes, despite being an in-ear pair of headphones. Seriously, plugging this thing out to put my personal headphones back on was a relief. As for fit, it was also agonizingly hard to get it to fit right, despite its appearance. I have to spend a good 15-20 seconds to plug it in every time (which is a pretty long time for readying a pair of headphones), and it has a tendency to fall off after a (short) while, especially the right side. Very poor comfort I must say. (And yes, I’m a honest reviewer. Don’t expect an 8 or better from me, unless your cans are good. Real good.)

 

Microphone Test


Hmmm… the microphone is not as good as those I have tested either.  It had decent overall volume and acceptable clearness, but my breaths clearly became static noise, my voice had way too much reverb (this was my main problem with it), and volume fluctuation was still a problem. There were also slight distortions when I was singing, too.

 

Sound Quality


Ok, here comes the main dish! For me, the most important thing to consider in a pair of headphones, no matter what kind, is always, ALWAYS sound quality, and since Audio-Technica is a renowned audio company, I’ll also use a 7-song testing set as with the Sennheiser CX300 II I reviewed earlier. Here we go!

NOTE: I will test all of these songs with the earphones plugged in my sound card!

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Made by Audio-Technica. That means this thing should be good!

Light Music Test: Yuuzora À-la-carte (10% of Score)


Album Art
You can click the album art for a lossy version of the songs! Even though I’ll use the lossless version to review unless stated otherwise.

For a change, I’d like to use Yuuzora À-la-carte (Afternoon À-la-carte), the character song of Tainaka Ritsu (CV: Satou Satomi) from K-On for the Light Music Test this time. Since Ritsu is the enthusiastic, energetic drummer of the band, her character songs are also normally the fastest and most hectic of the bunch. However, this certain song is the polar opposite of that. It has a light, soothing, somewhat romantic feel, yet uses electric guitars to create the dreamy atmosphere instead of the usual “light” instruments such as pianos, flutes, or harps, thus has a very real capability of sounding harsh with improper equipment.

Starting the song… hmm, the guitar doesn’t sound half-bad. Though it’s still pretty low-quality compared to more serious headphones, it still kinda sounds like strumming, which is good.

The vocals… They don’t sound very emotional, but has decent clearness and forwardness. Not as good as I’d normally want it, but wasn’t overly flat either. That’s good for the price I guess?

The solo was quick, but I could feel a lack of dynamism here. It didn’t go deep or rise hard enough. Strings were decent. They weren’t very bright nor were they very involving, but they actually somewhat sounded like strings, which is quite a feat for this tier since most earphones will sound like distorted messes here.

The sound image and separation was good, I could clearly identify the instruments, but the soundstage… not too much. Closing my eyes, I couldn’t imagine a stage, but could only clearly feel that the sounds were coming from the phones in my ears. However, that’s expected from this price range.

Overall, I felt that everything sounded natural and relaxing enough, nothing was too harsh or felt too distorted. Very good. On the other hand though, I also felt that everything was a bit dry and thin. There was definitely not enough warmth or thickness to make it a lovely, dreamy experience, but then again I can’t expect too much.

Light Instrumental Test: Chún Bái (10% of Score)


 

VK Mirror Night Cover

Level two would be another song from the Taiwanese pianist V.K., Chún Bái (純白 – Pure White). This song is not very tranquil per se, but still gives off a very calm, if somewhat gloomy, traditional Chinese atmosphere, through its use of passionate, emotional piano movements and strings. The song feels halcyon at first, then slowly becomes somewhat mournful, before bursting into light at the end once the whole strings ensemble start kicking in, perhaps representing someone’s enlightenment or ascent to paradise.

Hmm… this song sounded kinda mute, I’m not sure why. The piano was very clear and the notes were executed fairly well in terms of relative volume or expressiveness, but it also sounded pretty flat. I could see that the phones were “fast” enough for me to feel every note of the piano too.

The strings, went a bit… strange here, especially the hissing parts. I’m not sure how to describe it. It wasn’t quite “distorted”, but it was like… there was something that dampened it, that kept it from fully bursting into glory or something.

The transition between the parts were very good. There was a clear emotional surge at the transition between the solemn parts and the bright parts, and there was a vibrant difference in feelings between the two. Well-executed composition, I must say.

Uh oh… upon comparing with my personal pair… I just realized that the subtle cymbals and chimes were pretty much inaudible in the Audio-Technica, even though they contributed a lot to that tranquil scenery. Too bad, I’ll have to deduct a point here.

Overall, that was a great listen. Really, the only qualms I had with these phones, when taking their price into account, were the slightly flat piano, slightly held back strings, and most importantly, mute chimes and cymbals.

Light Pop Test: Love Story (20% of Score)


 

Love Story.jpg

The third song I’d like to use for this review is Love Story by Taylor Swift, my favorite mainstream pop song (even though its time has pretty much passed. You know, these kinds of songs don’t tend to live long), and one of the very few “mainstream” songs I’d actually like. This one puts a noticeable emphasis on the acoustic guitar, which is not really typical for its kind, but is still a clearly modern and catchy song, even though it takes inspiration from a classical play. Also, since the ATH-CKR3iS, as well as most Audio-Technica headphones in general, seems to be geared towards “more modern” music, this song, as well as the next one, will count more towards the overall sound quality score.

Again, things sounded pretty clear here, with good separation between the guitars, the drums and the vocals. However, the vocals were pretty distorted, and once again pretty flat, which is a real shame for something like this.

The guitars felt pretty washed out in the choruses, but still distinguishable. Otherwise, they were pretty clear. Can’t say they were very expressive though. I certainly couldn’t vividly feel the techniques, aside from perhaps a few strums, slaps and harmonics.

The drums were quite good for the price. While I couldn’t imagine a real drum set, the drums hit pretty hard without being ear-deafeningly harsh or distorted like with most headphones I’ve heard, especially at this price (the Cloud II and even the CX300 II had a very grave problem on this aspect). Very impressive feat indeed. Plus, the subtle hi-hats were clearly audible. The drums are obviously the strong point of this pair, even though it did well in pretty much every other aspect so far too.

Overall, it was a surprisingly relaxing experience, since I expected the drums to ruin this otherwise pretty light song. Again, the separation and details were decent. However, this time the vocals became somewhat distorted, which degraded the experience, and every instrument was still a bit mingled together on the choruses.

 

Heavy Instrumental Test: Dance of the Violins (20% of Score)


 

Dance of the Violins

Yeah… If you haven’t seen anyone using rave songs in a headphones review, then you should really get used to it, since I tend to use unorthodox music. Dance of the Violins by genius DJ F-777 is an extremely catchy song that can jerk your body off every time of the day, and is one of my favorite techno songs. It puts heavy emphasis on the violin-like synths, and what’s special about it is that the “dance” is not only present in the melody, but also in how each note of “violins” is tuned slightly differently, leading to a very dynamic and exciting experience unless you have a poorly-made pair of earphones.

NOTE: I don’t have the lossless version of this song, so I’ll use the YouTube version for review!

Right at the start I could hear a bloated, slightly broken cymbal…

Hmm…. for some reasons this song sounds way too hurried on this pair for me… I definitely don’t remember it to be this fast. And not in a natural way either. It’s like the headphones are desperately catching up something, I don’t know… Hey, return here and give me some decent sounds, guys!

Also, as expected, the “violins” didn’t sound finely-tuned as required for my enjoyment. They did sound decent, but they didn’t make the song like they were supposed to be. In short, they sounded like a normal synth.

The strong point of this pair was the bridge though! It sounded dreamy just as I liked it, and the suspense given by that part, especially the last segment of the bridge where the violins started their resurgence, is great.

The final was listenable, with a nice amount of excitement (I actually nodded my head to it), but nothing too spectacular otherwise.

Hmm…. also, just realized that the main backup synth (not the “violins”) were pretty bland throughout the song. And the violins… Although fairly enjoyable for the price… sounded pretty grainy too. They just weren’t smooth enough.

Overall, the ATH-CKR3iS’ representation of this song was quite exciting, but had its flaws. My biggest qualm is that it was too hurried and therefore didn’t sound natural, and that the violins sounded a bit grainy and not as finely-tuned as they were supposed to be, but the latter part was expected.

(By the way, upon double-checking with my pair, I found out that the “hurriedness” was primarily due to the overall flatness. Since my pair felt thicker, more finely-tuned, and more involving, I naturally took more attention to each note and how they were executed, thus feeling the song in a more natural speed)

Heart-pounding Test: Shocking Party – Tamasaki Haruka Remix (15% of Score)


 

Shocking Party Remix

Yeeeeaaaahh… You can always count on me for using a remix of an already “synthetic” anime dance song in my reviews, then rant about how I’m not a true audiophile and thus should’ve never written articles like this.

But hey, it’s not like I’m reviewing SR-009s, though I’d absolutely love to do so.

Anyway, this song, Shocking Party from the fictional idol group A-RISE in the anime Love Live!, is one of the most mood-heightening dance songs I can think of, and also one of, if not the most remixed song in the Love Live! franchise. I also decided to use Tamasaki Haruka’s remix of this song because, holy soap, the bassdrum of this version is one of the most impressive sonic recreations I’ve ever heard, ever! Tight beats, cool, meaty, jerky synths, catchy tunes, atmospheric transitions, and especially an empowering, extraordinarily thumping and delicious bass, I just can’t help but put this into a headphones test!

NOTE: Since this is a YouTube remix, naturally I won’t have a lossless version of this song. Thus, I’ll use the YouTube version to review here, too.

Yaaaaaaay~… the bass needed to be like at least 3 times stronger and deeper!

As for the other things… well, the usual, clear soundstage, slight flatness, decent details and…

Holy fish, those vocals and crystal synths were shrill!

Really… out of all the tests so far this one was the most disappointing. It could’ve been decent, but just as I expected a pair that would finally NOT make my ears bleed (from sound, not from the torturous comfort and fit this one already had)… Something still managed to be EAR-DEAFENINGLY shrill and harsh! And the worse part? It wasn’t the drums like I expected… It was the VOCALS!

This was painful, literally painful… (I went “GYAAAAAAAAAHH!” at some points, no joke!) However, I’ll give it some points for being decent otherwise (if you pardon its DEADLY flaws) and for having a fairly relaxing execution of the ending. However, the freakishly harsh vocals (and main synths, to an extent) and inadequate bass totally ruined this song, since the imperial bass and electrifying crystal synths made it.

 

 

Velocity Test – Flight of the Bumblebee (10% of Score)


 

Greatest Maksim

Nope, not Flight of the Bumblebee the beloved classical piano composition, but Flight of the Bumblee the neo-classical version from Maksim Mrvica! Just because I’m a brat who won’t cater to your audiophilic needs.

Well, so why did I choose this version over the piano version? First, that’s because I’m a fan of Maksim personally and I thought this version was awesome. Second, more importantly, *point to test name* I needed a song to test the earphones’ “speed”. That is, its ability to render rapid notes and effects clearly and accurately, and this modern version of Flight of the Bumblebee has just that, especially the intro and transition parts. You should be able to hear every note of that crazy synth as well as its fluctuation in intensity, while still feel the presence of the annoying bee.

Hmm… the waves at the start sounded like waves… but got distorted like some pink-noise burn-in material towards the end. Minor thing though.

Earphones were fast, but weren’t fast enough to survive the bee at the start. This was expected. It got real close, though! Only a bit more and it would’ve been as fast as my pair!

The main part though… brilliant piano! This was obviously the strong point of this test. The pianos were strong, definitive, expressive, and quick. Strings were equally good, too. The instruments were glorious in this one.

The transitions were also surprisingly good. Great suspense and depth where needed to, and great sense of danger and ferocity when the bee was supposed to be drawing near and everything intensified.

Synths were also good if reviewed technically. However, the bee wasn’t very vivid. That was my main qualm for this test. Otherwise, the suspense, the expressions, the separation, the details, the dynamism of the synths and effects, everything was great!

Hard Rock Test – Burn (15% of Score)


 

Deep Purple - Burn

The final level of these tests, Burn by Deep Purple! I chose this song partly because of nostalgia, because when I was in the keyboard class (the electric keyboard instrument, I mean), this song was the hardest song I had the chance to see anyone in said class perform (though that version was a bit faster and more hardcore than the original version). Although I had to quit the keyboard altogether because of… circumstances, I still remember this song. Personal reasons aside, this song has a pretty rad guitar solo and KEYBOARD solo, with a lot of interesting shreds and movements, so I thought it’d be fitting for a test nonetheless.

NOTE: I don’t have the lossless version of this song at the moment, so once again I’ll use the MP3 version for review!

Ehh… the drums weren’t very interesting in this one, it seems. Although they weren’t harsh, most of them were also flat and not impactful enough.

Vocals were great though! I could clearly feel the emotions in the main vocals, as well as in the “BUUUUURN!” part. They just blend so well together! Clearly, contrary to Shocking Party, this time the vocals became the strong point of the earbuds! Perhaps they just work better with male voices instead of high female voices or something…

Main guitar is ok… nothing much to say here. Solos were listenable and somewhat exciting, but pretty bland otherwise. Again, the earphones’ speed really shine here. As every note of the shreds could be heard fairly clearly.

Hmm… somehow I felt like the soundstage just got even smaller, though… there clearly wasn’t much sense of space, although every instrument was separated. Bizarre.

Another solo, another cool shred! The “growling” synths were pretty broken this time, though.

Finish was nice, but the slightly broken, suddenly-cut-off ending cymbals made it a bit underwhelming and anticlimactic….

Overall, it was another great listen. Here, the vocals and the speed were the strong points of the in-ears’ execution of this song. However, I do have a few small qualms, notably the usual flatness, as well as the narrow soundstage. The drums also weren’t as exciting as they could be, but I also can’t say that they were bad.

 

Closing Thoughts


I won’t deny, for a sub-$30 pair of earbuds this thing sounded darn good! Sure it’s not modified-HD238-with-a-Xonar-DSX good (which is what I used at the time of this review), but it did everything right for its price range in this department. Vocals were clear and loud enough, bass was well-controled and not at all deafening (though didn’t hit as hard and tightly as I wanted, but then again it’s cheap), and the speed and amount of details were brilliant for its tier. Its treble has the capability to become overly harsh though, but otherwise it’s nice. However, its build quality, and especially its comfort, could use some work. It seemed to degrade pretty easily, and the painful fit totally ruined the experience.

 

Scoring


 

Build Quality (10% of Overall Score): 6.5/10

Fit and Comfort (15% of Overall Score): 3/10

Microphone Quality (20% of Overall Score): 5/10

Sound Quality (55% of Overall Score):

  • Yuuzora À-la-carte (10% of Sound Quality Score): 8/10
  • Chún Bái (10% of Sound Quality Score): 8/10
  • Love Story (20% of Sound Quality Score): 7.5/10
  • Dance of the Violins (20% of Sound Quality Score): 7.5/10
  • Shocking Party (15% of Sound Quality Score): 4.5/10
  • Flight of the Bumblebee (10% of Sound Quality Score): 9.5/10
  • Burn (15% of Sound Quality Score): 8.5/10
  • Overall Sound Quality Score: 7.5/10 (Shocking Party crushed it)

Overall Score: 6.2/10 (Decent for the price)

Too bad, I really wanted to give it a higher score for its overall sound quality… it certainly surprised me quite a few times… 😦 Well, thank you for reading and supporting my blog. See you in another post, everyone!

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