When it comes to extra-bassy earphones, Audio Technica dominates the market with their SolidBass offerings. And to be sure, they do offer plenty of models at different pricepoints – from the inexpensive $39 CKS550iS to the top-of-the-line $199 CKS1100iS. But when it comes to bassy earphones, I’ve never been as impressed as I am right now with the $99 CKS990iS.
Audio Technica ATH-CKS990iS Review
The Audio Technica ATH-CKS990iS comes packaged in a run-of-the-mill cardboard box with a plastic insert. Inside the box, you’ll discover the headphones, four different pairs of eartips, and a snazzy pleather carrying case.
The 990 is a bit bulky. Indeed, they seem massive in comparison to the slimmer Jays Q-Jays that I use on a daily basis. This bulk, though, is necessary to hold some whopping big drivers (by earbud standards), delivering some next-level bass.
Cabling is sturdy and strong, and, despite the cable being of a fixed design, there is no doubt in my mind that it could take an intense beating and still hold up. The cable sports a universal on-button remote and in-line microphone.
Comfort-wise, once these earphones are in your ears, you will probably forget they are in there. Such was my experience, though I fully confess my ears are a little on the large side.
|Driver Diameter||13 mm|
|Frequency Response||5 – 28,000 Hz|
|Maximum Input Power||100 mW|
|Weight||10 g (0.4 oz)|
|Cable||1.2 m (3. 9′) with mic & control, Y-type|
|Connector||3.5 mm (1/8″) stereo mini-plug, L-shaped|
|Accessories Included||silicone eartips (XS/S/M/L), case|
|Sensitivity (Microphone)||-44dB (0dB = 1V/Pa, 1kHz)|
|Frequency Response (Microphone)||100 – 10,000 Hz|
|Polar Pattern (Microphone)||Omnidirectional|
A wider-than-normal frequency range, decent volume levels, and a relatively low nominal impedance reveal these headphones to be optimized for mobile listening, but they might benefit ever-so-slightly from an amp, too.
The CKS990’s low end is deep and refined. Detail is helped along by excellent control, culminating in a luscious, clean sound. Bass has tons of impact, and no noticeable bleed. In short, this is a truly great low end.
The midrange isn’t as clean-cut as the low end. Distortion takes a toll on vocals and instruments, pinching and pulling at the sound until the overall impression is one of too much detail being squeezed into too small of a space. While not a total deal-breaker, the sound may not be best choice for some listening tastes.
Bright and almost sparkling in the low highs, the high end of the CKS990iS delivers decent detail, but may come off a bit thin where upper high end is concerned. As was the case with the mids, this slightly lackluster sound isn’t a total dealbreaker, but won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
The soundstage is small, but intense. Ample depth but poor placement lead to a well-defined sound that still seems to reside in your head. The intense bass adds to the sense of depth, and taken as a whole it’s more suited to rock or hip-hop than classical or anything that features a lot of instrumentation.
The Audio Technica ATH-CKS990iS delivers juicy bass – juicier, I’d say, than any other earphone at its price point. However, the mids and highs don’t sound as clean, detracting from the overall sound. Soundstage is somewhat present, but lacks a real sense of placement. So what is it good for?
If you need a $99 in-ear headphone for classical or instrumental music, this ain’t it. Bass is too intense in this regard, and the mids and highs lack detail to tackle brass and strings in all their glory.
However, if you’re the type of listener who bumps rock, hip-hop, or EDM music – and you prefer a bassy sound – this headphone may be the one you’ve been waiting for. Build is great, sound is bass-ilicious, and the red-on-black color scheme is pretty damn classy.