First off, I’d like to thank the folks at Audio-Technica for providing a review sample of the CKS99.
Up for review is the mid-range entry into the Solid Bass line of in ear monitors from Audio-Technica, the CKS99. So, without further ado, let’s get right to it, shall we?
Accessories: The CKS99 comes with four pairs of silicone eartips, a set of manuals and a leather carrying case.
Design and Build Quality: The housings of the CKS99 are plastic and similar to the CKS77 but feature a few nicer accents to differentiate it from the lower end model. Overall, the earphones seem nicely built with sturdy cables and black plastic housings with a soft touch feel to them around the edges where the housings come into contact with your outer ear.
Comfort: Like the CKS77, the fit of the CKS99 could be a point of contention for some but I was once again very pleased with the fit of the CKS99 as it was quite comfortable for me over long periods. The driver sat in my outer ear nicely without exerting any unpleasant pressure.
Isolation: These isolate very well for a vented dynamic IEM.
Microphonics: A tad unpleasant at times but nothing excessive.
Burn in: The CKS99 was given 50+ hours of burn in time prior to review and no significant changes were detected.
Like the CKS77, the CKS99 features prominent bass, a clear but recessed midrange and prominent treble. To go into further detail on the sound signature and the ways in which it improves over its sibling, let’s start at the bottom.
The bass is big and full with slightly more emphasis on the midbass than sub bass and merely okay extension. If there’s a lot of midbass emphasis on a track, the midbass hump will become incredibly obvious and distracting. The bass has a tendency to step up on the lower midrange which can end up sounding rather “thick” as a result.
The midrange retains some of the “hollow” character from the CKS77 but is surprisingly forward in presentation. Instruments sometimes sound a bit recessed but vocals are front and center. The midrange as a whole is actually rather smooth and detailed. Clarity is good and the presentation is reasonably linear. In terms of pure detail, the CKS99 is ahead of its sibling but not quite on the level of the RE-400.
Treble is a bit less even and the lower treble is occasionally prone to sibilance but on the whole, the airiness of the treble combined with its good presence and great extension make it rather pleasant on the whole.
Presentation wise, the CKS99 eschews a bit of the claustrophobic spaciousness that I noticed on the CKS77 and sounds just as open but even more intimate, with vocals being very forward in the presentation. This sounds rather odd, considering the slightly recessed nature of the midrange but there it is. Along with the big bass, vocals do a great job of standing out and being heard.
Now this is where things get interesting. The CKS99 retails for $150 while the CKS77 retails for $120. On Amazon, however, I’ve found the CKS99 for $93 and the CKS77 for $99. If you’re in the market for either one, the CKS99 is easily the better pick.
Like the CKS77, however, the CKS99 also comes with some qualifiers. If you’re looking for big bass and have the large-ish outer ear canals to fit them, the CKS99 is a pretty good choice for the price but if you’re looking for a more rounded experience, that’s what the RE-400 is for. The strength of the low end and the strong midbass emphasis may be a turn off for some audiophiles but the sound signature is more or less in line with Audio-Technica’s “house sound” and is warm and pleasant across a number of genres and I found them surprisingly enjoyable for Jazz. On the whole, if you’re looking for an earphone with big bass between $100 and $150, the CKS99 is a very solid choice.