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Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW review: Sonic substance meets bumper battery life

Ben Johnston
22 Jul 2022
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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
150
inc VAT

The Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW aren’t flawless but deliver in spades when it comes to sound quality and battery life

Pros 
Extensive battery life
Impressive feature set
Sony 360 Reality Audio certified
Cons 
Fiddly controls
Mediocre noise cancellation
Bulky charging case
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The Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW are the latest pair of true wireless earbuds from a brand that has a track record of delivering great-sounding headphones. Over-ear options like the ATH-M50x and their wireless counterparts the ATH-M50xBT both received our Recommended award, while the ATH-M20xBT I reviewed recently nailed audio quality but sadly weren’t particularly comfortable.

The ATH-CKS50TW are the first earbuds we’ve looked at from the Japanese manufacturer and sit towards the more expensive end of its relatively burgeoning selection of true wireless options. They’re equipped with an impressive array of features, including active noise cancellation (ANC), Bluetooth multipoint and support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, while in-ear battery life is some of the best around.

Those characteristics make them an appealing mid-range option, though a couple of stylistic and technological issues prevent them from being Best Buy material.

Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW review: What do you get for the money?

The Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW retail for £150 but were available for a reduced price of £137 at the time of writing. They’re true wireless earbuds that operate over Bluetooth 5.2 and support the SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX Adaptive audio codecs. Multipoint pairing is also available, meaning that you can stay connected to two devices simultaneously, playing music on your laptop and easily taking a call from your phone, for instance.

The design of the buds is pretty standard, with black plastic drums and silicone tips that sit snugly in your ear – there are four sizes included in the box, so you have plenty of range to find the most comfortable fit. A small button sits atop each drum, giving listeners control over audio playback and ANC settings. It’s not the most attractive design I’ve seen, but the buds are rated IPX4 for water resistance so will survive a sweaty gym session. At 8g they’re heavier than many of their competitors and the charging case has some heft to it, too, weighing in at around 60g. It’s still pocketable, but it’s a fair bit chunkier than most.

The ATH-CKS50TW are also bigger than most of their rivals in the battery life department. With ANC off, the buds have stated in-ear playback of up to 20 hours, with the case providing a further 30 hours of juice. Turn on ANC and you’re still looking at around 15 hours in-ear. There’s no wireless charging capacity, but the case does fast charge, with just 10 minutes plugged in yielding up to 90 minutes of playback.

When the buds turn on, you’re told if the battery is high, medium or low, but for a more accurate reading, you can download the Audio-Technica Connect app. I experienced issues connecting to this when testing the ATH-M20xBT but the process proved smooth sailing with the ATH-CKS50TW. As well as precise battery levels, the app also lets you cycle between audio codecs and noise cancelling modes and adjust the five-band graphic equaliser. With the latter, you can tweak the sliders to find a setup that works for you or pick from one of the five presets – Original, Bass Boost, Clear Vocal, V-shaped and Treble Enhance.

The Connect app also gives you access to some useful customisation options like left/right balance adjustment and 16, 32 or 64-step incremental volume control, as well as the option to set up a Sony 360 Reality Audio profile. This feature has you take pictures of your ears, which are then mapped to create a personalised 360° audio profile. The idea is to project different parts of audio tracks around your head to give a more encompassing sense of immersion. It’s only compatible with select services – Tidal, Artist Connection and nugs.net – but it’s still a noteworthy inclusion.

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Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW review: What did we like about them?

It was evident while reviewing the ATH-M20xBT that Audio-Technica is a brand that knows what it’s doing in the sound department, and its audio expertise again shone through while testing the ATH-CKS50TW. Their 9mm drivers produced audio within a broad soundstage that provided individual elements of a composition with plenty of room to breathe.

Those individual elements are very well handled, with crisp treble that remains detailed at high volumes and clean vocal reproduction. I found the bass satisfying enough using the Original EQ, but if you want more of a kick, the Bass Boost preset does its job well – the rhythmic drums in New Order’s “Blue Monday” were all the more impactful with the extra weight behind them.

There’s impressive stereo imaging on show, too. The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” starts with guitars to the right, then jumps to drums on the left, before bringing in the rest of the lineup. The ATH-CKS50TW articulated this in an accurate and immersive way that called to mind a live set where a spotlight shines in the darkness on each element one by one before lighting up the whole stage.

The icing on the audio cake is support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. Compatibility is fairly limited, but I was able to play around with it through the free content available on Artist Connection and was very impressed. When the first piano key was struck in Alessandro Quarta’s “Oblivion”, I flinched, because I was sure that it was coming from across the room.

Things continued to impress from there – Artist Connection guided me to David Bowie - A Reality Tour, where I was planted in the middle of the acoustic space while “The Man Who Sold the World” rocked all around me. I was particularly struck by the grandeur of the soundstage, which elevated my immersion in what is an iconic track to a whole new level. It’s just a shame that support for the format is not more widespread.

Multipoint pairing is becoming a more commonplace inclusion for true wireless earbuds but is always a welcome one. I experienced a slight delay when switching sources, but being able to hop between listening to music on my phone and watching Netflix on my laptop proved very useful. As did the low-latency mode when enjoying Seinfeld reruns. There was still a minuscule delay between mouth movements and speech but you’re unlikely to notice it unless you’re specifically looking out for it.

Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW review: What could be improved?

Both the active noise cancellation and hear-through modes work well enough but aren’t up to the standards I’d expect of earbuds costing as much as the ATH-CKS50TW do. The ANC cut out the majority of a busy road’s rumbling and the hear-through gave me a decent sense of my surroundings, but cheaper options like the Creative Outlier Pro cover both areas more effectively, making it hard to recommend the ATH-CKS50TW on the strength of their noise cancellation.

Inexplicably, the raised circles on the outside of either earbud aren’t home to touch-sensitive receptors, or even physical control buttons. Instead, Audio-Technica has relegated controls to two tiny buttons on top of the buds. As well as being generally more fiddly than side-mounted controls, these buttons are a nightmare to click multiple times in quick succession, making double and triple-tap functions more hassle than they’re worth.

The fumbling controls make it all the more disappointing that the ATH-CKS50TW don’t have wear detection to automatically pause playback when an earbud is removed and resume again when it’s put back in. It’s a feature I’d expect to see at this price, especially given it’s starting to crop up in sub-£100 models like the Oppo Enco Free 2 and the 1MORE ComfoBuds Mini.

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Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW review: Should you buy them?

There’s a great deal to like about the ATH-CKS50TW, with audio that impresses across a wide range of genres, a number of useful features, including support for the excellent Sony 360 Reality Audio, and some of the best battery life available from a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds.

There are a few speed bumps to get over, however – the design is uninspiring, the controls are more of a hindrance than a help and the ANC is mediocre. But if you’re primarily concerned about audio quality and battery life, the Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW have both in spades.

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