Back To The Future Friday: The Audio Technica CK10

Back to the future Friday, a monthly column where Headfonia shines light on the awesome past.

#7 Audio Technica’s CK10

Back when headfi was discovering the CK10 through AudioDwebe’s now-famous thread, I was burning in my second pair. (I say burning in to sound cool; I give not a hell that a headphone is, or is not, ‘burned in’.) I picked up my first pair in 2008, just after spending an unsuccessful year trying to convince the city of Rumoi (Hokkaido, Japan), that I was good enough at English to say cat over and over again in front of six year-olds.

That’s how OG I am.

The CK10 is no longer on market, but you can find unused pairs here and there, and which largely go for their original market price. I’ve never seen a mass market earphone hold value as well. In fact, I bought mine for about 160$ in 2008. Then, when I was sure I wanted something else, I sold it for about 250$ in 2009. Then I wanted it again, and on a trip back to Japan, picked up my second pair for 160$. That was in 2010. That pair eventually bit it after a protracted stint under a moving bicycle tyre.

My current pair was a gift from, James444, one of Headfi’s biggest philanthropists. He was clearing inventory, and he knew that I was a CK10 sucker. After reading some of the heated comments in the CK10 thread, I reckon I’m one of the more urbane CK10 supporters. Thanks James.

Here’s what rocks about it:

Robustness

So what if the cables don’t detach, or the glue that holds the faceplates to the earphones eventually loses its tackiness; the CK10 will outlast your other earphones. Its body is made of thick, slightly malleable plastic. It is covered in soft-touch rubber. It’s got steel on the front. The sound tube is double thicker than that of most earphones. The integrated cable sheath is pliable and the cable virtually indestructible.

You can’t sweat through a pair, that’s for sure.

Originally, some noobs expressed dismay that the ‘stress relief’ sheath didn’t form fit to the cable, or that the I-shaped plug stresses out more than does a good L-shaped one (originally, I was one of those), but those noobs probably still have their first pair. They probably use the CK10 to fasten their canoe to their car. They’ve probably gone through three pair of Westone W4r.

Ease of use

Because the CK10 is so damn small, it will fit any sized ear out there. Even my wife, whose ears reject anything not a Grado GR8, gets on fine with the CK10. It is tiny, and its cable makes no noise, and it simply disappears in the ear.

Better yet, because it is so robust, you can toss it in a bag, or in a pocket and not worry about what’s going to happen to it. You’d not do that with too many other earphones.

Great sound

While you may or may not agree with me here, let’s get one thing straight: what Audio Technica attempted to do with the CK10, was done well. The CK10’s dual TWFK balanced armatures aren’t going to blow your bass brains out, nor are they going to make up super-smooth mids. They excel at contrast within  the entire range, and simulate a good, somewhat-smooth high midrange, but their focus is on the upper mids and lower treble. Sibilance isn’t a big issue, but if you’re sensitive to highs, you might find them tweaky. They’re like training wheels for Etymotic’s ER4. And given the right tips, you can coax a lot of bass from the CK10, but at the expense of detail and clarity in the other frequencies.

More on the next page!

Back To The Future Friday: The Audio Technica CK10
3.9 (77.5%) 8 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

17 Comments

  • Reply January 30, 2015

    brcmrgn

    I was a latecomer to the CK10 – bought mine in 2011. Still using them. I have very large ear canals and the CK10 just disappears inside. A classic!

    • Reply January 31, 2015

      ohm image

      I love to be able to say in a loud voice: I was probably the first non-Japanese audiophile idiot to buy one and write about it!

      But that doesn’t matter. It’s users like you that still love their earphones. My canals are tight and the CK10 can be pretty damn painful. Glad that isn’t the rule.

  • Reply January 30, 2015

    mcmaximax

    I basically love mine to death.
    I once broke the plug so I got it re-terminated with a Viablue plug (soldered with Viablue’s solder wire as well) and man they sound even more glorious. I got a tiny bit more bass and decay that was kinda lacking, and also less smoothing in the mids, essentially become the best overall IEMs to me considering the ergonomics, price, durability, style, SQ.

    And I think you forgot to mention about the impact of the bass. It hits so fast, SO HARD, and just goes away. The kicks hit even harder than my W40 while being decidedly much more ‘analytical’, which is a feat that I can’t say about most other headphones.

    • Reply January 31, 2015

      ohm image

      I may have to add that in. Good job on breaking your earphone.

  • Reply February 2, 2015

    mattt

    My CK 10s left earpiece malfunctioned early last year, I miss it so much :'(

    • Reply February 2, 2015

      ohm image

      You still can find them around. In Japan I have no idea where to get ahold of them but they do pop up from time to time. RIP.

  • Reply March 5, 2015

    Nguyen

    I just read this 2nd time and love it so much.
    Do you have any idea how can i find it in US?
    Nice review btw 🙂

    • Reply March 23, 2015

      ohm image

      I have no idea where to find it in the USA (I live in Japan and am of Canadian extraction). I think if you found a retailer here, maybe, but it’s been out of production for a couple of years, if not longer.

  • Reply March 6, 2015

    rafazafar

    Cant agree more! Evwn with the abuse i put it through im amazed it held up. Sadly one side is gonna get torn off soon. Contemplating of custom moulding or just recabling or upgrading. Its so hard to find something so small, comfy, transparent and tough. Anyone can recommend me an upgrade to the ck10?

    • Reply March 23, 2015

      ohm image

      Upgrade to the CK10? Nothing the same size or as robust. But sound/fit-wise, the Grado GR10, hands down. Same basic signature, but not quite as forward tilted in the upper mids/treble.

  • Reply March 24, 2015

    tt

    Would you please compare with ER4(S)?

  • Reply May 10, 2015

    Rihards Linde

    I have read that CK100Pro/IM02 and IM03 is upgrade to CK10 with similar signature

    • Reply December 30, 2015

      ohm image

      I’ve not compared them and wouldn’t. The IM02 and IM03 are so large in comparison and all plastic, not to mention, they use an industry incompatible cable that they are practically fixed cable earphones.

      I’m sure they sound good, but in every build way, they are a step backward.

  • Reply February 18, 2016

    Chris Orrell

    You are right about the filters..I had to change them cause the left side was cloged up with crap as I bought them used.i got the filters out ok and replaced them with etymotic green filter but found that they now became harder to drive.still sound good though. I’m not sure how much the sound changed with the green filters though. I was wondering where could I get new filters or what gauge filter would bring these gems back as close to stock sound as possible. Thank you

    • Reply May 5, 2016

      ohm image

      I read this late. Thanks for the corroboration of the filter problem. Shame that Audio Technica don’t support these earphones or their series as well.

  • Reply December 7, 2018

    Sean

    Yeah these are the best earphones I’ve owned. After owning a used pair for a couple years that bit the dust due to an accident, I was lucky enough to buy two brand new pairs from an Italian distributor’s warehouse in 2012 (after much searching!). One of them is still going strong but the other one has gone missing – I’m almost positive that my ex stole it!

    Anyway, after much research, I recently splurged $1150 on the Campfire Andromeda as a hopeful upgrade to my CK10. These earphones have been the darling of head-fi the last year but honestly, after so much time with the CK10, they sound pretty lifeless to me. So much so that I’m thinking of sending them back or selling them. This is the only drawback of the CK10 – when you eventually break your pair, you may never hear their like again.

    Audio Technica should really consider brining them back…they’d shift a fair few units on word of mouth alone.

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