Back To The Future Friday: The Audio Technica CK10

Speed, space, and attack are all things the CK10 does right.

Personally, I loved the sound when I bought my first pair in 2008, and despite turning 35, and moving onto sound signatures properly mature, I still dig it. I’d say this:

If you love trance: CK10 is your earphone
If you love EDM/IDM: CK10 is your earphone
If you love jazz, you’ll like its atmosphere, but miss lower mids and bass
If you love live, you’ll get the width, but miss the power of the stage woofers
If you love classical, you’ll get most of what makes classical sing, but miss the deep, rich wood lows

The CK10 is an earphone that defines borders, not transitions. If your music requires oodles of warmth, you should move on. If it requires oodles of space, say hello: CK10 deals space in spades.

Here’s what sucks about it:

Noise floor

Despite packing higher-than-average resistance numbers, the CK10 is pretty hissy. It is sensitive, and though it’s not hard to drive, it will pick up on channel imbalance and background noise from most sub-par sources.

Comfort

Small is good, but steel caps are not. I can wear the CK10 for three days in a row, max. After that, the inner parts of my ears become sore, and itchy. I’ve changed tips, changed insertion depths, and even brushed my canals with petroleum jelly. All to no avail. As much as I love the way they work and sound, the CK10 just doesn’t like my holes.

Pop the top

The glue holding the CK10’s steel top on gets soft, and may come undone. Mine came undone after repeated prying with a small screwdriver. If your body chemistry is just right, you probably can do that without even trying.

The good news is that the fix is simple: rubber cement the insides of the CK10 and voilà! Closed for good.

Advice for buying one

Since the CK10’s filters can’t easily be changed, I suggest not buying used unless you can touch, and inspect the earphones prior to purchase. They could be gunked up. If you can find an unused pair, grab it. The CK10 will outlast the best, and the worst, in your portable audio stable. In ten years, you’ll be writing a Back to the Future article of your own, subject: Audio Technica’s amazing CK10.

Where do we go from here?

I loved my CK10 so much that I picked up a CK100, which on the surface, was prettier, and sturdier. That, at least, was my first impression. I was wrong. The CK100’s cable is more liable to fray, and its straight titanium case didn’t sit as swell in most ears. It was 500$ not spent exactly right, meaning the CK10 has no direct descendants.

To be honest, I’m still on the hunt for an earphone that sounds as good or better, and is as small and robust. If the GR10 was as sturdy, it would have no rivals. As it only sounds better, and is more comfortable, my journey is far from over.

3.7/5 - (10 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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