Bluetooth audio has gone a long way and is starting to sound as good as the wired counterpart, especially with high resolution codecs like LDAC and aptX HD. But to be completely free of cable, the true wireless technology is still pretty early. I’m not convinced at this since I had a bad experience with the first generation of Samsung Gear IconX, but with bonafide audio company starting to enter this scene, including Master & Dynamic, Sennheiser and lastly Audio Technica, I’m ready to give it another chance.
Enter the Audio Technica true wireless lineup that was revealed a few months back at IFA, which includes the workout-friendly ATH-SPORT7TW and audiophile-centric ATH-CKR7TW. It is the latter that intrigued me and I have been pretty excited to own one since then. It is finally released last November in Japan and I decided to import one from there.
The first thing that catch my eyes is the design of this. It is a very “Audio Technica” design, looking on it head-on, it looked like the side of their popular M50 but in miniature size. It is available in two colors, either black or gray. I liked how the gray looked, especially with the subtle gold accent ring, and it just looks great next to my platinum color Surface Go. It is a beauty, but in a nerdy-way. 😉
Feature-set of the ATH-CKR7TW will please any audiophile. Dedicated DAC/amp AK4375 from AKM, huge 11 mm dynamic driver with their signature diamond-like carbon coated diaphragm, complete with the dual-layer housing that isolate electric circuitry to the acoustic space. A few other things then seal the deal for me, including the Bluetooth 5 support and continuous 6 hours battery life, which is among the best currently in true wireless space. The charging case also can charge the earpieces 1.5 times, so the total runtime without power outlet is 15 hours.
The supported codecs include aptX, AAC and SBC. The technology for true wireless seems to be limited to aptX at the moment, as none other true wireless came with higher resolution codec like aptX HD and LDAC yet, so this is as good as it can get right now.
Currently, true wireless earphone connect one side to the other using either NFMI or Bluetooth. NFMI is a short-range wireless solution that is less susceptible to RF interference and can go through human body better. While there is no information which solution the ATH-CKR7TW use, I suspect it is a complete Bluetooth solution and don’t use NFMI. It is evident since I can remove one earpiece and place it more than a meter apart and sound still coming through without issue.
The other features were quite barebone though. For example, ATH-CKR7TW only support connecting to one device at a time. There is no manual control to enter pairing mode, so you had to disconnect from the first device whenever you want to connect with other device. There is no ambient mode. There is no detection when you remove an earpiece to automatically pause the music. And the app is pretty empty, no EQ personalization, no filter selection, no sound effect at all.
The accessories included with the package are: 4 size eartips (XS, S, M and L), 3D wing support, charging case and a short micro-USB cable for charging. The accessories are all in the same color that you choose, so everything is in gray here, and yes, including the cable. A nice little touch.
Build quality for the earpieces are great, it is all plastic and pretty light. It looked like a sturdy and dense plastic, nothing is crackling under pressure. The charging case build quality is also pretty good, there is magnet to keep the earpieces attached. This is a pretty well made product.
Fitting of ATH-CKR7TW is certainly not the best. It is quite big for a true wireless, so it will protrude a bit from the ear, but the 3D wing helped secure it. So far, while it doesn’t give the confidence that it won’t fall, it never fall. I wouldn’t use it for workout, but for a casual use on commute and walking, it should be perfectly fine. It also seems to be well-vented, there isn’t any driver flex and doesn’t give vacuum feeling like many IEM tends to do.
Controlling the earphone is quite simple, there is only one button on each side. The button is quite tactile, but it is easily getting pressed when wearing it, so I had to be careful not to touch it during fitting.
The left side button control volume, press one for volume up and press twice for volume down. There isn’t many volume steps, so this process isn’t quite as bad as it seems, but I would wish to have finer control over the volume (we can also use the phone to control volume, but the steps are the same).
The right side button control play/pause/answer for single press, next track for double press and previous track for triple press. Holding the button for 4 seconds will turn-off the earpiece for that particular side.
The app can set a different button pattern, but I think this first pattern is easy enough to use that I don’t bother changing it. Other than that, the app allow you to set which codec to use. No other settings were available, but it is quite useful to get a detailed battery percentage and what active codec is currently used.
Connection is excellent. I rarely get a dropout, but even when it happens, it just a single or two instance, usually on the left side. I have tested the range for more than 10 meters and it keeps up just fine.
Putting the earpieces to the case will automatically turned it off and start charging. A LED for each side will tell you when the earpiece is charging. The case is also smart enough to stop charging when the earpiece battery is full, so there is no issue when you ended up with empty charging case (this happens with my first gen Gear IconX). The case has a button to tell how many battery was left, indicated by 3 LED next to it. Press one will flash blue lights for the case battery, press twice will flash white lights for the earpieces battery.
Likewise, pulling the earpieces from the case will automatically turned it on and will connect to the last device automatically. Overall, everything is very polished and everything works well. Sure, it might lacks some advanced features, but I would rather choose a well-working product than a half-baked fully featured product. In this case, Audio Technica definitely deliver.
Battery life is claimed at 6 hours continuous use, I think I could get at least 5 hours before it started a low battery warning. I don’t like emptying the battery on any of my device (it’s bad for li-ion battery), so I certainly won’t push it into empty. The claim of 1.5 times charging provided by the case also appears to be correct.
The only issue I can find is some delay between any action and the earphones responding. For example, pressing the button will took roughly 0.5s before the earphones respond, so expect a bit of delay when you change volume, pressing play/pause, etc. Another thing is audio sync issue when watching video, which in my experience, will vary from device to device. Connected to Samsung Note8, the audio synced well, but it is not the case when I connected to Surface Go and Onkyo Granbeat, which will have noticable audio sync delay. My friend with LG G6 reported no issue, but another with Huawei P20 have issue. So YMMV in this case.
Personally, I haven’t get exposed with many true wireless. My friends owned a Pamu Scroll and Soul XShock, both were a pretty good true wireless, but I haven’t tried the high-end offering from Sennheiser, Master & Dynamic and Earin. So I can’t offer any meaningful comparison to any of them. That said, let’s go into the sound impression.
First impression is that this has a quite bright sound. It has a bit of emphasis on the upper-mid and high area, while the bass and lower-mid take a back seat. But that doesn’t mean it has anemic bass, in fact, the bass response is pretty good. It extends well, hit pretty low, deep and is quite punchy. However, relatively speaking, the frequency response favor the higher-end.
I quite liked that the bass is rendered pretty clean, so a bass heavy track can still shine. The mid is a bit thin sounding though, so it isn’t for those that like a full-bodied and warm presentation (like me). The upper-mid can sound a bit sibilant in some track, so I tends to listen at a lower volume to prevent this piercing sound. The treble certainly has plenty of sparkle and is quite airy, they advertise it as crystal clear high frequency and I would agree with that statement.
I wouldn’t say this as a V-shaped signature though, more like a linear response from low to mid, then climb up from there. What I usually hear from true wireless (including the aforementioned Pamu Scroll and Soul XShock) is that the sounds can be quite grainy or feel compressed. I’m happy to report that the ATH-CKR7TW certainly doesn’t sound that way, it is clean, clear and smooth, also there is no hiss that I could pick up. While this doesn’t sound like my preferred signature, but it is definitely a high quality sound that many can appreciate.
Overall, I think the ATH-CKR7TW is a great first entry for Audio Technica in high-end true wireless scenes. There isn’t many of products in this class, with the greatest competitor being the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless and Master & Dynamic MW07, both offer their own take for audiophile market. But Audio Technica certainly did pretty well to differentiate itself from the rest, it is the only one that includes dedicated DAC instead of on-board solution from the Bluetooth chip.
This is definitely a polished product with high quality sound. But issue like audio sync that vary from device to device means it something you should try beforehand if it bothers you. Also the brighter sound signature is not exactly casual-friendly.
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