Truly, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to looking for a pair of headphones. Do you want over-the-ear, on ear, or in-ear? Do you want a wired connection, or bluetooth? And with bluetooth, do you want the headphones connected, or in a “true wireless” guise? It’s that latter category – true wireless – that I’ve been exploring with the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW.
Audio-Technica is a name you’re no doubt familiar with. They’ve been producing high-quality audio gear for quite some time, and (in my eyes) have been the leader in the affordable active noice cancellation (ANC) headsets. Today, though, we’re leaving the ANC behind. While the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW can seal out outside noise by the virtue of how they fit in your ear (so, passively), that’s not the focus.
No, rather, the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW is setting out on the strength of it’s truly wireless connection to your device – the buds themselves connect, independently, via Bluetooth 5.0. Ostensibly, these are for listening to music or podcasts (or when you watch a video) but you can also use them to make calls – there’s an omni-directional mic built into the right earbud.
I did try the calling functionality, and even hooked them up to my laptop at work for using with Skype calls. They work just as advertised, and pairing them to a laptop was as simple as pairing to the phone. Call quality was decent, though I generally ended up taking the left bud out. This is because (and I’ve got this issue with wired in-ear headsets as well) it just sounds weird (again, to me) hearing my voice via what echoes inside my head, without the input of it hitting my eardrums. However, in a noisy setting, this could let you hear your call without issue.
So, for calls – or even a backup for calls – the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW will get the job done. Where I used them the most was in two places – at the gym, and on my commute. Prior to getting these in, I was using an inexpensive pair of bluetooth earbuds that had a cable between them. That invariably twists, and of course bounces against you when you run. When you’ve got true wireless, no extra cables getting in the way. You just need to ensure that you’ve got the right fit to hold it in your ear. The box comes with the standard three sizes of ear tips, though I’m tempted to try out some Comply Foam tips (just not sure how they’d fit in the charging case).
So, why is fit important on the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW? Unlike some other wireless earbuds, there’s no extra flange or anything to help hold them in place in your ear. What you’re relying on – aside from the tips themselves – is how you put the earbuds into your ear. This was something that I didn’t realize until I read the manual (see, there is a use for those things!) and I’m glad I did. What you do is you put the earbud in vertically (so the A-T label is vertical) and then once it’s in your ear canal, you rotate it back so it rests against the outer portion of your ear. If you’re not super active, this works quite well. If you’re doing something like running, then you might find yourself resetting them in your ear.
At least, that was my experience (which is perhaps indicating the fit wasn’t right, I’m not sure). Which meant that one of the clever features of the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW is one I had turn off. That feature is a sensor that can automatically pause the music when you remove a bud from your ear. This is clever, especially if you use these in a work setting, where you’re pulling out the earbud to talk to someone. If you’re readjusting them while running, however, you’ll be inadvertently pausing your music even without pulling the bud from your ear.
If you want to manually pause the music, you can do that as well. The Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW has touch controls built in. On the right earbud, a single press will pause/unpause the music (or answer a call). The left earbud has your volume control – one tap to go louder, double-tap to go quieter. Oh, and if you want to go forward a track, a double-tap on the right bud does that (triple tap goes back a track). At first it feels like a lot, but the controls quickly become intuitive and you figure out what you need to do.
I’ve liked having the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW along for my morning workouts. Running saw me needing to reset them now and again (but I’ve had that issue with most in-ear sets), but strength training had them sitting in place no problem. On the commute (a train, for me) they of course getting the job done, letting me listen to a podcast or music while blocking out a decent amount of external noise.
Oh, and I suppose we should talk about audio quality. I’m generally listening to podcasts (there are a lot of great real-play DnD ones out there), but I did try them out with some tunes as well. To my admittedly non-audiophile ears, they sounded quite good. Sure, the bass isn’t going to knock your ears off like a set of over-the-ear cans will, but the 5.8mm drivers do a good job of hitting you with a balanced sound that gets the music (and you) going. And if you’re using them to exercise while pumping up the jam, that IPX2 waterproof rating helps keep them going while you work up a sweat.
Coming in at $119 (and available in blue, black, or white) the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW will keep you in audio for 6 hours at a stretch, with the charging case renewing them (after a few hours charge time) for a total of 30-hours of playback. In terms of power management, the earbuds will shut themselves off automatically after 5 minutes if you’ve disconnected from the device, or if you have ear detection on and they’ve been out of your ears for 30 minutes. Also, of course, putting them into the case will shut things off. The only way to power them back on is to remove them from the charging case. So, if you put them on your desk and they powered off, you’ll have to put them into the case and pull them out. Not sure what that does to the charge cycle life of the internal battery, but it is what it is.
So, did I like the Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW? Yessir, I sure did. It was great to not have a cable banging around on my neck while I exercised, and the almost instant-on nature of the connection was great for when I wanted them quickly on the train or in the office. And with the total run time of 30 hours between needing to charge the case, you could easily get a week or more out of these provided you’re not trying to wear them all the live long day. Color me a fan, especially with it coming in this great shade of slate blue. audio-technica.com
- Device: Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW
- Price: $119
- Recommended for: Someone who’s looking for a quick-connect set of earbuds that work across a variety of scenarios – gym, commuting, working, or even watching videos at home
- What I would change: I would like a switch on the case that allows me to control when the earbuds charge, to have more control over the charge cycles
- Would I use it? Absolutely – it’s been great using these as a workout partner on my morning forays to the gym
Tech Specs from Audio-Technica
|Driver Diameter||5.8 mm|
|Frequency Response||20 – 20,000 Hz|
|Battery||Headphones: DC 3.7V lithium polymer battery|
Charging case: DC 3.7V lithium-ion battery
|Battery Life||Max. approx. 6 hours* (headphones); max. approx.30 hours* (with charging case)|
Charging time: approx. 2 hours* (headphones); approx. 2.5 hours* (charging case)
|Weight||Headphones: Approx. 4.7 g (0.17 oz) (L side), approx. 4.7 g (0.17 oz) (R side)|
Charging case: Approx. 49.7 g (1.8 oz)
|Accessories Included||30 cm (12″) USB-A/USB-C charging cable, eartips (XS, S, M, L)|
|Type (Microphone)||MEMS type|
|Sensitivity (Microphone)||-38 dB (1 V/Pa, at 1 kHz)|
|Frequency Response (Microphone)||100 – 10,000 Hz|
|Polar Pattern (Microphone)||Omnidirectional|
Water resistant (drip-proof) performance: IPX2**
Operating Temperature: 5°C to 40°C (41°F to 104°F)
Communication system: Bluetooth version 5.0
RF output: 10 mW EIRP
Maximum communication range: Line of sight – approx. 10 m (33′)
Frequency band: 2.402 GHz to 2.480 GHz
Modulation method: FHSS
Compatible Bluetooth profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP
Support codec: Qualcomm® aptXTM audio, SBC
Supported content protection method: SCMS-T
Transmission band: 20 to 20,000 Hz