In the realm of sub-$100 headphones, audio quality can vary significantly from model to model. It can be a challenge to find a pair that's music to your ears, though there are quite a few in the price range that offer good-to-excellent sound. One such set is the Audio-Technica ATH-CKM50A In-Ear Headphones, an $80 model that comes in a choice of three colors: black, white, or red. The name may not be catchy, and the plastic design leaves something to be desired, but if you can get a good fit, you'll be rewarded with exceptionally rich and balanced audio with a surprising amount of bass.
As noted, we're not all that keen on the design of the ATH-CKM50A earphones, though we do appreciate the color choices--the red version offers a pop of color to distinguish it from the same old, same old. The main issue is the plastic design, which gives the 'buds a bit of a cheap feeling. Also, it may cause discomfort for some users, as the earpiece is in the form of a disc, which then has a tiny arm jutting out to angle the eartips into the ears. This type of design is not ideal for all ear shapes. Although the earphones were not uncomfortable for us, we were constantly adjusting to get the optimal sound quality.
Our other minor design quibble is that the ATH-CKM50A's initial 26-inch earphone cable is quite thin, which makes it a bit tangle-prone and raises some concerns for durability. Audio-Technica includes a soft travel pouch, which helps with both issues. The two-year warranty goes a long way toward allaying potential durability problems, too. Along with the pouch, the package contains three sizes of silicone eartips (S, M, L) and an extender cable measuring 42 inches long.
We have our complaints about the ATH-CKM50A earphones' shape, but it is likely necessary in order to accommodate Audio-Technica's enhanced direct-diaphragm mount, which in turn is no doubt responsible for the clarity and openness of the audio piped through the 'buds. During testing, we were truly impressed with the sound provided by the earphones (which we attached to the Sony S-Series Walkman). Music sounded exceptionally rich and warm across genres, and there was less of a sense of it being inside our head as with other earbuds. Low-end response also proved excellent, especially given the design. However, it's important to note that a proper fit is required in order to truly experience the highly capable range of the earphones. Also, while there is a good amount of high-end detail present, it is not as crisp as some test listeners prefer.