When Audio-Technica offered their SonicFuel ATH-CKX5iS earbuds for review, of course I accepted. This is a brand with a reputation for quality audio products, so I was curious to see how the very affordable (under $50 MSRP) SonicFuel model would perform. After several weeks in the gym, at my desk, or just kicking back at home, I was not disappointed.
Audio-Technica takes comfort seriously. On arrival. I opened the box, and found the SonicFuel earbuds, a total of eight earpieces, six C-tips, and a little pouch to carry them in. For the best sound quality, choose the right size earpiece for the rotating eartip, and for the most comfort, match the C-tip to your ear. I even tried the wrong size, just to see how much difference it made, and this confirmed what I suspected – it’s the only way you will get the most out of the rotating eartip. So don’t skip this step!
Once I sorted that out, I was ready for the music test. First up, Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. Wailing vocals, cymbal crashes, pounding drums, and some solid guitar work make this song a good workout for testing audio. Next, Figure it Out by Royal Blood. This tight duo performs with just a bass and drums, so any good earbuds should render the vocals, strings, and percussion very clearly. For both of these fast, punchy songs, the SonicFuel delivered the goods. Slowing things down, I managed to sit through Blank Space by Taylor Swift. Vocals were good, but the bass was weak and a bit tinny. Just to give them the benefit out the doubt, I searched Youtube for some old school tunes by Eric Wright, Andre Young, and O’Shea Jackson, as they have some heavy bass lines. The bass notes were still not deep, but not tinny either. Clearly, Taylor Swift is the problem. In all seriousness, I don’t expect earbuds to deliver deep bass. Clarity and good separation of the instruments is all we can ask for, and as mentioned, the SonicFuel does that well. And with plenty of comfort too, which is important. Weeks later, I’m still happy with the fit and the audio performance.
Since they include a mic for smartphones, I also made a few test calls, and the sound quality was good. If it’s noisy, you may need to hold the mic closer to your mouth, which makes it less hands-free, but I’m not one for talking on the phone much, so that’s not a big deal. What I did like was the inline pause button and volume control. If someone is rude enough to interrupt my music, I can pause it without touching my phone. The only minor complaint is that the volume slider has a very short range, and is best left to fine-tuning volume for your surroundings. On that note, I’ll point out that the SonicFuel earbuds are not very loud. Loud enough, but not too much.
Overall, I think being able to get a custom fit for the most comfort is where the SonicFuel shines. The sound quality is good for the music I listen to most (think guitars with an edge, not pop), and I could wear them all day if my life allowed for that sort of luxury. To me, that makes them worth the premium over other models that may sound good, but end up being a pain to keep in for longer periods.
Want your own ATH-CKX5iS SonicFuel™ earubuds? Audio-Technica was kind enough to offer up a pair for us to give away. And we’ll make it easy for someone to win. Just comment with your favorite song for getting pumped at work, the gym, or on the road or trail. Comments must be posted to this review no later than April 10th, 2015, 10:00 PM Mountain time, and winner must have a shipping address in the continental United States. Good luck!