Plug and Play: Audio Technica ATH-CKX5iS SonicFuel

Audio Technica ATH-CKX5iS SonicFuel
The Audio Technica ATH-CKX5iS SonicFuel features excellent stickability and distortion-free audio that can be turned up till your ears bleed. Audio Technica

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Something strange is going on in the land of earphones.

See, after years of griping that I have a hard time keeping most earbud-type headphones lodged comfortably in my ears, I’m starting to get a lot of earphones designed to do just that. As they say, one is an accident, two is a coincidence and three is a trendy earful. Fortunately, it’s a good trend if you like to do stuff while using earphones, like running or gardening, for example.

Or when your dog walks you instead of the other way around, like mine does. I swear, the little devil wants to go wherever it wants to.

The latest in-ear headphones to fall within my grubby paws is the Audio Technica ATH-CKX5iS SonicFuel. Like the Soul Electronics Pulse Fitness, the ATH-CKX5iS works by lodging within the ridges of your ear to stay in place. Unlike the flexible mini-ring of the Pulse, the ATH-CKX5iS uses a soft C-shaped tip that conforms to the little nook and crannies of your outer ears. It’s a bit different from alternatives such as the Yurbuds, which work sort of the same way hearing aids do, though it’s close to the same idea overall. It’s also a concept that I generally prefer over those that use cables or plastic hooks to wrap around your ears like the BlueAnt Pump HD, which can either be unwieldy or take extra time to get  the fit just right sometimes. In contrast, the approach used by in-ear headphones such as the ATH-CKX5iS feels more secure and works pretty well, allowing the buds to stay put even during lots of activity.

It isn’t quite as snug as the Soul but it does have the advantage of being softer so you can lodge it even on the harder, upper ridges of your ear without making them quite as sore as the Pulse does.

The overall design of the ATH-CKX5iS also looks pretty nice for in-ear headphones. From the metallic accents and gun-shaped plug to the included control unit, the earphones throw in several extra features compared to your basic in-ear alternative.

For control freaks, the singular front button allows you to pause and skip tracks on an iPhone, iPad or Android phone, though the Google phone OS isn’t quite compatible when it comes to skipping back as is the case with many headphone control units. You can also use the button to take calls as the ATH-CKX5iS comes with a built-in mic. Instead of simple volume up and down buttons for volume, the earphones use a slider, which seemed strange at first but proved to be a better option once I got used to it. Just be careful as it’s easy to accidentally slide it to max volume, which is pretty much nuclear in this Audio Technica device. I’m talking eardrum-busting levels so make sure you go easy on that slider.

To these earphones’ credit, you can push the volume all the way up until your ears bleed without any significant trace of distortion, something its bigger brother, the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 does a great job with as well. Not that making yourself deaf is a good thing but these buds can definitely handle high decibels with no problem. The audio profile itself is quite clean and dynamic and sounds nice even on the iPhone’s stock music app. It does, however, tend to lean more toward the treble side of the audio equation.

Its piercing highs pretty much tend to upstage the mids and the lows a tad. It sounds especially great for dance and electronic music but the emphasis on the high notes makes rock songs lack just that extra bit of oomph.

Then again, I’m known to be a basshead so the earphones’ audio profile just might fit the bill for you if your audio preferences lean more toward the high treble end. Add an affordable $49.95 price tag and the Audio Technica ATH-CKX5iS SonicFuel is one of the better in-ear headphones out there for active folks.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Jason Hidalgo is About.com’s Portable Electronics Expert and likes earphones that stick it to the man, er, his ears. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. For more articles about audio devices, make sure to check out our Headphones and Portable Speakers hub as well