Audio-Technica ATH-Sport7KW and ATH-CKR7TW Impressions

Audio-Technica hasn’t rushed to release a pair of true wireless headphones. It’s not that kind of company, preferring to engineer a product with its signature sound, and if that takes time, you’ll just have to wait. Patience has paid off because rather than a single pair of true wireless headphones, Audio-Technica has launched two pairs — one for sport and the other for Sunday best.

The ATH-Sport7TW

We had the chance to listen to both recently, starting out with the ATH-Sport7TW, which as the name suggests are designed to be used during exercise or vigorous physical movement. We know this because they absolutely won’t fall out of your ears. The shape is unusual — rather lozenge like, and not especially attractive; but then no true wireless headphones look that great anyway. Audio-Technica has made special “ear fins” that wrap around the housings, ready to nestle in your ear.

Getting them in your ears is a bit of a challenge. We tried the medium set, but small and large are also included, along with a wide selection of ear tips too. You twist and turn the earbud until it almost “clicks” into place, and once it’s in, it’s not coming out unless you pull it out. Happily the Sport7TW are comfortable in your ear, and the secure fit gives you plenty of confidence. They’re rated at IPX5 water resistance too, meaning you won’t want to submerge them, but you won’t need to worry about sweat or rain.  Available in black and a light grey, the etched Audio-Technica logo on each helps you locate the touch panel controls.

Touch activates the Sport7TW’s audio pass-through system. They aren’t noise canceling, but you’re sufficiently isolated from the world, making it almost impossible to hear when they’re in your ears. Activate the pass-through and you get an uncanny, digital real-world listening experience. You can hear conversations and movement, making the feature great for situations where awareness is important for safety. We’ll have to test the buds outside before we can give a final verdict on the pass-through feature, but so far color us impressed.

The Sport7TW are comfortable in your ear, and the secure fit gives you plenty of confidence.

How about the sound? The Sport7TW use a 5.8mm driver and the sound is surprisingly bass-driven, making them great for gym use. We listened to Seal’s ‘best-of’ album, with Crazy as several times as a comparison between both sets of headphones. Bass came though with more punch than we expected, but didn’t ruin the subtle vocals at the start of the track. The stereo separation worked very well, although the soundstage is still quite tight. Appropriately, these were fun to listen to, and we can see them working really well in a situation where music is used to motivate.

We haven’t tested the battery life, but it’s short at about three hours, with an additional 14 hours of use coming from the charging case. A fast-charge system returns 45 minutes of use after 10 minutes of charge time, which we really like. Each earbud magnetically clips into the case, which is light, compact, and has a pair of lights on the front to indicate charging status.

The ATH-CKR7TW

What if you’re not running around? You will definitely want to check out the ATH-CKR7TW headphones instead. Whereas the $200 Sport7TW headphones are well suited to the gym, the CKR7TW are for when you want to listen to music for enjoyment, and oh, how enjoyable they are. The drivers inside measure 11mm. Audio-Technica claims they’re isolated from the internal DAC and amplifier to lower interference, and they’re instantly recognizable as Audio-Technica gear when you start listening.

The design is also quite different than the Sport7TW. The ATH-CKR7TW are bigger and chunkier, but we like the simple, flat look once they’re in your ear. The earbuds also come with various tips and wings, but aren’t superglued into your ear like the sport model. It’s still a good and secure fit; but with an emphasis on comfort.

We listened to the same track for comparison, Seal’s Crazy. The track came alive with a wonderfully natural, beautifully balanced sound, with enough bass to satisfy without overpowering the midrange instruments and vocals. We’ve liked the clean, unfussy, vocal-led musical sound from Audio-Technica headphones in the past, and in the short time with the CKR7TW, we were pleased to hear this hasn’t been lost in the transition to true wireless design.

The touch controls were a little difficult to master at first, but we imagine they’ll become easier after spending some time with the headphones, and this problem is far from unique to Audio-Technica — it’s just difficult to put a good control system into such a small device. We like the Bluetooth 5.0 connection, which should increase reliability and range, and we especially like the six hour battery life, which matches or exceeds the best picks in the segment. Like the Sport7TW, the case holds the earbuds securely using magnets, though the CKR7TW provides only nine extra hours — one and a half charges — of use. At $250, the CKR7TW’s are pricey, but the given the sound quality and longer than usual battery life, they’re still a good value.

Both sets of Audio-Technica’s new true wireless headphones are slated to be released in the fall, with an exact date still to be confirmed. It’s getting crowded in the true wireless space, but both pairs here do stand out in their own way. We like the Sport7TW for the excellent fit, but we look much more forward to hearing the CKR7TW’s highly enjoyable, natural sound again soon.

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