The app is so limited that basically the only thing I used it for was to download software updates and check the battery percentage on the earbuds. The update process is more labor intensive than with other models I've tested. Most of them just require you to leave the buds alone for a few minutes, either in the case or out. The initial update for the ATH-CKS5TW went like this: I put the buds in the case, triple clicked on the left earbud, removed the left earbud from the case, paired my phone to an alternate device name, loaded the update and put it back in the case. Then I had to do essentially the same thing on the right, along with pairing my phone back to the original ATH-CKS5TW device name in my Bluetooth settings, putting the right earbud back in the case, closing the lid and opening it to use them again. Audio-Technica says this can take up to an hour, but I managed to get it done in around 25 minutes. Not an eternity, but that's definitely the most steps I've ever had to complete for an earbud update. Thankfully, I've only had to do it once.
That all sounds damning, but it's not all bad. And one thing might outweigh all of those caveats: 15 hours of battery life. Indeed, that figure is the best of any earbuds I've tested this year. Audio-Techinca promises 15 hours on the earbuds themselves with two full charges in the case for 45 hours total. With just the buds, that's more than you'll likely need for any extended listening session, or even a long flight.
I kept them in for six hours straight on a workday during my review, and when I took them out, the app was still showing 85 percent battery left. That's pretty absurd for that amount of time with a mix of music and calls. In terms of a battery rundown test, there was 40 percent battery left at the 15-hour mark according to the app. Assuming that's a reliable indicator, the ATH-CKS5TW vastly outperforms the figure Audio-Technica proclaims.
The audio quality is... fine. Like Master & Dynamic, Audio-Technica has a trademark sound that's mostly consistent across devices. It's not as "natural" as M&D's default tuning, as there's slightly more depth to things. However, I don't like the audio as much on the the ATH-CKS5TW. Sony, M&D and other earbuds I've tested recently also beat the ATH-CKS5TW when it comes to overall clarity and default tuning. Those have more bass, but it muddies the sound. There's still some decent detail in instruments and other elements, but the low-end tone is big and boomy. With KAYTRANADA's BUBBA, for example, the bassline of tracks like "2 The Music" is so bass-heavy that it throws the entire mix off. The rapid bass drum rhythm throughout Gojira's metal discography booms, but it's crisp and snappy, especially on The way of all flesh. That key detail gets lost on these earbuds.
Listen, I like a good amount of bass, but I also value clear detail and even-handed tuning. The ATH-CKS5TW isn't that.
In terms of the sub-$200 competition, Jabra's Elite 75t is the best alternative. It doesn't match the ATH-CKS5TW in terms of battery life, but it's respectable at 7.5 hours. Plus, they're much smaller than this Audio-Technica model, which not only looks better in your ear, but is also comfier to wear. If active noise cancellation (ANC) is a priority, Sony's WF-1000XM3 are the best option. In fact, they're our top pick for best overall headphones in 2019. Apple's AirPods Pro are also a solid option at $249, with handy features like hands-free Siri. Of course, you have to be willing to accept Apple's polarizing design choices. If you're looking for an even cheaper option, Audio-Technica unveiled the $119 ATH-CK3TW a few months ago, but we haven't been able to review those yet.
Audio-Technica's ATH-CKS5TW has stellar battery life and is affordably priced. The true wireless earbuds also have solid sound quality and reliable on-board controls. However, they lack the customization a lot of the competition offers, and they're missing some key features that would be nice to have. If you can live without those, the ATH-CKS5TW earbuds will likely last much longer than you'll ever need them to, and at $169, they won't break the bank either. And at the time of this review, Amazon has them on sale for $149, which might make your decision a little more difficult. You just have to decide if all of the things these don't have are features you're willing to live without in your quest to save a few bucks.