by Warren Chi
For as long as I can remember, Audio-Technica has spared little expense when it comes to their CES and NAMM exhibits. I won’t describe or depict them here so that you can be suitably impressed when you see them for yourselves, except to say that they are much more akin to modern condominiums than exhibition booths.
As one of their first scheduled appointments of the show, we were greeted with bubbly-fresh and boundless enthusiasm for their new SonicSport line, which is an exercise-oriented extension of the SonicFuel line-up of products that debuted at last year’s CES.
Ugh, that’s just great. Exercise IEMs. If you’ve read my previous post about Sennheiser’s new offerings, then you know already know how I feel about the sonic performance (or lack thereof) of exercise gear in general. Anywho…
There are essentially three different in-ear monitors in the SonicSport line. And while each of them fit and sound differently, all of them are sweatproof and washable with an IPX5 lab-certified rating.
To help safeguard our very existence, all of them come with specially-designed ridged tips that allow a modicum of ambient noise to enter the ear canal – so that we can [hopefully] hear big, fast, painful things coming at us. The ATH-SPORT1 also comes in a phone-friendly variant named the ATH-SPORT1IS, which includes a built-in microphone for calls and an in-line remote with a sliding volume control.
And how do they sound? Let’s just say that – at one point later in the week – Ethan (Audio360.org), Brian (Audio-Head.com) and I wound up lightheartedly joking as to whether we would actually want to review the evaluation pairs we received. For the record, none of us stepped forward enthusiatically at the time. But upon getting the ATH-SPORT1IS home, and after giving it a fair audition – well f*** me – these are actually alright!
Instead of tuning these with an oppressively droning one-note bass, or rolled-off highs at the other end of the spectrum, Audio-Technica has opted for a more balanced and linear approach here. Of course, this is not to say that the ATH-SPORT1IS has anemic bass, but simply that it doesn’t have all of its cajones in the bass basket.
Its signature begins with some very impressive sub-bass output. But instead of rolling that into a boosted mid-bass, the ATH-SPORT1IS relaxes for a moment, before placing most of its low-end emphasis in the upper bass and lower mids. Being an Audio-Technica unit, I’m not the least bit surprised to find an accentutated mid-range that contributes to both forward vocals and lively percussion. There’s even a smidgeon of air and openness at the top, which I certainly did not expect.
So is this an audiophile-quality product? Well, I don’t know that I’d match it up against a Sennheiser IE800, AKG K3003 or Shure SE846 anytime soon. But even this entry model in the SonicSport line far surpasses any and all of my expectations of what a typical consumer audio product has to offer, especially at an MSRP of only $39.95 (only $34.95 for the remote-less and mic-less variant). I must say, sound-wise, I’m rather impressed with it.
As for the fit, I’d like to add that the ATH-SPORT1 and ATH-SPORT1IS come with a spring-loaded articulating ear piece hinged to a rubberized ear-clip (shown below). I didn’t workout with it as that’s not how I roll. But after an appropriate amount of headbanging and solo mosh-pitting, I’d have to say that the retention mechanism works quite well, and didn’t come loose once.
If this is where Audio-Technica is headed with all of their exercise and fitness oriented gear, then I approve wholeheartedly. In fact, this has made me curious about the rest of their SonicSport line, as well as Audio-Technica’s Sonic Fuel line, which I’ve yet to audition at length.
*If you would like to see us cover Audio-Technica’s SonicSport Series in greater detail at Part-Time Audiophile, please leave us a comment below to let us know.