Klipsch Image X10i Headphone Review

If you read my wordy review of the Klipsch S4i headphones back in July, you already know how impressed I’ve been with Klipsch’s headphones.   Sadly, after around 800 hours of use, I managed to short out the left channel.  Legendary for their customer service, Klipsch of course was ready to send me out a replacement pair.  However, I had another idea.  Instead of replacing my Image S4i headphones with another pair, I decided to upgrade to the Klipsch Image X10i, the S4i’s big brother only, some how, much MUCH smaller.

These being the world’s smallest headphones, they’re also amongst the most comfortable.  They are, in fact, the most comfortable in-ear headphones I have ever owned, beating out even the Klipsch S4i.  The five, unique ear tips include three single flange, small, medium and large tips and medium and large double flange tips.  The S4i includes the same tips but not the larger double flange ear tips.

The ear tips have an unique oval shape for both easy insertion, comfort and exceptional noise isolation.  I use the medium, double flange ear tips and by the third track I’ve forgotten they are even in.  They are just that comfortable.

Pretty enough to propose

You can tell these are luxury headphones, if not by the price or performance, by the exquisite packaging.  While the display box may be a bit superfluous, after $350.  Possibly the greatest bit of luxury in the accessories arena is the carrying pouch.  Calling it a pouch is like calling a Mercedes a car.  It’s much more than the fabric pouch provided with the S4i, this is a hard, faux-leather wrapped rectilinear box with magnetic locking flap.  I’ll have to take a picture of it.  It’s large enough to carry the headphones, the ear tips, the airline adapter, the 1/4 to 1/8 headphone adapter and the cleaning tool, yet small enough to fit in your pocket.

After you open the retail box and the display box, you’ll finally get a look at the headphones themselves.  Did you ever see a more beautiful set of in-ear headphones?

Enough on how comfortable and beautiful they are, how well do they perform?

One thing that constantly goes through my mind as I listen to these headphones is the feeling I get while wearing them.  I like to think of a concert experience.

Most headphones, especially those that come with your MP3 player lack bass, definition and simply strip nearly any semblance of fidelity from the audio experience.  They are the equivalent of standing outside the concert, listening in through the loading dock.  No sound stage, no thumping bass, nothing to write home about.

Then there are the slightly higher-end headphones, $20-50 like the Sennheiser MX and CX series or Sony‘s Sport series.  These provide the experience of sitting in the balcony.  You get to see and hear the band, but this far back the bass is more or less lost and soundstage weak.  You might be able to tell one instrument from another but close your eyes and you’ll find yourself amiss a flood of cacophonous loud.

The next step up is a big one.  You’ve now spent $50-150 (or $35 for the Koss PortaPro) and are really enjoying yourself.  Lower level access, great sound stage, separation and transparency all at once.  You’re marveling at the bassists ability to blast through thumping beats, nuances of the percussionist’s light rapping on the ride cymbals and the piercing vocals of the lead.  It’s an experience to behold.  The Koss PortaPro, Klipsch S4i and UltimateEars Super.fi 5 Pro provide this experience.

And then there’s the Klipsch Image X10i headphones.  This is front row at a Muse concert, Undisclosed Desires begins, the bass pounds your chest, the massive speakers to never fatigue no matter what volume, no matter what frequency.  Soundstage? You’re nearly only the stage.  You can’t help but tap your feet, raise your voice to sing along.  You close your eyes and you’ve become part of the music.  It’s an ineffable experience.

The only experience I’ve had better than listening to the Klipsch Image X10i with their supreme comfort, best in class sound isolation (especially with the Comply memory foam ear tips) is when I put on my Sennheiser HD600s powered by my dual-monobloc hybrid amp or sitting in front of my Klipsch Heresys with Klipsch RSW-10.  To out do the Klipsch Image X10i at home you will have to use something like the Sennheiser HD600s with an amplifier, or to build a really fabulous Klipsch speaker package.  There you will get even better sound stage and transparency, you’ll get to feel the bass in your chest and share the experience with a group of people.  However, you cannot do this and walk down the street, block out the guy next to you on the subway.  Escape a twenty-four hour flight to visit your parents back in Saudi Arabia.

The Klipsch Image X10i is your portable hifi system.  How a single-driver headphone that is more narrow than a pencil, shorter than a quarter and the weight of two nickels I don’t know.  Personally I think one of the engineers at Klipsch made a deal at the crossroads…

You’ll read reviews about these headphones all over the net.  Some say the bass is weak, the sound is balanced, the bass is too strong, the treble is fatiguing, the treble is under-expresses… If you want to trust someone who’s owned dozens of headphones, knows how important a proper seal and placement of a headphone is, that amplification is more than watts or mW, here I am.

These headphones have better bass than the Klipsch S4i.  Yes, it s more balanced, it is not as exaggerated as the stuff coming out of Monster.  There doesn’t seem to be an end to the bass.  These will go louder than you can handle and do it with such grace.  Anything beyond 50% power on my iPhone is LOUD.  75% and you’re just being silly.

The efficiency of these headphones allows you to play with at low volumes without sacrificing the full spectrum of sound.  You don’t have to be at 75% volume to get bass as you do with many other headphones.  The treble might be a bit reserved for a Klipsch product but is by no means muffled.  The vocals of Vittorio Grigolo and Anthony Hamilton are rich, thick and effervescent. Mary J Blige’s Be Without You performance at the 2007 Grammy Awards is rich with emotion, luscious bass and soaring vocals that the Klipsch X10i recreate with every intention of the night it was originally performed.

It seems like I can’t find fault in these headphones.  Part of the experience, glory and wonder come from the amazement that something this small and this comfortable can sound so good.  It’s like a spinal tap into your musical collection.

The microphone and controls are spot on, exactly the same as the Klipsch S4i.  No complaints whatsoever on it’s implementation or functionality.  Love that the controller also works on my MacBook Pro and iMac.

I might say slightly warmer female vocals and brighter highs would be nice, an L-shaped  headphone jack instead of the straight jack just waiting to be bent if you put your iPhone or MP3 player in your jeans pocket.

You have to admit, $350 for a pair of portable headphones for your iPhone is quite a chunk of money.  They cost more than the phone itself!  That being said, these headphones aren’t for everyone.  For those who want a nearly identical experience at the sacrifice of a tiny bit of fidelity and comfort, the next best thing are the Klipsch S4i headphones.  For around 1/3 the price you’ll get a really incredible experience that seems to only get better with time.

Physical –
Comfort: 10/10
Build: 9/10
Remote: 9/10
Mic: 10/10
Overall 9.5

Sound –
Bass: 9/10
Mids: 9/10
Treble: 8/10
Soundstage: 9/10
Overall: 8.75/10

Blind A/B testing with the Klipsch S4i or Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 would be difficult.  You get to a point with headphones that they get so good you can’t be realistic in your expectations.  Any differences between these headphones might be lost on all but the most discerning listener.