Klipsch S4i headphone Review

This was posted back on the Klipsch Bulletin Board, reposting my initial thoughts of the Klipsch S4i headphones.  These headphones are specially made for the iPhone 3GS and the latest iPod Shuffle with voice control.  Unlike most iPhone/iPod headsets out there, this one features a remote control and microphone that not only pauses/plays music and answers calls, it adds the ability to change the volume of your music.  This feature works on iPhone 3Gs, the latest iPod Shuffle and the Unibody MacBook/MacBook Pro (volume/microphone).

What follows is my initial review.

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IMMEDIATE USE AND OPERATION

I’ve only had a limited period of time listening to them so far but it’s pretty obvious, to me, that these headphones are killer.

By far, the most comfortable in-ear headphones (IEMs) that I’ve ever worn (of course not exclusive to the rest of the Klipsch headphone line which are all best in class for comfort). The stock contour gel tips that ship on the S4i fit my ears perfectly. I did the 180 degree twist method with the wires up and if it wasn’t the best headphone seal I’ve ever had! The sound isolation reminded me of the isolation provided by the triple flanged ear-tips in my Shure headphones.

I haven’t tried many of the other tips but plan to try the double flanged tips and perhaps will order the Comply memory foam tips to see how they compare. As it is, these tips not only isolate an impressive amount of noise, they also create the seal required for heavy bass.

Removing the headphones from my ears illustrated just how strong the hold was. I halfway worried the tips would be left behind in my ears! But, as with all the other Klipsch headsets, the patent pending tip design worked flawlessly and stayed in place. Phew!

Klipsch Image S4i Headphones

I placed a call using my iPhone to test the microphone. I worried the headphone’s position below my neck would be problematic. To my happy surprise this wasn’t the case at all. As an added bonus, I didn’t feel the need to remove a headphone from one of my ears during the call. Many IEMs create a bizarre effect when you talk while wearing them. Talking with the Griffin TuneBuds mobile ($20-40) or the UltimateEars 4vi ($79-100) in both ears made your voice sound as if you ear were clogged with water.

Somehow this doesn’t happen with the Klipsch buds. That’s a welcome revelation.

Looking at the product photos I admit I was a bit skeptical of the control module. I felt it was too long, too low and too awkward for accurate use. Wrong. It picked up my voice perfectly, won’t get caught on your collar like may mics/buttons do from competing headphones as they sit on one side or the other near your chin/cheek, and the buttons are much easier to push than the UltimateEars 4vi ($79-100) or Triple.fi 10vi ($400).

The cable is the perfect length, even if it does seem a bit fragile. Walking with the headphones presents limited to no extra noise. Perhaps it’s softness of the rubber on the cables paired with the gel ear-tips are the reason for this. The old Shure and Etymotic headphones were pretty awful in this regard.

Wrapping up the cable is a little difficult, due to the long control module. I haven’t figured out the best method just yet. The Klipsch bag to hold the headphones when not in use is just short of perfect. Metal bands wrapped in fabric hold the bag closed, a one handed squeeze opens it back up again. This is a big improvement, IMHO, to the tin can case of the S4 which was far too large.

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SOUND QUALITY

Right off the bat, with the factory installed ear-tips on the Klipsch Image S4i’s, the sound was great. However, switching to the double-flanged ear tips brought a noticeable increase in isolation and bass reproduction. If these are comfortable to you, use them. If not, I hear the Comply Memory Foam ear-tips bring similar, if not better isolation/bass with remarkable comfort.

The sound wasn’t as bright as my Klipsch Heritage speakers and the bass not as punchy as competing headphones like the UltimateEars Super.fi 5 Pro’s, though it’s pretty darn close. The sound is more natural, a flatter response than many headphones in this class (most push for exaggerated bass and volume before quality of audio reproduction.)

At times it seemed the highs simply rolled off, a bit too early if you ask me. Symbols, trumpets and crackling glass weren’t nearly as prominent as they were with my Klipsch Heresy speakers ($1,600 pair), Sennheiser HD600′s ($300-400) or the Koss PortaPro headsets. One of the things I’ve always loved about Klipsch was the bright sound. These headphones don’t illustrate the brightness found in their speakers or Custom series headphones.

That isn’t to say the bass is lacking, just that if you’re a basshead, you might want to look at something like the old UltimateEars Super.fi 5 EB ($140-200), the Beats by Dre ($300-350), or Future Sonics’ Atrio M5 earphones ($180-200). A proper seal makes a world of a difference when it comes to bass response. Listening to TheEars favorite bass testing cd, Pomps and Pipes, presented powerful, albeit restrained bass.

If you’ve heard the S4 you’ve likely already got an idea of the S4i. As I said in the beginning of this review, I don’t have the two headphones to do an A/B test but as I remember the S4 sound, it’s very similar if not identical.

I compared the Klipsch Image S4i, A/B style, with the Sennheiser PX100 and UltimateEars Super.fi 5 Pro headsets.

The Klipsch headset was a clear winner compared to the PX100. Famous for it’s comfort and sound quality, when compared directly to the Klipsch, the Sennheiser showed its weaknesses. While the Sennheiser is incredibly comfortable, the extra long cable gets in the way quite a bit, the headset falls off your head if you lean down and you are forced to punch up the volume quite a bit to get anywhere near the bass and volume the Klipsch provide. Comparing an IEM to an open-air headphone isn’t really fair, some might say, but if you want to compare the S4i to a very popular, and venerable headset, there are few better than this one.

However, when compared to the UltimateEars Super.fi 5 Pro, the sound reproduction, sensitivity, soundstage, bass response… it’s all just a little better on the UltimateEars. Again, perhaps an unfair comparision. The UltimateEars cost upwards of twice the price, have two separate drivers and are significantly larger. The Klipsch did cream this competition, however, when it came to comfort and features.

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OPENING THE BOX

The packaging is pretty, rigid and interesting to open. I’m one of those people that like to save every box in like-new condition. With the S4i box you actually have to rip open the box! All my previous Klipsch headphones came to me in plastic boxes, but then again, those were mostly beta models!

Once I get them unpacked the first thing that came to mind was fear. There are three, in my opinion, design flaws in the headphones, which many other headphones feature.

1. The cord is, as all Klipsch headphones have been, super thin. I’m not worried about sound fidelity, so little power is moving through these headphones, that won’t be an issue. I’m just worried about durability. I will say the cables are pretty darn quiet, very little cable movement noise, of course it’s not winter yet, no jacket zippers rubbing the cables just yet!

2. The headphone jack sticks straight out, it isn’t an L-shaped jack. This is my biggest pet peeve in headphones. An L-shaped jack prevents damage to the jack by creating a better stress-relief point and reducing the chance the jack will break off or short out from getting pushed against in a pocket, etc. It also prevents shorts occurring from pulling the headphone jack out of the iPod/iPhone/etc repeatedly. With an L-shaped bracket, the user is forced to grasp the jack itself to remove from the device. In the case of many headsets, including the S4i, you end up pulling on the cable. The jack is tapered off beautifully into the cable but is so slick that I’ve found my fingers slipping off the jack and onto the cable as I unplug the cables.

This jack design has killed two UltimateEars 4vi headphones, three Griffin TuneBuds Mobile and a handful of others. It’s such a simple issue, one that the other Klipsch headphones do not suffer from, including the Klipsch Image S4.

3. The headphones are all plastic. They look great and feel light as a feather but they just don’t FEEL high quality. The lightness is much appreciated, you forget they are in your ears in no time, and I’m sure the build quality of the headphones themselves isn’t truly questionable, it’s just a perception of cheap.

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CONCLUSIONS

When it’s all said and done, these are great headphones. They aren’t perfect but they are of course being compared to much more expensive speakers and headphones, which must be taken into consideration.

Physical -
Comfort: 9.5/10
Build: 7/10
Remote: 9/10
Mic: 10/10
Overall 8.75

Sound -
Bass: 9/10
Mids: 9/10
Treble: 8/10
Soundstage: 8.5/10
Overall: 8.625/10

Value – When you compare the headphone audio to competing models (read, any and all headphones on the market), it’s not a great value. There are other, better, cheaper headphones out there. The Koss PortaPro ($35-50), the UltimateEars Super.fi 5 Pro ($180-300), Etymotic ER6i ($70-110), etc, are all better sounding headphones (to a varying and small degree.) Other headphones provide a more dynamic sound with greater presence and soundstage along with a more exciting experience. But none of these headphones, and no other headphone in the class of the Klipsch Image S4i, provides all of the features of the Klipsch at this price point.

Flat out, there isn’t a better headphone for the iPhone 3GS than the Klipsch Image S4i. Its remote control and microphone put this headset above all others. You’ll have to spend a lot more to get an iPhone headset better than this, such as the Etymotic hf2 or UltimateEars Triple.fi 10vi and still sacrifice on features.

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BONUS FEATURE!

Plus, an added bonus to Apple users, if you have a unibody MacBook or MacBook Pro, the volume keys on the remote control of the Klipsch S4i will also change the volume of your laptop! This is a welcome bonus for sure! Oh and the microphone? It also works, turning off the microphone in the computer as soon as you plug in the headset! No more clicking of the keys as you type away during a Skype call or iChat session. The microphone performed as well or better than my Blue Microphone for vocals, if you choose to use this headset as the perfect, portable podcasting set.

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As I continue to use these headphones, as they continue to burn in, I will adapt, update and revise my review. These headphones have been used all of 5 hours. If you subscribe to the philosophy of “burning in” your equipment before REALLY taking its performance seriously, as I do, you already understand the importance of this period of time.

This initial review is simply a jumping off point. You likely noted how little time I spent on sound quality and performance, focusing instead on build, ergonomics and initial thoughts. I will elaborate on all of these sections, but especially sound quality, as I continue to enjoy these headphones.

If you’re on the fence, and they come in stock, my advice? Buy these headphones. Absolutely buy them. Your ears will thank you, the guy sitting next to you, no longer listening to your music will thank you, and gosh darnit, you’re worth it!

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THE NEXT MORNING

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RIGID113:
Hellovadeal!!!!!

Yeah, I’d have to agree. If you look at them as simply replacement headphones for your iPod/iPhone, at $100 they provide a pretty good value/performance ratio. When you add the, so far perfect, microphone and remote control with pause/play/answer and volume controls, the value/performance shoots through the roof.

The only other headphone out there that does all of this (as far as I know it) is the Apple dual-driver, in ear headphones. But the bass in those headphones doesn’t come near the bass in the Klipsch S4i. Which is amazing considering the Klipsch S4i has a single driver, compared with Apple’s dual drivers.

UltimateEars/AltecLansing/Logitech (that’s a confusing situation…) say they have a headset coming out that will carry a similar feature set, but that remains to be seen. What it breaks down to is, if you’ve got the iPhone 3GS, when it comes to headphones, there’s no better set out there for you.

Some reviews have criticized the size of these headphones as if they were large. I’m not sure from where this is coming. Yes, they are larger than the world’s smallest in-ear-monitor headphones (also made by Klipsch) but they are, by no means, large headphones. In fact, they are so small, they aren’t immediately noticeable in you ears, not like UltimateEars Super.fi headphones or Shure’s line of IEMs. I even had a bit of trouble a couple of times removing them from my ears, the seal was so tight (a VERY good thing) and the headphones were so small.

So far, listening to them more last night and then again this morning, I’m noticing an overall better sound. Probably the result of a better seal and some time for my ears to rest. Their comfortable enough that you are tempted to wear them longer than you probably should… like when your boss comes into your office to ask you a question about a marketing proposal… oops! They also totally drown out the ringing of phone, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your job :-P

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