I cannot believe it has taken me this long to write a review of the Klipsch Image One headphones. It was last November that I first posted about these over ear headphones, the first on-ear headphones made by Klipsch. And yes, one of these days, I will write a review that doesn’t take an hour to read. Brevity is not my strength.
I’ve decided to edit the introduction to this review with a summary of my thoughts. The full review is posted below, but if you’re in a rush, digest the following. Continue reading →
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.
After twenty-five years in production, and five years of absence of ownership, the Koss PortaPro headphones still kick ass. I’ve encountered no headphone in their price range that unseats them from their highest of pedestals. The Sennheiser PX100s come very close with superior comfort and a more streamlined design but simply don’t have the same passion in their reproduction of music.
Before I had my Sennheiser HD600s, my Grado SR60s, any of my Shure, UltimateEars, EtymoticResearch or Klipsch headphones, I had these Koss PortaPros, until their untimely loss while moving from California, back to Missouri.
My new set arrived today with only a change in packaging from when I bought mine my junior year in high school. There’s a sort of comfort in that, just as the Klipsch Heresy speakers I have still sold today have changed very little since mine came off the assembly line around 1984.
If you are in the market for a sub $100 on-the-ear, open-air headphone, this is the one I’d recommend. I got mine from Amazon.com with free shipping for under $35. It’s a steal and it feels oh so good to have them back.
I have never seen a set of MonsterCable Beats by Dre at a store, Apple, Best Buy or otherwise that weren’t broken. Often times there is a short in the cable or one of the ear-pieces is falling apart or, as in this case, falling off.
Today I witnessed two sets of Beats by Dre, completely obliterated, sitting next to each other as if all is well, while, just across the aisle, two sets of the competing Bose headphones (Quite Comfort 2 and 3) looked and performed perfectly.
Clearly a sign of the Monster Cable quality, or lack there of. Their build is like their performance. Immediately pleasing before succumbing to the flaws of sacrifice. Form over function. Volume and extended bass over balance and fidelity. The competition, namely Bose, might make horrendously overpriced home theater equipment, just like Monster Cable. They might make products that fall apart and aren’t worth the cardboard boxes they come in. But at least their headphones stand up to normal wear-and-tear, as well as display model wear-and-tear.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject. How is it that all of these headphones get such prime placement and are all the Best Buy people will really try to sell you, along with the Sennheiser HD 238 Precision, when the absolute BEST over-the-ear headphone they sell, the set with the absolute highest performance/price ratio is left in the corner behind the Monster Cable display? They have the new and improved (wow was that even possible) Koss PortaPro.
No, the PortaPros aren’t sound isolating, much less sound canceling like the Bose and Monster Cable headphones. It’s not even lined with luxurious faux-leather or encased in some kevlar and chrome chasis. It’s simply the best sounding over-the-ear headphone for under $100. If I had to choose any over-the-ear headphone to buy with a budget, this would be the one. They are incredibly light, incredibly comfortable and the performance is astounding. I’d even go to say that they over-perform headphones costing upwards of $200 like the Bose, Sennheiser, Grado, AKG…
How much? I got mine for $30 on Amazon.com and did I mention they come with an international, lifetime warranty. They are known to replace or repair your broken headphones even if you don’t have your receipt.
Anyways, I’m going to quit this rant. It just annoys the hell out of me that an incredible headphone like this, which is actually selling for $30 off retail for this limited edition model at Best Buy right now, is overlooked by customers and employees of consumer electronics stores because they have no real knowledge.
Don’t even get me started on their home theater or photography departments. Holy shit.
It’s been nearly five years since I had my first set of Comply headphone tips. They came with my UltimateEars SuperFi 5 Pro dual-driver, in-ear headphones. My first impressions were nothing too spectacular.
The UltimateEars headphones are large and never really felt secure. The noise isolation was great but only if they were in just right. Since the diameter of the ear tip was so wide, getting a deep placement was difficult and I soon found the headphones falling out or losing their proper seal.
I switched to the rubber or silicon ear tips that came with the headphones and found that while the seal wasn’t necessarily that much better, if the seal broke, I could easily remedy the situation. Eventually I got so good at putting on the headphones that losing a seal was no longer a problem.
Now to the present. The inevitable finally happened with me UltimateEars SuperFI 5 Pro headphones, they became tip-less (really surprised I didn’t lose them faster). Meanwhile my new favorite in-ear headphones, the Klipsch Image S4i have proven their ability to kick ass, take names and leave all my other headphones getting dusty. I went to the Klipsch Bulletin Board to do a bit of tech help for my fellow audiophiles and saw a few people discussing ways to further improve their Klipsch investment.
One thing that popped up a few too many times to be ignored was the inclusion of Comply foam ear tips. I bit the bullet and, with the generosity of Comply giving me a review discount (full disclosure for all those Federal Trade Commission agents reading my blog…), I bought two sets (6 pair) for my two favorite in-ear-monitors.
For those who don’t know, Comply makes memory-foam ear tips for many popular in-ear headphones, as well as their own line of sound isolating headphones. They the brand of ear tips to buy, period. Here is why…
My Comply headphone tips came in the other day, a set for my UltimateEars and another for the Klipsch headphones.
So what are my thoughts?
Well, first off, it’s a definite upgrade to the UltimateEars branded options and seem to be an improvement on the Comply models I had several years ago.
As I wrote above, the UltimateEars have a really wide sound channel that is probably too wide for most people’s ears. That being said, the Comply tips make a significantly better seal than the rubber ones from UltimateEars, despite the physical obstacles of the sound port of the headphones.
The fit on the Klipsch S4i is just perfect, they seemed to just disappear once in my ears. Klipsch made noise when they released their first headsets and a good deal was written regarding their unprecedented comfort for in-ear-monitors. Klipsch’s oval tips (instead of round) fit the ear more naturally. I would love to see Comply incorporate this design element with a future model of their ear tips for even an even better fit.
The sound isolation is dangerously good. I missed several phone calls and a couple knocks on my door! They completely silenced my local Starbucks. On the flight from St. Louis to Austin, not even the roar of the jets next to my window interfered with my music listening. Eyes closed, you’re in a different world.
When you get these tips you’re doing so for really three reasons. Replacement for lost tips, sound isolation and comfort. UltimateEars SuperFi 5 Pro owners will enjoy a significant increase in comfort and sound isolation with the Comply ear tips. However, if you have the Klipsch S4i, you probably already enjoy amazing comfort and decent sound isolation so if sound isolation is your need, the Comply headphone tips will fill any gaps left by your current tips. However, if comfort is your biggest concern, the double-flange tips from Klipsch are just as comfortable and perhaps better, to me.
In regards to any improvement in audio performance… You will certainly notice an increase in bass response which decreases your desire to turn up the volume. The sound isolation coupled with a nearly airtight seal in your ear really makes the bass lines in songs like Muse’sUndisclosed Desires perform at its best. Lower volumes means less stress on your ears which allows a longer listening with less fatigue and hearing damage.
There are really only three downsides I see to the Comply ear tips.
Price – At $5-7 a pair, it’s not overwhelmingly expensive but an extra cost not associated with most headphones.
Ease of Use – Putting the headphones on and off becomes a hassle. Definitely not something you want to keep doing. I got so frustrated with people coming up to me to talk causing me to redo my headphones every few minutes that I went back to the regular tips at one point. Definitely not as easy to take in and out than the original ear tips.
Sanitation – you have to replace the ear tips at least once every three months. Though to me, there is something kinda gross about putting these in your ears even after a couple of weeks use. You can wipe them down with a moist rag after use to keep them clean. Make sure they are dry before you use them again, and of course, clean ears means cleaner tips.
Let’s break it down.
Isolation – 9.5/10
Comfort – 9/10
Performance – 9/10
Value – 9/10
Overall – 9.1/10
Will this improvement in audio quality, comfort and sound isolation have you taking a second listen to your music catalogue? No. But it might be that small difference that takes a 9 out of 10 headphone closer to a 10.
One a lesser set of headphones, such as the Griffin TuneBuds you will notice a significant improvement in audio quality, isolation and comfort with the Comply headphone tips.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 😛
Image S4i In-Ear Headset With Mic And 3-Button Remote Headphones. These headphones will be replacing my Griffin Tunebuds Mobile which were great cheap headphones but really started to show their weaknesses after extensive use. I still highly recommend them for people in need of significantly improved headphones to those that came with their iPhone/iPod but there are a few serious design flaws.
A major flaw, which I hope the Klipsch likely won’t suffer, came with the headphone plug itself. It sticks straight up about 1 inch from the headphone jack when plugged in. The problem? With the iPhone in your pocket, you bend down to say tie your shoes, or in my case, bend down to take a picture, and you break the jack!
UPDATE: Turns out the Klipsch S4i uses the same unfortunate headphone jack. Just waiting to break it. :-\
This has happened to me with three pairs of the Griffin TuneBuds and 2 pairs of UltimateEars 4vi headphones. If the S4i from Klipsch are anything like the S4, the headphone jack will be a shorter, L-shaped jack.
I will definitely be posting a review of these headphones as soon as they come in. I got to beta test all of Klipsch’s headphones at the factory and then at home a couple of year ago. These headphones are the most comfortable in-ear headphones I’ve ever used and the sound quality is top-notch, just like any other Klipsch product.
Oh, and on a really cool note, Klipsch wrote a little ditty about me today on one of their blogs. Check out the post by Amy Unger (who is probably the best CS person in existence).