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Klipsch Image X10i Headset Review  Print E-mail
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Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 03 March 2010

You can blame or thank Apple, because the iPod and iPhone have created a worldwide demand for in-ear headphones. There are hundreds of ear-bud phones and their ilk on the market, but few are engineered to produce audiophile-grade sound like Klipsch's Image X10i in-ear headphones. It makes sense that a company whose built its name and reputation for innovative loudspeaker designs would step slightly to the side and put that knowledge into a high-end headset.

The Image X10is are Klipsch's lightest in-ear headset, with an in-line microphone and a 3-button remote for taking phone calls and controlling files on iPods, iPod touches and iPhone 3GS. Although the X10is are Apple compatible, the audience for these headsets is the music-loving audiophile with an iPod or iPhone stuffed full of tunes. With a suggested sticker price of $349.99, it's doubtful casual listeners will plunk down more green on a set of headphones than the cost of the media player itself.

Features

Put the Image X10i under a microscope, and inside each machined aluminum assembly you'll find a balanced, full-range armature micro-speaker with its own internal diaphragm driven by an electromagnetic motor system. Klipsch asserts that an armature offers higher output, extended frequency response and better high frequency detail than moving coil speakers.

Five pairs of different-sized ear tips is better than a one-size-fits-most approach found in some headsets. I had the best fit and sound with the double-flange ear gels. These nifty nubs fit snugly and are great at blocking outside noise. Klipsch notes that about 60 percent of users will opt for the single-flange, medium size gels that come fitted to the phones in the box. Even so, it's worth trying each gel to get the best fit. When the gels get dirty, a small cleaning tool takes care of any buildup on the gels or headphone nozzle.

A 3-button headset control, positioned at the cord's yoke, turns the Images into a remote and microphone for iPod and iPhone users. The remote and 360-degree microphone is compatible with iPod Nano (4th generation), iPod Classic (120GB), iPod Touch (2nd generation), iPhone 3GS and some newer Blackberry models. The Remote works with iPod Shuffle (3rd generation). Additional v. 1.0.3 software is required for use with iPod Nano (4th gen); 2.0.1 software for iPod Classic and 2.2 or later for iPod Touch. A sliding clip makes it easy to attach the wire to a shirt for active uses such as walking, jogging or biking.

Klipsch includes an airplane adaptor and 1/4-inch adapter to connect the X10is to a traditional stereo component headphone input; however, the headset wire is really too short for connecting to a receiver or amplifier. If you go that route, you'll need an extension cable unless you want to sit right next to the component. The headphones and accessories come in an attractive, protective flip-top carrying pouch.

It doesn't take an audiologist to know that extended exposure to sound through headphone devices can potentially damage hearing. In the owner's manual, Klipsch includes a chart of OSHA Guidelines for noise exposure limits to minimize any harmful effects. It's well worth a quick review.

Listening


I used the Image X10is for music listening only, as I don't have a phone compatible with the microphone feature. My main “source” was the bank of tunes stored on my Mac mini, with some further auditioning via an iPod Nano (1st generation). In many ways, the Image X10i Headset mirrored the sound of Klipsch's WF-34 floor-standing loudspeakers. Both are extremely clean, crisp, detailed and fast. The best bass response comes from having a perfect acoustic seal with the tips and ear canal. I heard a slight tendency toward treble and upper-end frequencies, with well-defined but never distorted or overly booming bass. The phones have laser-like precision and open the door to the smallest details of every recording. They are also very comfortable and so light that one can listen for hours without mechanical fatigue.

Van Morrison & The Chieftains' remaking of Morrison's “Celtic Ray,” from 1988's Irish Heartbeat, features a bevy of instruments, including tin whistle, fiddle, bodhran, fretless bass and harp. There's a lot going on, but the X10is excelled at not only imaging but imaging with dimension. I could hear the natural reverb of the bass strings being plucked and sounded, but kept in balance with the delicate arpeggios of Derek Bell's harp and Paddy Maloney's pining whistle lines.

Rush's “Red Barchetta” opens with Alex Lifeson playing a series of guitar harmonics that gradually increase in volume before Geddy Lee and Neil Peart enter on bass and drums, respectively. It's an atmospheric and ambient recording, and the X10is excelled at presenting the individual sounds of each instrument with power and vitality. I mentioned transients earlier, and Rush's music is transient central thanks to Peart's imagination and incredible technique. For such tiny speakers, the Images rock.

The timpani is not usually associated with rock and roll music, but the kettledrums are used to great effect on Cream's classic “White Room.” In Ginger Baker's hands, the drums create a dark and mysterious vibe. Listening through the Images was a treat, with the timpanis sounding like tuned percussion, and Eric Clapton's spaced-out wah-wah guitar came through in all its psychedelic glory.

On high-resolution fare, the Images are even better. HDtracks 24-bit/96kHz offering of The Kinks' 1978 release Misfits is a gorgeously detailed affair, and the Klipsch phones sang with accuracy and clarity with zero hint of distortion or other unwanted sonic baggage.

Compared to Monster's excellent Turbine Pro in-ear speakers, the Klipsch set images better, has cleaner sound and doesn't require as much volume to attain suitable listening levels. The Image X10is make a strong case for being “the reference” in-ear headphones. Overall, the Image X10is offer excellent dynamics, clarity and definition. Their combination of comfort and way with music makes for an easy recommendation. Simply put, they are the best in-ear headphones I've heard.

Manufacturer Klipsch





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