Earbuds: The Seal is the Deal

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Earphones and in-ear monitors
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Klipsch Custom-3
Earbuds: The Seal is the Deal

I’ve discovered that a fair number of people seem not to take high performance earbuds (or any earbuds, really) very seriously, which I think is unfortunate. There are probably two related factors to blame for this. First, a number of people just don’t like the physical sensation of having anything in their ear canals—or at least not physical objects that are in any way uncomfortable. Second, many people think earbuds are incapable to truly robust bass performance, which can be true if you use earbuds whose ear tips or pads fail to achieve a proper seal in your ear canals.

Ah, but there’s the rub (pun intended). With most earbuds achieving a good, airtight seal involves using ear tips that are large enough to put at least some pressure (gentle pressure, but pressure all the same) on the side-walls of your ear canals, which some listeners find an uncomfortable if not downright unnerving sensation. And so there is a dilemma: should we wear tight-fitting earbuds for optimal sound, or loose-fitting earbuds for greater comfort and a less claustrophobic fit, albeit at the expense of weak, lightweight bass? Isn’t there some way to be able to have our sonic cake, so to speak, and eat it too? As a matter of fact, there is.

As I mentioned in my Playback review of (and The Absolute Sound Golden Ear award write-up for) the Klipsch Image and Custom-3 earbuds, the good folks at Klipsch (bless their hearts) have done some fundamental research that shows human ear canals are not round in cross-section, as has commonly been supposed, but rather elliptical in cross-section. If you think about it for a moment, this is a genuinely big deal with some major implications for earbud wearers. For starters, it means that earbuds with round ear tips (that is, about 99.9999% of all earbuds on the market) are essentially trying to jam round plugs into elliptical holes. Since ear tips are typically made of fairly soft rubber or foam you can, in fact, get away with forcing a “press fit,” but there’s no guarantee that the fit will be comfortable—all of which makes Klipsch’s solution so ingenious.

Basically, Klipsch has done away with round ear tips and replaced them, logically enough, with elliptically shaped tips made of a soft rubber gel-like material.  In so doing, I think Klipsch has shown the way for earbuds to take a great leap forward, both in terms of physical comfort and sound quality. Because Klipsch’s elliptical eartips offer an inherently better fit for the shape of our ear canals, two cool things happen at once. First, the Klipsches automatically achieve a superior airtight seal and they do so while applying minimal pressure on your ear canals. Can you say “Ahhh, sweet relief?”

I’ve let a number of people in the Nextscreen offices try the Klipsch Image earbuds and comments have run something like this.  “Wow, these earbuds are so easy to slip into your ears, and once you’ve put them on you can hardly feel them at all.”  Or, “Whoa, with these earbuds great bass is just automatic; you don’t have to fiddle around with them to get them to work.”  Interesting, no?

If you’ve had trouble making peace with earbuds in the past, might I suggest you pay a visit to a Klipsch dealer to see if Klipsch’s patent-pending elliptical ear tips make a difference for you?  It’s an experiment well worth trying.

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