Klipsch Image One On-Ear Headphone (Playback 46)

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Klipsch Image One On-Ear Headphone (Playback 46)

Klipsch’s elegant-looking Image One ($149.99) is the firm’s first-ever on-ear headphone/headset, whereas all of Klipsch’s other Image-series headphones are in-ear models. Why would Klipsch strike out in a new direction when it is already on a roll with its in-ear ‘phones? The answer, I suspect, is that some percentage of avid music lovers find it difficult, for whatever reason, to embrace in-ear ‘phones. Looking to reach that segment of the market, Klipsch’s Image One is geared for those who prefer music delivered on their ears, rather than in their ear canals. What’s interesting, though, is that Klipsch has made strong efforts to give the Image One some of the very same signature qualities that have made its Image-family earphones so popular—among them, high sensitivity, terrific wearer comfort, iPhone-compatible headset functionality and, of course, the famous, vibrant Klipsch sound.

FEATURES

  • The Image One is an on-ear design that features small-to-mid-size closed-back ear cups finished in gloss black and trimmed with simulated leather endcaps that bear the Klipsch logo and a thin strip of chrome trim. Overall, ear cups tend to give the Image One a tasteful and almost formal “black tie”-like appearance.
  • The Image One’s ear cups come fitted with cushy “memory foam” ear pads that are covered in soft, glove-like leather. The fit and feel of the ear pads is wonderfully comfortable and Klipsch says the ear cup/pad design goes a long way toward giving the ‘phones good isolation from external noise. Our experience was that noise isolation was very good as on-ear ‘phones go, but not up to the levels of the best circumaural (around the ear) and in-ear designs we have tried.
  • Importantly, the Image One’s ear cups are designed to swivel and to give a very wide range of adjustment. This not only means that ear cups can be folded flat to minimize space requirements when traveling, but that they can accommodate most any head shape and do so with terrific comfort.
  • Also adding to the Image One's comfort equation are an easy-to-adjust headband and a soft, leather-clad headband pad.
  • The Image One, like many other Klipsch headphone models, features a three-button mic/remote control module that is compatible with a very wide range of Apple devices. As is typical with such controls, older-generation Apple units can use only a subset of the module’s available functions, while newer generation Apple products can take advantage of them all—including voice activated control on some Apple products. (Visit www.klipsch.com for a detailed Apple-compatibility chart for the Image One).
  • The Image One sports 40mm moving coil-type drivers designed to provide an easy-to-drive, low impedance (32 Ohm) load. In practice, and in sharp contrast to many other competing products, the Image One can be driven to completely satisfying volume levels by an iPod, iPhone, etc.—and without requiring use of an outboard amplifier. Sensitivity is rated at a relatively high 110 dB.
  • Klipsch has fitted the One with an extra beefy signal cord with molded-in in plug ends. This construction detail signals—pardon the pun—Klipsch’s clear-cut understanding that listeners on the go will occasionally give their headphones rough-and-tumble use.
  • Accessories include a fabric-covered hard shell carrying case, an airline adapter, and a mini-jack to ¼-inch phone jack adapter.

SONIC CHARACTER

Perhaps inevitably, I found myself wanting to compare the sound of the Image One to that of Klipsch’s Image-series earphones, which I have reviewed favorably in past issues of Playback. What I found was interesting. Let’s start by looking at the sound of Klipsch’s top-of-the-line Image X10i earphone as a comparison standard.

In a nutshell, the Image X10i offers an exceedingly pure, highly articulate sound, with near neutral tonal balance that is, arguably, shaded just slightly toward the warmth end of the spectrum (“warmth” implying a touch of extra bass and, perhaps, lower midrange richness with highs that are never aggressive or overly forward-sounding). Noise isolation is extremely good, and comfort is the best of any in-ear headphone Playback has tested thus far.

Heard alongside the X10i, the Image One shows certain sonic similarities, though its voicing is by no means the same. Specifically, the tonal balance of the Image One is tilted considerably further toward the warmth end of the spectrum, meaning that it deliver very powerful, punchy bass—albeit, bass that is noticeably more prominent than strict textbook accuracy would require.

I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, I’m a fan (and would encourage you to be fans) of accuracy, pure and simple, my thought being that sonic accuracy is one of those gifts that keeps on giving—consistently letting you hear what the record producer heard, whether for better or for worse. On the other hand, it pays to consider carefully what environments you are likely to encounter when listening (an office, for example, is a lot more quiet than, say, riding on a bus or train).

The Image One is a pleasant-sounding headphone, to be sure, but not one that I would call strictly accurate, owing to its bass forwardness. But before jumping to conclusions, let me point out that the real world of on-the-go listening introduces sonic variables that can be difficult to foresee, including environments where, more often than not, there can be lots of low-frequency noise present (more noise than you might at first think). When used in such real-world environments, the Image One’s tonal balance starts to make perfect sense, in that the Image One’s powerful bass can sound thoroughly natural and accurate under circumstances where low-frequency noise would partially overwhelm or “block out” the bass output of other ‘phones.

The mids and highs of the Image One are well balanced and remind me a bit of the vibrant sound of Klipsch’s Image S4i earphones. Purity and detail are good, though not quite up to the standard set by the tiny but mighty Image X10i flagship headphones. A good level of neutrality is maintained from the lower midrange right on up to the highest highs.

Two points I can’t emphasize strongly enough are that the Image Ones are sensitive and easy-to-drive. When I listen to many headphones through iPods, I have the sense that dynamics are not quite everything they should be, which leaves me wanting to reach for a high-quality portable amp to help provide some extra sonic “nourishment.” Not so with the Image Ones; their sound is powerful and expressive when driven by an iPod alone, so that using an add-on portable amp is more a matter of personal choice than of necessity. This, to my way of thinking, is one of the coolest aspects of the Image One.

MUSICAL EXAMPLES

The track “Palmyra” from Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer’s Music for Two [Sony Classical] proved useful and revealing in terms of showing both the strengths and drawbacks of the Image Ones. For those of you not familiar with this gorgeous sounding disc, let me supply a bit of background. Bela Fleck, as many of you know, is a master banjoist who is perhaps best known for his eclectic jazz/folk/fusion work with his all-star band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. But what is perhaps less obvious (given that we rarely think of the banjo in this context) is that Fleck has serious classical/contemporary music chops as well. Edgar Meyer, in turn, is a virtuoso acoustic bassist and contemporary classical music composer who is every bit as much at home performing with jazz/folk/fusion/rock artists as he is in symphonic or chamber music contexts. But put Fleck and Meyer together and you’ve got a recipe for pure magic, which is what you get when you listen to the two master instrumentalists collaborate for a series of serious (yet also playful) duet in Music for Two.

The distinctive attack and decay of Fleck’s intricate banjo lines on “Palmyra”, along with Meyer’s upper register acoustic bass passages, gives the midrange and high-end of the One’s a workout, and they do not disappoint. Banjo, especially when played by an artist of Fleck’s caliber, is a deceptively difficult instrument to reproduce. The problem that many headphones (and loudspeakers) have is that they tend to make banjos sound trite and “boingy”—missing completely the subtle textural and timbral shadings of which the instrument is capable. The Image One has no such problems; it captures the subtly melancholic tonality that Fleck elicits from his banjo, and also renders the amazingly high-pitched yet earthy sound of Meyer’s upper register playing on the bass (rather than making the bass sound like a big, overblown cello). Credit it this performance to the Image One’s smooth, evenly balanced mids and highs. Detailing throughout the track was very good, too, though the One’s did not quite catch the very lowest level details or the sense of “air” surround the instruments as effectively as some higher-end headphones and earphones do, though the Klipsch ‘phones certainly held their ground relative to many like-priced competitors.

But as “Palmyra” unfolds, we also hear Edgar Meyer explore the lower registers of his bass—with musical lines that reach down through and below the range of a cello into territory that only the acoustic bass can explore. When Meyer does so, the voicing characteristics of the Image One become apparent, in that the lower Meyer plays, the louder his instrument sounds. I’ve probably played “Palmyra” dozens of times through all sorts of headphone and loudspeaker based systems, and one thing I’ve noted is that—on the very best systems—the lower midrange and bass-range voice of Meyer’s acoustic bass remains very evenly balanced (in terms of volume level) with the voice of Fleck’s banjo. Or at least that is what is supposed to be the case. But through the Image One’s, the illusion is that—as the pitch of Meyer’s bass drops lower and lower—the microphone seems to move closer to the instrument, making it more prominent (and arguably a bit too prominent) in the mix.

This isn’t a really egregious problem where one would think, “hey, this sounds wrong,” in large part because the clarity and textural refinement of the One’s lower midrange and bass are both quite good. Yet the overall presentation doesn’t sound exactly right either, because of the “lower-it-goes-the-louder-it-sounds” issue. Frankly, this characteristic will bother some listeners not at all, while it may strike others as giving the Ones a somewhat bottom-heavy quality. Again, though, please note that in noisy environments the voicing of the Ones can sound—and often does sound—more naturally balanced if you listen in environments where there is some low-frequency noise present.

CONCLUSION

Consider this headphone if: you are looking for a viable and extremely comfortable alternative to high-quality in-ear headphones. Consider the Image One in particular if you want a headphone that sounds fine when driven directly by Apple products (meaning that an outboard amp really won’t be necessary, unless you simply want to use one). Also consider the Image One if you like to listen on the go—especially in environments where there may be low frequency noise present (the Image One has sufficient bass/lower midrange “oomph” to overcome many types of noisy environments).

Look further if: you are looking for a headphone that offers strictly neutral tonal balance for purposes of listening in relatively quiet environments. The reason: Again, the Image One offers a touch of bass/lower midrange emphasis that will seem pleasingly euphonic to some tastes, but will strike others as being too prominent.

Ratings (relative to comparably priced headphones):

Tonal Balance: 7.5
Clarity: 8.5
Dynamics: 9.5
Comfort/Fit: 10
Sensitivity: 9.5
Noise Isolation: 8
Value: 7.5

BOTTOM LINE:

Klipsch’s Image One is a solid entry into the world of on-ear headphones geared for portable music enthusiasts. It offers good build-quality, a mostly accurate and smooth sound, and sufficient sensitivity and dynamic clout to work beautifully when powered by iPod, iPhones or other portable music devices. It also offers the compelling benefits of a built-in, three-button, Apple device-compatible mic/remote control—making it perfect for use by iPhone owners. The only potential drawback here is slightly yet noticeably elevated bass/lower midrange response—a voicing characteristic some listeners will welcome, but others will not.

SPECS & PRICING

Klipsch Image One On-Ear Headphone/Headset
Accessories: As listed under “FEATURES”, above.
Frequency Response: 16Hz – 23kHz
Drivers: 40mm moving-coil-type drivers.
Sensitivity: 110dB/1mW
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Weight: 138.3 grams
Warranty: 2 years, parts and labor.
Price: $149.99

Klipsch Group Inc.
(800)-KLIPSCH
www.klipsch.com

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