Klipsch Image X10i Headset/In-Ear Headphone (Playback 33)

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Klipsch Image X10I
Klipsch Image X10i Headset/In-Ear Headphone (Playback 33)

Klipsch first entered the headphone market roughly three years ago and the very first model I tried was the firm’s original, flagship Image in-ear headphone. When the review samples arrived, the tiny ‘phones seemed almost impossibly small and light, but I soon discovered that they delivered a big, well-focused sound and were amazingly comfortable. I was so impressed by the performance of the Images that I nominated them for a Golden Ear award in our sister publication, The Absolute Sound. In the years since, that original Image model has been renamed as the Image X10 and it has given rise to an entire Klipsch product family of lower-priced Image models.

Now, however, Klipsch has updated the Image X10 model by giving it a tiny, inline remote control/microphone module geared to address the needs of iPod and iPhone owners, thus creating the new Klipsch Image X10i. Interestingly, despite its newfound iPod/iPhone-compatible features, the X10i carries the exact same list price as its predecessors: $349.99.

As was the case with the original Image and Image X10, the X10i uses a single, full-range “balanced micro driver” (i.e., a balanced armature-type driver)—a design approach that the X10i shares in common with other high performance in-ear headphones such as the Etymotic Research ER-4P and the Monster Cable Turbine Pro Copper Edition. I wanted to try the Image X10i, partly to see how its sound compared with the original 2007 Image model as well as with other modern day competitors. I also wanted to check out the X10i’s 3-button remote control/mic system, which is based on an Apple chip and promises a wide array of functions—especially when used with the iPhone 3GS/4 or the latest generation iPod nano, classic, iPod touch or iPad.

OVERVIEW

Consider this combination headset/earphone if: you want a headset that offers the desirable combination of a rich, full-bodied sound with a good measure of top-to-bottom clarity, nuance, and sonic purity. Especially consider the X10i if you want one of the lightest, smallest, and most comfortable in-ear headphones on the planet (qualities enhanced by Klipsch’s signature, patent pending oval eartips). Note, too, that the X10i’s 3-button remote/microphone module works exactly as advertised, making this a good choice for iPhone/iPod owners.

Look further if: you seek the Nth degree of resolution, clarity, and focus. While the X10i is extremely good in these areas, the world has moved forward so that a few of today’s best in-ear models (one example would be the Monster Turbine Pro Copper Editions) have raised the performance bar higher still (though they do not, as yet, offer the X10i’s iPod/iPhone-friendly features).

RATINGS (compared to similarly-priced in-ear headphones)

• Tonal Balance: 9
• Clarity: 9
• Dynamics: 9
• Comfort/Fit: 10
• Sensitivity: 8
• Value: 9

 

FEATURES

• Single full-range “balanced micro driver” (balanced armature motor assembly)
• In-line microphone module provides a multifunction Play/Pause control button (which doubles as a Send/End button when handling phone calls). Music automatically mutes and pauses for an incoming call.
• Inbound calls: When an inbound call is received, pressing the Play/Pause button once allows the listener to answer the call. Pressing the button again disconnects the call and allows music to resume.
• Listening to music on a modern iPod/iPhone: When listening to music, pressing the Play/Pause button once causes music playback to pause. Pressing the button again allows music playback to resume. Pressing the button twice in rapid succession causes the iPhone or iPod touch to skip forward to the next track. Pressing the button three times in rapid succession causes the iPhone or iPod touch to skip backward to the previous track.
• According to Klipsch the Image X10i is “fully compatible with the Apple VoiceOver feature on the third generation iPod shuffle, which allows you to hear the name of the playlist, song or artist with just the press of a button.”
• Accessories: the X10i comes with an extensive set of accessories, as listed under the COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES section, below.
• Headset/remote control compatibility factors: According to Klipsch, “the remote and mic are supported only by iPhone 3GS/4, iPod nano (4th and 5th generation), iPod Classic (120 GB), and iPod touch (2nd generation), MacBook, MacBook Pro and Mac Pro (2009 models).” A Klipsch representative pointed out that the X10i is also compatible with the iPad. In turn, Klipsch adds that, “the remote is supported by iPod shuffle (3rd generation). Requires latest iPod software. Audio is supported by all iPod models. Mic and call/music button control features (are) functional with 1st generation iPhones and iPhone 3G. Volume Controls are not compatible with 1st generation iPhone 3G. Also compatible with VOIP, Skype, iChat, and audio recording applications.”
• Comes with Klipsch’s patent-pending oval eartips, which are said to “naturally fit the contours—or mimic the shape—of your ear canals.”
• Arguably the lightest, smallest, most comfortable in-ear headphone that money can buy.

SONIC CHARACTER

Given the X10i’s diminutive size, you might think it would produce a tiny, restrained or “petite” sound, but exactly the opposite is the case. The X10i produces a big, smooth, full-bodied sound with generally ample bass and excellent natural clarity, though it is not the last word in absolute bass or treble extension (at least not relative to the strongest competitors now on the market). More so than many in-ear headphones, however, the X10i possesses a certain effortless richness that makes its sound immediately accessible and easy to enjoy for hours at a time.

Tonal balance is nearly neutral, though some might find it just slightly tilted toward the “warmth” end of the audio spectrum. There is little if any of the midrange forwardness you might hear in, say, Klipsch’s Image S4i; instead, the X10i’s midrange is evenly balanced and offers fine levels of detail and focus—qualities that, in my experience, are hallmarks of well-executed single balanced armature designs.

Important note: for best bass response, try the following adjustment tip that Klipsch recommends. Insert the X10i’s (using the eartip size that best fits you), then gently rotate the headphone body (and eartip) left and right a few degrees and then slightly pull it backward just a bit. This technique helps the eartips flare out in your ear canal to achieve a comfortable, airtight seal—and with it, optimal bass response.

Unlike many of the headsets Playback has tested, the X10i (like the S4i) does not place its in-line microphone on either the left or right earpiece cable, but rather provides a 360 degree mic in a central position on the headphone yoke where the left and right earpiece cable join. This is a superior place to put the microphone and, as Klipsch points out (and I verified in my user tests), it means you don’t need to “talk down” into the mic. During test phone calls, call recipients reported that I sounded much more like myself with the X10i in use than when using my iPhone’s normal mic or other headsets I had tested in the past.

MUSICAL EXAMPLE

Above, I’ve alluded to the fact that the X10i’s single balanced-armature design gives it desirable qualities of focus and sonic purity. To hear those qualities in action, try listening to the Yo-Yo Ma performance of Massenet’s Méditation from Thaïs [The Essential Yo-Yo Ma, Sony]. Listen closely to Ma’s bowing changes and especially to his beautiful dynamic swells, and you’ll discover that the X10i gives you a vibrant, highly detailed and yet never cold or analytical–sounding presentation of the performance. Through the X10i’s, Ma’s cello sounds like a cello (not—as some earphones tend to make it sound—like a viola), with a rich, golden, woody tonality that’s full of energy and life. Capturing the warmth of music is one of the things the X10i does best.

The X10i also does a good job with bass instruments, as you can verify by putting on a tracks such as “The Lesson” or “Sifu” from bassist Victor Wooten’s Palmystery [Heads Up]. On either track, you’ll hear much (though perhaps not quite all) of the depth of Wooten’s electric bass and the even deeper “thwup” of occasional kick drum accents. But perhaps even more importantly, you’ll hear plenty of delicate mid- and upper-bass details, including the distinct, harmonically rich, “ringing” sound of Wooten’s round-wound bass guitar strings on sustained notes, plus the sure-handed intricacy of his fingering techniques. While a few competing in-ear phones (e.g., the Sennheiser IE 8 and Monster Turbine Pro Copper Editions) can go a bit lower and with greater authority, the X10i’s mid-bass articulacy is exemplary.

Finally, it is worthwhile to try a track that is rich in high frequency details and reverberant information to see what the X10i can do. A good example would be Imogen Heap’s “Bad Body Double” from Eclipse [RCA]. Imogen Heap’s voice is very closely mic’d on this track, and varying degrees of reverb and other processing tricks are selectively applied, giving the song a decidedly flamboyant, techno edge. Here, the X10i rewards the listener with excellent midrange detail, though it misses out on just a touch of the high-frequency reverberant information that can, under ideal circumstances, makes this track so special.

COMPETITVE ANALYSIS

To give you a picture that shows how the X10i fits into the broader headphone market, I offer below, comparisons between the X10i and two competitors—one priced below and one priced above the X10. I include the Etymotic Research hf2 headset ($X179) and the Monster Cable Turbine Pro Copper Edition ($399).

X10i vs. Etymotic Research hf2 Headset ($179)
• The X10i very narrowly edges out the Etymotic headset in terms of overall clarity and focus, and offers a somewhat warmer, richer, more full-bodied sound (attributable in part to Klipsch’s superior elliptical eartips).
• Both the Klipsch and Etymotic models proved more effective as headset (their remote control functions are essentially identical), but I think the Klipsch’s thanks centrally positioned, 360-degree mic seems to work a touch better than the Etymotic’s side-positioned mic.
• The Etymotic comes with a good mix of types of eartips, while the Klipsch comes only with three differently sized set of elliptical tips. But that said, I found the Klipsch eartips were substantially more comfortable and much easier to fit (the Etymotic hf2's can also achieve very good sound, but they are tricky to fit properly).
• The Etymotic headset ($179) costs significantly less than the X10i.
X10i vs. Monster Cable Turbine Pro Copper Edition ($399)
• The Turbine Pro Copper headphones offer, in a strict textbook sense, even more perfectly neutral tonal balance than the X10i does, with—at the limits—even greater extension at both frequency extremes. More importantly, though, the Turbine Pro Copper raises the bar for detail, resolution, and coherency, making the X10i sound slightly softly focused by comparison.
• The X10i provides headset functionality whereas the Turbine Pro Copper Edition does not.
• The Image X10i provides Klipsch’s patent-pending oval eartips, while the Turbine Pro Copper comes with a broad variety of types of eartips, including five different sizes of Monster’s new double-layer gel-type SuperTips. I would give the Klipsch eartips the nod for comfort and ease of insertion, but would recommend Monster’s SuperTips for their superior overall sound and isolation properties (but note, the SuperTips do tend to feel a bit stiff, which some listeners may find uncomfortable).
•Monster’s Turbine Pro Copper Editions ($399) are slightly more expensive than the X10i.

COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES

The X10i come with three sets (S, M, L) of single-flange oval eartips, a pair (S/M) of double-flange oval eartips, a clothing clip, a cleaning tool, an airline adapter, and mini-jack-to-phone-jack adapter, and a magnetic clasp-equipped leather carrying pouch.

Klipsch’s oval eartips are the most comfortable Playback has ever tested. Guest listeners often commented that the Klipsch’s were night/day different from and better than competing in-ear headphones in terms of ease of insertion and long-term comfort.

One thing I did notice is that the shape of Klipsch’s oval eartip design appears to have changed just a bit relative to the original 2007 version (the earlier models were slightly shallower but also more widely flared than the 2010 versions). Personally, I found the original 2007 shape gave a slightly better in-ear seal, though the 2010 design gives an even more “weightless” feel in the ear canal. Even so, I’d like to see Klipsch bring back the more widely flared shape because it made for superior noise isolation and better bass.

BOTTOM LINE:

The Image X10i is a true flagship-class in-ear headphone that is incredibly small and comfortable, yet that offers a big, full-bodied sound with very good levels of detail and sonic purity. While some of today’s top in-ear models may narrowly edge the X10i in terms of absolute sonic performance, few can match its all around mix of convenience, comfort, versatility and sound quality. The X10i also makes a fine headset/remote control for owners of contemporary iPhones and iPods.

SPECS & PRICING

Klipsch X10i headset/in-ear headphone
Frequency response: 5Hz – 19kHz
Weight: 10.5 grams
Sensitivity: 110 dB SPL/mW
Impedance: 50 ohms
Warranty: Two years, parts and labor
Price: $349.99

KLIPSCH GROUP, INC.
(800)-KLIPSCH
www.klipsch.com

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