Several months ago, CrunchGear reviewed Klipsch’s X5 headphones, which I pronounced the best in-ear headphones I’d ever used. Unfortunately, they cost $250, which kind of puts them out of reach for most people (it would for me if I hadn’t been lucky enough to review them). But now Klipsch has expanded the Image line down to the sub-$100 level and I’ve been testing out the $80 S4s for a while. How do they stack up?
Upgrade or really upgrade?
First of all, it should be said that almost any headphones are a big step up from whatever came with your iPod, Zune, or what have you. So this isn’t a comparison to those; if you’re thinking about upgrading and aren’t sure if it’s worth it… it is.
There are loads of in-ears around $30-40. Klipsch’s S4s cost twice as much, what do they have that a random pair of Sonys don’t? It’s difficult to say, but I’m confident that these are more high quality than something you’d get in the impulse buy section of Best Buy.
To begin with, their fit is great. They come with several different silicone ear bits (including some kinky-looking double-flanged ones for you deep-eared types) so you can pick whatever seals the music in best. And they do seal well — better, in fact, than the far more expensive X5s. It took me a while to find the position and orientation of the things that worked best (the shape isn’t exactly intuitive), but once you get it once, you’re solid.
Mid-range: it’s what’s for dinner
The sound is good. It lacks the extraordinary clarity of the X5s, but then again those cost three times as much. They’re still quite sharp, but have a really beefy mid-bass range that makes them great for walking around — the buzz of cars and people around you gets eaten right up. Upper range drums and bass work sound fantastic.
The upper range is good, but doesn’t have the depth of the low range. It feels like they are squeezing a lot of detail out of the mids and lows, but unless the highs accent themselves, they don’t feel emphasized. My ears have been spoiled by the X5s, though, which have the best high end I’ve heard, so take all that with a grain of salt.
Okay, wish me luck, I’m going to test out their loud performance. Time for some Grails and Psychic Paramount. Okay, it sounds like the mids, highs, and lows of “Soft Temple” are in three separate channels, like they’re each their own peak with gaps in between. The high end seems to get softened quite a bit compared with the mids and lows. It’s still not overpowered, though; songs with an important high end still shine through just fine, although it seems the S4s aren’t designed to take advantage of that kind of music.
The carrying case is pretty weak, though. It feels cheap and it’s hard to fit the units into on the go; the headphones themselves seem pretty sturdy, so just get a nice little sack for them and save yourself some trouble.
Worth a bill?
My conclusion: these are headphones for walking around or traveling. They isolate the sound really well, and that combined with the emphasis on the mid and low end pretty much wipes out the outside world. If you’re looking for comfort, isolation, and a mid-heavy sound for walking around, these are a great choice. However, I can’t recommend them for fans of classical music, and if you’re planning on listening in a quiet room (where detail is all-important), I sincerely urge you to check out the expensive but fantastic X5s. I can’t say the S4s justify their $80 price tag completely, but they’re certainly better than your average in-ears.