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Review: Klipsch Image X10i Headset

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The Short Version: Definitely the best sounding consumer-grade in-ear headphones I’ve ever listened to. The price tag matches the sound quality however. If you want good audio fidelity on your phone headset, you’ll be hard pressed to find something better than these. Just be prepared to shell out some serious cash.

Features:

  • Super small form-factor
  • In-line remote/mic with volume/playback controls
  • In-ear design
  • Multiple tip sizes
  • MSRP of $349.99

Pros:

  • Fantastic sound quality
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Small size

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Full functionality only with iPhone 3GS

Review: In-ear headphones usually sacrifice sound quality for small size and portability. It isn’t until you start spending upwards of a thousand bucks for professional in-ear monitors that you get good sound. But Klipsch has brought good sound to the consumer-range, albiet the upper upper end of the consumer range. The X10i have pretty even response across the audio spectrum, including decent bass levels.

There is an inherent danger with in-ear headphones. Being so close to your ear drum, is it very easy to cause permanent damage to your hearing with any in-ear design. I was happy to see that Klipsch actually included this information in the user manual, complete with a chart of the length of time you can safely listen to various decibel levels.

The form factor of the units are almost identical to the Image X5, meaning yes, they are a bit weird looking. I personally didn’t like they way they sat in my ears. Nothing that I couldn’t get used to, I just prefer the more traditional monitor style more.

The X10i comes with 5 different sizes of tips. They range from small, medium, and large in a single flange design, to small and large in a double flange configuration. A good seal inside your ear is critical to bass response, as well as eliminating outside noise and that stethoscope effect. The best option for in-ears is to get a custom mold taken of your ear, and have the headphones made accordingly. But this is definitely the next best thing. The small, single flange was plenty big for me. I wore these things all afternoon without my ears getting sore, all the while making the screeching of the subway bearable.

The call quality from the mic keeps up with the rest of the unit. My test partner on the other end of the line was able to hear me clearly with minimal background noise as I walked down Broadway. It’s hard enough to hear yourself on that street, much less conduct a phone call.

The specifications claim that the headset is capable of reproducing tones as low as 5 Hz. I’m not sure I believe that for two reasons. First is that 5 Hz is below the human range of hearing, making it a sort of useless effort. That also means I can’t really test for frequencies that low. Second is that low frequency waves have the most energy and the longest wavelengths. This means a 5 Hz wave won’t even complete a full cycle before reaching your eardrum, and you could be blasting your eardrums with all sorts of pressure you can’t even hear. Not the safest thing.

There are three buttons on the remote, volume up, down, and a multi-purpose in the middle. Depending on the number of times you press it, it will pause, play, and go to the next or previous songs. Unfortunately, this functionality only works on the iPhone 3GS. I tested a few other Android phones with various degrees of success, but nothing reliable. The volume controls do work on a Macbook Pro, if anyone’s interested.

I’m slightly amused that Klipsch warns you against using the X10i to listen to low-quality audio. From their FAQ section:

Please be aware that the X10i is not for casual listening. If you rip your digital music files using a poor compression format and low bit rate, this high-resolution Klipsch headset will uncover all the flaws in your content.

So these headphones are hi-fi enough to show the degradation of MP3 encoding, yet they are specifically designed to be used with the iPhone, where I’m sure most people don’t keep lossless files.

These headphones have a very narrow application window, but if you have an iPhone, want a fantastic sounding headset, and don’t mind dropping $350, go for it.

Product Page: Klipsch Image X10i Headset

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