Earlier this year, Klipsch introduced the first set of on-ear headphones it has ever made. Having enjoyed several of Klipsch’s in-ear headphone offerings in the past (we really liked the Image S4) we’ve been eager to give these full sized cans a go.
The Klipsch Image One are now a fixture at the Apple store. In fact, they elbowed out the popular Bose AE2 to get space on the shelf. The prominent spot will likely win the Image One a lot of attention, but they still face some pretty notable competition. The Monster Beats Solo, and Sennheiser PX 360 are both strong offerings in the same price category, so the Image One will need to pull off some cool tricks to distinguish themselves. Here, we put the Image One through our barrage of headphone tests to see how Klipsch does with on-ears.
Out of the box
The Image One make a nice first impression with a heavy gauge box that displays, perhaps somewhat proudly, that the contents inside work with iPod, iPhone and iPad. Inside the box, we found an almost-oval-shaped carrying case that, when opened, revealed the Image One headphones and a Velcro-backed, zippered mesh pouch containing a ¼-inch adapter and airline adapter.
As simple a design point as it may seem, headphone cases are rarely pulled off well. Too often, a ham-handed process of guesswork and sheer force has had to be employed in order pack away similarly sized headphones in the past. Thankfully, Klipsch got the memo and designed a storage case big enough and straightforward enough to accommodate the Image One without much finagling.
At first glance, we can’t help but notice the striking similarity in appearance between the Klipsch’s Image One and Phiaton’s PS 320 headphones. Both are similar in size, sport leather-like backing, and use gloss black and gunmetal accents. That’s where the similarities end, though. The Image One, as we’ll later learn, sound entirely different and offer a few features that the PS 320 miss.
The Image One sport supple leather ear cups padded with memory foam. The interior of the headband uses the same materials. As previously mentioned, the pivoting ear-cups do rotate inward 90 degrees in order to flatten themselves out for storage, but do not fold down any further than that. The plastic that comprises the headphones’ suspension is coated in an almost rubbery substance that minimizes finger printing and the risk of scratches.
Each earcup sprouts a single tangle-resistant cable that drapes down to about the sternum. Here, the cables merge through the remote control and microphone module – a black plastic tab about an inch long. Klipsch says the microphone and controls are designed to work with “select Apple products” and we can tell you right now that the iPhone 3G (yes, we still have one of those around) does not qualify as “select” in this case. We later learned that it works just fine with the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, however.
To audition the Image One, we used our reliable test bench comprised of an iPhone 3G and 4G, iPod Touch, Marantz SR6005 A/V receiver, Pioneer turntable with Ortofon OM5E cartridge, Bellari phono pre-amp, HeadRoom micro DAC and HeadRoom micro amp.
As far as comfort goes, the Image One do very well. The ear cup and headband padding are both soft and luxurious feeling, and the headphones are reasonably light. We did notice, though, that after extended periods of listening we started to feel the pressure of the ear cups around the perimeter of our ears. If the trade-off to the added pressure is a good seal on the ear, we’re inclined to deal with it. Since we didn’t start to feel any discomfort until we had worn the headphones for over an hour, we consider the issue negligible. A brief 10-minute break was all we needed to recoup.
The Image One provide some passive noise cancellation due to the fact that they are a closed back design and, as previously mentioned, they form a pretty good seal on the ear. Don’t expect them to drown out the din of a noisy bus, crowded room or droning lawn mower unless you’ve got them cranked up to a healthy volume.
As an iPhone talk device, the Image One performed very well. Like all headphones that isolate you from the true volume of your own voice, you’ll want to hold your speaking volume down so as not to share your conversation with uninterested neighbors. The voice quality through the Image One’s microphone was surprisingly clear and didn’t require any sort of re-positioning toward the mouth for adequate volume. We didn’t experience any echo, but there were some “clothes scratching” effects that came across the line as we moved around, causing the microphone to brush against our shirt.
The Image One are real attention grabbers when it comes to sound quality. We would say that the sound was right in our face, were it not for the fact that is was coming from the sides of our head. It’s the sort of dazzling effect that could potentially sound great at first, but become tiring in the long term. We maintained an open mind, however, as we settled in to do some serious listening.
The Image One pack some prodigious, punchy bass. Tonally, the bass was fared above average, though we noted a bit of unnecessary rumble toward the bottom end of electric bass sounds. The punch factor of these cans and their tendency to artificially fatten up the lower midrange stood out most as we dug deep into the Image One’s capabilities. No matter what we listened to, it seemed like the bass was just a little rounder and beefier than we needed it to be. That said, we tend to judge headphones based on a preference for sonic neutrality, and we know that there are some folks that are going to go hog-wild for the pop and punch these headphones are capable of cranking out.
The Image One’s midrange characteristics were their weakest point. Vocals came across as “clear” and “clean,” but they lacked the body and richness we hoped for, especially considering their bass performance. We missed some of the inner detail in Norah Jones’ voice on her album Come Away With Me and felt that some male vocals came across with a slightly recessed and faintly nasal quality. Even with these criticisms, we’d say the midrange response was on par, if not slightly better than many offerings in this price range.
High frequencies on the Image One sounded sparkling and zesty. While they tended to be a bit piercing on some of our notoriously hot recordings, we liked how they managed to sizzle without being overbearingly bright during most of the tunes we listened to. The clean and clear vocal impressions we referred to earlier come from the Image One’s high-frequency prowess. We enjoyed the zeal with which they reproduced cymbals and the top end of gritty percussion sounds.
Somewhat surprisingly, we never ended up suffering any listening fatigue with the Image One headphones. Perhaps it is because, while the bass is punchy and the treble a little forward, these headphones’ sound is a lot of fun to listen too. Are the Image One likely to satisfy uber-picky audiophiles? No. However, we think there is a big audience out there for the Image One’s high quality, engaging, in-your-head sound which comes at a great price point.
The Klipsch Image One are a dazzling sounding set of headphones that we feel offer punchy, extended bass and clear, articulate treble. We found them to be very comfortable over moderate listening sessions and only slightly less so for longer periods of wear. An included iPhone microphone and cable controls are nice features, as is the included storage case that allows for an easy fit. With a $149 street price, we think that the Image One will find a lot of fans in listeners who want a classy looking headphone that makes a bold sonic statement and works well with iDevices without draining their wallets.
- Powerful, punchy bass
- Zesty highs
- Comfortable ear pads
- Good sounding iPhone mic
- Shrouded midrange
- Some pressure fatigue during extended wear