Klipsch’s first entry into the headphone market gets a lot of help from the fact that it’s marketed as “the world’s smallest high-performance earphones.” They are indeed impressively small and lightweight — each earbud takes up less than two hundredths of a cubic inch not including eartip and cable, according to a company spokesman. But they sound better than most canalphones we’ve heard, with only a handful of exceptions, and comfort and noise isolation are both top-notch. The only real downside of these tiny buds is the price — be prepared to pay more for less — but we think they’re one of the best single-driver earbuds out there.
Features and Design
Without the included silicone tips on, the Klipsch Image look a bit like a pair of dragonflies that lost their wings. Each earphone’s tiny aluminum body is finished in anodized copper and houses a single balanced-armature microspeaker, similar to those found in canalphones from companies like Etymotic, Ultimate Ears, and Shure.
Curved black rubber cable connectors join the thin cables to the earphones; the curve and flexibility prevent the thin cables from breaking easily at the connectors. This is also supposed to help reduce cable thump — the noise you hear as the cable hits your midsection when you walk. Unfortunately, a better solution would have been to design them to be worn with the cables over the tops of your ears, as with Ultimate Ears and Shure designs. The 3.5-mm gold-plated plug at the other end has the same type of rubberized curved connector, reinforcing yet another common breaking point. The plug even fits in the iPhone’s recessed headphone jack.
The generous five sets of semi-opaque silicone eartips come in three sizes; medium fit our average-size ears. The Image’s distinctive modern styling appeals to our urban tastes, but we can’t deny the resemblance to tadpoles once the tips are on. The cables have an anti-tangle slider on them, and the package includes a faux-leather magnetic case that’s rigid enough to protect the expensive buds, as well as a larger zippered case. You also get a quarter-inch adapter, a dual-mono airplane attenuator, and a cleaning tool. Everything fits easily in the large case.
Image Courtesy of Klipsch (no pun intended)
We loaded up our 8GB iPod nano with some Apple Lossless files of various musical genres for our listening tests. Our initial impression is that the bass is slightly exaggerated and the highs are a bit more rolled off compared with hyper-accurate earbuds like the Etymotic ER4P. The sound extends far down into the bass region, rendering even the lowest electronica bass tones clearly and with gusto.
After extended listening to tracks including John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Bass Mekanik’s Faster, Harder, Louder, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and Primus’s Tommy the Cat, it became clear that the Image has a very musical overall sound. That means a pleasant warmth with fullness in all registers (despite the slight rolloff on the high end) as well as very little fatigue after hours on end of listening. Our only gripe is that midrange sounds like saxophones have a tendency to blend together with their accompaniment a bit more than we’d like; Trane’s saxophone didn’t stand in as sharp relief as with the Etymotic buds.
One area where the Image really shines is — not surprisingly — sound image. On tracks like Andy Bey’s cover of the Bix Beiderbecke-penned In a Mist we felt a more immersive and wider soundstage compared with other in-ear headphones, letting us more easily place where different sounds were coming from. It’s the difference between hearing all the music inside your head and hearing it in the room in which it was recorded.
Our iPod had even less trouble driving the Image earbuds than it did with the Etymotic ER4P, despite the Image’s higher impedance (50 ohms versus the Ety’s 27 ohms), which means we didn’t have to turn our player up as loud. They’re not as efficient as Shure’s SE series, but still easy for any portable device to push to high volumes.
Image Courtesy of Klipsch
The medium set of single-flanged silicone tips slid easily into our ears, and the headphones themselves are so lightweight that they pretty much disappeared soon after we put them in. While no canalphones block all sound, the Image do a good job of taking the edge off of noise from subways, power tools, and chatty officemates. The Image’s isolation isn’t quite as good as that of Shure’s SE series (with hybrid silicone memory foam eartips) or Etymotic’s ER series (with triple-flanged silicone tips), but it does strike a very good balance between comfort and quiet.
At $349 USD, the Image will put off many buyers simply because they’re single-driver. In that price range, you’re approaching triple-driver prices (like Ultimate Ears’ triple.fi 10 Pro and Shure’s SE530). For less money, you can get dual-driver buds from UE or Shure, both of which provide a higher level of detail thanks to the pair of microspeakers in each earbud. But those are also much bulkier than the Image, and neither is quite as comfortable.
If you’re okay with a bit of cable thump (easily remedied by a shirt clip, sadly not included), these are extremely satisfying, even given their high price. While we wouldn’t use these for reference or monitoring, they were our best friend on a recent plane ride and during late-night listening sessions. The impressively small and lightweight design, solid accessory set, killer comfort, and excellent sound make this one of our favorite sets of in-ear headphones.
• Extremely comfortable
• Very good bass and sonic detail
• They’re itty bitty!
• Cabling is designed to prevent breakage
• You hear cable thump when you walk or run