The test bench for our Klipsch Mode M40 review included an iPhone 4S, Dell N5110 Laptop, NuForce iCon uDAC-2, NuForce iCon iDo, HeadRoom Micro Amp and Micro DAC, a noisy bus mall in downtown Portland, a bus full of 10 year-old kids on their way to a field trip, two Xanax, and a handful of digital music files ranging from 128k mp3 to 96/24 FLAC.
Let’s talk comfort first. Our office crew was at odds over the issue of comfort, though we all agreed that the M40 are a little on the heavy side. Some of us (mostly yours truly) felt the M40 exerted a little too much pressure just below and just behind the ears, though only after long periods of listening. Similarly, we were split on whether the headband caused any discomfort, though those of us who spent more than 1.5 hours wearing them definitely felt the need for a rest with the headphones removed. Isn’t that true with multiple hours spent with any headgear, though? After a while, we need a break from almost any headphone or earphone. [Editor’s note: While speaking with Klipsch at CES 2012, we learned that the M40 has been modified to exert 20% less pressure than the review sample we received. We tried the new version on and felt a difference, but still feel that anyone interested in these headphones should try them on first and make their own decision regarding whether they are a good fit]
As for noise-cancelling prowess, we’d place the M40 in the well above average category. The ear-cups form an excellent seal around the ears which provides a significant amount of passive noise isolation. Engaging the noise-cancelling feature was like icing on the cake. Though low frequency rumble will still be felt by the body, most white noise was dealt with very effectively. Listeners will still hear a screaming baby (or 10-year old) but the edge is taken off and, for all practical purposes, we think you’d be hard pressed to find a more effective noise-canceller for air flights.
Talking on our iPhone was not as pleasant an experience, though. It is in this area where we feel the M40 could use some improvement. Our voice tests revealed that voice intelligibility on the receiving end of our calls was less than clear, though still understandable. Our biggest gripe, though, is with how our own voice sounded as it was piped through to the headphones. While we like the idea of providing a microphone feedback signal to the earphones (especially with noise-cancelling headphones), but that isn’t listed as a product feature and, besides, what we heard was slightly delayed and had an eerie reverb effect to it. While having the iPhone talk ability provides a convenience for very brief phone calls, it isn’t something we would use frequently or for long durations.
As for sound quality, we bounced back and forth on this topic. To be sure, the M40 benefit from some break-in time. We felt the headphones sounded their best after about 30 hours of play time. With break-in we felt the M40 sounded very good most of the time. Then, occasionally, we found them sounding both excellent and, at times, really closed in and boxy. It was this inconsistency that had us puzzled. In total, we logged a good 35 hours of ears-on listening time with the M40. Here’s what we noted in that time:
The M40’s high frequency response was always a pleasure to listen to. When called to do so, these headphones can produce dry, dark treble that we rarely get to hear from headphones these days. Some of our reference recordings feature drummers who use really dry ride cymbals and the M40 nailed the tonal color. Yet, when it was time to shine brightly, these headphones had no problem stepping into that role. Crash cymbals shimmered, violin strings whined appropriately and high brass instruments came across with a laser focus so powerful it could peel paint right off the wall (and we mean that in the most wonderful way).
Bass response was very good most of the time. The lowest octaves of some of our bass testing material was a little rolled off, but what the M40 lack in rumble they make up for in punch and consistent tonality. The M40 provide a tremendous amount of attack while maintaining tonal integrity, giving the listener a highly engaging musical experience. For a closed-back, noise-cancelling headphone, the M40 does a solid job with bass response, indeed.
Midrange performance is where we found things became a little inconsistent. At times, we felt like there was a sustained, low midrange resonance that crowded out details in the recording. The M40’s prodigious punch power could explain this. However, with plenty of our test tracks, that lower midrange bloat simply wasn’t there. Some songs sounded chesty, while others were well balanced. Further, there seemed to be a similar effect with some of the upper midrange frequencies. We noticed, occasionally, some compression here which muddled up some of the background vocals we listened to.
We believe the cause of this inconsistency may be a very narrow bump in the frequency response. It’s hard to avoid such a thing in a closed-back headphone with an excellent seal. A peak resonant frequency is bound to rear its head. The up side in this case is that the frequency widths in these problem areas seem to be narrow so, with some music, the bumps just aren’t that obvious. The down side is when music contains a lot of information in these areas, it can make things sound a little boxy or tight. Some will notice this more intensely than others.
One thing we think everyone using the M40 will notice is just how revealing they can be of the quality of music track that is being listened to. The M40’s high frequency response is so good that the raspy treble of highly compressed music is plenty audible. Likewise, high quality music tracks will be heard with exquisitely resolved treble.
Klipsch did well with its first go at a full size, noise-cancelling headphone. The M40 look terrific and its noise-cancelling prowess is as good (in some cases better) than similarly priced competing models. In terms of audio, we found ourselves being pretty critical due to the $350 price tag, but the M40, with some break-in time, will make a lot of listeners very, very happy with its ample bass and superb treble response. Our only real concerns with the M40 lay with how comfortable users will find them over long term use. Considering head sizes and shapes vary greatly from person to person, we recommend giving the M40 a test drive to ensure they are a good fit; of course, we recommend buyers do that with any headphone in this price bracket. For those looking at a high-end set of noise-cancelling headphones, we suggest giving the M40 an audition.
- Excellent noise-cancelling ability
- Superb treble, and ample bass, plenty dynamic
- Look terrific, lots of extras
- Long battery life and plays without battery
- Fit may be too tight for some listeners
- Inconsistent midrange response, boxy sound on some material