Klipsch Image S3m Review

Unless you like your cymbals super spicy, and sibilants with a serpentine flare, we recommend you keep on looking. We will too.
Unless you like your cymbals super spicy, and sibilants with a serpentine flare, we recommend you keep on looking. We will too.
Unless you like your cymbals super spicy, and sibilants with a serpentine flare, we recommend you keep on looking. We will too.

Highs

  • Good clarity and instrumental separation
  • Decent low end power
  • Cool, comfortable design

Lows

  • Extremely sharp upper register
  • Anemic midrange

DT Editors' Rating

Say you’re headed out on a trip, but you’ve lost the headphones that came with your phone (or maybe you just can’t stand them any more) and those throw-away ‘buds you picked up at the airport last trip…well, you probably threw them away. You need something that’s inexpensive and sounds decent. What do you do?

Klipsch hopes you’ll pass by a gazillion other earbud choices and pick up its latest model, the S3M. Convenient, conservatively stylish, and priced right (at $50) the S3M are an enticing choice from a company that knows good sound. But do Klipsch’s bottom-barrel earbuds sound any better than the pair you bought (and subsequently threw away) the last time you were jet-setting? We recently went ears-on with the S3M to find out.

Out of the box

Removing the S3M from their packaging takes mere seconds – handy if you wind up grabbing up a set while dashing across the terminal to catch your flight. Inside you’ll find a small travel case made of black canvas with two more sizes of eartips and a small clip hiding inside.

Features and design

The S3M have a funky yet understated style paired with a vivid color scheme. We received a set in deep blue, but they also come in a host of other colors including white, red, jade, and black. The glossy buds are shaped into cones cut at a 45 degree angle at the top. The S3M are monogrammed with a small Klipsch logo on the side, with L and R indicators hiding on the underside of each. Pulling away one of the silicone tips reveals a tiny plastic extension about the size of a pen tip. Inside rest 5.8mm dynamic drivers, which are among the smallest we’ve come across.

The rubberized cable extending from each earbud provides another set of stereo indicators, but these, too, are a chore to find. Fortunately, the earbuds’ sharp angles provide an easy guide once you know which way they fit. Another clue is provided by the single-button control microphone which resides about six inches below the right earpiece.

Comfort

We’re pleased to say that the S3M are one of the most comfy sets of in-ears we’ve auditioned in a long while. The hard angle of the driver arms seemed perfectly tailored to our ears and the silicone eartips felt silky smooth. Our only gripe: The tips stick out quite a way from our ear cavity – even a mild gust of wind had them whistling obtrusively.

Audio performance

Klipsch markets the S3M as designed specifically for use with a mobile device (which seems a little obvious). Accordingly, we tested the set by listening to a wide variety of music through an iPhone 5.

The tiny S3M delivered a light and occasionally brilliant burst of clarity, outlining lots of detail for such inexpensive earbuds. They also did an admirable job of delineating individual instruments. Unfortunately, they did so by carving out a massive swath of the midrange and upper bass regions. Even more troubling was the S3M’s sharp display of sibilance from vocals and the upper tier of instrumentation, creating a harsh clip to the sound that was difficult to withstand on many of the tracks we listened to.

… listening to artists as varied as Elliott Smith and Bob Marley, vocals continually had a sharp bite…

After an initial slap to the face by searing percussion and vocals from Pearl Jam’s “Comatose” and Ryan Adams’ “Magnolia Mountain”, we gave the headset a good 10 hours of break-in time, which seemed to slightly tame the S3M’s cellophane crackle. Still, listening to artists as varied as Elliott Smith and Bob Marley, vocals continually had a sharp bite, not only on the usual danger zone consonants, but also in the thinly drawn sustain of the tone. Snare came through with flat, papery snaps that sounded almost toyish, and upper frequency percussion like crash cymbals and cowbells were often painful, forcing us to lower the volume as if backing away from a roaring flame.

The S3M fared best when we fed the headset older recordings, or those recorded in the classic rock style, with layers of tape saturation and darker overall coloring. Tracks from 70’s folk artists like James Taylor and the rich recordings from Nickel Creek’s eponymous album were much smoother, and even pleasant, though we still found the midrange a bit dainty for our taste. However, brighter recordings like Van Halen’s “Girl Gone Bad” started out hot, and when the vocals and crash cymbals came together during the first verse, high frequency chaos ensued.

Klipsch S3 review cable tipAs we listened on, we noticed some decent force in the very lowest registers, adding a good pump to kick drums and bass. But the power didn’t extend very far, so toms and other instruments that rely on lower midrange warmth were often hung out to dry, showing a pale reflection of their inherent sound. And always, the thin blade of the ‘S’ consonant seemed to cut through with blitzkrieg force.

Conclusion

There’s this persistent Goldilocks theme that plagues budget headphones: this one’s too bass-y, that one has too much bite in the treble. In our quest for value, we’re continually challenged to find a sound that’s “just right.” Unfortunately, the Klipsch S3M didn’t bust that trend for us. And that’s too bad, because the company’s Image One, S4 series and X10i remain ferocious contenders. Still, unless you like your cymbals super spicy, and sibilants with a serpentine flare, we recommend you keep on looking. We will too.

Highs

  • Good clarity and instrumental separation
  • Decent low end power
  • Cool, comfortable design

Lows

  • Extremely sharp upper register
    Anemic midrange
Home Theater

Fluance’s four beautiful new turntables arrive with easy-to-stomach prices

Acclaimed audio brand Fluance launched four new turntables as part of its new Reference series, aiming to offer elegant looks and pristine sound to those who are just getting into the world of high-end analog audio.
Home Theater

Get the most boom for your buck with the best headphones under $100

Everybody wants a bargain, and this list has a bunch. For those looking for a solid set of headphones without spending a big stack of cash, this list is is your starting point. Check out our picks for the best headphones under $100.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Home Theater

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video (January 2019)

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in December 2018 and January 2019, from new original series to classic…
Home Theater

Google Assistant gets the Marshall treatment with two new smart speakers

Marshall's Voice-series were already some of the most stylish smart speakers on the market, but now they're available as Google Assistant-compatible editions. This makes Marshall one of the few companies to support both Alexa and Google.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Killing Eve'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (December 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Music

Bolster your HD music catalog with the best high-res audio sites

Music connoisseurs relish HD audio, but scouring the web for all the best streaming and downloading sites can be a pain. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Check out our list, and let the high-resolution good times roll.