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Home > Hardware Reviews > Mobiles

Thursday, November 29, 2007
Klipsch IMAGE Earphones

2. Design, Interview, Conclusion

As all the press on these things says, these are the smallest in-ear earphones you can buy - period. When I took these out of the box, I could not believe how small and sleek they were. They are smaller in diameter than a pencil. The housing is made of aluminum and they are finished in a very Klipsch like anodized copper color. The base of the earphone is a durable black rubber material that sort of gently flares out like a flexible tail.

The tips are a clear contoured Ear Gel that is awaiting patents. They are oval in shape and really seem to mimic the inside of an ear canal. The earphone nozzle is designed with another patent-pending locking mechanism that keeps the Ear Gels from getting lodged in the ear canal. Various sizes of ear gels, both single and double flanged designs are provided to help the listener get a good seal and comfortable fit.

The connector to the music source is gold plated and flexible. The design looks just like the "tails" on the earphones themselves.

All in all, these little gems weigh in at about 10 grams - which is next to nothing. According to Klipsch, the light design reduced ear fatigue and allows for extended listening with no discomfort.

The Technology in these earphones is truly remarkable. Klipsch uses their KG 926 full range micro driver armature. Many of today's earphones use a full range micro driver - like a little "speaker" in your ear that would look like a miniature car speaker. Many of the premier manufacturers have gone to an "armature" which is like a coil that vibrates like the string on a guitar. It doesn't push air like a little micro speaker, it produces completely distortion free reproduction of the sound waves.

Klipsch puts "micro armatures" in the IMAGE earphones and then adds a magical ingredient that their developer, Tom Gospel and his team call "special sauce" to put in the famous Klipsch sound signature.

Comfort:

My biggest problem with IEM's (In Ear Monitors) and other types of earphones that go inside the ear canal is that they are either uncomfortable for prolonged periods of time or they are simply hard to get in properly. Many of the "premier" companies like Shure and Ultimate Ears require the user to squeeze the foam, jam it in the ear and then wind the cable up and over the back side of the ear. I have never found this easy or comfortable.

Fortunately, the IMAGE earphones don't require the user to do any of this. Take the tiny earphone, gently put it in your ear - and you are done. The seal is automatically created by virtue of picking the correct sized contour ear gels. The IMAGE comes with five different sized tips. For me, the medium sized single flanged tips worked great - but both smaller and larger ones as well as a double flanged design were also included.

Truth be told, I have never used a more comfortable in-ear style earphone. These were so light that I really didn't know they were there. The seal was tight which blocked out most, if not all outside noise around me. The added advantage to such a good seal is that I didn't have to turn up the volume of my iPod to dangerous levels. Usually, even in the noisiest environments, I only had to go to about half volume to produce loud and beautiful sound.

The cables are also designed very well. There is an adjustable sliding tightener which can be used to adjust the fit. The cables themselves are relatively thin, but seem to have a pretty durable outer coating for protection. Most importantly, there was minimal "cable noise" when moving around wearing these. Cable noise was noticeable, as it is in every earphone that blocks the ear canal, but it was minimal.

The bottom line is that these are the most comfortable earphones I have ever used.

Sound Quality:

I have been waiting for these Klipsch earphones to come out for quite some time. I have always been a fan of the Klipsch sound - my entire home theater system is based on Klipsch floor standing towers and their center and surround speakers. I was impressed with the iGroove iPod speaker system and I was wondering how they could translate the "Klipsch Horn" into an earphone.

I need to preface my remarks about sound quality with a reminder that I have been most fortunate to test pretty much all this big names in earphone design. I have listened to amazing earphones from Ultimate Ears, Shure, Audio Technica, V-Moda, Altec Lansing, Sennheiser and others. That being said, I have never heard anything that rivaled what I heard when I put the IMAGE earphones in my ears. I really did not think that I could be that blown away - but I was.

There are no superlatives to describe the quality of the sound that these tiny earphones put out. What amazed the most, initially, was the quality of the bass. The bass is as deep and full as any earphone I have ever listened to - but there is an almost indescribable quality to the bass on these. If you have ever stood in front of a high quality speaker, or gone to a live concert and felt the air coming from the woofer - that is the closest thing I can compare it to. You feel the air of the bass in your ear drum. When the bass pedal of the drum is pressed - you feel it - just amazing. There is no "boominess" - just very clear and accurate bass.

The "Signature" of Klipsch speakers has always been the high end coming through their patented "Horn" tweeters. Some have found the Klipsch signature to be somewhat "bright" - I have always felt it to be accurate and believable. Those words, accurate and believable certainly sum up how I felt about the high end. Vocals, instruments, cymbals and other sounds at the high end were clear, crisp and just amazing.

I tried many different genres of music to test these earphones. I listened to Nora Jones' new album and her voice just resonated in my head - clear, beautiful and wonderful to listen to. I listened to Ray LeMontagne and heard a depth as well as detail I never heard when listening on my home system. These phones can also "rock." I listened to Led Zeppelin's new "Mothership" remixed album and heard such detail, bass and instrumentals that the music really came to life.

Everything I threw at these earphones was handled beautifully. The intangible that is hard to describe here is the soundstage - the effect of being able to visually place each instrument and vocalist in and around your head (especially when you close your eyes.) Granted, it always seems easier to do this with a good set of earphones than with traditional speakers - but the sound stage created with the Klipsch IMAGE earphones was just remarkable. More than just left and right placement - sound coming from in front, behind and inside your head is created here - and it is wonderful to behold.

I was so amazed with these earphones that I tried to track down the developers to ask a few questions. To my amazement, Tom Gospel, the lead developer and member of the team that created the IMAGE earphones, took the time to answer these questions:

1. How long was the IMAGE in development?

[Tom Gospel] From ID concept to mass production in October, Image took about 1 year.

2.     What exactly are the KG926 balanced micro-armatures and how are they different from a traditional “micro driver?”

[Tom Gospel] They are identical to other drivers on the market, except that they are about 50% of the overall size of what has typically been on the market.  This complicates manufacture, both of the armature as well as the finished product itself.  We also have some “special sauce” in the acoustic recipe that brings out the best of the Klipsch audio signature!

3.     Why a micro armature as opposed to a micro driver or even dual armatures like the Custom 2's and 3's?

 [Tom Gospel] This Micro armature allows a full range acoustic experience vis-à-vis a micro driver (assuming that micro-driver is a dynamic driver).  Additionally the KG926 is state-of-the-art in size (small!), and still providing this full range experience, again with our “special sauce” – so SIZE was a key determinant, as we wanted to provide an extremely light-weight, comfortable, full audio solution.  Again with Size being key, a dual solution wouldn't provide the overall aesthetic we were looking for. 

4.     What makes the Contour Ear Gels different than those offered by other brands?

[Tom Gospel] First and foremost,  we eliminate the “square peg in a round hole” scenario!  The VAST majority of human ear canals are oval in cross-section, as are our Contour Ear Gels!  This oval solution allows for evenly distributed force around the entire ear canal, and not just 2 points with a typical circular cross sectional eartip.  These 2 points typically lead to the user having “hot spots” that are annoying in the least, painful in the worst case.  We've experienced with our oval Contour Ear Gels, that we've virtually eliminated the “itch”, or “tickle” that consumers experience with nominal circular eartips. 

            In addition to the overwhelming comfort story our eartips offer, we also have several other beneficial features:

    1. Retention groove within the eartip shaft that mates with the retention rings on all our Klipsch in-ear headphones.  This allows for a “snap-fit” onto the nozzle, and helps to prevent the eartip from coming off the earphone nozzle.   The eartips can still rotate about the nozzle axis, allowing for better customized fit within any ear canal.
    2. Our eartips provide the easiest solution to obtaining a full seal in the ear canal, which further improves the overall acoustic experience.
    3. Silicon eartips are very durable, and easily cleaned, vs. foam eartips.
    4. Range of fit – we believe that we have a wider range of fit than most of our competitors – offering both single flange and dual flange alternatives.

5.     OK – these things are soooo small – where exactly are the drivers?

[Tom Gospel] Each driver is snuggled into IMAGE Front and rear housings – there's not a lot of room for anything else!  We specifically designed the Industrial housing around the armature.

6.     How can such a small driver produce such lifelike bass? At times, it truly feels like I can feel the “air” coming out of the woofer in my ear.

[Tom Gospel] We're focused on minimizing the amount of air volume within the ear canal, which makes the headphone more accurate in response as well as improving the overall bass.  This, and some of our “secret sauce”!

7.     What is the primary difference in the Sound between the IMAGE and the Custom 3's?  Is there a different target audience for each of these?

[Tom Gospel] Image provides full extended response, being designed around a single armature, in a sexy sleek package.  With Custom 3 we're using dedicated woofers and tweeters, targeted around the more discriminating critical listeners.   The over-ear design of Custom 3 also allows these discriminating users the ability to use the Custom 3s as they would an In-Ear Monitor.

8.     Infosyncworld said they felt like the driver sort of gave way at high volumes – I did not experience that at all – was that just a fluke or pre-production model they had?

[Tom Gospel] I cannot really say what they were experiencing at high volumes, except to offer that at the volumes we believe that they were testing/listening to, there would be serious listening impairments – so perhaps the ear would've given way before the driver!

9.     The IMAGE looks fragile – yet your web site talks about extreme “durability” – what about the construction makes this so durable?

[Tom Gospel] We went to great lengths to make sure that the product was durable from eartip to plug.  Strain reliefs around each cable connection, Pull testing around each cable connection, shock absorbing design of the headphone are just some of the factors that we spent a great deal of time developing. 

10.     Where does Klipsch go from here?  What is the future of Klipsch Earphone technology?

[Tom Gospel] We move forward!  We believe that with our acoustic experience and expertise, combined with our innovation and acquired background in the earphone category, we can build upon this initial platform.  This is only the beginning...

Overall Conclusions:

The Klipsch IMAGE earphones are simply the most amazing earphones I have ever listened to. The sound is full, the bass is incredible, the high end is clear and believable and the sound stage is just not to be believed. The $350.00 MSRP certainly seems high - but when you think about it, the Earphones are probably the single most important component in your portable sound system. I know that I paid over $1000 for my home stereo speakers which I don't listen to nearly as much as my earphones.

There is incredible technology at play here as well as a great amount of dedication and attention to detail from the manufacturer. Klipsch seems really proud of this product - as well they should be. I can't yet comment on the new "Custom" series of earphones - but I hope to be able to get to listen to them as well and be able to make a comparison. People who have listened to them all say that the Custom 3's will sound even better than the IMAGE - which is just hard to believe.

If you get a Holiday bonus or have extra cash in your account - just go buy these - you will not be disappointed.

Pros:

  • Amazing sound quality
  • great build quality
  • impressive sound stage
  • very comfortable

Cons:

  • High price might be too much for many

The Klipsch IMAGE earphones are available at a MSRP of US$349.00 from the Klipsch web site at: http://www.klipsch.com/headphones/image/




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