3. Impressions, summary
Now, on to the review.....
The Custom 3's are a typical design for "higher end" In Ear Monitors (IEM's.) They are designed to fit into the ear canal and opening and then have the guide wire go behind the ear with the cable going down from the back of the ear. Like all Earphones utilizing this method - it takes a little trial and error.
Klipsch has really designed these Earphones well. The guide wire that goes behind the ear is a hard, but flexible design that can be "molded" for a great fit around the ear. The cables are covered in cloth to reduce friction and keep the wire from being exposed. The jack looks to be gold-plated and is designed to fit pretty much every 3.5 mm opening - including the ridiculous recessed jack on the iPhone.
The housing that contains the "guts" of the earphone is very well constructed. The body is a dull matte black, rubberized design and the Klipsch logo is copper embossed on a glossy black panel. The copper accents continue where the guide wire meets the earphone itself - giving it a very classy and expensive look.
The Custom 3's are a two-way design with separate "woofers" and "tweeters." They utilize a proprietary crossover mechanism inside to try to re-create the famous "Klipsch" sound signature.
The ear tip is a black contoured Ear Gel that is awaiting a patent. The tips are oval in shape and really seem to mimic the inside of an 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.
I have been following the "buzz" on the Klipsch Custom 3's for some time. In some of the audiophile enthusiast forums - like headfi.org - there were many comments about how users were having trouble getting a good seal with these. Having recently tested and reviewed the IMAGE earphones and finding them to be amazingly comfortable and providing a great seal - I was curious to see about the comfort of the Custom 3.
After using these for a couple of weeks I just don't understand how people had trouble getting a good seal. I used the stock tip - the medium single flange design and these little guys just went right in - even easier than the IMAGE. No fussing, no tweaking, no experimentation needed. It is hard to believe that some people in the forums wrote they had to "jam these things in their ear canal" - I just don't see how that is even possible.
I wore the Custom 3's for hours on end, day after day and experienced no fatigue whatsoever. For exercise, these were even preferable over the IMAGE since the guide wire held them secure. While certainly bigger than the IMAGE and other small IEM's - they were smaller and much more comfortable than offerings from Ultimate Ears and Shure and others.
The cables are also designed very well. There is an adjustable sliding tightener which can be used to adjust the fit. The cables are cloth covered and very comfortable (as cables go.) Cable noise was noticeable, as it is in every earphone that blocks the ear canal. This cable noise is called "microphonics" and it was a little more pronounced in the Custom 3's than in some other earphones I have recently tested.
The bottom line is that these are exceedingly comfortable earphones.
As I mentioned in the IMAGE review, 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.
When I spoke to the good folks at Klipsch, they were almost "giddy" with the release of the Custom 3's. They were confident that these sounded even better than the IMAGE. That was very hard for me to believe.
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 on the IMAGE and they were even more true pertaining to the Custom 3. Vocals, instruments, cymbals and other music 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, Tracy Chapman, Elton John, James Taylor, Jack Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen and others. Vocals were just "pure." That's the best way to describe them - vocals sound just like you would expect. You also can hear the artists' breathe between the notes.
The Custom 3's handled instrumentals (often found in the midrange of the sound spectrum) beautifully. I listened to George Winston and Liz Story play piano solos, to Herbie Hancock's new album and to various Jazz and Guitar instrumentals. I could hear the pluck of the string and the beauty of each note being played.
When I wanted to "Rock Out," I put on some Live Aerosmith, the Stones, Zeppelin, Skynyrd and others. The bass was amazing - I was expecting that. What I enjoyed was that the bass was not overpowering or boomy - it was powerful, but smooth at the same time. Vocals did not get lost behind the bass which often happens when the bass presence is so powerful.
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,) was very good on the Custom 3's. I did decide that the Soundstage was not as impressive as with the IMAGE and that could be because the IMAGE sits a little further into the ear canal. But I still was able to place most instruments in and around my head.
The Klipsch Custom 3's are an amazing set of Earphones. There is a definite "family resemblance" between these and the IMAGE earphones. The high end is clear and crisp, yet there is an incredibly "warm" feeling from these earphones. That warmth really makes them comfortable to listen to for hours on end with little or no fatigue.
The entire audio spectrum is reproduced clearly and beautifully with these earphones. I don't have the equipment to test sonic "accuracy" but my guess is that these would lean towards the "accurate and warm" part of the spectrum - if such a place exists. Every instrument - every note was crisp and clear - bass was powerful but not boomy and vocals really soared.
Do they sound better than the IMAGE? That's the tough question. I can certainly tell that this earphone uses two drivers - there was a great separation between low and high frequencies and the bass was very deep and had more punch than the IMAGE. The IMAGE took the nod with regards to comfort and sound stage.
Earphone choice is very personal and subjective - having compared these to other dual driver designs from Ultimate Ears, Shure, Westone and more - I definitely give the nod to the Klipsch Custom 3's. There is no way to appreciate the sound quality of these without testing them out - you won't be disappointed.
Final Grade: A
Pros: Great sound quality, great build quality, good sound stage, very comfortable, easy to insert
Cons: $299.00 is still a lot of money