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Petite High Fidelity.
Klipsch X10i Headphones
Peter Kun Frary, Professor of Music University of Hawaii
Klipsch claims both a high fidelity audio experience and greatly reduced ambient noise levels for their new X10i Headphones. So I plugged them in my iPod Touch and trekked the urban jungles of Honolulu, strolled tourist infested shopping malls and endured a five hour flight to Las Vegas. Herein are my thoughts on the X10i.
Klipsch X10i Headphones • Earbuds & integrated remote • X10i images are courtesy Klipsch
Construction and Feel
As I struggled with the excessive packaging, my first impression was, damn, these cans are delicate--friggen angel hair! The tiny machined aluminum earbuds seem tough enough but the slender cables will surely tangle and/or break easily. The X10i is not nearly as burly as the Shure SE series or Ultimate Ears earbuds.
The barrels are finished with anodized copper. The option of plain black would be welcome. Nevertheless, the fit and finish of these made-in-China cans are excellent, albeit understated. Nobody will give them a second look. No eye candy here.
Once inserted, the X10i disappear in your ear like stealthy audio tampons. The petite form factor and soft silicon earplug-style design allow them to be worn for extended periods. Even after hours of listening, I barely noticed I was wearing them. The X10i are the most comfy earbuds I've worn, and I've owned dozens. The oval shape of the ear gels fit my ears more naturally than the round ones of other designs. I suffered no ear soreness or fatigue after 5 hours of listening on a flight between Honolulu and Las Vegas.
The gotcha is the ear gels must fit perfectly and be worn deep in the ear canal. If you prefer them loose and shallow, noise leaks in, bass response disappears and the sound stage deflates. To insure users get a good fit, Klipsch includes 5 sets of interchangeable silicone ear pieces in three sizes. Unlike other premium earbuds, there are no foam ear pieces (foam is better than silicon at reducing noise).
The integral remote--with mic for iPhone blabbers--tangles at chest level and forms the yoke for the right and left earbud wires. Compared to the stock remote sold with the iPhone, this one is sleek, beefy and solid: control buttons are well raised, facilitating touch operation, and have slightly stiff resistance. The Apple remote feels flimsy and cheap in comparison, and tangles over your cheek, making it appear like you're twirling your hair or digging your nose when using it!
Klipsch X10i Headphones • Petite earbuds, skinny wires & beefy integrated remote. No markings for left and right channels.
My lone complaint is the middle button requires extremely fast strokes to invoke forward (2 clicks) and reverse (3 clicks) commands. If you're slow with a double or triple press you simply stop and start the darn thing. I grew accustomed to it after a few days but initially I thought it was broken. I greatly prefer the controls on the larger Apple Radio Remote.
Klipsch X10i Headphones • Tiny earbuds: about 25mm long & 5mm in thickness. The thick black rubber part helps provide strain relief for the wire.
The headphone cord is 50 inches long and includes an integrated clothing clip. It's just the right length for stowing an iPod in jeans or messenger bag pocket. It's too long for wearing an iPod on an arm band and too short for 7 foot basketball player. The wires are thin so treat them with care.
Amtrak Sunrise, California Trains are a perfect candidate for noise isolation headphones.
When fitted properly, these earbuds reduce ambient noise levels to enhance audio fidelity and, hence, enjoyment. What this means is the rumble and grinding of motors, air conditioners, traffic, etc., are muted considerably. The reduction is not enough to enjoy your iPod while attending a rock concert. Nevertheless, the reduction is sufficient to make music listening on an airplane, bus or train a high fidelity experience rather than an exercise in irritation.
I normally use the medium sized ear gels around town. They're great for for nixing mall Muzak and quieting busy city streets. However the double flange gels work better for continuously noisy environments such as airliners, e.g., the poorly soundproofed Boeing 767 Hawaiian Air flies. And, yes, the double flange gels served well on my flight to Vegas, making for a sonic Nirvana. While wearing double flange gels at Ala Moana Shopping Center I was unable to hear my car door slam and shop clerks babbling, and enjoyed classic rock in Guess while a DJ boomed out hip-hop. The double flange gels mute noise too well for normal listening so I've relegated them to air travel.
Don't wear these cans while riding a bicycle in traffic: you barely hear outside sounds and may get in an accident. Also, even a gentle breeze blowing towards the X10i results in a high pitched howl or wind whistle. A fast ride on a bike brings on an unbearable howl. All earbuds suffer wind noise, but most suffer lower pitched and less prominent thumps and whines.
The gotcha for noise reduction is the ear gel must be jammed as far up your ear as possible. If you yawn, chew or make certain facial expressions, your ear canal flexes, allowing the ear gel to slip. If it slips, even slightly, you immediately hear the roar of life leaking in. Normally I sit perfectly still while flying, so this isn't a biggie unless afflicted with a yawning fit. In fairness, all earplug style cans I've owned suffer this same problem.
Oddly these cans are less sensitive to cable microphonics (vibrations transmitted along the cable) than my Sure, Sony and Ultimate Ears headphones. Microphonics on my Sony cans were so bad I can only describe a lazy stroll as dinosaur steps. Jogging was unbearable.
Venice • Wear them while cruising the canals of Venice on a barge.
The sound quality of these cans is stunning: smooth, full, detailed, dynamic and neutral. I listened to classical, classic rock and jazz tracks through an iPod Nano and Touch and was struck by the clarity and vivid sound stage. The X10i comes the nearest to a "big speaker" sound stage I've heard in an earbud, rendering imaging and position of instruments crystal clear. The only thing missing is the tactile sensation of sound waves striking your body!
These are not the best cans for hip-hop and metal fans as frequency reproduction is too smooth and balanced: bass is full, tight and natural like God intended. Ron Carter's upright bass never sounded better in earbuds. In other words, there is no extra bass and treble boost (smile on sliders teen EQ). If heavy bass in a compact package is your thing, check out the V-Moda Vibe II. I hated them--made the cellos in Vivaldi concerti sound like amped up double basses--but kids love the kick 'em in the head bass EQ hump and the pretty-in-pink design.
Like most headphones, the X10i sounded best after a few hours of play-in. Out of the box they were thin, bright and a bit soft. I let them play overnight and in the morning they morphed into deep tight bass, rich mids, smooth airy highs and detailed resolution. Normally I play them about 1/3 volume on my iPod Touch, so they're fairly efficient (out of box they needed 1/2 volume) albeit not as effcient as the cheaper Klipsch S4i.
Twilight at Bern • EOS 40D & EF-S 17-55 2.8 IS USM
Naturally, I compared the X10i to my other earbuds: Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pro ($200), Shure SE420 ($200) and Klipsch S4i ($100). All four are noise-isolating designs and the X10i, Ultimate Ears and Shure sound like professional stage monitors: smooth response with no heavy EQ boost circuits.
The ultra smooth sounding Ultimate Ears has the biggest midrange bump, making them rich and pleasant for human voices and woodwinds. The sound stage isn't as wide as the X10i but is ample. Dynamics are well presented and nimble. They are the most efficient, requiring volume at only 1/4 on my Touch. Unfortunately, they're the most uncomfortable earbuds I've owned--hurt after an hour--and stick out of your ears like devil horns. And I hate wearing the wire over the top of my ears--what a horrid design. The replaceable cables have a tendency to fall off. Finally, the ear gels and foams don't work as well at reducing noise as the X10i or SE420.
The Shure SE420 is the least efficient of the three, requiring nearly 1/2 volume. The sound is generally smooth and balanced but the bass is a little weak compared to the other designs. The sound stage is smaller and more recessed than the X10i and Ultimate Ears. Dynamics are also more compressed. However, the 420 does unusually well at rendering classical and acoustic guitars. They are more comfortable than the Ultimate Ears but pale before the form fitting ear gels of the X10i. These puppies are the best built of the three with beefy cables and connectors (pro sound heritage shows). The molded foam ear pieces are better at muting noise than the silicon gels used on the other earbuds. Oddly these cans are the most resistant to wind noise (more aerodynamic sharpe?).
The Klipsch S4i sports the same skinny wires and remote of the X10i. Audio quality is decent but not on the same level as the other earphones: bass is the loudest of the four units but has a dull rubbery tone, a bump in the lower treble imparts a slight nasal vibe to overall timbre, no sparkle to upper highs, tiny sound stage imaging and compressed dynamics. Reminded me of listening to a stock car radio. And none of the freakin' gels fit my ear well enough to stay put for more than a few minutes of walking. So 66% of X10i audio quality and comfort for a benjamin. It even comes in "Apple" white to let others know you're a fanboy. Okay, it costs $250 less than the X10i, so you get what you pay for.
For a $150 less, the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pro are near sonic equals to the X10i. Too bad they hurt my ears and the damn cable keeps falling off. For the extra bucks the X10i brings you high fidelity, comfort and stealthy listening.
Pantheon • Noise isolation is great for muting drunk tourists at the Pantheon.
These cans inspire consumer confidence with a 2-year warranty. So your hard earned benjamins buy both high fidelity and 2 years of insurance.
There are many wonderful sounding headphones to choose from if you don't mind bulk or a lack of comfort. However, if want a great sounding, tiny, comfortable and noise isolating headset, the field narrows considerably. I found the X10i the best sounding and most comfortable earbuds I've owned, and I've owned many. Nope, they aren't perfect--are delicate and ugly--but they nail everything else. If you're a classical or jazz music lover, or like your music delivered accurately with full dynamics, a vivid soundstage and finely rendered detail, these are the earbuds for you. Mega bass addicts and cable jerkers, step aside.
The X10i looks like 30 bucks, feels like almost nothing in my ears and sounds like a fist full of benjamins. At $349 a pop it's a bargain for the heapin' helpin' of sonic quality and blessed comfort. Hopefully they'll beef up the cables and offer them in goth black soon. A set of molded foam ear pieces would be nice too.
Postscript • October 1, 2012
It's been 2.5 years and the X10i are still going strong, outliving my last two pairs of Shure 'buds. I've worn these cans up and down busy city streets, on the white sands of Waikiki, on mountain trails and on dozens of trans-Pacific flights without so much as a buzz, zap or whimper. Yes, the cables appear delicate but have been none the worse for wear, even after a few violent jerks from my ears and snaging on assorted objects around town. And, yes, I've bought a few more earbuds and X10i sound and comfort are yet to be beat.
Sound Quality: A • Construction: B • Noise Isolation: B • Comfort: A • Bang for Buck: A-
Roma • I need a soundtrack when wandering & shooting.
- Driver Unit: full-range armature micro-speaker
- Impedance: 50 ohms
- Sensitivity: 110 dB SPL/mW (1mW)
- Frequency Response: 5Hz – 19kHz
- Cord: 50 inches
- Weight .37 oz (10g)
- Adapter for use on airplane entertainment systems
- 1/4 inch plug adapter
- Faux-leather pouch
- 5 sets of ear gels (small, medium & large)
- Cleaning tool
Vatican City • Trekking the Pope's backyard 'n listenin' to mah tunes!
©Copyright 2010 by Peter Kun Frary All Rights Reserved
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