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February 2010
Enjoy the Music.com
Klipsch Image S2 In-Ear Headphones
Pluggable buds are a solid value.
Review By A. Colin Flood

Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

The Great Gazoo  Let us face the facts, nobody wants to look like The Great Gazoo with big hoop headphones; not even tweaking audiophiles seeking ultimate sound quality. That ain't the future anyway. Small, portable, convenient and digital is what's happening now. Someday, purists will wear digital cochlear implants, so every sound corrects to a perfectly flat frequency response! Until then, we need something a whole lot better than the tiny speakers crammed into our smart phones.

Enter Klipsch. Renown for the baddest, biggest ole horns on the block, I was loaned a pair of their $129 Custom-1 ear buds when I reviewed their newest flagship Palladium P39F loudspeaker. ‘But don't review those,' their rep said, ‘those are discontinued; we will send you something better!' Indeed they did. The new Image S2 buds retail for $50. Both models have a variety of slightly different size driver tubes, not much thicker than a pencil, which plug into your ear canal. Soft translucent white gels, shaped like jellyfish mantles, cap the tubes. The gels fill the ear canal snugly like the parachute on a dragster. They slow outside noise from racing down the canal. The gels feel like a gentle pencil easer in your ear. Once you used to that though, both models are light enough and comfortable enough to "fogettabatta" them. The gels are replaceable and Klipsch provides several sizes.

The Image buds include airplane and 0.25-inch jack adapters. The new S2s are half the price of the old Custom-1 buds.

 

Obvious Differences

 

Custom-1

Image S2

Packaging

Larger, square box in Klipsch color looks classier

Flatter black and white box looks retail rack-ready

Documentation

Owners manual and yellow Quick Start card

Folded manual

Case

Hard shell with mesh pocket for spare ear gels

Pouch, not as classy, but far more convenient

Cord

Nice feeling cloth cover

That stuff we call plastic

Buds

Black, with thin, awkward around the ear hooks

Black and white bullets

Ear gels

Black

Translucent white

 

Klipsch Image S2 In-Ear HeadphonesThe newer, less expensive models look just as nice as the twice-the-price buds. But how do they feel? Pop one into one ear; pop the other into the other ear. Not so easy to figure out the Custom-1 hooks at first. The S2 certainly goes deeper into the ear canal; the fit is tighter. The hooks on the C-1 hold the bud in place, but they also to hold the bud out of the ear canal. Switch. More in and out ear popping. Right side, left side. The S2s are marked with easy-to-see L and R on the bottom. Changing positions. Ain't this fun? The soft gels certainly cut outside noises. Suddenly you are listening to blood running through the subway in your head.

 

Listening Tests
Until the sun smiled this morning, the first "snow" in Tampa for decades dusted the turd brown of my townhouse community with a crisp sheen. (Even this Minnesota boy is having a hard time adjusting to what Floridians call "cold.")  The heater is on, the coffee is hot. It is certainly not a time for ‘chilling.' Something warm and toasty is called is for. So let's see how these buds stand up to some heat. Stand back; it might get LOUD. Since, none of the disc players here include headphone jacks, I compared four discs on two set-ups: a cheap $40 Walmart special Magnavox universal disc player with Antique Sound Lab's charming HB-1 tube amp and my Oppo universal with the Micro DAC combo that Headroom graciously loaned for these reviews. I also compared the Image S2s to Sony's $10 MDR E828LP/SLV foam covered buds, the ATH-A700 Gazoo cans and the enduring Crown Prince of headphone quality, the Sennheiser 650s. Quite some competition! Next, switch to the cheap Sony buds. With larger drivers, these give pretty good bass for ear buds, but do nothing to block outside noise.

On Dire Straits' incomparable classic, Brothers In Arms, when Mark Knopfler sang "Now that ain't working, that's the way you do it," I knew exactly what he meant! Listening to the S2 buds is like the song says. "money for nothing." I was quite surprised and impressed how good these tiny tubes sound when stuck in my ears. There is much better texture to the opening riffs on "So Far Away From Me" than the other two buds. The bass vibrates the ears, though the high-end is still too sharp. Yet, the new S2s are much better buds than the C-1s.

In fact, in many respects, they almost equaled the far more expensive and bulky ATH-700 cans! They get most of the bass, convey some impact, have a good amount of texture and detail in the mid-range and don't render highs like knifes. Backhanded compliments, I know, but we are tiny buds compared to full-size cans with drivers as large as your palm; something has to give. Klipsch though, has given up very little with these buds.

On The Best of Crow and other discs, the S2 buds again were closer to the ATH-700 sonics than other two buds. On Jack Johnson's In Between Dreams, the S2s were definitely smoother than the others, with more detailed high-end, and generally easy to enjoy the music. On Tutti's Orchestral Sampler, the S2s show good separation between the instruments, making background doo-dads stand out. You don't miss any sonic effects. They were gentler throughout than the Sony and C-1 buds. In a previous article, Tyll (pronounced "Tile") Hertsens, founder of Internet headphone marketer, HeadRoom, says "in ear monitors do a bit better job getting a linear bass response because they seal the ear canal tightly and can compress the volume better without losses." The Klipsch S2s certainly make his point.

My first choice for headphone listening? Well, it would have to be the Oppo player of course. And while the ASL HB-1 has the enticing tube mid-range, in my Micro DAC review, I said it was at the "soft point in the pricing curve; the spot where highest sonic qualities meet lowest price," so I would have to give the nod to the Oppo and Micro DAC combo, regardless of which cans or buds they are driving. Although the Micro DAC has the hard edge of solid–state, they also have the oomph to fill even tiny buds with bass and dynamics.

Money no object; the 650s with the amazing Benchmark DAC amplifier would have to be every tweaking audiophile's first choice headphone and amplifier combination. A close runner–up though would be the more practical value; the ATH-700s with the Micro DAC. In fact, this set-up shares my PC space.

Ditch the ungainly Gazoo cans though and the convenient, the portable, the "what's happening now" choice has to be the Image S2s. Though 50 somalians seems steep compared to the cost of the Sonys, the extra money is well spent. The S2s have good sound quality, very good 2-year warranty with comfort and isolation above what I expected. I had no trouble rocking, grooving and wearing the Klipsch Image S2s in-ear buds for extended periods. With Dire Straights and Sheryl Crow, it did get LOUD. The S2s are currently my first choice recommendation for people asking me what to get for portable music devices.

BTW, while the Klipsch rep said the C-1s are "$39.99 on Amazon and $103.99 at the Crutchfield outlet store," they are too awkward, expensive and crude by comparison to the S2s. And the Sonys don't cut it at all, except for small children, who are just going to break them soon anyway.

 

Blue Note Scores
This is the seventh in my series of headphone and headphone amplifier reviews. Those who read my previous reviews know I am a harsh grader. Only where the review equipment is "very good" – performing above average, do I confer four Blue Notes for Enjoy the Music.com categories.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: In-Ear Headphone/monitors
Design: Dynamic Moving Coil Micro Driver
Frequency response: 12 Hz to 18 kHz
Sensitivity: 106 dB (1 kHz)
Impedance: 18 Ohms (1 kHz)
Noise Isolation: 18dB
Drive Component: Full range KG 15
Connector: 3.5 mm
Weight: 13 grams
Accessories: Three different-sized oval ear tips, cloth carrying pouch
Price: $49 (street)

 

Company Information
Klipsch Group, Inc.
3502 Woodview Trace
Indianapolis, IN 46268

Website: www.klipsch.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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