Quality Sound & Pillow-Soft Comfort
Jul 8, 2012
Review by Stanley Goodner
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Comfort, clarity, highs, non-tangling cord, bass
Cons:A snug fit is critical, buds can tug out easily, non-interchangeable buds, thin cords, bass
The Bottom Line: You could spend more or even less for better sound quality. But the Image S4 are comfortable to wear for hours, so they're great for everyday home or office use.
Lately I've been finding new ways to relax, which has largely involved me sitting in my car under a shady tree to read, listen to music, or surf around the internet on my Samsung Galaxy SII. The stock speakers in my Honda are OK for driving around but not for that mind-wandering excursion into musical bliss. I knew I required a good set of earbuds, and some initial research happened to come up with that CNET report about the "best earbuds for less than $100" from May 2011. I ended up buying a few earbuds, including the Klipsch Image S4 from that report, to test out and see what I liked the best.
Recommend this product?
The other earbuds were returned and the Image S4 has been a part of my EDC ever since. I've been using them for hours on a weekly basis for the past few months and they're absolutely fantastic for my needs. I mostly listen to streaming music through Pandora or 192kbps MP3s (the equalizer setting is usually rock or hip-hop) on my Galaxy SII.
::: BUILD :::
For a set of earbuds the quality feels pretty good. It seems built-to-last so long as it doesn't receive much abuse, which is to say that the build could be better. Or it could also be worse. I really like how the cord resists tangling and doesn't catch on clothing. It will curl a little bit but that's about it. The wires lean toward being thin and possibly are on the border of being flimsy. I don't really worry about them bending or breaking, but I'm not about to wrap them around anything either. It seems that doing so would be a fantastic way to ruin them.
The Y-split is sturdy, but I've seen better. I've destroyed earbuds in the past, so for the cost of the Image S4 I'm going to make sure I don't bend or squish anything. I'm careful with my toys; I don't fear of any breakage with the S4 from normal wear and tear. When in use the cords are dangling free and unobstructed (more or less). I don't keep my phone in a pocket/bag or at some angle which could damage the earplugs at the connector.
I wish the plug was larger or L-shaped for a better grip when pulling it out. It would have been a smart move for Klipsch. Otherwise I think that the cord length is good - not too long or short. The earbuds are equidistant to the Y-split, which preferable because I can't stand the types that are uneven. The earbuds are not interchangeable. Some people might be bothered by this and prefer buds that can fit comfortably in either ear.
The tin case is a nice little throw-in. It's about the size and quality of an Altoids tin, but I like it. You have to coil the wires in carefully so it fits and the tin can close. I find it better than a drawstring bag and it gets tossed neatly into my EDC pack.
::: COMFORT :::
I have worn the Klipsch Image S4 for 3+ hours at a time without any pain or discomfort. The coziness of wearing these earbuds was the top reason for my purchase. I listen to music and easily forget I have buds in my ears. The standard medium silicone tips fit perfectly, but a large and small size are also included. The seal is good and it doesn't press up against the insides of my ear so that it aches after awhile.
I think that there is a trade-off in order to maintain the soft comfy fit. A light downward tug on a cord will yank the bud out of the ear. Or at least out of position. Then I have to fish around for the plug to put back in my ear, which tends to be very annoying. The interesting thing is that I can violently shake my head side to side (like a dog throttling a toy) and they won't fall out. I haven't tried wearing them beyond just sitting or walking, so it's hard to say how well they'd stay in while jogging or running.
The instructions mention how the buds can be rotated so that the cord wraps up and over the ear for better hold (sport style). I've tried that and it only somewhat works. The cord has a springiness to it, hence why it doesn't tangle. But when it's over the ear the cord doesn't simply follow your ear shape to hang straight down. It sort of curves away and a small turn of the head can make the cable flip over and off your ear. This oftentimes nudges the bud and breaks the seal to let all the noise of the world enter. Then you have to reinsert and readjust. The only way I've found to have the cable fit well over the ear is if I tighten the cables under my chin by sliding the rubber piece up from the Y-split. But then I have to feel the cable brushing against my neck.
::: SOUND :::
It's CRITICAL to choose a silicone tip that fits well to create a snug seal in your ear. Otherwise there is going to be a loss in perceived performance. I've worn them normally and have rotated the buds in my ear with no effect to how they sound (so long as the seal is there). You're likely not going to want to eat or make exaggerated facial expressions while using the Klipsch Image S4. Movements of the cheek, jaw, or even forehead muscles can affect the seal in your ear canal, thereby diminishing the sound quality. Too much movement can and will dislodge the bud. This is why the fit is so important to how well you'll enjoy using the Image S4. The sound is also sensitive to movement of the cords after the Y-split. Thankfully there is no cord noise when it simply rubs against something, but you'll hear it if you shake and hit the cords against your chest, cheek, or earlobe. I couldn't imagine enjoying music with these while engaging in some active sport.
The bass quality is very subjective, especially if you've read other reviews about the S4. When deciding on what I wanted to keep, I ended up choosing the Klipsch over the Sennheiser CX300 because of how the enhanced bass sounded (as well as better comfort for me). The Sennheiser felt like standing next to an open garage door with forceful bass coming from within. The Klipsch Image S4 felt like being IN that garage, with the door closed, enveloped by bass, but at a lower decibel level. The S4 makes the bass feel like it's coming from within your ear as opposed to a directional sound going into your ear. What it lacks in overall volume/punch it makes up with a richness. The bass is solid, very rarely fuzzy or muddy, and not overwhelming (either to one's delight or chagrin). The bass level is not going to feel like it's enough for some music. And for other other music the bass can tend to sound like it's bleeding over and touching some mids and highs where it really shouldn't be (e.g. it happens with some jazz and classical I listen to). I find the Klipsch bass to be like gravy. I don't mind if a little gravy runs over the potatoes and pools a bit around the turkey or green beans. But some people do not want the gravy touching anything other than the potatoes. I respect both camps of thought. Overall I like the bass and it works for me.
The clarity is amazing. I can pick out the layers individually or just relax and enjoy that audible sandwich. The Klipsch Image S4 seems really good for complex songs. The instrumentals are clean and the tone quality is accurate. I can hear all the big and small details of sound: whispered lyrics, crash of cymbals and drums, the intricate strums of bass or guitar strings. I hear all of these little things that are either lost or muddied through my car speakers. I don't need to turn up the volume in order to hear it either.
The highs are arguably the best. They're crisp, bright, and as clear as sweet vocals and instrumentation should be. Bells and cymbals aren't shrill or tinny-sounding. Mostly. On occasion, I've come across some tracks with highs that bordered on being a LITTLE sharp and brittle where it would make my ears cringe. Almost. But 19 times out of 20 I find them to be precise. The mids are also good, which ties back to the clarity of the earbuds. The mid and low vocals are excellent and I don't have a problem with them bleeding or creating a hum over instrumentals, or vice versa.
The isolation is pretty good. Really good. I can hear people trying to talk to me from a few feet away ONLY if they're using an "outdoor" voice. The hum of laptop fans, air conditioning, laughing kids, and TV shows are nonexistent when the Image S4 are in and the music is on. My wife actually had to yell at me ("pizza is DONE!! HAY!") and wave (it was the waving that did it) to get my attention when I had my music only at a moderate volume.
::: VERDICT :::
The Klipsch Image S4 delivers highs, mids, and lows very nicely. Overall it's very well-balanced for most types of music. Just don't expect it to excel at everything you're going to listen to. I can't say that these are the best for value, but for me they were the top for comfort and feel. The sound quality is completely dependent on the fit and ear seal. I strongly recommend to test out the comfort before considering anything else. I would caution against purchasing these earbuds if an activity would either losen the ear seal or bounce the cords against your clothes or body. Those two things drastically affect how well it sounds. But if the Klpisch Image S4 fits well without raucous movement, you're likely to find out how easy they drift you off somewhere to get lost in the music. Just don't fall asleep with them on.
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