Klipsch Image S4i Earphones: The Prince [Review, $100 IEM Week]

Klipsch Image S4i Earphones: The Prince [Review, $100 IEM Week]

Maybe you’re not going to buy a pair of earphones based on the way they look; maybe you’d rather spend your moolah on a pair that came with exquisite performance. What if you could have both? In spades? Here you go: With their deep, bone-tingling bass and blue-blood looks and manners, the Klipsch Image S4i earphones ($100) is the Prince…of Spades.

The Good:

The S4i had me at hello; I was charmed before I even shoved an earpiece into my waiting ears. This is absolutely the most elegant-looking set of canalphones I’ve ever seen, especially in white (they also come in black). From the set’s sleek finish to the subtle silver accents, details seem perfectly thought out.

But the beauty isn’t just skin deep. The impression of quality extends to function as well: The S4i has the best controls in our series, and maybe the best of any control-equipped earphones I’ve ever messed with. The buttons are widely spaced, perfectly shaped and have great feedback; Steve (or Jony) would be proud.

There are three regular and one flanged set of silicone tips, all of which, unusually, require precise alignment on the nozzle, as they’re notched to keep them in place. Finding a good seal was a bit of a struggle, but after a little experimentation I was able to find the setup (one medium tip, one large) that worked for me. Once sealed, the S4i’s passive noise-canceling prowess was up there with the best of them, and close, though not quite matching, the performance of Etymotic’s eartips.

The set can be worn in the standard way, with the cords hanging straight down; but the set’s housing is angled in such a way to allow it to also be worn with the cables run around the back of the ears, and I much preferred this; actually had a fair bit of trouble wearing them in the standard way (see below).

I’m rarely as stunned by deep, smooth bass from a canalphone as I was with the S4i. There are other sets out there with macho bass muscle — the Amazon ($79.95) comes to mind — but few near this price that can match the S4i’s rich, silken tone. The set were perfect for listening to something like Sting’s Mercury Falling. And while the ‘phones weren’t exceptional at producing bold mids, highs were crisp and bright, and the overall effect was pleasant and warm, and rarely boomy or harsh — unless a heavy bassline was present.

The Bad:

The S4i are really heavily weighted toward bass — bordering on overwhelming at times. Granted, that bass has a very smooth, rich quality to it; but those who aren’t partial to a deeply bassy sound may not like it, no matter how rich the tonal quality.

There’s also something a little weird about the fit of the angled earpieces. They seemed very sensitive to even the slightest adjustments, and the only way I could get a good seal was by wearing them with the cables over my ears. This could have something to do with the shape of my ears, but I haven’t experienced the kind of sensitivity to position as much with any other IEM; bass seemed to leak out alarmingly easily, even for this sort of earphone, without a really firm seal. Still, once a seal was locked down, everything was groovy.

Verdict:

There are few earphones that exude as much rich feel and performance for as low an asking price as the Klipsch Image S4i. Bass lovers especially need look no further.

Rating: ★★★★½

Klipsch Image S4i Earphones: The Prince [Review, $100 IEM Week]

Related
  • Matt

    One reason I’ve been put off the S4i is the boomy bass. Am interested to see what other IEM’s you have lined up. Currently trying to decide myself what to get to upgrade the apple ones I got.

  • james Katt

    The bass is NOT boomy at all.  It has presence.  You will appreciate the bass when traveling in a loud environment such as an airplane.  In those environments, earphones which do not have bass will decidedly sound thin.

    You can replace the standard Klipsch earpieces with standard round earpieces from third parties. This improves on the fit.  The ova Klipsch earpieces just don’t fit well in many people versus round earpieces.

  • Axel Flury

    I’ve owned a pair for nearly two years now and I have to say, they’re awesome, BUT the  build quality could be better… the soft plastic surrounding the cable near the plug tends to split. I had my first pair replaced after 6 months because of that (warranty) and the second pair wound up the same after another 6 months of daily use… I think if the plug was angled it would suffer less strain while being in your pocket.

  • Processwork

    I recently purchased these earbuds after reading more than a few glowing reviews. I looked around and finally purchased these from a well-known online auction website for $65 (no tax). The fit was just OK so ordered some foam earpieces from Comply but they have not yet arrived. At any rate, very recommended and thankfully not too bass-y with almost equally balance low, mid, top ranges. 

  • satnismymotor

    I’ve had the same issue.  I upgraded to image s5i and although the in-line remote is heavier, the build quality is much better and they’re waterproof too.  Audio is just as good

  • Cms01

    I have these and the Apple in ear one’s and some Etymotic’s, as well as several good over ear models. These do have a huge low end sound which is nice and which I probably prefer if I had to choose but not enough high end for my tastes.  I think they look bad in ear because they stick out so far and are quite big and the cord is too long which makes it problematic.  Also the mic is placed too low.  I think Apple gets it right on that point, even on the minimal yet easy to use cord remote. But I did put these klipsch’s through an entire wash and dry cycle months ago and they stll sound great.  That is amazing.  The cord length and design of the Apple in ear model is perfect but the sound is too weak.  The cord storage thing is very helpful also.  Is this just a $100 and under review?  I’m interested in some higher end etymotic’s, Bose, and Grado. 

  • elimilchman

    That’s a good point, and something I didn’t comment on — the mic is pretty low, compared to other sets with inline mics. The positioning didn’t seem to have an effect on communication though, and people could hear me just fine. 

  • elimilchman

    Like James says, the bass is strong, but can’t really be described as boomy. Still, if you’re put off by strong bass, check out our upcoming review of the Ultimate Ears 600vi.

About the author

Eli MilchmanWhen he was eight, Eli Milchman came home from frolicking in the Veld one day and was given an Atari 400. Since then, his fascination with technology has made him an intrepid early adopter of whatever charming new contraption crosses his path — which explains why he's Cult of Mac's test editor-at-large. He calls San Francisco home, where he works as a journalist and photographer. Eli has contributed to the pages of Wired.com and BIKE Magazine, among others. Hang with him on Twitter.

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