Tiny audiophile earbuds deliver big, clear sound

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Small and unassuming, with incredibly clarity and tone.
Small and unassuming, with incredibly clarity and tone.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Best List: Reference X20i In-Ear Headphones by Klipsch

Have you ever wondered whether a pair of $550 earbuds is worth the price? I have, but never really had the scratch to put it to the test.

Klipsch, however, sent me a pair of their high-end earbuds, the Reference X20i In-Ear Headphones, to test. When I opened the wooden box and slid the headphones out of their leather pouch, then slipped their oval-shaped eartips into my sound holes, I went to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens soundtrack. The orchestral music seemed like a great way to see if these really expensive headphones match their price tag.

The short answer is yes. Yes, they do. Every note, every instrument — from the deep basses to the bright trumpets — sounded clear and beautifully rendered, without a lick of coloring like other headphones are wont to add. I slipped into something more electronic, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” and was amazed at the bass response. Spinning up Death Cab for Cutie’s “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life,” I could hear the pick on the opening guitar strings and the subtle echo effect on Ben Gibbard’s beautifully balanced vocals, things that tend to get lost in less-capable earbuds.

Things got even better when I used the X20i earbuds on my own music via my Mac and GarageBand. The great thing about reference-style headphones is that they don’t color the sound. Audiophiles and musicians like this because the audio is as close as possible to the way the music was made to be heard. Higher-resolution audio files combined with headphones like this are the dream of the pickiest of listeners and music makers.

The Klipsch X20i earbuds come with six different sizes of in-ear silicone ovals for the perfect fit, a chrome-colored in-line remote that mirrors Apple’s Earpod functionality (if not its design — the mic is a bit clunky on the Klipsch cable). And the X20i earbuds actually unscrew from the cabling in case you need to send either in for repair.

For $550, these are the types of touches you’d expect. What was surprising was the incredibly balanced, clear sound signature across all types of sources. If you’re looking for top-of-the-line of earbuds that are worth every penny, the Klipsch X20i reference headphones are the ones you want.

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Cult of Mac’s Best List is a roundup of products that make us want to dance the night away. Read more Best List mini reviews.