Klipsch’s earphone line has had some gems in the past, so it’s nice to see the consistency upheld. At $199.99 (direct), the Klipsch Image X7i is an investment, but it’s a winner, boasting an excellent sound signature aimed at audiophiles who want flat response without sacrificing bass. Armed with a wide array of ear tips to secure a perfect fit and an inline remote/microphone for mobile devices, the lightweight X7i secures its place in the upper tier of the crowded $175-$225 earphone realm. Strong audio perfomance and solid, simple design earn it our Editors’ Choice for mid-priced earphones.
The Image X7i ranks among the smallest in-canal earphone pairs you’ll ever see. In our black test pair, the ceramic earpieces are a lightweight, smoothed, dark metallic tone, and they connect to a flat, linguini-esque cable—gray on one side, black on the other. The X7i is also available in white. The left and right ear’s cables join into one at the compartment housing the inline microphone and three-button remote control.
Included with the X7i: a small black, zip-up carrying pouch, an airline headphone jack adapter, a shirt clip, and five total silicon eartip pairs in various sizes and shapes. The variety of tips, combined with the lightness of the earpieces, makes for a very secure fit and seal off the ear canal.
The shirt clip might be necessary at times—the wide, flat cable and the secure ear seal means that the X7i’s cable microphonics—the thump that you hear when the cable taps against your torso while walking—can be intense.
Call clarity through the inline mic is about par for the course—the ear tips attenuate outside sounds very well, and the mic is clear enough that your call partner will be able to understand you.
At unsafe listening levels, the Image X7i seems on the verge of distorting on some tracks that have serious deep sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” but the earphones never quite give in. Instead, they deliver powerful sub-bass response with some seriously sculpted high-mids and highs that help add definition to the powerful sound signature. At just slightly lower (safer) levels, they don’t flirt with distortion at all, and the heavy low end is delivered with true intensity, but is always clear and well-defined.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” vocals are delivered with a crisp treble edge that adds contour and clarity to his vocals, which can sometimes get lost in this mix on earphones that boost the lower frequencies too much without also tweaking the highs. Here, his baritone delivery still has depth, but the gravel is there, too—and without much added sibilance. The constant drum hits in the background have just enough roundness to their low-end to sound thunderous at times, yet without stealing the attention away from Callahan’s vocals and the guitar strumming.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” sounds fantastic through the X7i—the treble that graces the attack of the kick drum loop keeps the rhythmic thumps punchy, while the sub-bass synth hits that sit beneath the loop have a nice depth to them, punctuating the mix every measure or so with power. Vocals are delivered with an ideal crisp edge so that they sit in the forefront of the mix. Too often, a sculpted high-mid response will add to much sibilance on a dense track like this, but not here.
On classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” the lower register strings possess just enough added depth to stand out a bit, thanks to the generous low-end of the X7i, but the stage belongs to the higher register strings and brass—the bowing and the growls have an ideal amount of high-mid presence that cuts through the mix in exciting ways. The large drum hits at the end can sometimes sound over-the-top on earphones with heavily boosted bass, but here the power of the hits seems just right—strong, but not unnatural.
If the Image X7i sounds too intense in the bass department, you’re probably looking for a more flat response pair like the Martin Logan Mikros 70, because the X7i’s sub-bass levels are actually fairly tame. Compared with our previous mid-price earphone Editors’ Choice, the Bowers & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones the X7i fares well. The secure fit of the C5 is more or less matched by the X7i, and their sound signatures are quite similar, with the C5 possessing a bit more low-end thump and brighter highs that make some snappier percussion stand out a bit more. Between the two, it’s matter of preference, but they both sound great and sculpt the high-mids slightly differently.
If the Image X7i sounds like a winner to you, but the price is a bit out of your range, consider the Harman Kardon AE
—it’s got the same spirit of providing rich bass without boosting it too much, and costs a bit less. The Klipsch Image X7i enters a crowded field in this price range, but it joins the winners at the top with a secure fit, solid design, and excellent audio performance that earn it our Editors’ Choice.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc