For people who are really serious about audio quality--generally referred to as audiophiles--the majority of ultraportable headphones on the market just aren't going to cut it. It's this fact that gives companies like Klipsch a very compelling reason to make something like the Image X10i. This sleek, in-ear headset will set you back $350, but for that pretty penny, you'll get exceptional sound quality and plenty of compelling extras. However, potential buyers should know right off the bat that this type of investment is only truly justifiable if you listen to mainly lossless or very high-quality audio files.
The Klipsch Image X10i is a close relative of the Image X10 and this is immediately apparent in the design. The X10i features the same superslim and tiny copper earpieces, which are ideal for anyone with smaller ears or who finds standard earbuds uncomfortable, because of their strictly round shape. Klipsch includes five sets of contoured silicone eartips--three sizes of standard sleeves and two sizes of double-flanged tips. The standard sleeves come in small, medium, and large, though the actual sizing is closer to extra-small, small, and medium. This is worth noting for those who have larger ears. In addition to the fittings, the package contains a handful of notable extras: an airplane adapter, a quarter-inch adapter, a cleaning tool, and a hard-sided case with a magnetic flap closure.
Descending from each Image X10i earpiece is an ultrathin black cable. The wire is very flexible and Klipsch employs a proprietary method to make it durable, but it's still quite tangle-prone, which can have some implications for lasting durability. To allay these concerns, however, Klipsch offers a two-year warranty and fantastic customer support. At the junction of the Y-cable, you'll find the reason for the "i" at the end of the product name: a module with an integrated mic, volume controls, and a call answer button that does double-duty as a playback control for the iPhone and the iPod. Below the module is a clip for affixing the mic closer to your mouth. The cord measures 48 inches in all and terminates in a reinforced, gold-plated straight-plug.
All this prettiness and extra goodness is all well and good, but the only way to really appreciate the Klipsch Image X10i is to test them out, which is exactly what we did. The first step is fit, and we had no issues getting the earbuds to rest comfortably and securely in our ears with the standard medium tips. The slightly oval shape, which is more akin to actual ear shape than a circle is, helps the earbuds stay in place and provides a good seal with the ear. As such, the Image X10i provides a decent amount of passive sound isolation, though not as much as we've experienced with compressible foam tips. Also, there is a bit of noticeable noise from the cable brushing during the quieter parts of songs, but nothing excessive.
By far the most impressive aspect of the Image X10i is the sound quality. These earphones really provide some of the cleanest, most balanced audio one can hope for, and all without sacrificing the low-end. Bass is present, but very tight and has no tendency to overpower or distort music. First on the test list was Britney Spears' "3," a dance pop track with electronic elements. Her vocals are smooth and melodic, the hand claps bright and crisp, and the bass deep and encompassing. This is pretty much the case across the board: detailed highs, rich, buttery mids, and thumping lows. We bounced from pop to alt dance to metal to classical to reggaeton and were never disappointed with the response. These are truly fantastic performers across the board.
All that being said, we can't help but conclude that the target audience for the Klipsch Image X10i is very small. Yes, anyone with eclectic tastes can certainly enjoy these earphones, but at this price, it really makes sense only for very discerning listeners who have the majority of their music in lossless or very nearly lossless formats. And as most music phones don't (yet) have the capacity to handle a lot of lossless files, this headset is best-suited to iPod Classic owners with audiophile tendencies.