There's nothing like good old-fashioned competition to keep tech prices in check. Case in point: earphones. The headphone market is heavily saturated, and we can all thank that fact for the existence of many worthy earbud contenders in the sub-£70 price range. Still, despite having come across plenty of decent earbuds with reasonable pricing, nothing prepared us for the Klipsch Image S4s.
These super-comfy noise-isolating earphones offer shockingly stellar sound quality that's certainly much better than their £70 price tag suggests. If you're in the market for a headphone replacement for your MP3 player, look no further.
The S4 earpieces don't feel as high-end as the sibling X5s, but then the S4s only cost half as much, so we won't knock them for that. More important is the fact that the 'buds are ultra-small and offer a tapered, bent shape that fits our ears perfectly. This, combined with the soft, oval eartips, gave us a super-comfortable fit that sealed out external noise.
Klipsch includes two sizes of standard tips and one pair of double-flanged models, but all of them are on the small side, so those with larger ears may have some fit issues. The package also contains a metal box for storing the earphones and an earwax cleaning tool.
Our only real design concern relates to the cable. It's very thin, from the 'Y' section descending from each earpiece to the gold-plated 3.5mm plug at the end. This raises some durability concerns, but these are allayed slightly by Klipsch's inclusion of a two-year warranty. Also, the reinforced L-plug should help prevent the breakage that typically happens where the wire connects to the plug. Because the cable's so thin, it's quite tangle-prone, although a slider at the Y section helps with this.
The S4s certainly inspire few complaints when it comes to sound quality. These earphones sound stellar. Each earpiece contains a set of dual-magnet microspeakers, and, although you wouldn't suspect it, given the price point and specs, our ears had trouble telling the difference between these 'buds and Shure's more expensive SE310s. In fact, we'd go so far as to say we prefer the sound from the S4s, thanks to the boomier but still not overpowering bass. The S4s are certainly the best earphones we've heard in their price range.
Despite the forward, ultra-thumping low end, the S4s deliver an excellent amount of clarity and detail throughout the high end. This set will surely appeal to a wide variety of listeners, from those who demand massive low-end response to those who prefer a bright overall response. The balance offered by the S4s is truly exceptional, with warm, buttery mids that stay right where they should.
We tested the earphones across a variety of genres and were never disappointed. LCD Soundsystem's Someone Great sounded spectacular, with an encompassing bass line that came nowhere near overshadowing the tinkling digital triangle notes or the mellow richness of the vocals. Similarly, OutKast's dance track Hey Ya came through firing on all cylinders, with not a single sound lost in the shuffle. Even classical music sounds great, with the rich violins and bright trumpets of the London Symphony Orchestra underscored perfectly by the deep cellos.
With the Image S4s, Klipsch has somehow managed to create an exceptional sound space for very little money, and we'd be very surprised if anyone were unimpressed by what these earphones have to offer for the price. Despite potential durability issues, we recommend the S4s above their competitors in the price range.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet