In May of last year, we reviewed one of the smallest and most comfortable pair of earphones in history. The Klipsch Image X10s are compact, great-sounding and well-designed, but have undoubtedly put some people off with their £200 price tag.
Enter the Image X5s, a more affordable version of the X10s, with the same form factor and mission statement, but with several tenners slashed off their price tag. They're on sale from the Klipsch website now for £129, and we've just spent the last two weeks using them to death.
Strictly speaking, we've not used them to death -- they've held up well with heavy use. And, much like their older X10 brothers, they're damn comfy. Several pairs of differently sized silicone tips come in the box to ensure you get the most comfortable fit and, once you're on-board the comfort express, it's first-class travelling all the way.
The tips themselves are sound-isolating, so ambient noise, like traffic and chattering, is muffled out into the distance -- much like wearing delicate earplugs. Although just a smidgen larger than the X10s, the X5s have retained the Image branding and, consequently, inclusion in one of the most discrete and comfortable earphone families on the market, rivalled only by the excellent q-Jays from Jays.
The cabling -- yes, this can be called a feature -- is lightweight and above-average in design, with a gold-plated, 3.5mm plug on one end. It's not as rugged-feeling or thick as the cabling that Shure offers on its range, but it's also not as weighty. Which is better is purely down to you.
Inside each enclosure is a single, balanced armature, like with the X10s, although the armature itself isn't quite as refined as that of the X10s. This armature handles the full audio spectrum with a 50 Ohm impedance, as opposed to that of the Shure SE420s or q-Jays, which feature multiple driver units for individually handling low and high frequencies.
The advertised advantages and disadvantages of single- and multi-driver systems differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Single-driver manufacturers claim lower levels of distortion, while multi-driver manufacturers often claim a more refined sound, thanks to each driver only having to handle a single frequency range. Both can be correct, but the proof is always in the pudding, so let's see how the X5s' pudding tastes.
In a word, it's delicious. But what's even more curious is that we quite possibly prefer them to the X10s. It's a subjective opinion, and we like to keep those to a minimum, but we found the X5s to produce a much fuller-bodied, meatier and punchier sound, more suited to rock than classical.
They're very clear earphones, with a rich, but not pounding, low-end bass response and a clear treble. It's a sound quality that feels somewhat departed from the voice of the X10 and the Custom series, which favour sound qualities with prominent mid-ranges.
Listening to Taylor Swift's latest pop-country album, Fearless, we were genuinely surprised by the X5s' sound quality. It's powerful and deep, yet balanced, with excellent instrumental separation and clarity. Acoustic guitars were delivered beautifully, with each steel string audible alongside the deep notes of the drum kit's toms and the smooth bass guitar.
Vocals were a particular strength of the X10s, and it's a strength carried down to the X5s. While we've certainly heard deeper bass from the likes of Sennheiser and Denon -- the kings of bass-heavy earphones -- the compact X5s held their own against the likes of Pendulum's pounding drum 'n' bass, and held their own even tighter with Beyonce's If I Were a Boy -- a truly blinding performance.
The terrific Image X5 earphones are some of Klipsch's best to date, with all-rounder qualities akin to a more costly pair. Add to that a superbly compact and comfortable design, and the fact that we chose to keep using them instead of the X10s, and you've got yourself a winner in the all-rounder category.
Edited by Charles Kloet