I admit, I’m a cheapskate. £25 earphones are pretty much standard for me and anything over that is pretty much out of the question: I squish them in my pocket and forget I put them there when I wash my clothes. You could say I abuse them. And besides, they all sound the same right?
Wrong. After using a friend’s Klipsch X11i earphones I converted to high quality in-ear headphones. For some, Klipsch is synonymous with high-end audio and these headphones are no exception. They come with a leather carrying case, two adapters (airplane headphone port and 1/4”), and 5 sizes of oval ear tips.
One of the first things one notices when grabbing a pair of these earphones are the oval ear tips: these help with isolation and ergonomic comfort. Anyone who has used in-ear headphones for an extended period can testify that after about an hour or so, they start to become painful. It becomes really noticeable when one removes the earbuds from their ears after at least an hour: a sharp stinging pain that persists long after the earbuds’ removal. Klipsch’s patented oval tips, though, solve this problem short of purchasing custom-moulded earbuds shaped specifically for your ear.
The design is simple with unassuming looks and square-shaped cables; while being elegant, it’s clear that Klipsch focuses on their sound, rather than a flashy-looking product. A three-button remote also helps keep your device in your pocket without having to deal with adjusting volume on the device itself. The third button — the one not related to volume — helps with play/pause. A thing of note is that other reviewers have noticed that the 3-button remote doesn’t seem to work correctly on Android devices, but it is good on Apple devices.
While aesthetically and ergonomically they are well designed, their durability leaves something to be desired. The Kevlar lined cabling, while being extraordinarily resistant to tears and abrasions, doesn’t help much when the cable gets caught on something and snags the earbuds away, tearing at the joints. The lack of a non-removable cable also doesn’t help on this end.
At the end of the day, though, they’re small in-ear headphones that need to be babied. It’s not a good idea to squish them into your pocket after you’re finished listening or rip them out of your ear by the connecting cables. Tugging on the junctions repeatedly and they will ultimately wear down. Klipsch doesn’t seem to understand that most folks using in-ear headphones uses them for convenience and as such, tend to abuse them. I understand they want them to be light (the X11i’s only weigh 10 grams), but I’d happily carry around another five grams if they would be a little more resistant to abuse.
At first it feels strange that such a flimsy feeling piece of equipment could cost so much — until you hear them. While the X11i sure doesn’t feel like £170 of equipment, putting them in your ear sure sounds like £170. They provide excellent isolation from the external environment so you don’t have to crank the volume in order to hear whatever you’re listening to on the bus, damaging your hearing in the process.
To get an idea of what I mean, go test them out on a high quality binaural recording and close your eyes: the sound image created is amazing for such tiny headphones. I had the pleasure of listening to the raw binaural recordings of street noise used in Juan Pampin’s On Space and these headphones far outperformed my over-ear monitors (granted, the X11i’s are almost three times more expensive than my over-ear monitors…). Movies on a plane — especially with -26dB of isolation — would make already cramped flights a little more enjoyable.
The small balanced armature drivers, despite appearances, deliver quality response from 5Hz and up to 19kHz; I’m somewhat skeptical about 5Hz being the lower extent of the range. It seems unnecessary since human hearing only extends down to about 20Hz — after that, the physical sensation in the body of pulsing waves of air takes over. However, there are impressive lows in the headphones, much more so than my £25 ones. And the balance and clarity is fantastic. No wonder the X11i’s won the 2014 TWICE VIP Award and were the 2013 Digital Movie Headphone of the Year.
Some may complain of the wire noise from the headphones: the noise that is transmitted to your ears when the cabling rubs against your clothing, for instance. This, though, is really a complaint aimed at all in-ear headphones, since it is a function of vibrations transferred by the cable material transmitted to the earbud itself. It has nothing to do with the build quality of any particular in-ear headphone.
If you’re looking for high quality sound in a small package or don’t want the bulk of over-ear monitors, the X11i’s are great. Just take care of them since the joints tend to be somewhat fragile. Klipsch could’ve (and should’ve) done more to make the junctions more robust and all of us probably need to be a little more gentle with our in-ear headphones. But probably both.
Nonetheless, Klipsch offers a great warranty: one year from the date of purchase for defective materials and workmanship. Great sound and so-so build quality means they should go right back in that leather carrying case when you’re done. Certainly an excellent choice if you plan to wear headphones for hours at a time in loud environments.
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 5Hz-19kHz
IMPEDANCE: 50 ohms
DRIVER DESIGN: Full Range Balanced Armature
DRIVER COMPONENTS: KG 926
NOISE ISOLATION: -26 dB
MIC/REMOTE: mic+3-button remote
INPUT CONNECTIONS: 3.5mm
DIMENSIONS (PACKAGING): 7.2˝ H x 3.34˝ W x 2.36˝ D
WEIGHT: 10 grams
The X11i's will take care of you if you take care of them.