Klipsch Image S4 in Review – Double the Bass with Twice the Pace
After 2008′s popular Image X5, which debuted at $100 less than the X10, Klipsch began expanding the affordable line of their inner earphones. In 2009, the S2 and S4 join the Image line at the more reasonable prices of $49.99 and $79.99. When Klipsch designed the new earphones, they utilised brand new drivers which were made specifically for their sound signature. So, the S4 houses a special 8mm dynamic driver which packs dual neodymium magnets and the audio performance for which Klipsch is famous. Happily, Klipsch also introduced the iPhone-friendly S4i
which features a mic and remote and is priced at $99.99.
Variation: Black with Silver Accents only
Transducer: Single KG25, 8mm Dual Neodymium Magnet Dynamic Driver
Frequency Range: 10Hz-19kHz
Sensitivity (1mW): 110dB SPL
Cord Style: Y-Cord
Mini Jack Style: 3.5mm right-angle gold plated
Kllipsch’s crush-resistant aluminium case is the accessory which first attracted my attention. The shiny silver oval houses all the S4 accessories is simple, strong and elegant. The overal accessory package is very neat and well designed, but lacks a few extras. Standing in front of me is one of the best protective cases at any price. Despite this, the Image S4 comes with only an earwax/sound tube cleaner, and an assortment of exclusive silicone oval gels (S,M,L sizes) and a small/medium combination dual flange for the S4.
It is easy to be fooled by the design of the S4. Instead of putting the “Klipsch” decal on the front side, facing forward, Klipsch put the decal on the opposite side, so that only those behind you will see which company’s earphones are plugged into you. The Image S4’s housing angle is similar to Ultimate Ears’ design – the concave bend in the earphone faces the same direction you are looking, allowing the S4 to provide an ergonomic seal.
During first insertion, I found the Image S4 to be extremely comfortable and isolating – in fact, one of the best fits I have ever encountered. In addition to the comfortable and lightweight earpieces, the contour bend to the housing of the Image S4’s is just perfect (for me at least), placing the oval gel in the “sweet spot” for comfort and isolation. Even after long listening sessions, the Klipsch Image S4 isn’t at all irritating; instead, it melts perfectly into the ear.
“What a great sound for the price” – should be the preamble for the sound of the S4. I have logged hundreds of hours and lots of music on the S4 and loved what I have heard. However, I noticed that classical and orchestral music are not that well-suited to the S4. Because Klipsch’s earphone lacks some sparkle up top, its sound signature may be considered too dark for those genres. Pop, metal, and trance: genres which go well with the harmony of smooth, rich mids and punchy lows, are better matches for the S4.
At first, classical instruments such as violins were disappointing, but after giving them more time, I feel that the Image S4’s treble is rather good, if not mellow, for the price and that strings, such as the violin are decently rendered. High edges are audible, but dampened. Though devoid of sibilance or irritation, they lack clarity and are quite dark – not giving up the “ring” which can enrich certain instruments. Listening to any sort of music: orchestral, classical or pop, Soprano vocals are darker than some competing earphones – listening to the remarkable voice of the Celtic Women is just short of what I would have expected to hear. The Highs of the Image S4 disappointed me on one of the Chinese songs which I have listened to for years: Little Love Song by SodaGreen. The song’s Piano and its high-pitched singer’s voice are dulled, lacking the crisp sound which I crave.Overall, the highs are very good, but not nearly as good as other earphones, especially when compared them to similarly priced offerings fron Etymotic.
Smooth with a good amount of detail, the S4 renders Celtic Woman’s Mo Ghile Mear fabulously. Each voice is detailed, with great depth, body and feel. Instruments are lively, drawing the listener in. If you’re a BIG BANG fan or listener, you’re in for a treat. Since I am a BIG BANG listener myself, Lie and Last Farewell, whether in Korean or the English, is powerful. It’s presented as one of the most enveloping sound experiences in the price bracket. In fact, only Altec Lansing Backbeat Pro has been similar. All in all, midrange frequencies are detailed, full bodied, and deep in buttery-smooth wrappings.
The low frequency is the S4′s “Sweet-Spot”. Listening to pop and metal is extremely good with deep, thumping drums, full body, and impact. For this reason, the drum-heavy Dulaman by Celtic Women, is captivating. Trance is detailed enough, catching every focal and non-focal beat; as the S4 catches its rhythm, this genre is lively. Last Farewell was the party piece with the Image S4, the kick drum and bass drum in it is so powerful yet accurate it brings the song into “hyper” mode where you just want to tap your foot and dance! Overall, the Image S4’s bass is powerful, quick, and full-bodied with an ocean-like depth. In fact, its bass is one of my favourites even compared to much higher-priced earphones.
The Image S4’s soundstage isn’t spectacular, but definitely not disappointing. While decently wide, the Image’s front to back musical tapestry isn’t very deep. The soundstage of the Image S4 leaves your music sounding as a really well done recording: tight, but not too expansive. For orchestral music, instruments tend to cram together, losing some of the essence of the massive collection of players and instruments. But for most faster music, the S4 does a good job for the price, but there is definitely room for improvement.
Like the S2, Klipsch’s higher-end earphone is rigid and smooth and of great build quality. While not metal, the S4 isn’t the most expensive looking of earphones, but don’t let that fool you! The Cable is designed to be sweat, chemical, and crack resistant (and doing its job well in this Vancouver summer which has reached above 40 degrees!). Relatively flexible and thin, there is little microphonic noise in Klipsch’s earphone which means walking around is great. Thankfully, it is also lightweight and won’t drag your earphones from your ears or put excessive pressure on your ear canals. Plug is a gold-plated right angle 3.5mm, with a soft flex end that acts as a strain relief. Taking all into consideration, the quality of the Klipsch Image S4’s is better than many earphones in its pricerange.
Klipsch’s attempt to bring an affordable, high-quality earphone to the market was successful with the S2 and is equally so with the S4. Offering good, yet laid-back highs, excellent mids, and mind blowing bass, Klipsch S4 is definitely a top-tier performer. Quality is great – certainly among the best at the price, and despite lacking some accessories and some detail and clarity on the high frequencies, we would recommend these the Image S4’s to anyone entering the “High-Fi” world. This especially rings true for listeners of Pop, Metal, and Trance music. In the end, though the Image S4 is highly recommended in the under $100 category, it lacks a few accessories which hold it back. Never mind though, the S4 is grabbed with two big thumbs up from an over-eager TMA!
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