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First looks: Klipsch X20i earphones - Good things come in small packages

By Marcus Wong - 15 Apr 2016

First looks: Klipsch X20i earphones - Good things come in small packages


When you’re presented a pair of headphones that come in their own well finished wooden box (with magnet catches no less), the immediate association is one of quality, and certainly the X20i has that same promise. First, some background info on the Klipsch X-series. The Reference X series headphones are said to be designed from the ground up  with four main principles in mind:-

  • Form follows comfort
  • Use the finest materials available
  • Bring the sound closer to the eardrum
  • Utilize the latest technology for unsurpassed acoustical performance

All the members of the Klipsch X-series.

Source: Klipsch.com

At the moment, there are five X-series headphones, each with different design characteristics, and so different sound signatures. As you can see from the chart above, the X20i has the best frequency response of the lot, with a balanced audio profile that’s supposed to provide "true audiophile clarity".

The headphones themselves are small and slim, with an injection-molded stainless steel housing that has been fashioned from surgical grade steel for the best balance of weight and strength. These shield the drivers within and lend a sense of quality to the headphones, and lead on to what Klipsch calls "Reference cabling", which are tangle-resistant wires that show exposed copper through a smoked jacket. How's that for class?

The X20i up-close. The drivers are shielded by surgical grade steel which is both light and sturdy.

The cables also boast screw-type coaxial SSMCX connectors for both left and right sides, allowing you to easily swap them out if you’d prefer your own custom balanced cables. It seems these are approximately 35% smaller than industry-standard MMCX connectors, so you get the advantage of changeable cables without the usual bulk. 

However, we must mention that the cables detach not at the earphone housing, but rather a few inches down along the cable. This means you won’t really be able to replace the entire cable, which means you won’t really affect the sound quality even if you do use your own custom cables. Also, if anything goes wrong with that short length of cable going to the headphones, you’re still going to have to send the entire set back to Klipsch for servicing, which defeats the purpose some.

 The cables feature screw-type coaxial SSMCX connectors for easy swapping.

That said, we must say we like the color scheme Klipsch has going with these headphones. Brushed metal paired with copper is generally a good look, and the patented oval-shaped ear tips are really tiny this time, so they should easily fit into any ear. The company does acknowledge that all ears are different though, so a set of five additional sizes are provided so you can find the one that gives you the absolute best fit.

For us, the basic ear tips worked well, and the narrow taper of the earphones meant we could get the ear tips to really sit deep in our ears, blocking out a good amount of ambient noise while offering a stable, comfortable fit. And that’s probably the biggest advantage about the design – it gives you a snug fit that keeps your headphones in without placing undue pressure on your ears so you almost don’t even realize you’re wearing them after a while.

A set of five replacement ear tips are provided.

Putting it through a quick audition, we found that the headphones really do have a nicely balanced sound signature. Nothing in particular jumps out in a bad way, and you get plenty of detail even at low volumes. For example, we put on a recording of Rude by Magic! And you could easily pick out the rasp of Nasri’s voice amongst the blend of the drums, electric guitars, and later the rest of the band as they come together in the chorus. 

Switching tracks to Sweet Child O’Mine by the Guns N’ Roses, and again you get a great sense of the separation the X20i is able to achieve. What this piece also revealed though, is just how the headphone does a great job of being balanced but not boring. You can clearly make out Steven Adler’s drum work, but while there’s ample thump to it, the drums remain very much in the mid-bass range instead of dropping down to the lower-bass range. Neither too wet or too dry, the drums come out just right, punching the beat and providing the constant amongst the Duff McKagan’s bass work, and Slash and Izzy Stradlin’s riffs.

We ended our brief audition with a recording of Veinte Anos from the Buena Vista Social Club album which features a great deal of guitar work highlighted by lots of fingerpicking, all of which is picked up superbly by the X20i. Imaging is superb once again, and you can easily pick out Omara Portuondo’s vocals amidst the string work, percussions, and Compay Segundo’s baritone. 

On the whole, we’d say we’re most impressed by the Klipsch X20i. It’s one of the few in-ear headphones we’ve tested so far that manages the feat of being nicely balanced without sounding boring all around. There’s nice sparkle to the trebles and enough body to the bass that it doesn’t leave you wanting either way. Everything about the headphones speak "premium", including the price, which at S$999, will likely be the main concern to people considering a set. Still, if price isn’t an issue, then it’d certainly be well worth your time to audition a pair.

The Klpsch Reference X20i is available now at all major retailers.

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