Mini-Review: Klipsch Image S4i Headset for iPhone and iPod

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| September 3, 2009

For the past few weeks I've been testing a beta sample of Klipsch's new Image S4i "In-Ear Headset with Mic and 3-Button Remote." These are the iPhone/iPod-specific version of Klipsch's S4i in-ear earphones - the S4 adds an inline microphone/remote with three buttons that's designed to be compatible with iPhone 3GS' Voice Control and the third-gen iPod shuffle's VoiceOver feature. Generally speaking I found the S4i to work quite well with iPhone 3GS - the silicon-tipped earbuds are comfortable to wear and audio performance is very good considering the set's $100 price point. I had a few issues when using the earphones while exercising and driving, which I'll describe in a moment, but for most use the S4i worked very well and the iPhone 3GS-specific features performed without a hitch.

The S4i feature a "moving coil micro-speaker with controlled damping for smooth, full-bodied sound that’s similar to a more expensive design," and "A dual neodymium magnet motor structure, in each of the 8.5 mm drivers." Hardcore headphone-heads can tell you more about what that means, but I can tell you that they sounded very good with a wide range of music. Bass is present and smooth, mids and highs are clear and tight, and microphonics (the annoying reverberations that occur when the earphone cords bounce around and hit stuff) were kept to a pleasant minimum. You're not going to get bass on steroids out of the S4i, nor will you get the near-reference quality ultra-clear reproduction of a pricier set of 'phones, but you will get a huge upgrade in sound and comfort from the junk that Apple packs-in with iPhones and iPods.

Klipsch built the S4i with angled drivers and oval-shaped ear tips meant to provide a consistent, quality acoustic seal. Klipsch says, "A good seal minimizes outside noise, also known as noise isolation, and allows you to enjoy your music at lower, safer volumes," and I agree with them. In fact, that pretty well summarizes why I prefer in-ear earphones: They minimize outside noise, letting me focus on what I'm listening to without having to crank the volume up to drown out unwanted sounds. Also, they're tiny (easy to carry and wear), and the seal lets me enjoy my tunes without annoying the people around me who might not want to hear what I'm hearing.

I found I preferred the standard oval tips included with the S$i, but I also tried the double-flange tips after I tried running with the standard ones in my ears. This is where I encountered some problems - I simply couldn't get a secure fit with any of the Klipsch ear tips. I tried all four sets, and all four slipped out of my ear once I started sweating during my runs. In fact, it was the left earphone that came loose every time. I'd chalk this up to having more to do with the particular shape of my outer ear canals than any design defects on Klipsch's part; I've tried many types and brands of in-ear phones and eartips over the years, and while many of them are great there's only one kind that fits my ears really well for use during exercise.

No foam tips are included with the S4i, which may be a detractor for some would-be buyers. Foam tips tend to afford better noise isolation and sound quality, though silicon tips offer longer wear, better resistance to moisture, and generally easier insertion/removal. I'm pretty sure you could "hack" a set of foamies onto the S4i if you really wanted to, though.

My other minor concern with these phones has to do with the placement of the in-line microphone/remote. Unlike other headsets which place the mic/remote unit up near one ear or the other, Klipsch mounted the S4i's mic unit at the "yoke" where the main cable separates into separate cords for each earbud. This places the mic/remote down near the bottom of the throat during use. Klipsch designed the unit this way to faciliate easy access to the remote control buttons, and for "a more natural feel when answering calls." With both earphones in place, there's no doubt they succeeded - whether sitting still or in mid-stride during a run, I had no problems working the buttons to change songs, adjust volume, or answer a call. The microphone itself worked quite well, too. My voice seemed to come across just a little bit more "artifical" (sort of echo-y or enhanced) than it does on headsets with the mic placed closer to my mouth, but nobody I called complained about it - they only brought it up after I specifically asked them to listen for anything "different" about my voice. In other words, the mic worked well.

However, I only ever insert one earphone when using a headset while driving (or, usually, while walking outside). It's not safe to drive a car with two earphones inserted in your ears - especially not isolation 'phones like these. My review sample, being a beta unit, did not come with a clothing clip like retail models do, so I found that the mic sometimes hung too far away from my mouth when I only had one earphone in place. The result was a call or two during which the other person had trouble hearing me. Klipsch assured me that proper use of the clothing clip to secure the mic in place during one-eared use will alleviate any such problems.

While the headset also works for listening to music via other cell phones and mp3 players, the microphone and remote control features do not work with any non-Apple devices. In fact, Klipsch's compatibility chart for S4i is limited to iPhone 3GS, iPod shuffle 3rd Gen, and three other iPod models. The S4i is also reported to work as a VOIP headset (microphone and earphones) with certain Apple laptop computers, though I cannot confirm this myself.

All in all I recommend the Klipsch S4i to iPhone 3GS owners looking to upgrade their earbuds for music and voice call purposes. If you don't need the iPhone mic/remote, you might check out the $79.99 Image S4 earphones, instead. As with any in-ear headphones, these may not fit your ears to a T, but they should make most users happy. The angled driver design fits a bit differently than traditional straight-insert earphones, as do Klipsch's oval eartips. Beyond the aforementioned slippage problems I experienced during exercise, I was able to get a good, comfortable fit and a good acoustic seal - and the result was a nice, clear sound with smooth bass and pretty clear and true mids and highs, as well as good performance on voice calls. The 3GS-specific music, call, and voice control features are a welcome bonus that are unique to the aftermarket space, at least for now.

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