The typical beef with earbuds is that they sound worse than similarly priced over- or on-ear headphones. That’s not to say audio engineers haven’t figured out how to squeeze spectacular sound out of a diminutive package, there’s just usually a hefty premium for having your cake and eating it too.
Klipsch’s top of the line X11i earbuds feature the same distinctive elongated housing pioneered by the company’s earlier X10 models, but exchange the flashier copper coloring for a muted stainless steel look. The innovative form is dangerously light. At 0.4 oz, they’re comfortable to wear, but very easy to misplace. If they fall out of your pocket on the move, you probably won’t notice they’re missing and cry your eyes out later, with no accompanying soundtrack.
The Klipsch’s patented oval shaped ear tips (available in five sizes) mirror the ear canal, fitting better than the typical round variety and creating excellent passive noise cancellation. The combination highlights everything that’s great about earbuds: they’re portable, unobtrusive and immersive — perfect for avoiding eye contact on mass transit.
So, is the audio quality worth the steep premium in price? If you’re dead set on earbuds, the answer is yes, with a few caveats based on your music choices. Some people derive a rich sensibility from music that’s perfectly in balance; others find it through sound that’s more pronounced on the lower end of the audio spectrum. The sonic clarity produced by the X11i’s minuscule drivers is fantastic, particularly with critical midrange tones. Voices feel close and crisp (a factor daily podcast commuters will appreciate). Musical ebbs and flows are incredibly natural and yes, “dynamic”. Some may even feel the enhanced soundstage of the X11i’s has a tendency to put the faults of overly compressed music on full display — a storage space upgrade may be in order. Various incarnations of rock, soul and classical tunes are strong suits for these headphones.
That’s not to say listening to hip-hop, electronica and top 40 pop should be avoided — though you should seek help for your K$sha addition for other reasons. The X11i’s playback merely lacks the extraneous “oomph” many expect from those genres, particularly when listening at lower volumes. It’s a result of the pair’s dedication to delivering accurate, flat audio that will divide opinions on either side of the fence. It’s the difference between “cold” and “warm” sound.
Many argue that, for the MSRP of $350, plenty of other over- or on-ear options offer better sound. While there’s some truth to those claims, they also partially miss the point. Despite the marketing success of the Beats movement, some consumers want excellent sound quality from something they can stuff into pockets and wear discretely either on the subway or out on a run. Klipsch clearly understands this buyer and the brand’s X11i are an excellent choice for those in that camp. Additions like a 3-button remote for your iPhone or iPad (it partially works with Android), a cord reinforced with Kevlar for added durability and accessories like a shirt clip, airline adapter and a quarter-inch adapter add to the set’s value for anyone on the go. It’s also worth noting that many retailers offer the X11i for a significant discount, making them an even easier recommendation.