I listened to the Klipsches for several weeks, in a variety of everyday listening situations, using a 5th generation "video" iPod as source, either from its own headphone out or through a Meier Audio Corda StepDance preamp, or in front of various home and office Macs, via an Avid/Digidesign Mbox USB interface. At 32 ohms and with 110 db/mW sensitivity, it wasn't a problem driving these 'phones to listenable levels with pretty much anything I had lying around.
The Image Ones represent vocals well, and have a smooth, unfatiguing high end that maintains plenty of sparkle. There's a lot of low end on tap here — too much for my taste, I have to admit. I felt that unless I resorted to EQ to roll off a lot of energy south of 100 Hz, low mids got buried in the booming bass (and I'm not one to crank up headphones to dangerous levels). It's not all bad — there's plenty of punch. Kick drums have impressive definition, and the Image Ones can get nice and earth-shaking when need be: Skream's dubstep remix of La Roux's "In for the Kill" comes across just fine, and for well-recorded rock driven by picked bass (the Stranglers Rattus Norvegicus/IV, produced by the late Martin Rushent, for example) these are a fine choice.
Solo instrumental recordings (which, to my mind, makes the most of the unavoidably narrow closed-back soundstage) shone whether acoustic or electric. Both Glen Velez' meditative, introspective acoustic hand percussion masterpiece Internal Combustion and Fred Frith's idiosyncratic solo guitar outing Clearing were great listens on the Image Ones, showing off a nicely detailed upper midrange.
I found things got cloudy pretty quickly, however, with anything dense in the lower registers, especially heavily peak-limited rock recordings. U2's "Beautiful Day," from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, got fatiguing fast on the Image Ones, the bloom around the kicks and bass just overpowered the guitars, synths, and effects.
This might or might not be a problem depending on your own tastes and physiology — and one listener's excessive low end, of course, is another's warmth. As with all headphones, your mileage may vary widely. Still, the consensus around the S+V offices was that the Image One's were pretty heavy on the low end.
Of course, this might just point to the necessity of using the Image Ones in their intended application. I didn't bother with EQ at all when using the Image Ones with iPod or phone (too inconvenient to do so on the fly in either case), and that turned out to be just as well. Given a chance, I found that on the move, the bass response goes a long way towards overcoming environmental noise. I found Nick Cave's "There is a Kingdom" (From The Boatman's Call) far too muddy sitting at my desk, but on the train ride home the Image One's take on the tune made a whole lot more sense.
Coupled with the degree of isolation inherent in the closed-back design, these make a great subway phone for those who'd like to avoid active noise cancellation; and would be pleasant for any setting where you'd be likely to encounter any significant amount of low-frequency noise (I didn't get the chance to fly while testing, but I'd imagine you'd never notice aircraft engine rumble with these headphones).
This is an enjoyable set of headphones, when it comes right down to it, and though I might not turn to the Image Ones for critical listening in a quiet environment, I wouldn't choose any closed-back headphone for that task. The key to the Image Ones is to take the feature set (the easy portability, the microphone and controller) at face value — this is a very solid choice for travel and commuting, and a nice alternative to the in-ear headphones that dominate that category.
There just aren't very many choices in this niche, especially if you're looking for something a bit understated in design, and the Klipsches come in at half the price of Bowers & Wilkins' P5s, and $50 less than Monster's more directly comparable Beats Solo — so if you're in the market for a pair of iDevice-friendly headphones and have a taste for low end, these are certainly worth a listen.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.