Klipsch has long been known for its legendary horn-driver speakers, but over the past decade, the company has made waves with its highly regarded Custom 3 in-ear monitors and its comfortable Image X10 in-ear headphones. So I looked forward to reviewing the company's £99 Image One Stereo Headphones, even though this model represents the bottom of the company's full-size headphone lineup. See also Group test: What are the best headphones?
Klipsch markets the Image One as an on-ear (supra-aural) headphone, even though the earpads may be big enough to fit around smaller ears. Unlike over-ear (circum-aural) headphones, which have earpieces and earpads designed to completely surround the ears, on-ear headphones have earpieces that sit on the ears. As a result, they don't seal sound as effectively as over-ear headphones, so your music might be heard by others nearby at louder volumes. Likewise, on-ear models tend to block less ambient noise. Some on-ear models are designed for portability, while others are larger and sturdier--the Image One Stereo Headphone falls into the latter group.
Note that I reviewed the original Image One. Klipsch also offers the similarly priced Image One (II), which uses flat cabling attached to only the left earpiece--the original Image One uses thinner, round cables attached to both earpieces. The Image One (II) also collapses smaller for travel. However, according to Klipsch, the two models are otherwise identical and sound the same.
The Image One packaging gives the clear message that this is meant to be quality kit. Inside the easy-to-open box (thank you, Klipsch!) is a large, sturdy, semi-rigid carrying case. The Image One's earpieces rotate 90 degrees to lie flat in the case, which has a small compartment for the included 1/8"-to--1/4" adaptor and two-prong airline adaptor. The case also includes a hook-and-loop (Velcro-style) strap for securing the headphone cable.
The Image One's metal headband is covered around the top by padded leather with soft-touch plastic at the sides. The earpieces sport soft, real-leather earpads. The left and right sides are identified by dark-gray--on-black letters that can be difficult to read in dim light. Tasteful chrome and leather accents finish the classy, restrained look. The thin, Y-style cable includes an Apple-style, three-button inline remote and microphone module; the cable ends in a straight 1/8-inch miniplug.
While testing the Image One, my ears seemed to be too small to fit perfectly inside the earpads, but too big for the pads to sit easily on my ears, making placement a bit fussy. But once I got the earpieces positioned properly, the Image One was light and comfortable. The leather earpads are soft and luxurious, though summer heat might bring out the less-comfortable qualities of leather on skin. The controls on the inline module are sized and spaced well, making them easy to use by feel. The inline microphone performs exceptionally well, producing clear, rich recordings with little or no background noise.
The Image One can be added to the pile of contemporary headphones that have fallen victim to the bass race: The Image One is encumbered with an enormous bass boost that can overwhelm the midrange frequencies. Even if you use equalization to bring out the higher frequencies, they are neither as smooth nor as nuanced as one might expect from Klipsch, and some female vocals sound strained. If you're expecting the clarity and definition of the traditional Klipsch horn sound, the Image One will disappoint.
On the good side, the bass, however overbearing, is deep and clean, with very good extension. The Image One delivers big sound with an average soundstage, and it can play at very high volumes without distortion. See all audio reviews.