Klipsch X10/11/12 Review – Digital Quality Meets Analogue Charm
The x10`s are Klipsch`s former flagship earphone that continues to hold a special place in my audio arsenal. I`ve owned them for over 6 years and continue to enjoy their smooth sound no matter how much I upgrade. While they are certainly not perfect, the x10`s provide an impeccably sculpted and addictive sound combined with the most comfortable design of any iem I`ve tested.
They have since been replaced by the x11`s and x12`s, however these earphones are acoustically identical with small upgrades in build such as a new square cable and new colour schemes. The x10`s can be found for well under $100 USD and represent great value at that price, however both the x10`s and x11`s seem to be affected by the infamous strain relief split issue, it`s still too early to talk about the x12`s but I suspect it will be the same story.
About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases
I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.
The x10`s come in a small gold box that is a step up from the s4`s and other consumer earphones. The earphones are nicely displayed in a small textured box that also contains 5 pairs of eartips, two of which are dual flanges, a shirt clip, carry case and cleaning tool.
The case is of the faux leather variety and closes via a magnetic clasp. It is thick and protective while remaining very portable, but it should have a compartment for extra accessories. Overall it`s a nice package, less comprehensive than some Chinese buds, but Klipsch`s oval tips are very ergonomic, avoiding the need for an abundance of different shapes and materials.
The x10`s are claimed to be the lightest earphone on the market. While this may no longer be accurate, they are pretty much the only earphone I could forget I`m wearing. They have feather weight housings coupled with a very lightweight and supple cable that makes for easy wear. The teardrop housings are reminiscent of Etymotic`s famous ER-4, however, the shorter body and soft, sculpted rubber strain reliefs are far more ergonomic.
The comfort of these earphones is helped in part by Klipsch`s patented oval ear tips, one of my favourite small bore tips that is up there with the sony hybrids and spinfits for sure. They are made of a soft silicone but have small molded supports that provide the perfect mix between seal, isolation and comfort. Perhaps my only complaint is that the sound outputs through a very small opening which is easily blocked, if you have troubles with this, then the CP800 spinfits are worth a look.
Despite their light weight, the earpieces themselves inspire confidence. They impress with a machined copper housing with a ridged concentric finish that feels just a little more solid than aluminium. The seamless rubber strain reliefs are very soft and seem well designed to absorb stress.
The nozzles are ridged and hold the tips well, they allow the tips to rotate a bit for an optimal fit. I would have preferred for Klipsch to have added a filter to either the tips or nozzle, but the opening is so small that it shouldn`t be too much of a concern. The earphones have a deep fit and isolate very well, just shy of over ear monitors such as the Westone W30`s and Shure range, but far more than most cable down earphones. They are fully sealed and don`t leak sound at all. With foams, they have fantastic isolation that rivals NC headphones during flights, though comfort is partly compromised. They are completely symmetrical and differentiating between right and left can be difficult, with only small characters on the bottom denoting orientation.
The cable has a very smooth texture, resisting tangling better than most and complying well to winding. It is thin, but fabric reinforcement indicates some added strength.
Mine still work after dozens of plane trips, years of sleeping with them, running with them and general listening which is a testament to this claim, just always use a carry case when not in use. The earphones have a well-molded y-split, but “i” models have a remote instead. They terminate in a well-relieved right angle plug that is very low profile and flexible for smartphone use. It should probably be a little more beefy and it can be hard to grip at times, but it functions well enough in day to day use.
As a result of the deep, cable down fit, these earphones are microphonic… very microphonic. In fact, the x10`s have the loudest cable noise of any earphone period, a much-debated issue among owners. It sounds terrible, but it`s well managed by Klipsch through the long strain reliefs that prevent the cables from ever touching the face. If used with a cable clip, they are silent and the cable is long enough that they can be worn over the ear. The small housing are not stable in this fashion however and it seems Klipsch has traded low cable noise for comfort. In application, they actually produce less cable noise than my ie800`s through sheer design, if the cable contacts anything it does make a louder thud, but this is much less frequent and they are actually not too bad.
The earphones use a custom BA driver design by Klipsch (KG 926) that works in tandem with a bass reflex system (couldn`t find any more details, perhaps like a passive radiator?). They have an impressive claimed FR spanning from 5Hz- 10KHz, but I`ll leave end to end extension for later. Aside from that, they have a 50-ohm impedance and, given that they are a single driver earphone, they aren`t affected much by output impedance. The earphones have a very lush, warm consumer sound with good body and impressive bass quantity for a single BA. It sounds very dynamic but detail retrieval is only reasonable. Strong isolation in culmination with meaty bass performance means that the earphones are well suited for transit and should appeal to pretty much anyone except purists. They are well shaped, not too bassy but still bass orientated. They are the next step up in quantity from my W30`s mid-bass wise, but lower mids are equally prominent. They gently slope downwards as they head towards the upper mids, where the treble rolls-off. They have a very intimate soundstage and can get overwhelmed. Imaging is decent but instrument separation is just ok. In this sense, the earphones are very analogue, with a tube amp inspired sound that is both smooth and warm, laid-back and a very easy listen. They are great for study, relaxation and recreation, which mixes well with their perfect comfort and small size. The earphones don`t benefit too much from amping but pick up hiss on almost every source, it`s never loud like the se535`s and some other monitors but it`s almost always present.
The X10`s actually have very extended bass for a BA earphone, even more than some multi-driver setups. The sub-bass is punchy with impressive impact, it`s about neutral in quantity compared to my Oppo PM3`s and the reflex woofer system appears to be working well. The mid-bass is a emphasized a good amount, shy of bass-head levels, but it`s erring more into consumer territory than audiophile tuning. The upper bass is also emphasized, although to a lesser degree, giving the mids a moderately warm sound. The bass is overall thick and very lush, it is on the slower side and can over simplify complex bass lines. I enjoy the bass a lot, it doesn`t resolve a lot of detail but it`s easy and smooth. Bass is very well textured and remains impressive quality wise despite the quantity.
The mids are warm as aforementioned, lower mids are slightly forward and upper mids just about neutral. Through this unorthodox, bass-forward, mid forward tuning, Klipsch avoids clouding the midrange with the strong low-end response. Vocals sound great, very natural with good body. They never sound overly thin or thick but can rarely sound congested. Despite their smooth, more laid back sound, the upper mids can be slightly metallic sounding, especially evident with piano-centric tracks and during older recordings. Clarity is above average and they have a nice balance between dynamics, punch and raw detail. There are many earphones in this price range that are more detailed, the re400`s, for example resolve much more, but the x10`s are more versatile on a whole. The midrange and bass performance is perfectly suited for pop music, and although it is not technically proficient as the best in class, they are very well tuned.
This is the obvious limitation of the single driver setup employed in the x10`s. The highs are lacking extension to quite a degree, perhaps even more so than my Bose QC20`s and se535`s. Hi-hats can sound more like wood sticks and lack any sparkle. There is no sense of air, not helped by an intimate soundstage. Treble is at least smooth and isn`t fatiguing at all, but a little more extension wouldn`t be a bad thing. Quantity wise, they are just about neutral but roll of strongly after that. The treble is unremarkable overall, it holds the earphones back and dulls the sound.
I might have sounded negative during this review, but the the x10`s are a strong earphone, they just have a confused identity. They are clearly not tuned for an audiophile sound but are priced too high for the average consumer. The warm caramel sound is well suited for pop music, but it also works well elsewhere. They are in a word, versatile, combining supreme comfort with a well-rounded sound (apart from the treble) and impeccable passive noise isolation. Overall performance is this earphone`s main selling point, they have few deficiencies and at a discounted price can even be considered good value.
I had put my set to the side for a few years since my ie800`s are better suited for home use, but coming back to them has been quite nostalgic. They`re not as flawless as the Sennheiser`s and not as robust as the Westone w30`s, but they are also much older and much cheaper with few compromises compared to either. Other companies such as Dunu, Vsonic, Hifiman and even Xiaomi are catching up fast, offering superior sound at the same price or cheaper, but none offer the design or ergonomic refinements and, perhaps more importantly, unique tonality of the Klipsch x10`s.
Accessories – 9/10, Klipsch`s silicone tips are great, one of the first oval tips on the market and a success ever since their inception. There are double flanges for extra isolation and enough sizes for anyone. A few foams would be good, but the earphones are already comfortable and isolate very well. The included case is good, solid and compact but there is no space for accessories. The included cleaning tool and shirt clip are a nice touch.
Design – 10/10, Unbeatable comfort and ergonomics. Absolutely no fatigue after hours and hours of listening. Extremely portable and easy to coil, the cable is well suited for mobile use, fabric reinforced and super supple, but perhaps too thin. The x11`s and x12`s have an improved square cable that performs equally well. The copper housings feel very solid, but the rubber strain reliefs are too soft and prone to splitting. Klipsch has been good with their aftermarket support, offering some customers the newer x11`s in return. Some buyers have complained about longevity, but mine are still going strong after over six years and this is a review based upon my personal experiences.
Bass – 7.5/10, Sub bass rolls off at the lowest of lows, but extension is impressive for a BA earphone. Bass is not focused on slam, but is rather more organic and laid back. The large mid-bass hump can muddy the sound, but generally, it`s very well tuned. It`s not the fastest bass performance and the earphones can skim over some details. Bass is great quality wise despite quantity, with good impact and impressive punch.
Mids – 7.5/10, Warm and smooth, but not overly so. Prominent, full bodied and reasonably detailed vocals in addition with no sibilance produce a very enjoyable listen that excels especially with pop, but still has enough clarity for any other genre. Resolves plenty of detail but doesn`t throw it at the listener.
Highs – 6/10, Quite rolled off, but it`s not jarring. The treble is otherwise smooth with good texture. Suited for easy over analytical listening. Could be improved.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation – 5/10, The intimate soundstage is better for studio songs over live recordings, it`s just enough, but I would definitely prefer more space. Imaging is solid but instruments can get meshed together. Contributes to the more laid back sound, its easy to zone out and enjoy in the background, doesn`t draw too much attention or awe.
Value – 8.5/10, The x10`s, x11`s and x12`s are all worth a look as an entry level audiophile earphone, but are not worth their RRP. The x10`s are well worth their current ~$110 price tag, but I would wait for the x11`s and x12`s to go on sale.
Overall – 8.5/10, The Klipsch x10`s provide a very nicely tuned analogue sound perfect for pop. They can be used for extensive periods of time on account of their non-fatiguing sound and comfort. They are great for travel and will sound nice from all sources. The x10`s, x11`s and x12`s are all worth a look as an entry level audiophile earphone, but are not worth their RRP. The x10`s are well worth their current ~$110 price tag, but I would wait for the x11`s and x12`s to go on sale.
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