You have to hand it to Klipsch and its promotion of these Reference X20i in-ear headphones: in places, there’s more front than a seaside town.
The US company is certainly not being coy when it presents these comparatively premium-priced earphones, referring to their high-horsepower woofers and super tweeters. “The X20i sets a new standard in headphone acoustics by breaking all barriers,” it says.
However, Klipsch’s confidence should be high, buoyed by the performance of its second-generation R6i in-ears, What Hi-Fi? Award winners and class leaders in a hard-fought area of the market.
The Reference X20is don’t quite reach such dizzying heights, but in many ways they justify their £425 price tag quite comfortably. Certainly you can be confident a good chunk of your money has gone into their design and careful manufacture.
Delivering the music is a two-way driver design, combining the company’s KG-926T Balanced Armature Woofer and KG-125B Balanced Armature Super Tweeter. Klipsch is particularly proud of the latter, designed to expose every element of the lossless recordings you’ll want to be listening to on headphones such as these.
It also claims to have designed one of the smallest and most durable pairs of two-way headphones currently on the market, thanks to the use of surgical-grade stainless steel for the main chassis and slim ear tips.
“After extensive research, our surveys lead to the conclusion that ear canals are even narrower than we had expected,” Klipsch says, by way of an explanation for the design of the eartips.
Our caveat to that would be that not everybody on the team found it easy to get the right seal with the range of tips supplied. The worst-case scenario for any prospective buyer with this issue is likely to be only the purchase of some different earbuds, but it's worth bearing in mind.
Get that fit right, though, and in many sonic aspects it becomes immediately apparent you’re listening to a relatively high-end pair of in-ear headphones.
The most striking of those is in the space and detail on offer. The Reference X20is are admirably transparent, spotlighting the timbre of each instrument and the intricate textures. These are not merely headphones for the casual listener: Klipsch has delivered enough insight that it can often feel as if you’re peering into the instrument, as much as having it played to you.
The potential for analysis is helped by a pleasant balance, impressively even but not without natural warmth, the neutrality of which allows us to observe the frequency range as a whole, rather than our attention being unduly drawn to any section.
That said, there is a decent amount of bass weight for a pair of in-ears (especially from units as small as this) and the midrange feels full without softening much around the edges.
Klipsch Reference X20i tech specs
In-line remote Yes
Frequency response 5Hz-40kHz
Impedance 50 ohms
Noise Isolation -26dB
Input connections 3.5 mm
It is also worth praising Klipsch’s ability to combine two drivers in each earpiece. Often multiple drivers can seem counterproductive when they fail to gel together – organisation being the first place to suffer – but these feel rather well integrated.
Only we’re left just a little cold by the performance. Timing isn’t the best we’ve heard, but is far from being dizzying, and the X20is are capable when it comes to dynamics; it's just that they lack a touch of punch and excitement.
Maturity is a must when it comes to spending this amount of money on a pair of headphones, but so is the need to let your hair down once in a while. At times it feels as though the X20is are concerned more with analysing the music than really enjoying it.
It can be a struggle to find that balance, especially at this price – effectively the lower limit of high-end – where the focus has to be on delivering a far cleaner and more detailed presentation than you would find in other sections of the market, but it is certainly not impossible.
Without doubt we would recommend the X20is to those for whom insight is everything – and you wouldn’t be losing out wholly on energy or expression, either. However, those looking for a more wholesome, entertaining performance might be left just a little disappointed.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read all our Klipsch reviews