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Klipsch Custom-3 earphones review: Klipsch Custom-3 earphones

The Klipsch Custom-3 earphones are a high-end choice for people who value a quality audio experience. Their design isn't for everyone, but the velvety smooth, warm sound quality is beautiful, particularly for those listening to acoustic singer/songwriters or jazz music

Nate Lanxon

Special to CNET News

See full bio
3 min read

Most earphones have a single driver inside each 'phone to pump sound into your ears; the new Klipsch Custom-3 earphones have two. This isn't a new idea -- Shure's SE420s and Jays' q-Jays each have two per ear and the Shure SE530s have three.

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8.3

Klipsch Custom-3 earphones

The Good

Performance with jazz, vocal, acoustic and folk music; extremely balanced, clear and detailed sound.

The Bad

Design and fit; high end lacks a certain brightness.

The Bottom Line

Although not a pair of earphones we'd recommend to a user wanting extreme comfort, the Klipsch Custom-3 earphones are without question a pair we'd recommend for their sound quality -- balanced, powerful and bursting with detail

The Custom-3s are on sale now and at £150, are a high-end choice, exclusively aimed at audiophiles and people who truly value high-quality audio performance.

Design
What makes the Custom-3s 'custom' is the 60mm 'memory wire' that protrudes from the unusual, slightly triangular enclosures. It took us a long time to get these earphones to fit comfortably -- longer than any earphone ever -- but this stiff memory wire can be bent to fit around your ears uniquely, making future fittings faster and more secure.

The trouble is that it's a pain and we'd rather not have it at all. But we spend all our time sitting in chairs, offices, testing labs and lounges, essentially in a state of perpetual stillness. It's when you start jogging, for example, that this wire helps keep the 'phones in place and it's something you can't do with the Shure SE420s.

But it has to be said that the Custom-3s are not, by any means, the most comfortable or discreet pair of earphones we've worn. If comfort is absolutely essential to you in a high-end earphone, look at the Klipsch Images.

The 3.5mm plug is gold-plated and the fairly thin cabling is encased in cloth. In the box is a range of silicone tips of varying sizes. We found that while these Klipsch- patented tips were insanely comfortable on the Klipsch Images, they didn't fit us well on the Custom-3s. After a lengthy telephone conversation with Klipsch, we tried fitting, ironically, Shure's foam tips and they were a perfect fit. This isn't an ideal solution to an unusual situation, but it certainly enabled us to more fully enjoy the Custom-3s.

Features
Each enclosure plays host to two drivers: one woofer, handling low-end frequencies up to 1,500Hz, and a tweeter handling everything above 1,500Hz. In order to correctly route the right frequencies to the right drivers, Klipsch employs a patented crossover system.

Of course, these are also sound-isolating earphones. The provided silicone tips isolate well, but anyone after significantly more effective passive blocking of ambient sounds -- keyboard tapping, chattering on the train -- should consider snapping up a pair of Shure's replacement foam tips, as mentioned earlier.


Performance
Two things stand out about the Custom-3s sound quality. Firstly, we were blown away with how well these earphones convey vocals. Truly, the warmth and clarity of the human voice through the Custom-3s is impressive, particularly the female voice. Fans of heavily vocal-driven singer/songwriter music stand a good chance of adoring these 'phones, not to mention connoisseurs of jazz.

But secondly, we enjoyed the pleasant, slightly dampened treble -- something seemingly synonomous with Klipsch earphones. The high end somewhat lacks the sparkle that makes cymbals, for example, particularly shine with brightness, but what's there is smooth and full of detail.

Fans of dance music needn't shy away either. Although these earphones don't offer a low-end response as deep and explosive as Denon's AH-C551s -- our favourite 'phones for electronic music -- they still pack a big kick and a deeper rumble than Shure's SE420s, noticably throughout 9,000 Miles from Pendulum's terrific new album In Silico.

Even hardcore punk and death metal sounded okay, though if this is your music of choice, there are certainly more suitable earphones, such as the Shure SE line. Plus, the superbly balanced audio spectrum is made even more enjoyable by the admirable soundstage created by these earphones, combined with a very low level of distortion.

Conclusion
The velvety smooth, warm sound quality is beautiful and enjoyable and particularly suited to acoustic, folk, vocal, jazz and soul genres. It's just a shame that these earphones are particularly awkward to fit and uniquely designed enough to make them unsuitable for some ears.

If you want to maintain the Klipsch voice, but see comfort as the most important thing in a pair of sound-isolating earphones, check out the Klipsch Images -- you'll sacrifice some sound quality, but gain as much in fit and convenience of design.

Edited by Shannon Doubleday

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