Klipsch is a relatively new player in the headphone game, but its reputation as a high-end speaker manufacturer dates back to the 1940s. Building on the success of the company's knockout Image X10 earphones, the Klipsch Custom line delivers impressive sound quality in a larger, more durable design.
The Klipsch Custom 3 ($299) headphones have a streamlined, space-age look that features a round 0.7-inch sound chamber packed with two balanced-armature drivers managed by an integrated crossover. Unlike conventional earbuds, the Klipsch Custom's cables shoot out from the top of the earpiece and wrap around the back of the ear along a coated 2-inch length of moldable memory wire. The Klipsch Custom 3's cables measure 4 feet long and are covered in a braided, tangle-resistant cloth.
One of the more interesting design features across the entire line of Klipsch earphones are the slightly oval shape of their interchangeable ear tips. According to Klipsch, the oblong shape is a better match to the ear canal's natural shape. We failed to notice any appreciable difference between the slightly oval fit of the Klipsch earphones and the uniformly round ear tips included with most earphones, but earphone fit is always a highly subjective experience. The Klipsch Custom 3s come packaged with five pairs of differently sized silicone tips (three single flange pairs and two dual-flanged). No foam tips are offered, however, the variety and design of included gel ear tips should satisfy even the smallest or largest ears.
Klipsch didn't give the Custom 3s the light and ultraportable design of its Image earphones or a pair of Etymotic HF5 earphones, but the design offers many practical advantages. We found the Klipsch Custom 3s' behind-the-ear memory wire made them easier to quickly slap on than the loose-wire design of our trusty Shure SE310s. The moldable wire also lets you dangle the Klipsch Custom 3s loosely over your ears for moments when you need to hear what's going on around you (i.e. bicycling, walking through sketchy neighborhoods, feigning attention to a conversation).
The Klipsch Custom 3 earphones bill themselves as a "Studio Reference Experience," however, we found that they leaned too hard on the low end to be useful as a balanced pro-audio reference. We may not recommend the Custom 3s to audio engineers, but that shouldn't stop the rest of you from seeking them out, especially if you like your music on the heavy side. We really enjoyed using the Custom 3s for watching movies on our laptop, where the extra oomph of the headphones' dedicated woofer driver made blockbuster sound effects knock us out of our seat.
Some tunes suffered for the Klipsch Custom 3s' bass-heavy sound. For instance, the upright bass on Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison rendition of "Cocaine Blues" crowds outs many of the subtleties of the live room. Other songs, such as Moondog's relatively sparse "Bird's Lament" and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You" really come alive with the extra heft of the Custom 3s' powerful woofer. Hip-hop and electronic tunes such as Prefuse 73's "Uprock and Invigorate" also sound phenomenal. Those of you looking for a more balanced set of Klipsch earphones should consider the less-expensive Custom 2s or Image X5s.
As far as fit and comfort are concerned, we feel the wide range of ear tips and the memory wire's capability to distribute weight across the ear make the Klipsch Custom 3s easy to wear for long stretches without discomfort. Compared with the invisible-feeling Image X5 earphones, however, the Custom series makes much more contact with the ear, which may irritate some users.
The Klipsch Customs come with a two-year limited warranty against defects, although it remains to be seen whether the company's policy is as forgiving Shure's.