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Klipsch S4i Rugged in-ear headphones review: Popular Klipsch earphones get sporty

The $99 Klipsch S4i Rugged earphones may not be the best for running outdoors, but they're a good choice for the gym and everyday use.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read

Combining a comfortable fit with excellent sound for the money, Klipsch's original Image S4 and S4i earphones have long been among our favorites here at CNET. That said, I've seen some complaints about them not being durable enough, especially for sporting activities.


Klipsch S4i Rugged in-ear headphones

The Good

The <b>Klipsch S4i Rugged</b> in-ear headphones have the same impressive sound and fit as the original S4i model but they're more durable and have a sweat-resistant design. There's an integrated Apple-friendly remote/microphone and they come with a nice, compact carrying case.

The Bad

While the larger remote is easier to operate by feel, it does dangle and knock around a bit when you're running; the inline remote isn't compatible with many Android smartphones.

The Bottom Line

While serious runners may find that the S4i Rugged in-ear headphones won't stay in their ears that securely, they're an excellent pair for gym and everyday use.

Well, Klipsch has apparently heard those criticisms and smartly made a tougher version that's simply called the Image S4i Rugged.

Like the original S4is, the S4i Rugged earphones, which come in blue, orange, yellow, and red, have an MSRP of $99.99, and, according to Klipsch, sound exactly the same. They also have the same Apple-friendly inline remote/microphone that probably won't fully work with many Android mobile devices. I hope Klipsch will do a non-Apple version of this product in the future.

Design changes
As you can see from the pictures, the S4i Ruggeds have a sportier look than the original S4i earphones and have been toughened up with a sturdier cable, thicker rubber moldings, and a sweat-resistant design. Klipsch says the "all-weather design resists moisture and functions through extreme elements," which presumably means very hot and cold weather. Since I've only been able to use the earphones in milder weather, I can't vouch for how they'll hold up for skiing or just walking around the streets in the dead of winter in Minnesota (or New York for that matter), but I did take them on a few runs and wore them on the treadmill at the gym.

The S4i Rugged earphones have the same sound as the standard S4i model but are sweat-resistant. Sarah Tew/CNET

The key to what makes the S4i Rugged earphones and their predecessors so good is the angle of the earphones' post (what the eartip attaches to) and the oval shape of the silicone eartips, of which three sizes come included. The combination creates a comfortable fit and Klipsch arguably makes the best-designed silicone eartips, giving a tight seal.

What you get in the package. Sarah Tew/CNET

As for how securely these earphones fit, for sporting use that will depend on a variety of factors. The way you're supposed to wear them is, once the tips are in your ears, to wrap the cord over and around your ear from front to back. I never particularly liked wearing earphones like this but in theory it helps create a more secure fit and helps stabilize the cord. However, a lot of folks will simply wear them with the cord dangling down from their ears.

I'd say they work well for treadmill and elliptical use at the gym, but I think a model such as the Monster iSport earphones offers a more secure fit for running outdoors, thanks to the little wings that keep the earphones in place. In fact, I can't say there's a significant difference in fit between this model and the new S4i II headphones, which Klipsch has redesigned with a flat cord. Rather, the differences here are the sweat-resistant design and tougher rubber moldings encasing the earpieces. That, and the inline remote/microphone.

The remote/mic has oversize buttons. Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote has bigger buttons and looks a little like those TV remotes with jumbo buttons that are marketed to seniors. It's not quite that big, but Klipsch refers to it as an "extra-large three-button remote for easy control during outdoor activity."

While the remote is fairly lightweight, it does dangle a little when you run, so it's best to use the small clip accessory to attach the headphone cord to your clothing to minimize movement of the cord and remote. I'm not sure the remote's design is the best for runners, but it is easy to operate by feel. I'll give it that.

As for additional accessories, the S4i Ruggeds come with a nice, compact carrying case. It's the same one that ships with the S4i II earphones and it's one of the better earphone cases out there because it's lightweight and compact, yet protective.

We've always liked Klipsch's included carrying case for its S4i models. Sarah Tew/CNET

In the past, we've rated the S4i headphones very highly for sound quality. Since Klipsch hasn't changed the sound profile, this model gets high marks, too, but it's worth discussing why a lot of people end up liking this line as much as they do. With earphones, one of the biggest keys to sound quality is the fit of the earphones, and the S4i models fit exceptionally well. Again, that's partially due to the angle of the earpiece stem and the shape of the oval eartips, all of which allows you to get a very tight seal comfortably.

Listening to the S4i Rugged in-ear headphones, I can't say the sound is really that much better than you get from competing models. But the sound is nicely balanced, with good detail and ample bass. They just sound pleasant and the bass response is helped by the tight seal and very good noise isolation. In other words, there are other $100 earphone models out there that have the potential to sound as good as the Klipsch S4 and S4i, but they don't necessarily reach their potential due to their fit. The Klipsch earphones do; you really get the most out of the performance they offer. (I also had no problem making calls with them on an iPhone).

The S4i cord has a straight plug. L-shaped plugs tend to be more durable. Sarah Tew/CNET

Are there better sports earphones out there? I'd say the Monster iSports offer a little bit more in the way of bass and their wing design ensures a more secure fit. However, the Klipsch Ruggeds are arguably slightly more comfortable. Of course, every ear is different, so some of you may not think these are supercomfortable or sound that much better than competing models. And you might also not like the fit of the Monster iSport.

The original Klipsch S4 and S4i earphones have received high marks for their sound quality and comfort level. The one strike against them was that their cord was pretty thin and we heard complaints about them not holding up that well over time.

The S4i Rugged earphones endeavor to do better in that department, and in the few weeks that I used them for sporting activities, as well as my daily commutes on the subway, they held up just fine, and I think they're a reasonable value at $100. For someone who doesn't like the feeling of having an eartip jammed in your ear, Bose now makes the SIE2 earphones, which offer some wiggle room while giving you a secure fit. But the SIE2s are more expensive, at $149.95 for the SEI2i model, which has a microphone and remote.

Monster's iSport line is another good alternative to take a look at. And so, too, is the Klipsch S4i II design, which is sturdier than the original and has a flat, tangle-resistant cord. That model should work fine for lighter workouts and everyday use. But if you really are planning to hit the gym or the road a lot, the S4i Rugged in-ear headphones are probably the better choice because of their sweat-resistant design.


Klipsch S4i Rugged in-ear headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8