Klipsch is a company that really doesn’t need an introduction. From its beginnings in the loudspeaker business to its entry into the IEM market in 2007, Klipsch continues to produce some of the most popular and well-received audio products in the consumer market today. For this review, I’ll be looking at the XR8i, a hybrid earphone from Klipsch’s fairly new Reference X-series of in-ear headphones. This lineup of 4 new earphones will be replacing the previous X-series, with newly redesigned bodies, upgraded build materials, and most importantly, updated sound signatures. In short, a very interesting new lineup that seems to have the trappings of an audiophile-grade products.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by Klipsch for the purposes of the review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Klipsch. All media rights are reserved.
The XR8i comes in one of the most elaborate packages I have ever seen. The earphones are suspended in the air through the use of transparent plastic props, and showcased in a clear plastic display case. Opening up the box, one finds a carry case, several eartips in a well-designed holder, and some product literature. Overall, it’s an excellently thought out package that demonstrates a clear design philosophy and refinement in execution. The carry case is far too small to carry the earphones meaningfully though, and I felt that an Audio-Technica style EVA case would’ve been better. Perhaps it would’ve been nice to have some Comply tips included, but I’m not that huge fan of the foam tips anyways.
The XR8i is a very big earphone. Combining a die-cast zinc front housing with a co-molded elastomer rear housing, the result is a build that is nothing short of being absolutely amazing. The soft-touch elastomer feels great in the hand, and the earphones feel like they could very well last a lifetime. The one thing that holds the XR8i from receiving a perfect build quality is the fact that the cable is not detachable. Especially since it has a mic and volume control attached to it. Many similarly priced (and even cheaper earphones) like the IM02, SE215, all feature detachable, albeit in some cases proprietary, cables. That said, the cable that comes on the XR8i has very little memory and microphonics, and is an absolute joy to use. The mic is of good quality and the Y-splitter is solid. However, a cable cinch would’ve been a nice addition.
I had some trouble with the fit of these earphones. Using the same patented oval eartips found on other Klipsch earphones, I found that only the large eartip would give me an adequate seal, and even then it was one that was not particularly strong. The problem arises from the fact that the XR8i, unlike it sleeker cousins, is a shallow fit earphone, making the smaller oval eartips an imperfect fit. I’m sure there are some DIY solutions that might be able to remedy this, but I think a simple widening of the existing oval eartips by Klipsch would do just fine. For the record, I’m not aware that I have particularly odd shaped ears.
The XR8i is a hybrid design featuring an Acupass unit comprised of two modified Sonion drivers –a KG-065 Dynamic Woofer and a KG-723 Balanced Armature Tweeter. Designed to bring “room-rattling home theater sound” through powerful bass while still maintaining clarity in the mids and highs, it is clear what kind of sound Klipsch aimed to create with the XR8i. For reference, I did have the chance to briefly audition the rest of the X-Series lineup at Canjam Singapore 2016, and I can tell you that the XR8i is perhaps the most “Klipsch-sounding” of the entire lineup. It does what it promises, delivering rumbling bass, albeit at a cost.
The XR8i has bass with great potential. In terms of subbass extension, the earphones reach very deep, and at times even rival the ER4. There is texture and detail in the subbass, and on certain bossa nova tracks this becomes fairly evident. The midbass is a heavier than I’d like it to be, but has good punch and presence. This can occasionally become problematic as the midbass does overshadow the subbass on certain tracks. Overall speed is moderate. The end result is a visceral bass section with significant power, but one that occasionally feel bloated and slightly uncontrolled. In addition, the lower frequencies often bleed into the lower mids, a point that I will come to later. I feel that the XR8i with a tightened bass section would be truly impressive. A point to note is that the XR8i’s subwoofer driver is somewhat insensitive to volume control, meaning that at lower playing volumes it scales rather poorly and the bass has the tendency to become significantly over-emphasized. Just something to note for those who listen to music at lower volumes.
The mids are somewhat recessed and glossed due to the bass section. Listening closely though, I do have to say that the mids are very smooth and generally quite comfortable to listen to. Though there’s no hint of sibilance, there is enough texture to provide an enticing bite to the XR8i’s sound. I feel that perhaps the XR8i could have benefitted BA driver, like the DN2000, as this would have improved the mid-range presence and generally made for a more “balanced” sound.
The XR8i’s highs are somewhat weak in terms of presence. Given the strong bass section on this earphone, I would’ve expected the earphones to be tuned to a “v-shaped” sound signature. However, the highs instead roll-off, and don’t quite provide enough contrast to the lower frequencies. That said, the highs are very organic sounding, and what is there is very good. There’s absolutely no artificiality, and I feel that with more extension and emphasis, the upper registers would be a sure hit. Soundstage is kind of small on these earphones, lending a very intimate feel to the SQ. Imaging is okay, but hampered by the small soundstage. Overall, these aren’t the right IEMs for those looking for an airy and neutral sound.