A few months ago, I did a review of the Klipsch IMAGE earphones. They were, quite simply, the best earphones I had every listened to – and I have listened to just about every earphone released in the past few years. When I spoke with the members of the design team, they kept saying to me: ‘Just wait until you hear the Custom 3’s.’ Now, it was very hard for me to believe that even better sound could be produced.
You can imagine my excitement when my pair of Custom 3’s arrived at my door.
I have been testing these for a couple of weeks now and I am very impressed. Are they even better than the IMAGE? Are they worth $299.00? Read on for my thoughts.
Since 1946, Klipsch Audio Technologies has been building no-compromise, premium-quality audio products. As one of the first U.S. loudspeaker companies, Klipsch is now a leading global manufacturer of high-performance loudspeakers and other entertainment products for homes, computers, professional cinemas and commercial venues.
From state-of-the-art home theater to hidden multi-room sound, Klipsch offers high-performance audio solutions for every application and lifestyle.
Klipsch distributes its ‘best of class’ Reference Series loudspeakers and home theater systems to audio/video specialty stores worldwide. The company’s Synergy Series, which represents the world’s greatest value in high-performance home entertainment, can be found at Best Buy stores nationwide, Eldorado electronic stores throughout Russia and many other fine retailers worldwide.
A Legend in Sound
Paul W. Klipsch (PWK), one of America’s most celebrated audio pioneers, revolutionized the way people listened to recorded music in 1946 when he humbly founded Klipsch and Associates in Hope, Arkansas on the promise of corner horn-loaded speaker.
Unsatisfied with the sound quality of phonographs and early speaker systems, PWK made it his mission to reproduce the dynamics and excitement of a live orchestra performance in his living room. ‘I wanted something with a closer approach to accuracy in production,’ he once said. And that something turned out to be the company’s foundation product, the patented Klipschorn.
An engineering breakthrough when it was introduced, the Klipschorn remains one of the most highly praised loudspeakers in the world and is the only speaker to be in continuous production for over 60 years.
In addition to spearheading the ‘Hi-Fi’ era with his Klipschorn, PWK was a relentless perfectionist who earned 23 patents during his lifetime. He was also inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame in 1997, putting him in the company of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, among others.
Fusing decades of proven audio expertise with the latest in comfort technology, Klipsch IMAGE and Custom earphones let you connect with your music like never before. You’ll be front row, center stage without even realizing you’re wearing headphones. The secret lies within proprietary, oval-shaped Contour Ear Gels that delicately form to your ear canals, minimizing pressure and providing superior noise isolation.
The ‘Official line’ on these Earphones, from the Klipsch web site, reads:
Superb Choice for Critical Listeners
A great solution for audiophiles and musicians.
Studio reference acoustic experiences
Secure personalized fit for active lifestyles
Includes great traveling accessories
Works with iPod(r)s, iPhone(tm)s and other portable devices
These professional-quality earphones deliver performances just as the artists intended. Whether it’s the spine-tingling riffs of an electric guitar or the incredible boom of a kick drum, you’re going to get that ‘live on stage’ euphoria courtesy of exclusive KG723 tweeters, KG731 woofers, and a patent-pending electro-acoustic crossover system.
Exclusive KG723 tweeters, KG731 woofers and proprietary electro-acoustic crossover system.
Patent-pending Contour Ear Gels accurately fit inside the human ear canal for amazing comfort and excellent noise isolation.
Patent-pending earphone nozzles prevent tips from getting lodged in the user’s ear.
Flexible ear wire system mold precisely around ear for a perfect external fit.
Adaptable ear wires let users experience full or partial noise isolation-a great safety feature for on-the-go users.
Reliable strain relief at every cable connection point to avoid wire damage.
Cloth cable with Wireguard: cloth weave over PVC jacketed signal cables prevent cables from becoming exposed.
Great Comfort Featuring a black soft-feel paint finish with copper accents on its earbuds, Custom-3 earphones utilize dark gray patent-pending Contour Ear Gels that are anatomically designed to accurately fit inside the human ear canal. These soft, oval silicon tips reduce ear fatigue as well as provide an amazing seal for excellent noise isolation and bass response.
Because ear canal measurements vary, Custom-3 headphones come with five different washable ear gel sizes: small, medium, and large single flange designs as well as small and large double flange designs. Extra small sizes can be ordered via the klipsch.com web store. Such variety allows these earphones to fit more of the population than the competition.
For perfect exterior comfort, flexible ear wires bend over and around the ears so they can be customized to each user. It may take you a few minutes to find the perfect fit, but once you get it right, the time will be well worth it And not only do these adaptable wires provide optimal comfort, they also let users experience full or partial noise isolation-a great safety feature for on-the-go users. Just pull the ear gels out of the ear canals and adjust the wires to firmly position the earphone nozzles over the canals.
Great Sound Inside Custom-3 earphones, you’ll find over 60 years of audio expertise ready to get the music inside your head. Exclusive KG723 tweeters, KG731 woofers, and patent-pending electro-acoustic crossover systems let your hear performances just as the artists intended-making Custom-3 an excellent choice for musicians and critical listeners. And if you find yourself not completely blown away by Custom-3’s performance, you probably don’t have the right fit or seal. So be sure to try out various ear tip sizes.
Great Durability Klipsch has gone to great lengths to ensure the long-lasting durability of Custom-3, up to and including its 50-inch-long cables. Put through extensive ‘real world’ testing, these headphones feature appropriate strain relief at every cable connection point to help prevent wire damage. Plus, underneath the cable’s black cloth weaving, a special PVC Wireguard jacket prevents the wires from becoming exposed and frayed.
Added Frills Great iPod headphones, Custom-3 also works with the iPhone and virtually any device with a headphone jack. These headphones come with a high-quality vinyl carrying case that will also fit an 80G iPod, a 1/4-inch adaptor, an airline adaptor, five sets of ear gels, and an ear tip cleaning tool.
sensitivity 115 dB
nominal impedance 32 ohms
crossover frequency 1500 Hz
input connections 3.5mm
dimensions Packaging: 7.25′ H x 5′ W x 3.5′ D
weight 0.458 oz., 13 grams
accessories Vinyl carrying, also fits 80G iPod; 1/4′ jack adaptor; airline adaptor; five sets of ear gels; ear tip cleaning tool
features 50′ cable; Soft dark gray oval silicon ear tips
finishes Black soft-feel paint with copper accents
Now, on to the review…..
The Custom 3’s are a typical design for ‘higher end’ In Ear Monitors (IEM’s.) They are designed to fit into the ear canal and opening and then have the guide wire go behind the ear with the cable going down from the back of the ear. Like all Earphones utilizing this method – it takes a little trial and error.
Klipsch has really designed these Earphones well. The guide wire that goes behind the ear is a hard, but flexible design that can be ‘molded’ for a great fit around the ear. The cables are covered in cloth to reduce friction and keep the wire from being exposed. The jack looks to be gold-plated and is designed to fit pretty much every 3.5 mm opening – including the ridiculous recessed jack on the iPhone.
The housing that contains the ‘guts’ of the earphone is very well constructed. The body is a dull matte black, rubberized design and the Klipsch logo is copper embossed on a glossy black panel. The copper accents continue where the guide wire meets the earphone itself – giving it a very classy and expensive look.
The Custom 3’s are a two-way design with separate ‘woofers’ and ‘tweeters.’ They utilize a proprietary crossover mechanism inside to try to re-create the famous ‘Klipsch’ sound signature.
The ear tip is a black contoured Ear Gel that is awaiting a patent. The tips are oval in shape and really seem to mimic the inside of an ear canal. Various sizes of ear gels, both single and double flanged designs are provided to help the listener get a good seal and comfortable fit.
I have been following the ‘buzz’ on the Klipsch Custom 3’s for some time. In some of the audiophile enthusiast forums – like headfi.org – there were many comments about how users were having trouble getting a good seal with these. Having recently tested and reviewed the IMAGE earphones and finding them to be amazingly comfortable and providing a great seal – I was curious to see about the comfort of the Custom 3.
After using these for a couple of weeks I just don’t understand how people had trouble getting a good seal. I used the stock tip – the medium single flange design and these little guys just went right in – even easier than the IMAGE. No fussing, no tweaking, no experimentation needed. It is hard to believe that some people in the forums wrote they had to ‘jam these things in their ear canal’ – I just don’t see how that is even possible.
I wore the Custom 3’s for hours on end, day after day and experienced no fatigue whatsoever. For exercise, these were even preferable over the IMAGE since the guide wire held them secure. While certainly bigger than the IMAGE and other small IEM’s – they were smaller and much more comfortable than offerings from Ultimate Ears and Shure and others.
The cables are also designed very well. There is an adjustable sliding tightener which can be used to adjust the fit. The cables are cloth covered and very comfortable (as cables go.) Cable noise was noticeable, as it is in every earphone that blocks the ear canal. This cable noise is called ‘microphonics’ and it was a little more pronounced in the Custom 3’s than in some other earphones I have recently tested.
The bottom line is that these are exceedingly comfortable earphones.
As I mentioned in the IMAGE review, I have been waiting for these Klipsch earphones to come out for quite some time. I have always been a fan of the Klipsch sound – my entire home theater system is based on Klipsch floor standing towers and their center and surround speakers. I was impressed with the iGroove iPod speaker system and I was wondering how they could translate the ‘Klipsch Horn’ into an earphone.
When I spoke to the good folks at Klipsch, they were almost ‘giddy’ with the release of the Custom 3’s. They were confident that these sounded even better than the IMAGE. That was very hard for me to believe.
The ‘Signature’ of Klipsch speakers has always been the high end coming through their patented ‘Horn’ tweeters. Some have found the Klipsch signature to be somewhat ‘bright’ – I have always felt it to be accurate and believable. Those words, accurate and believable certainly sum up how I felt about the high end on the IMAGE and they were even more true pertaining to the Custom 3. Vocals, instruments, cymbals and other music at the high end were clear, crisp and just amazing.
I tried many different genres of music to test these earphones. I listened to Nora Jones, Tracy Chapman, Elton John, James Taylor, Jack Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen and others. Vocals were just ‘pure.’ That’s the best way to describe them – vocals sound just like you would expect. You also can hear the artists’ breathe between the notes.
The Custom 3’s handled instrumentals (often found in the midrange of the sound spectrum) beautifully. I listened to George Winston and Liz Story play piano solos, to Herbie Hancock’s new album and to various Jazz and Guitar instrumentals. I could hear the pluck of the string and the beauty of each note being played.
When I wanted to ‘Rock Out,’ I put on some Live Aerosmith, the Stones, Zeppelin, Skynyrd and others. The bass was amazing – I was expecting that. What I enjoyed was that the bass was not overpowering or boomy – it was powerful, but smooth at the same time. Vocals did not get lost behind the bass which often happens when the bass presence is so powerful.
The soundstage – the effect of being able to visually place each instrument and vocalist in and around your head (especially when you close your eyes,) was very good on the Custom 3’s. I did decide that the Soundstage was not as impressive as with the IMAGE and that cou d be because the IMAGE sits a little further into the ear canal. But I still was able to place most instruments in and around my head.
The Klipsch Custom 3’s are an amazing set of Earphones. There is a definite ‘family resemblance’ between these and the IMAGE earphones. The high end is clear and crisp, yet there is an incredibly ‘warm’ feeling from these earphones. That warmth really makes them comfortable to listen to for hours on end with little or no fatigue.
The entire audio spectrum is reproduced clearly and beautifully with these earphones. I don’t have the equipment to test sonic ‘accuracy’ but my guess is that these would lean towards the ‘accurate and warm’ part of the spectrum – if such a place exists. Every instrument – every note was crisp and clear – bass was powerful but not boomy and vocals really soared.
Do they sound better than the IMAGE? That’s the tough question. I can certainly tell that this earphone uses two drivers – there was a great separation between low and high frequencies and the bass was very deep and had more punch than the IMAGE. The IMAGE took the nod with regards to comfort and sound stage.
Earphone choice is very personal and subjective – having compared these to other dual driver designs from Ultimate Ears, Shure, Westone and more – I definitely give the nod to the Klipsch Custom 3’s. There is no way to appreciate the sound quality of these without testing them out – you won’t be disappointed.
Final Grade: A
Pros: Great sound quality, great build quality, good sound stage, very comfortable, easy to insert