While £30 is a decent chunk of the amount of money that you could otherwise spend on a half-decent MP3 player, at this entry-level point in the earphone market any choice you make is going come with sonic compromises. You just need to make sure you pick the ones that suit your ears the best.
The Klipsch S3 use 5.83mm moving coil speakers, more commonly referred to as dynamic drivers. These are the kind of units used in most budget earphones, as opposed to the balanced armature drivers seen in more expensive and single and multi-driver earphones.
These Klipsch S3 attempt to recreate a sound signature of these more pricey earphones, but don't entirely pull it off. Once a good seal has been achieved, the low-end presence is good and well-balanced, but higher up the frequency spectrum a few problems arise.
The high-end is opened up more than in the boxy-sounding Sennheiser CX300, but it's a little jagged, frequently introducing sibilance and a generally slightly harsh sound. There's plenty of treble presence, just not all that much detail.
In pure tone terms, they're perhaps more neutral-sounding than the popular CX300, with less overstated bass, but they're also much less smooth-sounding. Match a vicious-sounding rock singer with a hi-hat-led drum beat and the Klipsch S3 can start to sound as if your ears are being assaulted.
The slightly ugly granularity to trebly moments like these that tells you the drivers these earphones are packing aren't quite up to representing the sound signature they shoot for. The Ulimate Ears 200 do a much better job of relaying high-end detail without this "cheese grater on your ear drums" effect. However, those rivals earphones offer less bass.
Picking a pair of affordable earphones like the Klipsch S3 is a little like choosing what flavours of ice cream you'd like in your sundae. The Sennheiser CX300 offer a slightly-cloying double chocolate, the Ultimate Ears 200 a classy vanilla and the Klipsch S3 a creamy chocolate with a slightly-too-sharp dollop of lime sorbet on top. We'd trade the lime for a scoop of vanilla, but hey lime and chocolate's popular in some circles. Just not ours.
At the RRP of £40, the Klipsch S3 have very strong competition from cut-price older models like the Ultimate Ears Super fi 4 as well as current rivals like the Denon AH-C260 and Sennheiser CX300 pairs. At this price, they're certainly the top of the pops but they've already been available for much less - £17.99 at the lowest. Between this price and £30, the Klipsch S3 make a lot more sense.
The Klipsch S3 do represent an improvement over bundled buds, but at the RRP you can get better sound for your money. Bass is robust without becoming overblown but the high end lacks detail and smoothness. We had hoped for better when Klipsch's higher-end earphones perform so well on this front.