Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

To help its first truly wireless earbuds standout in an already crowded market, Klipsch drew inspiration from another iconic item also found in pockets: the Zippo. A charging case that looks like a lighter is undoubtedly a clever marketing gimmick, but Klipsch has also delivered a solid set of wireless earbuds with its T5 True Wireless that have finally convinced me to give up the wired earbuds I’ve stubbornly held on to for years.

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First revealed ahead of CES 2019 with very few details, the most notable feature of the T5 True Wireless earbuds was a stylish charging case wrapped in brushed metal to emulate the finish of a Zippo lighter. It often seems like the charging cases included with wireless earbuds—a necessary part of the package to prolong their limited battery life—are an afterthought. Have you seen the charging case included with the Powerbeats Pro earbuds? It’s huge, and not the easiest thing to slip in into a pocket. So it’s nice that Klipsch paid a little more attention to this feature.

That being said, I’m going to get the biggest disappointment about Klipsch’s True Wireless earbuds out of the way first: the hinged lid on the charging case does not make the same satisfying click-clack sound that a Zippo lighter does when opened and closed. As someone who has to hide his Zippo lighter in a drawer so he doesn’t fidget with it all day long, that was disappointing. There’s a strong magnet that secures the charging case’s lid with an audible “clack” every time it’s snapped shut, but it’s just not as satisfying as playing with a Zippo. The charging case won’t become your next fidget toy.

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That minor disappointment, however, is just about my only major complaint with Klipsch’s T5 True Wireless earbuds.

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Having not had a chance to try them out in person back at CES 2019, I was surprised at how compact the True Wireless earbuds’ charging case is. It’s like a shorter, squatter version of a Zippo lighter, and while it’s not quite as small as the Apple Airpods’ case, it’s still very easy to slip into a pocket. I also much prefer its brushed steel finish (which doesn’t pick up fingerprints as much as I thought it would) to the glossy white plastic Apple went with.

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The case’s rechargeable battery has enough capacity to fully recharge the earbuds themselves three times (giving you about 24 hours of playback in total) and the case charges through a USB-C port on the back, not the bottom, so you can keep the case standing on your desk. But wireless charging is, unfortunately, not an option. Charge status is indicated through a series of three tiny white LEDs visible both when the lid is open, and when it’s closed when you peek through the gap. They automatically illuminate for a few moments when the earbuds are removed and replaced, and stay lit or flashing as the case is being charged.

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But Klipsch has also delivered a really excellent set of earbuds with the T5 True Wireless, particularly if, like myself, you prefer the isolation and sound quality that comes with cramming silicone tips into your ears. Given the extra weight of their included batteries, getting wireless earbuds to stay in your ears can be a big challenge, so with the True Wireless, Klipsch has included three sizes of ear tips with oval designs it claims will do a better job at fitting and staying in your ears. I can’t say I noticed much of a difference; they didn’t fall out during most of the activities I tested them with (walking, hiking, cycling) but vigorously shaking my head was enough to dislodge them. If you need wireless earbuds for running, you might want to opt for something a little more secure.

Thanks to those ear tips, however, I found the True Wireless’ sound quality to be excellent, and exactly what I look for in earbuds. The bass was very present but didn’t overwhelm the other frequencies. I’ve previously relied on Sennheiser’s Momentum Free earbuds whenever I wanted to go wireless, but I found Klipsch’s wireless option far outperformed them in sound quality, which surprised me. And they’re $100 cheaper than the current sound quality champ: Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless. Klipsch has also promised an upcoming app will allow listeners to tweak the True Wireless’ EQ if a balanced sound is not what they’re after.

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GIF: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

The True Wireless come with an IXP4 water resistant rating which means getting caught in the rain, or working up a serious sweat, shouldn’t cause any problems. And in lieu of touch sensors, the giant logos on each earbud (that will turn you into a walking billboard for Klipsch) are physical buttons that when pressed, or double pressed, perform specific functions like adjusting volume, calling on Siri, or skipping tracks. They’re sensitive enough that you don’t have to push them too hard, but I found the physical press—even gentle ones—still served to push the ear tips deeper into my ear canals, which was uncomfortable. As a result, I just stuck with my Apple Watch for controlling my music.

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Connecting the T5 True Wireless to my iPhone wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d hoped. When powered on both the left and right earbuds showed up as separate Bluetooth devices in my iPhone’s settings, which was confusing. You only need to connect to one or the other for them to work, but out of the box the set I tried weren’t paired to each other properly, requiring a series of button presses that weren’t detailed in the manual. It took a bit of back and forth with a Klipsch representative to get them working properly, but for the most part the connectivity has been solid... enough. Even with a custom wireless chip, the Apple AirPods suffer from connectivity hiccups. Bluetooth is even more finicky without that chip and occasionally the left Klipsch earbuds will randomly disconnect for reasons unknown. (Although they definitely do not like when I try to listen to music while standing near a running microwave.) Wireless earbuds have improved dramatically over the past few years, but they’re not quite perfect yet.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

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There’s no holy grail of headphones that work for every single user—wireless or not—they all have their trade-offs, compromises, and unique aesthetic choices that appeal to a select few. At $199 Klipsch’s T5 True Wireless aren’t the cheapest pair of wireless earbuds out there, even Apple’s AirPods are more affordable, but they pair excellent sound quality with a pleasing design that doesn’t leave you with another plastic accessory to carry around. As long as you can live with the current shortcomings of Bluetooth, and don’t expect to find yourself listening to music during extreme parkour runs, these are a nice alternative to looking like another Apple drone.

README

  • That Zippo-inspired charging case isn’t just a novelty. It looks great, it’s compact, and it charges over USB-C. Just don’t expect it to click-clack like a Zippo does when opened.
  • Sound quality is excellent and well balanced. Bass frequencies have a satisfying thump without drowning out everything else.
  • Not the cheapest wireless earbuds out there, but at $199 they’re also not the most expensive while delivering excellent performance.
  • Very comfortable to wear for extended periods when you find the right sized silicone tip for your ears.
  • The Klipsch logo on each earbud serves as a physical button for controlling volume and playback, but touch sensitive controls which require less force would have been preferred.
  • Bluetooth is still far from perfect, and you’ll occasionally experience hiccups and random disconnects from interference. Stay away from running microwaves.

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