Pros: Loud, excellent noise isolation, highly detailed midrange
Cons: Poor bass response, cheap "boxy" bass, "pointy" overall sound
I bought these about 3 years ago, used them a lot and got to "know" them well. The (sort of a) good thing is: They still perform as good as they did when I first tried them on. But that was not too good. Back then I felt disenchanted: they somehow sounded unimpressive, which left me confused. I mean, I based my decision to buy the most expensive earphones I had ever owned solely on praises found online. Lots and lots of different reviews saying wonderful things. How come did I not like what I had heard? I did some more research and found one of those lauding articles saying "Earphones need a couple of days working. A "break in" time before they can deliver their best". That, however, did not happen. After two years I just stopped using them. Today, I opened one of those drawers you rarely use, spotted the UM2's and listened for a while. That's when I decided to read more, fresh reviews. To my surprise - it's still mostly good stuff! Therefore, it is possible that I had the misfortune of getting a faulty pair. A bad batch? Inappropriate storage? Anyway, I wish I'd bought something else. This is my story....
... was my #1 criteria: I was looking for in-ear monitors to save my ears from all the loudness produced by my former rock band. I really did find that. Isolation is great! With no music played, a well inserted foam-tip UM2 reduces outside noise as good as a common "passive" earplug. It does get a bit worse after half an hour of wearing them when it's hot outside, they also tend to slowly creep out of the ear canal, but it can be fixed in less than one second by pushing them back in.
Design, quality and comfort
Good looking, quite comfortable and sturdy. The cable does not tangle easily. Never had any issues concerning build quality. But I took good care of them - always kept them clean, and in a padded carrying case.
Westone UM2 earphones just sound bad to my ears. Even though the midrange (say 3-6 kHz) is amazingly detailed - making me able to hear subtle transients even my "home studio" monitors couldn't reproduce - there is no true bass. As if someone engaged a low cut filter. All the bass stops at 55 Hz. Boosting the EQ to compensate results in exaggerated "upper bass range" but still without true low end. That's when they also start sounding boxy, like a plastic trombone or a small home stereo sporting 3" speakers and faking thier bass when a listener presses a glowing "Ultra turbo SuperBass" button. The high-end is also... well at least it's not harsh. And it's there. But in my opinion it's recessed, not nearly as loud as the midrange (I may be partially deaf or desensitized by now, but on some poorly recorded tracks I can still hear faint 14 kHz sizzle on my Krk Rokit 8's and I don't hear anything using Westones). Overall sound is cold and somehow annoying. Perhaps "decompressed" is the word to describe it. "Expanded" that is. The opposite of "compressed". They whisper into your ear and then suddenly shout when the music gets "not that much" louder. To some, that may be a good thing. One might call this property "punchiness". To me, it's punchy, but not "pleasantly punchy", "groove-delivering punchy". Just "bad loudness curve" punchy.
On stage, where high fidelity is not required, these earphones did their job well. I kept the volume fairly low and only had bass, vocals and keyboards in my AUX group. I could still easily hear that comfortably muffled 4x12" guitar cabinet without having it in my mix.
Compared to others
Even though I don't remember the exact models of other (seriously cheaper) in-ear earphones I had owned, and even though it's inappropriate to compare apples and oranges, I can say that I found UM2's a lot better than $40 Sennheisers, but also a lot worse than $50 Sony earphones. I still own a pair of those "entry level" Sony earphones! The bass is muddy but it's there. Top-end too. Stereoscopic information may not be as clear, but everything sounds more balanced, more pleasant, and sometimes even more "revealing" because your brain does not strain trying to ignore unpleasant "peaks" occurring every now and then, always at the same frequencies.
Again, this is just another honest review written to warn others that this is also, well, one of the ways a user could perceive UM2 earphones. Hopefully it's an exception and there's something wrong with me :). Or my particular pair of phones.