Hope you don't mind if I jump in here. I have just recently purchased the W3's and have spent some hours this weekend doing an extensive/comparative listening. Since I only have one other iem for comparison (Atrios M5 v1.0), they became the "other" iem for my comparison/evaluations versus the W3's. I own a Cowon X5L, and all my music on this players is ripped to Lame 245 kbps. I listen primarily to rock/southern rock and blues. The tracks I listened to included, but was not limited to:
Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - Hotel California
Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Old Love, Lonely Stranger
Charlie Daniels - Fire on the Mountain - Long Haired Country Boy, Georgia
Steely Dan - Deacon Blues, Don't Take me Alive, Doctor Wu
Marshall Tucker - Carolina Dreams - Desert Skies
Marshall Tucker - Together Forever - Love is a Mystery
Dido - No Angel - Thank You, I'm No Angel
Allman Brothers - Hittin' The Note - High Cost of Low Living
Neil Young - Unplugged - Harvest Moon
Basically I spent 4-5 hours going over tracks I knew very well.
I must say that I am a Atrios M5 FAN, I love these iems. I never thought I would find a better value then the M5's that I purchased for ~130US. I have had them for almost 15 months, listen to them greater then 8 hours each week, mostly at work from my Cowon or my work Dell PC (using Flac Files with foobar). I only purchased the W3's because the DEAL was so fantastic that I felt I could not pass it up. I thought I would listen for a few weeks then sell them to recoup my $$, or maybe even make a profit!!! I purchased the W3's with 30% Cashback and 10% Ebay, similar to what others have used to purchase their W3's.
The first thing I did was turn off all the EQ on my X5L. The EQ has been helpful to mate the "brightness" of the X5L to the laidback highs of the M5. I knew this might hurt the M5's, but wanted everything on a level playing field.
The differences I heard, I was not expecting to hear. My initial reaction was to make sure the M5’s were seated properly. Having done this hundreds of times over the last 15 months, I knew I had a good tight seal. But there was a significant difference between the overall presentation. The M5’s that were my pride and joy only 1 week ago, seemed to have a distant presentation. The W3’s were so full, surrounding me with vocals, guitars and bass, and very upfront. And they were more clear as well. This happened everytime I got to a portion of a song that I knew well and did the comparison. After 30 minutes or so of this, I just stopped switching. I stayed with the W3’s, excited to hear another song in a new light. The bass that everyone agrees is a strong suit of the Atrios, I found the W3’s were doing a better job at presenting them. The W3’s had a similar bottom end, but it was so much more punchy and detailed.
So, I thought that maybe the lack of EQ’ing with the Atrios was a factor, but if the W3’s sounded this good with no EQ’ing, they must sound out of this world with a bit of EQ’ing help. Sadly, I was wrong. At least for the few songs I listened to, the EQ’ing actually detracted from the sound I had heard straight from the X5L no frills. I then began to boost volume, and the SQ never waivered. In fact, it was only after one of my listening sessions ended that I realized how loud I had them when I had that hum in my ears. But they sounded so sweet I never thought to turn them down. The top end on the W3’s is very nice, significantly more forward and pronounced then the M5’s, but not as overly bright as some others have found them to be. I did not try any of the supplied tips on the W3’s, I chose to use the Shure Medium Olives (reversed seated) that I have been using on the M5’s. The seal for me is perfect, similar to the M5. The body of the W3 is a bit different then the M5, so it is not as easy to insert. But once proper seated, I never felt they were any less secure then the M5. The W3’s do not seat as deep in my ear canal as the M5, and maybe this why they seem so comfortable. I only noticed them when some slight microphonics occurred opening and closing my mouth.
But this comparison was strictly about the sound. The W3’s made me not want to use my M5’s any longer. They were that much better. And when I thought the M5 would have an advantage (the bottom end), the W3’s even trumped that by providing a more punchy and detailed bottom end. I find myself looking for MORE free time in my day so I can do more listening, and that’s the best compliment I can give about these fine iem’s.
The wallet matters, and the W3’s are 3 times more expensive then the M5’s ($399USD vs $129USD). But with the December discounts I used to purchase the W3’s ( my pair cost be ~$240USD, not quite 2 times more espensive), this helps make for a more fair comparison to me and my bank account (and that all that really matters to me!). I am not going to sell my M5’s, but I can see they will definitely get some time off over the next few months. I hope this helps someone make up their mind. I know others who did this prior to me certainly helped sway me to purchase the W3’s, and I would like to thanks each and everyone of them.
I feel exactly the same way when I compare to the E4c I got. It is like listening to the new music all over again and discover some details I missed with E4c. I wish I took my friend offer before to try his SE530 before he sold it.