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My mixed Westone 3 impressions, comparisons, and experiments

post #1 of 56
Thread Starter 
Let me preface this by saying that my taste for sound reproduction devices is very simple--accuracy, neutrality, defined, clear, no hype or dip in any frequency range, as deep a soundstage and expansive stereo imaging to accommodate all recording's original intent, fast transient response, smooth (no graininess), and I believe when a pair of speakers/headphones achieve that, there's no longer any need for words like "musical" or "fun" or "dynamic," nor is there need for descriptions like "great for (insert genre of music) but not as good on other genres)." In short, if a sound reproduction device itself does not color the sound, then the only thing left is the intent of the original recording/mixing/mastering engineers. Sound reproduction devices should not sound "warm" or "clinical" or whatever other adjectives used to describe these products--they should simply be invisible and let the original recordings express the artistic ideas intended. A piece of music should only sound warm if that's what the original mastering engineer wanted, not because a pair of speakers/headphones colored them that way. If a recording is supposed to sound very clean and clinical, the that's how the speakers/headphones should reproduce them. If we expect our TV screens to not have a noticeable color cast (too much blue or red or green), then why do we tolerate sound reproduction devices that leave their fingerprints all over the music they reproduce? Unfortunately, it appears to be easier to reproduce a neutral TV screen than it is a neutral pair of speakes/headphones (I could be wrong about this though).

So, with that out of the way, let me share my impression of the Westone 3. I got them in the mail today and have been testing them for a whole day. I purchased them from a reputable dealing online here in China (¶ú»ú£*°²ÈóÉ̳ǣºÆ·ÖÖ×îÆëÈ«µÄ¸ßµµ¶ú»úÉ̳Ç) for roughly $291 USD.

I compared the Westone 3 to the following:

Klein + Hummel O 300D (3-way professional reference monitors in a fully acoustically treated studio using broadband absorbers--see my website for photos of the studio)
Sennheiser HD555 (open back headhpones)

I purchased the Westone 3 to replace my destroyed Shure E4C (I was never totally happy with the E4C due to the anemic bass and slightly hyped high's around 12Khz-ish). I essentially had to listen with EQ compensation and that drains the battery faster and I really wanted a pair of IEM's that required no EQ'ing to be totally accurate and flat across the frequencies (as much as possible).

The most accurate sound production tool I have in the studio are my Klein + Hummel O 300D's, and I trust them completely, especially after doing shootouts between various professional monitors over the years. I know it's unfair to compare headphones to monitors, or full sized headphones to IEM's, but I have no other quality IEM on hand to test against (the only other IEM in the household is my wife's JVC Marshmellows, and they are definitely not high-end).

So, I tested the Westone 3 against the Sennheiser HD555 (which I purchased after doing extensive testing against the HD600 and felt the HD555 was just a tiny bit warmer--meaning the high's are slightly rolled off, and that tiny bit of difference didn't not justify the much more expensive price of the HD600 for me) and the K+H O 300D's. I tested with a wide range of styles--from jazz, classical, electronica, industrial, rock, pop, trip-hop, soundtracks, and so on. I also tried all the different tips available.

First of all, the tips either fit or they don't--there's not in-between. If they don't fit you do not get a proper seal (or they fall out easily) and that's the end of the story. If they fit, then they essentially all sound very similar--I do not believe the different tips will significantly change the sound signature of the IEM--that would be a terrible design flaw if that were true. If it fits (meaning getting proper seal), then that's it--nothing more to say.

After hours of testing and comparing, this is what I found:

1) The Westone 3 is not neutral or accurate. The high's are significantly rolled off--to the point of sounding like a veil is placed in front of the tweeters. The bass is hyped, to the point of sounding muddy. I was not happy about this because with all the research I've done, the Westone 3's are supposed to be one of the more neutral/accurate sounding IEM's on the market currently. As things stand, I cannot use them without customized EQ settings, and this is enough for me to exchange them for something else (I don't know if the online retailer even allow it).

2) In comparison, my Sennheiser HD555 sounds far more similar to my K+H O 300D's than the Westone 3's. This leads me to believe that the higher end Sennheisers are indeed quite accurate in general (the HD555 is only their mid-level product).

3) I started to troubleshoot Westone 3's frequency curve and I tried to match a custom EQ setting on the Westone 3 to sound like the Sennheiser HD555 and the K+H O 300D's. This is what I ended up with:

(I also double checked by reversing this EQ setting on the HD555 and K+H so they sound like the Westone 3's.)

As you can see, the high's in the 12Khz~14Khz area had to be bumped up quite a bit, while the low's in the 170Hz range had to be pushed down quite a bit as well to get rid of the muddiness. With this setting, the Westone 3's sound close enough to the HD555 and K+H's that if they sounded that way naturally, I'd be happy with them.

So, as things stand, I'm pretty disappointed. After all the hype and reading dozens and dozens of pages of forum discussions and reviews, I still ended up with an unsatisfactory product.

Before I go ahead and try to exchange the Westone 3, I'd like to hear from those of you who have both the Westone 3 and a Sennheiser HD500 to 600 series full size headphones. Can you please replicate my EQ settings and see if you also get a very close match between your Westone 3 and your Sennheiser HD 500/600 series (please don't try this if you have some other number series of Sennheiser headphones because they do not sound like the 500/600 series. For example the HD280 Pro sounds nothing like the 500/600 series). I'm asking for this because there's a small part of me that wonders if I had gotten a fake one (it's China afterall). I kind of doubt it since the retailer is fairly reputable and the packaging looks perfectly legit to me. IF there's way to spot fakes, please let me know--just in case.

So, with all that I've said, if I were to exchange the Westone 3's, what is a far more accurate IEM? The goal is to get a pair of IEM that require no custom EQ settings to sound neutral and accurate.
post #2 of 56
I have always thought that the Westone 3 is marketed as a high-end consumer product, meaning it isn't supposed to be neutral sounding. Reading reviews around it seems clear that most people judge the Triple.Fi 10 to be the more neutral sounding universal IEM compared to the 3.

Off topic: love your studio
post #3 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by walkingman View Post
I have always thought that the Westone 3 is marketed as a high-end consumer product, meaning it isn't supposed to be neutral sounding. Reading reviews around it seems clear that most people judge the Triple.Fi 10 to be the more neutral sounding universal IEM compared to the 3.

Off topic: love your studio
Wait, whaaat?
post #4 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lunatique View Post
In short, if a sound reproduction device itself does not color the sound, then the only thing left is the intent of the original recording/mixing/mastering engineers.
My opinion is, all gears color the music one way or another. The only way you will get the same sound heard by the musician / sound engineer (in the final mix before the album goes into production) is to go back to that same studio and listen to the music with the same gear that musician / engineer used. Trying to achieve the goal of reproducing the 'original' sound without knowing / using the original gears is by itself flawed. You can't be 'original' if you can't tell where the origin is.
post #5 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheMarchingMule View Post
Wait, whaaat?
That's just what I read, not what I am saying.
post #6 of 56
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ClieOS View Post
My opinion is, all gears color the music one way or another. The only way you will get the same sound heard by the musician / sound engineer (in the final mix before the album goes into production) is to go back to that same studio and listen to the music with the same gear that musician / engineer used. Trying to achieve the goal of reproducing the 'original' sound without knowing / using the original gears is by itself flawed. You can't be 'original' if you can't tell where the origin is.
You're right, and that is the unfortunate truth. But if we can get the most neutral sounding equipment, at least we won't be veering off in some direction that makes the original "coloring" of the recording even more unbalanced. The more neutral our sound reproduction system is, the more likely we won't further color something that's already colored in a negative way. It's exactly like if we stand at the middle of a circular platform, and if the original recordings push us this way or that way, we'll still be on the platform--just further away from the middle. If we were standing closer to the edge of the platform, we can get pushed off completely if a certain recording pushes us in that direction.
post #7 of 56
Rolled off highs? Wow, your saying a Shure E4 has a spiked treble ?? I owned 2 pairs and I found them rolled off like most shure products. The W3 reveals much more. I can't refer to a chart but I know what I hear.

The OP is surely entitled to his opinion. To perhaps 50% of listeners a "neutral" sound is boring. Perhaps the most neutral IEM I have heard is the Shure SE420 and believe me, it is BORING. I guarantee it would be classified as more accurate/neutral than SE530 but I would bet 98% of people will prefer the SE530.

My point? Most prefer a colored sound to a certain extent and the beauty of all Westone products is how well they respond to EQ. I find the W3 bass too big and bloated out of the box but I actually like the fact that I can tailor the sound. Your logic would also suggest that any IEM (like IE8 or SA6) that has modifiable bass is an inferior product and pointless if they can't (won't) make it neutral out of the box.

But we appreciate your input. Just differing opinions.
post #8 of 56
I wrote something about the topic of neutral vs natural sound in IEM, may be you'll find it interesting. Here.
post #9 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lunatique View Post
I purchased them from a reputable dealing online here in China (¶ú»ú£*°²ÈóÉ̳ǣºÆ·ÖÖ×îÆëÈ«µÄ¸ßµµ¶ú»úÉ̳Ç) for roughly $291 USD.
Did you get them shipped from that merchant to the US? If so, how did you get it for a price like $291? It is currently listed as 2,750 Yuan, which comes out to be over $400.
post #10 of 56
Actually W3 can be purchased for 1980RMB. 2750RMB will be near the value of SRP, around 2980RMB
post #11 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hooran View Post
Did you get them shipped from that merchant to the US? If so, how did you get it for a price like $291? It is currently listed as 2,750 Yuan, which comes out to be over $400.
There is a crazy discount / price competition of W3 in China a while ago, but I think it is all but over by now after Westone discovered the situation.
post #12 of 56
whether you believe it or not mate; the tips on W3 impact the sound in a major way. your expectations were unrealistic from the outset. like most consumer gear it is coloured to some degree. the W3 is far from neutral, but its closer than many and the sound quality is good enough to make up for that IMO. with a decent Eq they respond very well and you can tailor the sound to pretty much however you like. none of these top IEMs are neutral. by their very nature it would be impossible. because IEM's interact with the earcanal to form their frequency response everyone will get a different sound. the closest you could get would be in a custom like the UE10, because the canal is mostly taken out of the equation. also for you to put together a judgement as you have within a 'whole day' is humourous; I actually LOL'd when I read that.
post #13 of 56
I like the way you think Lunatique! You think like me.

You will find most people here do not think the same though. The head fi world is far different from home or car fi. Many don't EQ nor look for a (ear) flat EQ.

It really only does take a day or two to judge a piece of hardware. It either works the way you want or doesn't. Sure, there's burn in, but it doesn't influence the end result that much, and I think it's well understood what aspects it affects.

The aspect that hardware A sounds great for Country but crappy for Rock and why this is isn't known to most people. I know you're aware of this just as much as I that when the sound device is correct, ALL genres sound good. There is no bias. When bias exists, it's because the frequency response is crap. No one gets this.

I'll make a suggestion to you. Look into buying a pair of Yuin earphones, PK1 if amped, PK2 if unamped. My brother has a pair of PK2s. It's the only earphone I've listened to where it didn't need any EQing what-so-ever (well within around 1dB). You're stuck with earbuds though.

If you specifically want an IEM, I'm not sure. I have a pair of Etymotic ER4S IEMs heading my way. My understanding is that they're essentially the best (response correct) IEM on the market, at least that's what I'm hoping. They are supposed to be 91% within the accuracy of the original source, measured at 25 different frequency points. I'll let you know how they do once I get them. For an IEM, this might be your best bet.

As of now, I say just buy a set of Yuin PK2 buds. They're decently affordable and do quite well. My only gripe is they are a little bit in-your-face. They're (relatively) dirt cheap, so give them a try.
post #14 of 56
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hooran View Post
Did you get them shipped from that merchant to the US? If so, how did you get it for a price like $291? It is currently listed as 2,750 Yuan, which comes out to be over $400.
Quote:
Originally Posted by toughnut View Post
Actually W3 can be purchased for 1980RMB. 2750RMB will be near the value of SRP, around 2980RMB
toughnut is right. the 1980RMB price is still happening and not listed on their website. It's listed on taobao.com instead:
Westone 3 (UM3) ÏÖ»õ,¼Û¸ñÈÔΪ1980Ôª!-¼ÒÓõçÆ÷/hifiÒôÏì/¶ú»ú - ÌÔ±¦Íø

Quote:
Originally Posted by Spyro View Post
Rolled off highs? Wow, your saying a Shure E4 has a spiked treble ?? I owned 2 pairs and I found them rolled off like most shure products. The W3 reveals much more. I can't refer to a chart but I know what I hear.

The OP is surely entitled to his opinion. To perhaps 50% of listeners a "neutral" sound is boring. Perhaps the most neutral IEM I have heard is the Shure SE420 and believe me, it is BORING. I guarantee it would be classified as more accurate/neutral than SE530 but I would bet 98% of people will prefer the SE530.

My point? Most prefer a colored sound to a certain extent and the beauty of all Westone products is how well they respond to EQ. I find the W3 bass too big and bloated out of the box but I actually like the fact that I can tailor the sound. Your logic would also suggest that any IEM (like IE8 or SA6) that has modifiable bass is an inferior product and pointless if they can't (won't) make it neutral out of the box.

But we appreciate your input. Just differing opinions.
The E4C's highest frequencies are rolled off (16Khz~20Khz), but there is a spike at probably around 10Khz or so--it can get a bit shrill at times when an instrument or voices gets loud in that frequency on the E4C.

I actually really like the idea of being able to modify because our ear canals are not the same. Also, if the IEM is off from perceived neutrality, one can try to modify, which is better than EQ to me because using EQ on a portable player drains the battery faster.

I don't know if I agree neutral = boring. IMO, all the creativity and dynamics and details are already in the recording, and if a speaker/headphone is neutral it'll simply reproduce the recording to the best of its ability.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ClieOS View Post
I wrote something about the topic of neutral vs natural sound in IEM, may be you'll find it interesting. Here.
I know about that actually. IEM's can't be flat or else there won't be enough bass and the treble will be a bit harsh. That's why I didn't use the word "flat". IEM's must have a slight hump in the lower frequencies around 100Hz and a bit rolled off in the highest frequencies to sound comparable to neutral sounding speakers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by qusp View Post
whether you believe it or not mate; the tips on W3 impact the sound in a major way. your expectations were unrealistic from the outset. like most consumer gear it is coloured to some degree. the W3 is far from neutral, but its closer than many and the sound quality is good enough to make up for that IMO. with a decent Eq they respond very well and you can tailor the sound to pretty much however you like. none of these top IEMs are neutral. by their very nature it would be impossible. because IEM's interact with the earcanal to form their frequency response everyone will get a different sound. the closest you could get would be in a custom like the UE10, because the canal is mostly taken out of the equation. also for you to put together a judgement as you have within a 'whole day' is humourous; I actually LOL'd when I read that.
I guess I did expect too much. Now I remember reading about the Westone engineers saying they designed the Westone 3 to sound warm, but I honestly thought they meant warm like the way the Sennheiser HD555 is slightly warm compared to the HD600--I didn't expect THAT much of a roll off in the 12Khz~14Khz region, which on string sections in orchestral pieces is especially disappointing. I also didn't expect the bass to be overtly prominent. Right now I'm EQ'ing them to sound as neutral as I can, but I don't like doing it since it drains the battery on portable players faster. They do EQ pretty well like you said (the E4C actually EQ'd pretty well too).

I understand that many audiophile guys like to spend a lot of time with a new toy before coming to any conclusions, but I guess I'm looking at everything from the angle of a composer/sound designer/producer. When you're used to making decisive choices in arranging/recording/mixing/mastering on gear you trust in a fully treated studio space, you hear anomalies immediately and you get used to "finding problems" in frequency ranges when you listen to anything. I don't need to make love to a new pair of headphones night after night to know that it doesn't sound anything like the reference gears I trust. (Of course, comparing an IEM to full sized open cans and pro high-end monitors isn't fair either, but what else can I use as benchmarks for accuracy?)
post #15 of 56
I consider it fair. That is the job it's intending to do. There are certain mechanical limitations like the bass not shaking your entire body and spacial/stage effects of drivers physically in a room vs. shoved in your ear. Yet, tonality, transparency, accuracy, articulation and weight of note, etc. should all be there.

p.s. read what I snuck in while you were typing that short response there.
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