Disclaimer: This review is just a reflection of my opinions and experience.
Sensitivity: 120 dB SPL/mW
Frequency response: 8 Hz - 20 kHz
Impedance: 20 ohm
Speaker Technology: Five balanced armature drivers with a passive three-way crossover
Features : Replaceable cable, one year parts and labor warranty on internal components, 25 dB average noise attenuation, user manual and deluxe carrying case
Equipment Used In This Review:
iPod Touch 3G
Before I had the pleasure of listening to the Westone ES5's I went through an obstacle. My first pair of quality IEM's back in 2006 was the Etymotic ER4P. Coming from a bunch of cheap earbuds, canal phones and clip on sports headphones, the ER4P really surprised me at how much I was missing. The ER4P's are one of the top monitors in the universal IEM arena when it comes to detail and clarity. The soundstage isn't that great, more on the slightly below average level, but the instrument separation is very sharp and distinct. I was very happy with the ER4P's until I lost them while coming home from work. Whoever found them, I hope you can experience their wonderful detail and clarity. I couldn't go back to my previous earbuds, earphones, etc... So I decided to look for a better universal IEM and came across the Westone 3.
The Westone 3's were like the polar opposite of the ER4P in terms of sound signature and it took me a while to get accustomed to the 3's. My first reaction to the sound of the 3's was " Oh gawd, the bass!!! ". Though the bass was no doubt tight and detailed it was well beyond it's wanted presence. In some songs the added bass was welcoming, but in other songs it ruined the whole balance. Usually speakers that have this much bass output don't have great clarity or detail to their overall sound. The Westone 3's really changed that general thought for me. It's sound is very detailed and clear. The midrange was slightly laid back and sometimes a bit harsh, but it was nicely presented most of the time. The treble was sometimes a bit too hot and really induced listening fatigue quickly. This was on poorly mastered recordings though and never really did this on my reference ones. To me the ER4P's were a bit clearer and detailed, but the Westone 3's had a MUCH larger soundstage and musical characteristic feel to the sound.
I ended up selling my Westone 3's in preparation for purchasing a custom IEM. Now that I think about it, I should have kept my Westone 3's as a back up IEM... I visited a few audiologists in NY and got to listen to Jerry Harvey's custom IEM's ( JH13 Pro, JH11 Pro and JH10 pro ). I actually had my mind set on the JH13 Pro, because the sound was just spectacular on so many levels. It was like the Etymotic ER4P and Westone 3 had a baby and then that baby found steroids. What ultimately lead me to the Westone ES5's was the realization that Westone uses vinyl tips for their custom IEM's leading to superior comfort than an all acrylic shell. I wanted something going that far into my ear to be of a soft material not hard.
The Westone ES5 arrived to me via UPS. From the time spent sending my custom molds to Westone and receiving my Westone ES5, it took 2 weeks. The packaging of the Westone ES5 consists of a free T-shirt ( I wear it sometimes ) with Westone's logo and website labeled on it. There is a nice crush proof and water tight pelican case that in which you'll find your ES5's wrapped up nicely along with a microfiber cloth for cleaning the exterior shell of the IEM's. Also, there is wax removal brush, oto-ease bottle for easier insertion of the IEM's, and a desiccant pod which helps remove moisture from inside the IEM's.
First impressions of the Westone ES5's
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to listen to my Westone ES5's as soon as they arrived because I promised a friend that I would go with her to the Museum of Natural History. I thought it wouldn't be appropriate to take my Westone ES5's with me, because my attention wouldn't be on her or anything in the museum. As soon as I got home, I hurried to get everything that needed to be done, done. After reading on the web from many different areas I finally found out how to get the ES5's into my ears. For my first custom IEM it felt awkward. I felt like I was underwater due to the superb noise isolation. Nothing else I've used isolated ambient external noise at this level. They felt nice and snug in my ears too. Within the first 2 minutes of the first song I played I couldn't help but chuckle and smile. The sound was just completely effortless, coherent, balanced, detailed and clear. I then sat there in my nice comfy chair and proceeded to listen to the rest of my musical library with my eyes closed and a big smile on my face.
The midrange is no doubt the heart of the music and is a deal breaker for many in terms of the overall performance of a speaker. The midrange of the Westone ES5 is just slightly forward, but not ever congested. Male vocals are very natural and not overly chesty, or dry. The midrange has great body, but it does not have any noticeable coloration that I can hear. What amazes me the most about the midrange presentation of the Westone ES5 is how easily it lures you into the music and takes away what little grip you had with reality. It's very coherent and smooth. Great midrange simply produces a better connection to the music. The realism of the midrange creates great mental imagery corresponding to the actual instruments used to my ears. This type of categorizing happens subconsciously and is further an extension of the resolution of the Westone ES5. This helps me connect with the recording and enhances the musical experience. I expect much of the refinement in the midrange is suspect for this effect.
The treble is extraordinarily clean. There is no grain, spit, grit, or veil of any kind here. The treble is very pure in nature, and it has no texture that detracts from transparency. In fact, I would classify the treble as being astonishingly transparent. Like the bass response of the Westone ES5, I sense no interference in the treble with any other parts in the frequency range. The marks in the treble seem to extend with realistic decay in all directions, which is remarkable for an IEM. The decay of treble is one best attributes of the Westone ES5. The resolution on the Westone ES5 help the decay in illustrating sound images accurately from beginning to disappearance. This strength helps in providing realism and building melodies. When a vocalist is harmonizing with other performers or instruments, the resolution of the Westone ES5 takes the music to another level. This effect is demonstrated nicely on Andre Reiu’s ‘The Flying Dutchman’.
With its texture, extension, and decay, the Westone ES5's bass is something to appreciate from any audio enthusiast. The quality of the bass is stupendous – very well defined, tight, and with great definition, extension and attack. The sub-bass in live recordings are retrieved with immediacy and accuracy on the Westone ES5. The Westone ES5's bass also scales up and gives you the extra distance if present in the source recording. Coming from a single subwoofer as opposed to the dual or quad subwoofers that the immediate competition utilizes, I didn't expect this type of bass presentation. Boy was I wrong... For those on the fence thinking these are bass-light, lay those worries aside. But, they are not going to satisfy a bass-head unless some heavy EQing is applied.
With the Westone ES5, it is easy, not “work”, to imagine real performers in real space. It’s very tempting to keep closing my eyes when listening to them, because the imaging is so convincing. For anyone who has avoided IEM's because they don’t image like headphones, spend some time with the Westone ES5. The stereo imaging on the Westone ES5's really shines with live studio recordings. With higher quality recordings, you can discern details such as when a singer moves his/her head while performing. This can be heard on Alison Krauss & Union Station's ‘Live’ during several passages. I have more easily noticed other micro details on the Westone ES5 such as singers licking their lips, fingers crossing over strings, or performers taking in a breath. Also, the decay of micro details and transients is nothing short of a strength on the Westone ES5.
In short, the Westone ES5 is capable of producing a lucid yet vividly alive rendering of your best music. The Westone ES5's disappear completely. These monitors provide a plethora of details that come at the listener with great accuracy and speed. The Westone ES5 has the ability to recreate music with realistic soundstaging, imaging and decay. There is a sense of realism in the Westone ES5's imaging, and where clarity and resolution are second to none. The Westone ES5 handles micro detail with the speed and attack necessary to image the effect's appearance, and makes disappear the effect with a natural sense of time. There is also very little to no roll off of the treble or bass. I also detect no smearing of details nor marks anywhere in the imaging. Complex passages become alive with concise pace, rhythm, and timing. The Westone ES5 can provide accurate sound of varying volume levels that occur simultaneously in a recording. I would without a doubt recommend the Westone ES5 to anyone looking for a well balanced high-end custom IEM as I feel they are simply breathtaking. Thanks for reading my review and I hope you found it enjoyable!
Edited by Tronz - 12/28/11 at 9:29pm