In the upcoming weeks, I'm going to be reviewing the Westone 3, UM3X and Westone 4 (all 3 of which I think could be called the best universal in-ear on the market for different reasons - my favorite is the Westone 4)
Finally I will be comparing the 3 universals to Westone's flagship ES5 custom fit IEMs.
This is the first of four threads.
My tests were done with a Sony S545 and an iPod 5G using Lossless files only.
I have owned the Westone 3 for about 2 years, the the UM3X for about 16 months, the Westone 4 for about 6 months, and the ES5 for about a month. Please stay tuned for my comparison thread in the upcoming month.
For now, this is my review on the Westone 3.
The Westone 3 is a triple balanced armature driver earphone, with a 3-way crossover. What does this mean? It means that there are three independent drivers in each earpiece which focus specifically on one part of the frequency spectrum (bass, mids, treble). This allows for each driver to have better control and accuracy over the sound produced.
THE FIT & THE FINISH
The Westone 3 comes with a wonderful hard carrying case that allows you to store the earphones in your pants pocket without much risk of damaging them. Considering the number of drivers crammed into each earpiece, the earphones are wonderfully compact, but even still, these earphones are larger than average. They come with a generous variety of differently-sized silicone, triple flange and comply foam tips. I always opt for comply foam tips when available. One thing I will say is that Westone ships the earphones with the shorter comply tips installed on the earphone, but they do include the longer foam tips inside the box. I implore all users of any Westone earphone to use the longer ear tips for better fit and optimal sound. Once you adjust the ear tips to find the right fit, these earphones offer superior noise isolation, especially with the foam tips.
The earphones fit especially well in the ear. The cable is design to be worn behind the ear, rather than straight down. This is always my preference since both in terms of comfort and functionality. Being able to wear a cable behind the ear often eliminates microphonics (sounds caused by the cable rubbing up against something). The Westone 3s come with the standard Westone braided cable which is by far the best cable design I’ve seen for in-ear-monitors. The braided design is very rugged; kink and tangle resistant; and very good at reducing microphonics. The cable terminates to an right-angle plug which is convenient for portable devices, since there is less of a chance that you will put stress on the headphone output jack.
Westone also includes a convenient inline volume control which can be tagged onto the plug before being connected to your source. Finally the Westone 3 offers the often-needed cleaning tool and ¼ inch adapter. It does not offer smart controls or microphone; I prefer the absence of these controls when evaluating audiophile level headphones, but again, not everyone sees it my way.
ALL ABOUT THE SOUND…
The sound of the Westone 3 is mind-blowing. I’ve owned the Westone 3 for about two years now, but I remember the first time I used them, I could not get over how such huge sound was being brought my ears from such as small enclosure. The bass is very full and robust, particularly the mid-bass where the bass guitar sits. This would be my top pick for earphones being used for anything where bass is especially important – ala Hip Hop, R&B, Reggae and Rock. There is a great sense of weight in the sound, but it does not sound rolled off or veiled. The midrange is not as forward here as the Westone 3’s direct competitor the Shure SE535. The Shure SE535, while also consisting of 3 balanced armature drivers in each ear, is not a 3-way crossover design. What I specifically prefer about the Westone 3s over other triple driver in-ears is their ability to articulate all elements of percussion with force, weight and clarity simultaneously. For this reason, I use it the most out of all my universal IEMs when I’m in the mood for pop and rock music.
Listening to Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” (which was the first song I ever listened to with these) I am reminded by the impact that these had on me when I first heard them. The vocals are not too forward, but sit in the mix at the forefront. Once the song takes off and the rhythm track drops in full-force, one can fully appreciate the fantastic instrument separation which the Westone 3 offer. The piano does not become one with the rhythm track but instead has its own specialized placement which, by the way, is a detail which I rarely boast about when using IEMs. It is so easy for a heavy attack piano to join the snare as a single unit when both are centered in the mix. Only a good headphone can articulate the overtones necessary to compartmentalize the two instruments. The Westone 3 can do this to an extent which is uncommon with in ear headphones.
There is an obvious boost in the mid bass region all the way to lower mids which make recordings sound lush and full. This often is a great enhancement to the music, but an example of this being problematic is when listening to a classical recording which spotlights piano. In this setting the piano is a bit weighty and slow, especially in fast-paced passages. The Westone 4 is by far my favorite universal earphone for classical. Please refer to my upcoming review on the Westone 4 for more on this. One last thing I will mention is that some recordings show that the Westone 3 can be just a hair more sibilant than normal. This does not bother me, as I am not ultra sensitive to sibilance (the accentuation of the sound of the letter “s” and some cymbals), but I could imagine some people who are sensitive to sibilance being slightly bothered by it.
The Westone 3 was the first 3-way crossover universal In Ear. Still relatively new, the Westone 3 is one of the world’s best universal in ear monitors. It’s full and lush sound will appeal to those who seek extra bass, but audiophile-grade detail. At this time, the Westone 3 has only been eclipsed by Westone’s more recent offerings, but it is not so simple to merely suggest this, since I believe for percussive heavy music, the Westone 3 may be at the top of the list!